Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin fifty years ago, Sam Llanas spent nearly half his life as co-founder of the BoDeans, working with Grammy-winning producers, recording at world-class studios and skyrocketing to public awareness when the BoDean’s, “Closer to Free,” was picked as the theme for the television show, “Party of Five.” Sam’s first solo venture, under the band name Absinthe, came when the BoDeans took a brief hiatus in the late nineties. His second solo outing, “4 A.M.,” was released the end of last month, a few short months after he announced his departure from the BoDeans. A powerfully quiet affair marked by a low-key tenderness that highlights Sam’s emotion-laden voice, “4 A.M.,” beautifully captures the late night mood where love, truth, loneliness and sympathy walk hand in hand. Sam was kind enough to answer some questions via email and shed light on the process behind such a personal undertaking.
Maximum Ink: “4 a.m. here we are again,” a great line for a very nocturnal album and for your second solo outing. Were there any insights in your second time around?
Sam Llanas: The only thought I had in my head when I started this project was that I wanted it to be very different from both, “A Good Day to Die,” and any BoDeans record. The obvious thing was to make a record that was almost entirely based on acoustic instruments.
Maximum Ink: There’s an aura to the album that suggests thoughts searching for a voice, secrets seeking salvation.
Sam Llanas: By this point in my career, I’ve been involved in recording many records. Each project starts in complete silence. They are all a bit intimidating and the trick remains to transfer what you hear in your head to the tape.
Maximum Ink: “Shyne” and “Nobody Luvs Me,” are two songs you had already recorded with the BoDeans. What was behind your decision to revisit these particular tunes?
Sam Llanas: I had, “Shine,” written and recorded before, “Mr. Sad Clown,” was ever worked on. I knew it would work well in that context. “Nobody Loves Me,” was reworked for the BoDeans album, “Resolution.” We needed a more, “up,” or, “positive.” song for me to sing. For, “4 A.M.,” I wanted to present, “Nobody Loves Me,” in my original concept.
Maximum Ink: Did you write most of the songs a long time ago or more recently?
Sam Llanas: After I decided to make an acoustic-based record the next decision was what will this record be about. When I looked at the songs, some were old, some were moderately old and some were more recent. A lot of them were very quiet in nature and most had been written late, late at night. I have always been a night owl so I thought, here’s my chance to put together a record that celebrated that time of the day.
Maximum Ink: In that context, your cover of Jules Shear’s, “All Through the Night,” seems a very logical choice.
Sam Llanas: I have always loved the song and always felt it deserved a timeless treatment. That’s all I tried to do. The fact that it fit in so well with the concept of the record was just serendipitous.
Maximum Ink: “Sometimes don’t you feel you’re the only one?” The album has a steadiness and a sincerity that is almost hypnotic, more compassion than regret, beautifully mixing hope and faith alongside struggle and desperation.
Sam Llanas: I like all kinds of music and pretty much all styles of songwriting but the one aspect of songwriting that always had the greatest emotional impact on me was the idea of being in “naked” form. Having the courage to really put your deepest darkest feelings out there takes a lot of balls but I’ve found that people react strongest to those songs.
Maximum Ink: Several songs on the disc address someone by name like a conversation or a confession.
Sam Llanas: What you find is that you are not the only one who feels that way or who is struggling with the dark side of human nature. This comes pretty easy for me. Ask me to write a fun party song and it may take a long while. Ask me to write about loneliness and I can do that in my sleep.
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CD: 4 A.M. (The Way Home) Record Label: Inner Knot
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