Sam Lambeth is something of an indie renaissance man. He's a DJ, a journalist and the frontman of Birmingham band Quinn. It's the latter that has taken up a lot of his time recently, what with the impending release of the group's second EP, Crush. We spoke to Sam about the new record and to get an insight into the man, the myth, the legend that is Lambeth. If before he was more modest and unassuming, now it seems Lambeth wants to be a typical frontman - dressed in red jacket (his new onstage getup), black sunglasses (in truth masking some pretty powerful contact lenses) and sparkly Converse, this is a man, with a big gob but a big heart, wanting to be noticed.
You DJ, put on gigs, review bands, play in a band yourself...are you printing your own currency next?
Oh I've been passed around like currency before and it wasn't too pleasant.
You've spoken a lot about being in a band but I'm interested in some of the other things you get up to. Is DJing hard or is it just two hours of putting on your record collection?
The first rule of DJing is "swallow your pride and give the people what they want." My advice is treat it like buying Christmas presents - give people what they like, rather than what you think they should like. When I started, I remember thinking I was going to be really different and play songs I don't usually hear. But I soon realised people, when drunk, just want to hear the songs they've heard a million times before. And I'd be exactly the same.
Is there pressure when you DJ?
For sure, and it comes from a very weird place - sometimes I'll put three songs on in a row that go down a storm, and all of a sudden I'm sweating with nerves. The next song I put on could flop and then that seamless, perfect transition has been sullied.
When are you next DJing?
On August 5th I am DJing Harry Jesse Charles' birthday party at SUKI10C. It's a great bill. Nonsuch are playing, who belong to Harry, and Byron Hare are also playing their last gig, which is a great shame as they're incredibly talented. I'm sure they will all go on to great things. Harley Cassidy is also DJing and she's done a lot of great work for grassroots music.
You also do a lot of journalism. But you're in a band. Isn't it a bit of a weird combo, doing the two?
There's an unspoken law that failed musicians become music journalists. I decided to have a bit of foresight and start early.
You've reviewed most bands around and done a lot of features, even for this magazine. Is journalism more important to you than music?
I couldn't have one without the other. Music and writing are the two biggest passions in my life, although I guess music is an extension of writing for me. It comes from reading, too. I'm always reading books. The Bell Jar, Catcher in the Rye, clichéd stuff, although at the moment I'm trying to get out of reading the works of white writers. Things Fall Apart is on my hitlist.
What influenced you to do music journalism?
I started a ritual around 2004 and I'm so glad I did. Q each month, NME every week. I'd read them cover-to-cover, religiously, and get ingrained in the way they wrote - the words they'd use, the subtle humour they'd inject. The start is always important, I feel. When I review a record or a gig, or do a feature, I always make sure the opening paragraph is inventive and not just a precis of what's happening. It takes practice but I definitely feel my writing has gotten a lot better. When I moved house I got rid of all my old copies of NME and Q. What an error. Hundreds of them lost from a golden era of journalism, before it all dissolved into these god awful listicles and shitty clickbait. Look at NME now. Some kids won't ever know it was actually good.
Let's talk about you as a frontman, then. You've got a reputation for being a nice guy. Isn't that a bit odd in the world of rock?
There's another unspoken law that the people demand their rock stars to be arrogant, self-centered and chock full of drugs. I decided to break that law, so, conversely, doesn't that make me the best rock star of them all?
But onstage and in interviews, you often, tongue-in-cheek, say things that make you seem like one?
There's another law - give the people what they want. If there's one thing better than people getting the joke, it's people believing the joke.
Why the reputation of being nice?
I'm not really as nice as people think. I'm pretty self-centered. People as busy as I usually am.
You mentioned in another interview, though, that it's not always a good thing. That it's not 'cool'.
It all ties back to what I previously said about the preconceptions of rock stardom. If you're down-to-earth and gladly accept people's compliments, you're considered bland and uninteresting. I've seen people fawn over bands and that whole act of looking down at your shoes, pretending not to care...that has been pretty unappealing to me for as long as I can remember. Mac DeMarco's got it right, he agrees with me. Not that we've discussed this, of course.
