David Samples: The True Artist
written by Tamara Styer / photographed by Tyler Hutcherson
SITTING IN A SMALL living room with the members of his band, David Samples is hunched over an electronic pad creating his latest artistic vision. As he zooms deeply into the drawing, scribbling little lines and blobs around the deepest layer of interior design, I cannot see the end result he has in mind. Then he zooms back out and I can see the subtleties of detail hardly visible to my untrained eye, hidden deep inside the figure head of Samples' creation.
Later we meet about his upcoming interview and photo shoot. As I pull out my journal, ready to jot some notes, I notice Samples has one out as well – a thick book full of writings and drawings, worn with use and creative energies. He explains that this journal embodies his main sense of worth in his band, Assembly Line Gods.
“It's a way to multiply my creativity, because you put all the ideas there, and then you can forget about them and move on, but you never have to perfect anything. It’s like you bring all of your ideas into existence and it makes you better because they’re there with you. They're not finished, but at least they’re there with you. It’s like having little children and they’re all an army, even though it’s kind of demented.
"I think it’s good to keep everything in one place because you can hopefully get more out of it. You put two ideas next to each other that you wouldn’t normally and you might get something out of it that you never would have if you didn’t keep that sketchbook. It allows for those kind of random moments to happen with your mind. [I realize something] is a cool idea and it’s my idea, even though I didn’t mean for that to happen like that.
“You have to obey your muse, and work to accommodate your muse, regardless of what your day job is or what you’re doing. So whenever an idea comes to you, even if the rules are no writing or drawing at the cubicle, fucking write and draw and hide it. I think that inspires me too. It’s almost silly, it’s conflict for no reason, but it’s something to get energy off of, to be like, ‘Hey fuck you day job I’m gonna write right now! Ha Ha Ha!’ I try to always keep something on hand because I am a firm believer that most random stuff ends up being the best stuff, even if you don’t understand it you’ve got to save it. The random stuff is always important.
“Every day you should be creating in some form, and keep building it up and building your own library of your own ideas so that at any given moment you can look back and that thing will be like, “Here I am…” And it might be the day that you really needed that idea. And even though it was your idea, you may not have thought of it if you hadn’t created it or sketched it at least.”
Samples starts his process by picturing an idea, rather than from observation, sketching out the idea lightly, then moving over the piece, filling in details as he goes. Another process that Samples uses when creating his artwork is the idea of creating and destroying things, something he picked up from painter, Brad Noble, who has worked in galleries on the east and west coast and has galleries in Russia.
“I was inspired a lot by him. He was always big on the idea of working on several things at once and never falling in love with your artwork, even though that seems kind of contradictory to logic. Because you do it out of love. Everything that you work on is out of love. But he had this idea that once you really fall in love with it until the point where you’re afraid to change it, then it has to be destroyed. Because that’s when your work has become superior to the worker. He had really cool, out-there ideas like that. I’d never really thought like that before. So I started applying that to drawing and painting and writing songs also.
"When Bronson (Cox) joined the band, he had gone to a conservatory in Phoenix for recording, and I think that he had been inspired by similar types of thinkers. When Bronson and I start working on something, we have the same ideas. We say, ‘Well that’s not good enough, we’ve got to at least do this five more times.’ Bronson and I have always been the same. I think we’re just believers that it could always be better, and you’ve got to keep going until you say to yourself, ‘Okay now I’m just overworking it.’ There’s some fine line in between there.
“I think that’s what Brad meant. When you fall in love with something, then you’ve got to destroy it. Because if you’re only focusing on details, then you love the image so much that it’s starting to control you. So take a picture of it, save it in your computer and use the canvass for something else.
“Another concept that he put in my mind was, you don’t have to make every work the Master Work. You don’t have to make everything you’re working on the end-all thing that you want to be known for, the thing you want to contribute to the art world and humanity. Just get past that and produce more, and then eventually quality will come from quantity. I think that’s kind of the core of that idea.
“Sometimes when you paint over a painting, it makes the next one more interesting, or at least more fun to paint on. But I think that applies to everything else. If you steal lyrics from an old song - I’ve done that a lot of times - and then you put it in a new song, it’s perfect there.”
Songwriting goes hand in hand with his drawing and painting.
