Sam Griesemer co-owns a record label, but he’s not making any money, and he doesn’t care about the streaming wars. "We weren’t selling records in the ‘90s when everyone was going platinum and making billions off of CD sales," he said. "We started our label in a time when that was in the past. So it was natural for us to try to do a lot with a little."
Griesemer, who makes music under the name Samo Sound Boy, has been making left-field electronic music for years. He’ll release his debut LP, Begging Please, next week on Body High, the label he co-owns with fellow LA-based producer Jerome LOL. The album moves with an elevated, future-primal kind of exuberance. Songs skip and shudder, vocals scatter like crushed puzzle pieces, glugs of lava lamp-like synths burble against shivering hi-hats. On "What Can I Do" a long-lost vocal sample sounds like someone choked by tears in a storm of rippling echoes. These strange, unplaceable samples — noises that sound like hiccups or sighs, or half a beat of padded percussion — were all pulled from the 50 cent vinyl bin at LA’s Amoeba Music.
"I look for stuff that's pretty impossible to place."
"I really look for stuff that’s pretty impossible to place," Griesemer said. "If people hear a sample, I don’t want them to immediately associate with the place it came from. I want it to be almost anonymous in a way."
Anonymity is difficult to achieve, especially when you work on the internet. That’s one of the interesting tensions in Begging Please: when everything is on display, there is no boundary between public and private space, or between the world mediated by technology and the real world. This even applies to Samo Sound Boy's gear. Griesemer used two synths for the majority of the album: a Juno-106 and a DX7, both purchased from a stranger on Craigslist. The man was living in the Valley with his wife, working some kind of day job while making "massage parlor"-esque new wave music — something he'd been doing since the '80s. The man was selling his synths to buy newer software, he told Griesemer, and was ditching his clunkier equipment in the process.
"I’ve had that experience with older producers too, where they’re just like, ‘Yeah, I’m selling this to buy computer stuff,’" Griesemer said, "And there’s guys from my generation who grow up using computers, but then there’s this amazing old gear you can get a one-of-a-kind sound out of. So we’re kind of going backwards."
But not too far backwards. Leading up to the album’s release, Griesemer released a three-part video series filmed entirely on an iPhone 6. The videos are simple. They’re shot from the perspective of a person eating dinner with the same woman at several different restaurants, slowed down to a dream-like speed. The woman in the video is Nathalie Love, girlfriend of Dan Pappas, the man behind the camera. No one else was involved: no lighting crew, no sound team. Even Griesemer wasn't around for much of the filming.
Phone-shot music videos aren’t new (take Beyonce’s hotel room clip for "7/11") but Samo Sound Boy's visuals capture familiar moments in a new way. "We wanted to do the whole thing in a way that wouldn’t attract any attention," Griesemer said. "No one will bat an eyelash if someone has an iPhone out at a restaurant. People are always taking selfies, taking pictures of their food." This is intimacy set in 2015.
Like the album itself, the videos are meant to simulate the feelings that come with falling in and out of love. Conceptually, Begging Please is the sonic version of love-followed-by-breakup: big, swelling highs and muted, subtle lows. If you watch the videos in succession, you’ll start to see an emotional arc: joy, boredom, despair. And even when Love begins to cry in the final video, there's no need to look away: you might feel like you're on the inside, but really you're just a stranger peering in from the outside.
Griesemer says part of the videos' appeal is a reaction to our natural inclination for voyeurism. "It’s why so many more people watch the Kardashians than they do scripted sitcoms," he said. Reality TV and art house mumblecore films are not so far apart after all, and privacy's not so essential — as long as it's not our own. "People just kind of want that now. Peel the curtain away a little bit."