Is Mac DeMarco someone you'd want to emulate?
He's an affable deadbeat and he's made a really good career out of it. I think I'm a chill person. Probably not as chill as he is but I'm certainly laid-back and quite happy-go-lucky. If I could write a song half as affecting as 'My Old Man', I'd be happy.
Another thing about being cool or not - you use your Quinn page to talk political and social issues, as well as your own. Isn't that a little risky? What if you alienate your fans or end up becoming too preachy a la U2 or something?
I'm not saying Quinn has a big audience, but if we are lucky enough to have people that listen to what we have to say, then using the page to broadcast bigger issues doesn't seem like that big of an issue to me. At the end of the day, the subjects I discuss aren't exactly polarising, so if someone didn't agree, I probably wouldn't really want them as a fan. I've spoken about gender equality a lot, as well as equal rights for the LGBQT community. All of these subjects are close to my heart, as is politics, and I feel everyone should be posting about it. I do agree there's a fine line, but my own views will never overshadow the music.
What's your opinion on the current political slant, Corbyn and Trump etc?
It's too easy to write off all politicians as dumb and deceiving. But what's interesting about Corbyn is that he's open to new ideas, he wants new ideas and he wants to be challenged. And if he got in then he knows that for the next how-many-years we're all gonna be on his back.
You've described Crush as your best work. Ultimately, then, what's the aim for Quinn? What do you want to happen?
Ultimately, I'm just a rock fan. Not a rock star, not in a rock band, I just love music. I listen to it all the time. The Beatles, for me, are the best band that ever existed. Just to be so creative, so restlessly inventive, and still carry that heavy sense of melody. Elvis Costello, Radiohead, Bjork, PJ Harvey. They're all innovators.
This is the thing - people will say 'I'll never play arenas, only clubs.' Then they'll play arenas and the stance'll change and they'll say 'I'll never play stadiums, only arenas'. Then they're playing stadiums. Let me out! It's usually white middle-class bands that say this, too. Working-class people, black people don't tend to...why would you not want that? Look, I'm not so naïve as to think Quinn are going to be big. I can't see it ever happening. But if it did, why would I not take it? It would be bourgeois to turn that down. People forget Nirvana and Sonic Youth were signed to major labels. They shouldn't be embarrassed by it. There's a Catholic guilt about success like that, but if Quinn got the chance to play stadiums, I'd give it a go. But if I spent the rest of my life playing tiny venues, I'm more than happy with that. If I have 20 people, or 20,000, listening to my work, then I'm lucky as hell.
All the proceeds from the record are going to Mind. Why? And do you not think other bands would be pissed off that they're trying to earn money while you're basically saying they should give it away?
There's that worry for sure. Being nice isn't all it's cracked up to be, believe me, because people question your sincerity - they believe niceness is fuelled, that there's motives behind it. But honestly, I've never once had an agenda. It all goes to that classic line, 'I'm just a soul whose intentions are good / oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.' I want to help people, be there for people, whether it's my mates or another band. Mind is a charity that is closely linked with creativity, I feel - creative minds often succumb to mental illness, or it's been there from the start, and if we can raise just a little bit to a cause close to my heart, I'd feel great. We work full-time jobs, this band is fun, so why should we take more money when we have enough to pay our bills? There's still a stigma surrounding mental health and if we can be there to raise money and help people speak out, then that's great.
What's your relationship like with Samm and Andy in the band? Are you close?
I think we're closer now Meg has left, because that shocked me. Me, Samm and Meg were great together. We'd had a few bumps over Christmas, and I blame that a bit on myself being unemployed at the time, but we'd negotiated those and seemed to be on an upswing. Meg leaving, although it was amicable, stunned myself and Samm. I don't think I appreciated Samm enough. He's a solid guy and keeps me grounded. Andy has come in and is great, he's open to ideas but brings his own to the table. People sometimes assume perhaps I'm a bit of a dictator but I think we have fun and hopefully people see that we're just enjoying the ride together, even if our brakes are shot.
