At Cloud on Saturday night there’s the launch of new album by SamRocker Band, Back to the Roots, celebrating Sam’s return to the heavier music that characterised her first band, the post-hardcore No Forever. Sam sat down with Leng Pleng at her favourite coffee shop on Monivong Boulevard (appropriately across from Rock and RULE) to talk about where the music has been and where it is going.
“I started singing and writing songs in 2012, when I was 21,” she explains. “When I started I sang very powerful ballads – I love those kind of songs. But before I met the No Forever guys I never knew about rock music, and then I got involved with Cambo Headbanger events and I hung out with them. They listened to rock music, heavy metal music, and I loved it, it related. I sang for fun a few times, then one of the guys saw me singing and said: join the band. Why not?”
No Forever played for a while before splitting, and Sam pursued a solo career. “I wanted experience of the other side – I want to show people that I also love pop music and write these kinds of songs. I explored myself, experimented with styles – some pop, pop-rock, some alternative rock. And now it’s going back to the roots, heavier music, punk, alternative metal. But we still have a few pop-rock
SamRocker Band is made up of Houy on guitar, Nissay on bass and ToMi on drums – Sam herself is the writer as well as the singer, but enjoys input from collaborators to create the sound. “I write the songs, I come up with the melody, then bring the songs to the band and we work out the musical parts, how to put the drums, how to put the guitar. When I was a solo artist, I worked with a producer, and they arranged the song. Now as a band we all contribute our skills and our ideas. We have so much fun, and sometimes so much fighting over one song.”
There’s a great degree of intuitiveness that goes into her writing, and an unwillingness to get trapped in a corner. “The music that I write – it’s mostly based on my mood, my feelings. I feel angry and I write an angry song. When I feel sweet I write sweet songs. I have my own kind of Sam Rocker genre. First I make the melody from the guitar, and then the words just come out. And I don’t know whether it will be Khmer or English, whatever language fits with the melody, I just go with that. The first phrase starts everything – if it’s the right mood for the concept it’s easy for me to write. But I get stuck sometimes, one song can take a year, two years. Some songs in 15 minutes I can get it done.”
Like many of the young generation of Cambodian heavy metal/punk performers, Sam sees the music as an expression of dissatisfaction with society but also a chance to bring young people together – both within and without the mainstream. “I’m so excited for the launch. It’s kind of risky, but fun at the same time, that we have to introduce heavy music to the mainstream platform. With the message in the song, sometimes we use a little bit strong language, and maybe some people would get offended. I say if you are like what I described in the song, then of course I’m talking about you. It’s a song that describes the fact, what’s happening in society.
“There’s one song, kind of aggressive, the latest release that we did with [metal vocalist] Brendan Gallagher. The song is about aggressive feelings, like you see the society nowadays, some rich people look down on a person who is poor. It’s not only money. And the people that try to show off with their fake charity, showing off, it’s not genuine charity. The message is aggressive – we need to express ourselves through music. But later we will release a song called Smile, it will be happy, uplifting kind of inspirational song.
The key thing is the mixture – and hearing metal riffs alongside sweet melodies and then a rap helps to frame the Sam Rocker style. “Now the direction is going to heavier music, with a bright side. The metal songs, they feel so completely new. And it’s fun to see how people react to a certain song. We also want to give a happy, bright side, and we want to make our audience happy and jumping.
SamRocker Band identify with the rest of the rising underground heavy music culture. “Bands like Doch Chkae and Reign in Slumber, I’ve known them for a long time, even before I started in bands I have been a fan. I went to all their gigs, went headbanging with them. I understood their commitment and talent, and what they are trying to do. It’s time to work together as a community, as a family, that we push the music industry, especially heavy music that we’ve been working our arse off for a long time.”
“My producer and manager never pushed me to somewhere that I don’t want to be,” she says, “I’m happy to be back to the heavy community and doing the songs that I love. Ten years ago original songs we could not find anywhere. But now you can see original songs growing up, and we can listen to it everywhere we go.
Is Sam optimistic about music in Cambodia? “Yes, of course. I can see we are going to the right direction. I can see everybody now is working very hard to try to make their own music, their own craft. Even in art they’re making new things all the time, and I can see young people coming up and doing their own thing. And only one goal, only one direction – to help Cambodia. So I’m feeling optimistic, and I’m feeling happy, and when everybody contributes – one group cannot make Cambodia better, [we need] all angles, everybody in every area, every part of society with their own skills – then together we can build it up, to the better future.”
SamRocker Band launch their album at Cloud on Saturday from 6.30 pm, and you can check out their YouTube Channel here.