The man is a mystery. He looks like your regular early twenty-something guy with somewhat of a Filipino background, when he talks he has this thick Australian accent, you might think he’s a bit of a chiller (is that a word?) but he’s actually one of the hardest-working humans I’ve ever met. Plus, he has the voice of an angel and rocks that folk guitar like… well, not very many people. Although he will tell you he’s not a great guitar player.
Sam came to the beautiful city of Vancouver at the tender age of 19, after spending a year in Montreal and deciding that the Canadian West Coast was more suited for busking and playing music. He came from far away – Brisbane, Australia, to be exact. He didn’t exactly plan on still being here five years later. He left home three months after graduating High School, thinking rather than spending a ton of money on a university degree he had no interest in getting he’d rather do that music thing, and learn how to be a grown-up on the other hemisphere of this big blue blob we live on. Like, really. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say this before: I went traveling to become a better grown-up. Whilst playing music. Doesn’t seem to go together? Well, you’re in for a surprise.
We’re at Cartems Donuts, which is basically my home for the one week I spent in Vancouver before moving back out to the Kootenays (different story). We’re drinking iced Lattes, because it’s nice and sunny out, and because we can. There’s a smoked walnut donut on the table – life is good.
We talk about how Sam, son to a mother who always wanted him to go to university and become a doctor or lawyer or something of the like, and a father who’d never gone to university himself but wanted it for his son, ended up buskin the streets of Canada. How he came to music despite the fact that neither of his parents are musical.
Sam has been singing as long as he can remember – singing along to the Christmas Specials on TV way back when, “belting out Silent Night in the living room”, he says. When he was 16, he started playing guitar. Covers at first, and after he moved to Montreal he started writing his own songs, too. He was 18 then. He had “a hunger to not be comfortable”, he explains – so he went around half the globe and expanded pretty much any horizon there ever was. He played a few shows in Montreal, mostly covers in the beginning. He loves Soul, so that’s what he played. He didn’t particularly like to perform the songs he wrote at first, because they were “sad songs that didn’t make any sense”. Sam was sad a fair bit then.
Sometimes, even doing the laundry was a challenge. I can relate to that. So I’m asking: How do you pull yourself out of that? How do you go from writing depressed music to writing something like The Physicist? How do you go from being depressed to getting up at 5 am every morning, meditate, do vocal exercises, work a full time job, apply for several festivals and play a bunch of shows?
In Sam’s case, what helped him was meditation, first self-led, without really “knowing what I was doing”, he says, and then with YouTube videos and an app. And then he did a Vipassana retreat, which changed everything. Sam slowly came to realise that what he wanted to do was inspire people, lift them up with his music. “In a way, I write music for myself”, he says. Which, in my book, is the best way to capture your audience’s attention, which Sam is definitely doing anywhere he plays. Be it in one of Gastown’s busy bars with his band, the Sam Cave Trio, consisting of the man himself, Ohad Gavrieli on Bass and Paul ‘PJ’ Hermann on Drums; or busking on Granville (island or the street). Oh, and also soon at several festivals throughout the province, while we’re at it. Over the winter, Sam has been busy applying for those sweet summer gigs, and him and his merry band will be playing staple outdoor events like Khatsalano in Vancouver or Uptown Live in New Westminster, but also Tiny Lights in Ymir in June!
Sam’s approach to music as a way of life is pretty unique. When he realised that his musical talent was something not everybody possessed, it seemed the logical response to do something with it, to follow up on it. So he decided his twenties would be the time when he would carry this “music thing” as far as it would go, and give it his best. Sometimes, Sam says, he’s not even sure he’s an artist, because it all seems to “thought out” to him. He’s just “chipping away”, continuously working on getting better at what he’s doing.
He tells me about the Lover & Warrior principle, which basically distinguishes between those of us who love to try one thing, fall in love with it and pursue it with all our heart, then try the next thing that comes our way and captures our attention, accumulating a bunch of random skills and interests, but never sticking anything out. Very much my thing. Those are the Lovers. The Warriors, on the other hand, stick with the one thing they’ve chosen, and see it through until, well, they either can’t anymore, or they’ve conquered it. Sam is going for the Warrior.
“I really try to stay focused on that one thing: music. (…) Even though I do love those things and I could pursue them, I don’t want to. I really wanna focus on the one thing and see it out.”
He just wants to get as good as is possible for him – expanding his vocal range to hit those high notes, priming his songwriting to bring across his life lessons to help other people lift themselves up, bringing that energy to the stage that allows him to transport positivity and love to those standing in front of it. Touring the world “because of music”, as he puts it, is the ultimate goal for this particular phase of his life. And after that? Who knows. I for one am glad that we still have a few years until Sam’s twenties are over, so that we can revel some more in his beautiful vocals and warm vibes.
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PS.: I just thought it noteworthy that the first video that popped up when I looked up one of Sam’s inspirers, Allen Stone, is called “Warriors”. Cosmic coincidence?!