How would you describe Crush?
It's meant to be deceptively disposable, fun, goofy, sugary. It's a nostalgic record, in a good way. It's like finding a box in your bedroom and you spend half hour looking through it. That's the feeling I want from people. I'm old school, I guess, but I'd love for people to sit down in their room, crank up the hi-fi and just listen to this record, and see if it brings back memories. That would be the ultimate compliment.
What do you think of the Birmingham scene at the moment?
I think it's great but it's starting to decrease. Last year was fantastic and we tried to highlight how emergent B-Town was, but this year it's a little quieter. There are great people involved still. The promoters that work tirelessly, people like Kez Handley, Tom Holloway, Tommy Greaves, the Amphletts...they work their asses off. Then bands like Semantics, The Cosmics, Riscas, Sam Hollis, Nonsuch...so many bands doing great things. OJ Sault from Skin work hard, too, as does Joseph James in Primary Colours. They've both got a heckuva body of work.
Sam Lambeth as a person though then posts ridiculous stuff online that most of the time isn't true. So who is the real Sam Lambeth? The nice guy? The gobby frontman? The politically-minded guy? The journo?
Oscar Wilde said something like 'the mask tells you more about the man'. That's all you need to know about me.
QUINN - CRUSH: TRACK BY TRACK by SAM LAMBETH
1). I.C.Y.M.I. !
'Lyrically, the idea was to reflect the way people use social media now as an outlet for every emotion. It wouldn't surprise me if someone put 'ICYMI I said I loved you'. It's become throwaway. Emotions are ten-a-penny on Twitter, aren't they? Musically, we hadn't got a song that sounded great live. One that was meant to be played live. This was the first song I'd ever written on electric guitar and it came out of nowhere.'
2). I Wasted It
'Crush is about juxtaposition, really. Sad lyrics with happy tunes, and I think this is the best example. Teenage Fanclub were a big influence on this one, especially the fuzzy fretwork. I tried to write a song with as few lyrics as possible, but still hopefully create a strong sense of emotion. I also wanted a song with 'baby' in the lyrics, cos J Mascis did it and it was so un Mascis-like.'
3). Amanda Knocks
'I wrote the verses one morning on the way to work. I was feeling run-down, ill and a bit beaten-up. I felt a bit jaded and that's where those lyrics came from. When you're in a band, there's no greater feeling than when the person you love or really like is in the front row at your gig. The chorus is meant to capture that feeling of euphoria when you look out and see that. I wanted this song to be like 'The Concept'. I don't think I achieved that but I gave it a go.'
'Last year I had a great time hanging out at L'Amour, which is returning by the way, and this song is a snapshot of all the characters - Erin from The Cosmics, Nicole, Kiera, Jimmy. They're all real people and the stuff in the song happened. The chorus isn't really connected but is a sentiment I've thought every time I've seen someone I used to date or have become estranged to.'
5). Never Worn It
'This is the angriest song I've written, and the music of Diet Cig inspired me. I wanted it to be a volatile song and they helped me. I was dating a girl who was really flaky and treated me like crap and I came out seething and resentful, and this poured out of me. But again it's got a pleasant kinda Lemonheads vibe about it. It's A Shame About Ray was a huge influence on me.'
6). Imperfect Lovesong
'I think this is my best song. I was going for a Big Star, 'Thirteen', kinda feeling, although I wish we'd have done it as a full band. Lyrically, it's me saying I can't climb the highest mountain or cook the best steak, but I hope the other dumb things I do are enough.'
7). Summer's Gone
'Again I think the record ends on a high. I wanted it to end with a fast-paced song because I find a lot of records sometimes end on a more sombre, sad note. This is me leaving the nostalgia behind, like a lost summer. It's a very nostalgic end to a very nostalgic record.'
The second print edition of SMASHED VINYL is available to purchase here.