What few fond memories I hold from my time at Youngstown State University took place in the dark spaces where the music seemed to grow. In those now defunct venues or spaces that have changed hands and names too many times to count, I first encountered a staple to the Youngstown scene by the name of Sam Goodwill. The brainchild of Sam Buonavolonta, this band is currently in a three-piece format that is making huge waves with its dynamic sound.
This weekend in Cleveland, Sam Goodwill will be performing at the Shining Music Festival, alongside local staples The Modern Electric, Welshly Arms, Seafair, Silent Lions and Simpler Times. Fifteen dollars gets you in. The event will be held at Ohio City Masonic Auditorium. In anticipation of this performance, I sat down to speak to Sam and shed some light on the man behind the music.
How long have you been making music?
I’ve been writing songs for about 14 or 15 years.. I started on a hand-me-down computer with a Windows 95 OS. The program that came with that computer was called “Sound Recorder”. It was not a multi-tracking program so to record additional layers I had to use a tape recorder as well. I had one microphone.. it was about 3″ long, probably from Radio Shack.
What got you interested in music?
I think the moment that I took a personal interest in music was when I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio for the first time. The best way I can describe it is that it woke me up.
Was there an artist that inspired you to experiment with aural soundscapes?
Yeah, I identify with plenty of artists sounds. At a certain point I became just as interested in the production of the sound as I was in those artists. A person who inspires me a lot is Richard Swift, his music and production is insane and beautiful and romantic. He has produced records by Damien Jurado, The Mynabirds, Foxygen to name a few … all of which have impeccable sound. He’s been on my radar since about 2006, and his stuff just keeps sounding better with every album he touches. Also, the way Dave Grohl formed the Foo Fighters had a major influence on me when I was starting out. He recorded the first self-titled album by himself and then recruited members. That made a lot of sense to me at the time, and still does.
What do you think diversifies the music scene in Youngstown from that of other cities?
Youngstown has been good to me. In a lot of ways, it kept Sam Goodwill alive through humble and awkward beginnings. The city continues to warmly support us even through major transitions that it experiences. For example, there’s a venue called “Cedars,” who were, to my understanding, pushed out of a location they’d been acting as a relevant venue in for almost 40 years. But instead of giving up, they moved, worked their asses off, had some people from town build a great stage and now in my opinion, they have a better situation. I think Youngstown is full of people/artists/musicians like that, people who make something great despite shitty circumstances. I feel blessed to be based out of a city like that. I do feel a bit disconnected from the music scene and that’s my fault. I only know of a few of bands/artists that seem to be pouring themselves into what they’re doing. There are no doubt more than that but like I said, I’m in my own self inflicted bubble. I can’t keep up. I can say that Youngstown definitely has legit art scene, like painters, metal workers, mixed media artists that have become more public recently through places like Greyland Gallery.
Do you think the city breeds more creativity because of its condition?
Possibly, I think people who are going to create are going to create, period. The level of encouragement given by the city that one lives in only goes so far. Youngstown is a tough crowd but I witness reasons for hope regularly.
When I first heard Sam Goodwill, I was a student at YSU. I think it might have been at the Nyabinghi, actually. I think the lineup was really different back then. Can you give me a little background on how your lineup has changed over the years?
Yeah, the band has always been a revolving door. I’ve only recently accepted that; it’s hard to accept because I usually develop a great respect and love for the people who I work with in this band. I think it’s the nature of being in a band who’s still doing most things themselves. It requires a lot of effort and time and people can only give so much for so long. When I decided I wanted to be the type of musician that travels and makes music full-time, that’s when the band you saw play at the Nyabinghi decided to disband. I took some time after that to write the songs became my first EP, Stampede, and some of which made it on my first full-length, History, and then I just tried to do what Dave Grohl did … recruit some like-minded dudes and play in front of as many people as possible.
How did you happen across the gentlemen you’re playing with now?
Bob and Richie are both local guys whom I’ve crossed paths with around town at shows and what not. Earlier this year I started with a goal to put together a band that could bring the record to stage as true to form as possible I contacted them and here we are … pretty simple.
Is the energy different when you’re performing with the band versus when you are performing alone?
Yes. I like what happens at solo shows. I like the simplicity and intimacy of the experience. I think that it sort of exposes a side of the songs that most people don’t realize exists. The full band shows represent the origin of the songs themselves. A band playing and singing together is a special thing to me whether I’m on stage or in the audience. In Sam Goodwill, full band performances are fun because we get to go all over the place, some songs have tons of energy and others are soft and pretty. We just try to be ambassadors of the music.
Your most recent album, History, is intense. What prompted the decision to record an album that spanned nearly a decade of music?
History is an album I dreamt up some time the early 2000’s … Lyrically it’s one part narrative and two parts anecdotal. I tried to tell a story of a past that acts as a warning to a doomed future. Drawing lines both political and spiritual as well as autobiographical. Being that writing it covered such a long period of time in my life, I think it acts as a document of my 20’s. The fact that it took so long somewhat makes me question my work ethic more than anything else, but being on the other side of it now I can value the process.
How did you choose the songs which made the record?
Well, a lot of songs came and went, or just never got fully written, or exist only on a hard drive that no longer works. The songs that we wanted on the record were the songs that were most exciting to write and play. But even after exercising that filter, there were still too many songs to fit on a record. The songs that actually made it to the record just seemed more relevant to the story and made the most sense aesthetically.
Why did you decide to press vinyl?
I felt like that is the most official way to release music. When History started to look like it was actually going to become a record there was just no question that it would be released on vinyl. I’m really proud of all of the songs, and I wanted send them into the world properly.
Why do you think vinyl is making a resurgence?
I mixed History over the course of 3 months, and I am extraordinarily familiar with the sonics of the record. When I heard the test pressing for the first time, there was a quality there that I hadn’t heard before… it actually sounded better. I think that the people who are aware of this quality of sound don’t want to settle for anything else.
When you’re writing, what influences your sound?
The weather. I write all year but I feel most inspired in the fall when it’s grey outside and you need to wear a jacket. I also get struck with ideas when doing mindless work, or while driving… things like that.
Recently you recorded at Daytrotter. How was the experience?
You’re in a room full of tape machines, vintage musical instruments at your disposal, and what seem to be really expensive microphones. I don’t have many experiences in studios … It was just a really good vibe. We had just driven straight through the night after playing a show. We took short breaks to nap, but couldn’t really stop driving for too long or else we would have been late for our session. We were pretty haggard when we arrived but Sean and Pat made us feel really comfortable and we had a great time. Our engineer was Pat, I guess Daytrotter employs 2 Pats, but this Pat was Daytrotter’s original engineer and he just recently started doing Daytrotter sessions again. He knew his shit, it was a treat to work with him.
When faced with the difficulties of a musician’s life, how do you keep yourself positive about what you’re doing?
The difficulties are there, but the good stuff is there too. I don’t find myself in a position to complain very often. I find that most of the sacrifices I’ve made to pursue the life that I live have been relatively healthy. I try not to think about it this way, but if I think about my life void of making music … it’s probably one of the more depressing scenarios I could imagine for myself.
If you hadn’t become a musician, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
I think I’d be high school art teacher.