If you haven’t heard of Sam Gray yet, then what are you waiting for!? Recently supporting The Overtones on their sell out tour, Sam has won thousands of fans with his unique brand of feel-good foot tapping music. We caught up with him as he tours the country playing in Caffé Nero branches around the UK – check out his website for a list of upcoming venues and get yourself down to your nearest branch!
Hi Sam, great to talk to you! So tell us, how did you get into music in the first place?
Well, my Dad used to play quite a few instruments when I was a kid, and I was around that quite a lot. He would pick up pretty much anything he could get his hands on: harmonica, tin whistle, piano, and that’s something that I really remember as a kid. Going to bed and listening to him playing – sometimes would put me to sleep, sometimes would be a bit annoying!
Then I took up violin at school – I used to go on about playing like Nigel Kennedy off the TV! So I went through my grades, up to Grade 8, played in a few orchestras, that sort of thing. Then at about 14 or 15, I started learning the guitar on this old guitar from my local church, just learnt a few chords, and the rest is history as they say!
Did you always think you wanted to be a musician or did you have other ambitions when you were younger?
I had a few different ambitions. I was always interested in music, but I never thought it would become a career for me, probably until I went to College.
As a kid I was really interested in drawing - I wanted to be a footballer for a while, but I was always really into art and graphics and stuff. My close friend was into art as well – he was a bit older, and better than me, so I always wanted to be as good as Matthew!
I was always interested in music, though. There were ups and downs with the violin – I went to quite a rough school, so I used to get a bit of stick from some of the kids but I’m glad I carried it on now, as it has lead to so many different things.
At school would say you were one of the good ones, top of the class, or would say it was a bit more of a bumpy ride?
I would say I was a fairly good kid (my Mum might say differently!). I think when I got into music I sort of knuckled down a bit more. I mean, I think I was probably always a bit annoying! I remember my mum saying when I was little I used to hit the skirting boards with a little toffee hammer, and I used to roll other kids down the hill at nursery – I was always put in the naughty corner when I was little!
When I got to high school I was better, I met some really good friends and had some really great music teachers too. One of them, Mr. Benson, was a really good Boogie-Woogie Blues player and he really opened my mind to improvising on the violin and creating my own melodies, which obviously now is integral in my song writing.
So who would you say has been your greatest inspiration and the artists who have influenced you in your music?
I listened to a lot of Motown and Beatles when I was a kid, and my mum had a lot of Simon and Garfunkel records, and we used to play them a lot. We listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross and the Supremes as well, and I don’t honestly think I even realised I liked it then, I just sang along to the melodies. But those guys are the greats of songwriting – what better masterclass could you have!?
And my parents as well were always a massive influence. They were always really good at judging how I would react – if I got grief from kids at school about playing the violin and wanted to give it up, they just said fine, give it up if you want to. Don’t give it up because of them, give it up because you don’t enjoy it any more. I’d go away and think about it, and realise they weren’t actually making me do it – they supported me, but they left me to my own devices and I just got on with it.
If you were to give some advice to your 14 year old self what would it be?
Music is one of the hardest careers to make any money out of, but really my advice for myself, or any young person is – if you enjoy, carry on doing it. Don’t let any one put you off it. Do something because you enjoy it, not because people think you should be doing it. Just enjoy it and have fun, and see where things lead. Pursue different routes and different things you are interested in. It does take a lot of hard work - even if you have talent you still have to apply yourself.
What kind of things are you listening to on your ipod at the moment? Got any top tips for us?
I’ve got some really good artists, like this guy I was put on to a couple of years ago called Jamie Lidell. He’s got this amazing album called ‘Jim’ - he’s this crazy DJ who decided to make a pop record, and he has got such an amazing voice, almost Stevie Wonder-esque, and its got some great feel good tracks and some beautiful bluesy ballads. I’d love to collaborate with him one day.
I’ve got plenty of Motown on there as well, and Adele’s new album. A bit of Massive Attack as well, and Cinematic Orchestra too, they’re amazing.
You’ve been supporting The Overtones and now you’ve got the Caffé Nero tour, so what is next for Sam Gray?
Starbucks! (LAUGHS) No, seriously, in the New Year I’m looking to do a headline tour, around smaller venues across the UK, just building it up and getting out there. Obviously the idea of this Nero tour is to reach more people, and keep them familiar with the music. Lots of people who saw me play on The Overtones tour have come along to the Nero tour, which is great, and those gigs were incredible.
So I just want to keep on growing things and get to the stage where as many people know about my music as possible. I’d love to play Wembley Arena one day, that would be amazing, and I don’t think it is unreasonable – I feel like my music is accessible to everybody and quite commercial and appeals to everybody and gets your foot tapping.
Thanks very much for chatting to us – it has been a pleasure!
Check out Sam’s album, Brighter Day, which is out now, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for him in a Caffé Nero near you!