Sam Gleaves is a supremely talented and charming singer/songwriter, and after his captivating performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival this last weekend, it was my great pleasure to discuss with him his albums, the music he is devout to and passionate about and what he has planned next.
Have you been to the UK before to perform?
Yeah, well I came to do a performance as part of a work my friend Susan Stanger composed, called Sound Strata, in Northumberland, and that was in 2015. Last year I toured with Peggy Seager, she is a wonderful woman, she’s originally from America, and is related to Pete Seager, and we toured last Fall through England. But I am on my own this time and it’s a good experience for me but next time I would like to hire a road manager!
How do you find your voice when writing a song? Does it flow easily, finding new material?
I grew up hearing great storytellers in my family and also in this traditional music community, so many people sing songs that tell really engaging stories, and the old songs carry a lot of our history, so that language was all very familiar to me so when I started writing songs, my templates were traditional songs. That’s what my roots are based in. It’s a pretty organic process for me, songwriting feels like something that’s almost like a muscle, it’s just something that’s there for me. I do feel like it’s meant to be my life. You know, when strong emotions or stories move me, is when it’s easiest for me. I’m learning now to write on deadlines though!
What was it like putting together your album, ‘Ain’t We Brothers’ and your album with Tyler Hughes? How was the recording process?
Well the connecting thread for those two albums was my friend Cathy Fink who produced them. We connected at this music camp and I had admired her music for years. She is a great performer and singer/songwriter so I was thrilled to get to work with her. She is a great producer also and helped me refine the music and helped me find the right people to record it with and connected me with amazing artists to work on my first album I felt so honoured and was blown away with who I got to record with. That’s was a real joy. ‘Ain’t We Brothers’ is about half my original songs and half traditional songs that I’ve adapted. I wanted to say to world, ‘This is who I am’ you know? And this new recording, with Tyler Hughes, who is my singing partner, we play as a duo quite a bit. I love singing harmony, and I love Tyler’s taste in songs, and I love his taste in songs. We are from real close together in Southwest Virginia. He’s from Big Stone Gap and I’m from Wytheville. The music of The Carter Family, friends and mentors of ours, is all featured on this record and we wrote a couple also. But Cathy produced it as well and that was a real privilege. We have been touring the scene together for three years before we recorded it so we had a wealth of material to draw from for it.
I’m very grateful that there is still a very vibrant audience for folk music. And so, traditional Appalachian music is what I love and sometimes I may sing somewhere and never sing a song that I wrote because I was asked to the sing the old songs or tell people a specific story. There are still places where that is really valued and celebrated and I want to nurture that. So, part of that is not leaving traditional music behind. And, realising that it is still relevant, all these stories about labour struggles, about family and home, the importance of the land, you know all these things are wrapped up in traditional music. It’s a great way to convey messages that are controversial that people need to hear I think. So, I love traditional music and I don’t want to leave it behind but I also believe we have to breathe life into it and we have to put ourselves in to the music. Because I never wanted to just imitate the people I learned from. All my mentors always encouraged me to sound like myself and to be an individual. Social and environmental issues that I feel strongly about, I feel this kind of music is the way I want to discuss that.
Who do you listen to/are listening to and feel inspired by?
There are so many, I talk a lot about my mentors, and one of my teachers, Jim Lloyd, is a wonderful man. My friend Sheila Kay Adams is a real inspiration, she is a ballad singer and a great storyteller and they have been very generous with me. But, there are a lot of younger artists I love. Amethyst Kiah, who is actually here at the festival, one of the most like deeply rooted and most amazing singer I’ve ever heard, and she’s a great songwriter too. And she is an example of someone who is taking traditional music in new directions but really holding on to the really moving gut authenticity of it. My friend Saro Lynch-Thomason is in that same camp, she sings a lot of old songs, labour songs. I see them around at a lot of festivals and gatherings and I learn a lot of my music from my friends. Because that’s a special way to learn a song because you feel like the people are there with you when you learn a song that way.
What’s coming up next for you?
I have some more dates coming up in the next week here in the UK. After that, I’m going straight to the Augusta Heritage Centre in West Virginia to teach a week-long workshop. It’s a fabulous gathering and they have done it for like 30 to 40 years or something like that. Students come from all over the world for that. Then, the Great Lakes Folk Festival in Michigan and then I’m home for a break after that. But, in late September, I’m showcasing for the first time at the International Progressive Music Association so I am very excited about that. And, as for my new album, it is out now. Tyler and I will be touring together a lot later in the year. We hope to come again to the UK in March but it hasn’t been announced yet.
Photos by © PremiumPhotographic
August 3, 8:00 PM – The Coliseum, Victoria Place, Whitby YO21 1EZ, UK. More info. here or call 44 1947 825000.
August 6-11 – Sam Gleaves teaches with Kay Justice at Augusta Heritage Center’s Vocal Week at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. https://augustaheritagecenter.org/augusta-schedule/vocal/
August 12-13 – Great Lakes Folk Festival, Lansing, Michigan. http://greatlakesfolkfest.net/2017/
August 24, 7:00 PM – Woodsongs Coffeehouse featuring Sam Gleaves & Tyler Hughes, Gateway Arts Center, Mount Sterling, Kentucky. $8 general, $5 for students. http://grackentucky.org/
August 26 – Sam Gleaves & Tyler Hughes at the Watershed Festival, Louisville, Kentucky.
September 8, 6:00 – 10:00 PM – Levitt AMP presents a Night of Old Time Music in Berea with performances by Donna and Lewis Lamb, The Ritchie Nieces, David and Delois Sherman, Sam Gleaves and Deborah Payne. Artisan Village, North Broadway Street, Berea, Kentucky 40403. Free and open to the public, bring blankets or chairs. More info. here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1157889211011437/
September 10, 7:00 PM – WUSB presents Sam Gleaves, Deborah Payne and Rorie Kelly. Smithtown Historical Society Frank Brush Barn, 211 East Main Street, Smithtown, NY 11787. Tickets $15 at the door or $10 in advance. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3050330
September 13 – Lisa Parker and Sam Gleaves perform at the Appalachian Symposium at Berea College, Berea, KY. All symposium events free and open to the public. More information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/226653057848127/
September 16 – Kentucky Uke Fest in Lexington, Kentucky. Sam Gleaves teaching harmony singing, exact time TBA.
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/137033290188000/
Tickets link: http://kyukefest.brownpapertickets.com/
September 17 – Rhythm and Roots Reunion, Bristol TN / VA. Sam Gleaves and Tyler Hughes duo set at 12:30 PM, Sam solo set at 3:45 PM. Tickets available here: http://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/festival/buy-tickets/
September 23 – Ashley Long, Donavan Cain, Al and Alice White and Sam Gleaves live at the Lee Theatre, 41676 West Monroe Avenue, Pennington Gap, Virginia, 24277. Call 276-546-4000 for tickets or visit https://www.leetheatre.org/
September 24 – Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxer and Sam Gleaves live at Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, Asheville, North Carolina, 28806. Lounge seating, tickets $15 advance or day of show. Call 828-575-2737 for tickets or visit
September 26-28 – Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxer and Sam Gleaves Showcase Artists at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Bluegrass Ramble in Raleigh, NC! https://ibma.org/world-of-bluegrass/bluegrass-ramble