SAM HOLLIS - Less damaged than Pete Doherty
Sam Hollis insists that indie’s not dead, and he’s right. Musical genres may rise and fall in the eyes of the mainstream press, but their adherents can always be found in open mics and acoustic nights across the country.
There’s a refreshing honesty about Sam. When asked how he would describe his music, among the words he picked were “alright, not too shabby, good” and later he affirmed that his songs were “not shit”. It’s an honesty that can sometimes border on self-deprecation, but it’s this emotional balancing act that fuels his music – which is actually a lot better than he thinks.
Indie’s Not Dead
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Sam’s own musical journey began with a band he didn’t like: The Libertines. He didn’t like them when he saw them on TV, but that didn’t stop him from going to sleep with one of their albums.
Like most good ideas, the genesis of Sam’s career happened at 3AM; he woke up to hidden track “France” and decided to play acoustic again – he used to play bass as a teen, but stopped at 16. Now he’s one of Pete Doherty’s biggest fans, no matter what the critics say.
The mainstream heyday of that scene may be gone, but artists like him are building on the kind of raw, acoustic, lyrically focused guitar music Doherty made famous – albeit with far less drug taking.
Cigarettes for Breakfast
“I’ve had a cigarette for breakfast” – these are Sam’s tone-setting first words on his EP Cigarette Stories. The 4 songs on the album are just a small portion of an already prolific career of busking, being shouted at and open mics.
His own standards for quality are high and few songs make it through. He’s written more than 53 over the years. Some can end up being left in notebooks for months before being developed again, and EP song “A Brief Look of Black and Green” began life as a “dreadful” first version.
His own songs are a mixture of real-life events and fictional situations. The aforementioned title track was literally written after a nicotine breakfast, and some of the lyrics reference a time when he called Samaritans; “Song of a Mistake” was written about his ex in the tradition of all great, bitter break-up songs.
There are also enigmatic references to “The Marcsys” throughout the conversation, the title of an unreleased song he’s reluctant to reveal to the world.
But he does have to make some of it up, as in his own words;
“everybody’s more damaged than me.”
There’s still much further for his career to go. While he knows extremely talented people in the scene who are quite happy to remain in the pub circuit, Sam wants to play the main stage at Glastonbury. He says he’ll have made it once people start coming to gigs solely to see him play as a headliner.
Modest he may be, but he knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to tell us he’s in it for more than art’s sake:
“Everybody lies when they say ‘I just do it for the music’. If you’re out there and doing it then you do want to be well-known.”
Sam’s under no illusions about the machinery of fame, though; more than talent, it’s about coming along at the right time. You could be as good as Hendrix and remain undiscovered, and if the Rolling Stones debuted today Mick Jagger wouldn’t be half as famous and influential.
He also feels it’s harder for solo artists to get ahold of the promo opportunities hey need to get their name out than it is for bands. His own models for fame are Jake Bugg and George Ezra, and he still wants to know how they did it.
It’s hard to figure out whether Sam’s a cigarette smoking, guitar playing echo of the past or a symbol of indie rock’s future, but one thing’s for sure: he’s more talented than he’ll admit and his journey is only just beginning.
Photography by Will Pace