“It’s another thing that’s kind of been there, but honestly it’s one of the least developed abilities. Drawing is probably the first thing, but then as long as I’ve been drawing, I remember liking the idea of performing and singing. But I didn’t feel like a confident vocalist until I was into my early 20s. Really, I feel like I still have a lot to learn with that, but as far as song writing goes, I almost consider myself a stronger song writer or song stylist than an actual vocalist. And I think that comes from being a painter and being a writer and being someone who draws, because I approach things in that kind of structural way. Because that makes sense, and then the details come about as they go.
"When we’re working in the studio, our language has evolved over the years and it’s our own goofy jargon. They understand what I’m saying because they know I’m a draftsman and a painter, and so I can use those metaphors and analogies and we can communicate that. So that’s effected our writing process because you can refer to a song as a canvass.
“Songwriting or drawing, to me, can cross over,” says Samples. “It makes sense. Music is a form of entertainment we hear, and then drawing a painting is just a form of entertainment we see. The only defining thing is our own sense of it, our own experience of it. We just experience it in a different way, but I think the principals and the science behind light and sound and the science behind how we as humans experience those things, there are certain principals that always stay the same, so you can take one and always apply it to the other.”
When creating his recent artwork and ideas, Samples used an entire wall as his work space, like a giant sketchbook in his living room. One conjures up the image of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, mapping out his genius ideas in haphazard organization that only he can understand.
“Our song ‘Pound of Flesh’ was inspired by this guy named Joe Stack," says Samples. "Supposedly Joe Stack was the guy who was so mad at the IRS that he flew his plane into an IRS building. And before he did this, he wrote a suicide letter and the suicide letter ended, ‘Take my pound of flesh and sleep well this time.’ So that’s where the song gets the lyric. Since that was one of the main concepts in the music and since it was inspired by this guy, I wanted it to be what I thought Joe Stack’s life would have become. So my wall became kind of my impression of the serial killer’s wall or the crazy psychotic genius wall. You know, how they have all their ideas on one wall. I was just like, you know what, if you’re going to tackle a big mission - in my case a creative mission, just completing some songs and some art work - you’ve got to do the ‘I’m crazy I’m gonna devote a wall to my idea’ thing. So that’s what I devoted my living space to. The work space needed to become the idea itself in a way.”
The wall space where Samples plotted out the various connections between the images and lyrics used to ensoul Assembly Line Gods.
Samples is inspired by the idea of the paranormal influencing art, and has been influenced by many things around him in his life, including music, writing, a religious upbringing as well as other artists around him.
“I like the idea of being able to see something on the page,” he says, “or telling yourself that you can see it on the page, because I believe that after a while you do start to see it on the page, it’s like a thing you develop like a muscle.
"This is an example of how remote viewing is a lot like drawing," says Samples. "Remote viewing is a thing that the army supposedly used to find people or find other army bases, through using psychics that could draw. I always liked that idea because that was like Salvador Dali’s idea of the surrealist method. You paint or draw whatever you see without thinking about it and that sort of teeters on the line of surrealism and telepathy, or just the paranormal; using that as a muse. Whenever I first heard about that, that psychics draw to communicate with the other world or try to see things on other parts of the world, that’s just always an idea that’s always stood out to me.
“I personally think that these are just my words for how it works for everybody. It all comes from some sort of root. Everybody’s just a plant, and everybody’s bearing their own fruit of some kind. It all comes from something else that’s already there. And you can apply different words to it.
“I feel like the best stuff we’re not really in control of. We just get to pretend like we are. We just get to take credit for it. I think that that to me is personal proof as writers or draftsmen or performers or whatever we’re doing. We’re a medium for all sorts of things in the universe that we don’t understand. To me this is all about the paranormal, and it always will be. That’s always been a big thing to me, theology and the other side and stuff like that. But I think that even if you’re not into that, even if you have no interest in that or you don’t pursue a study of it, we are an outlet for those things that we can’t understand, even if we don’t try to understand them.”
The way he approaches his art is inspiring for every artist around him, with his drawing and painting as well as his role as the vocalist for Assembly Line Gods. He views his stage performance as another art form, a project he is continuing to work on. Fans of his music see the expressive, animalistic intensity of David Samples on stage, but before and after performance, he is quiet, reserved, and seemingly shy.
“I feel like the person on stage is a different thing, and I feel like that person is a construction, like a manufacturing of an idea, and it’s supposed to be that. A lot of what the art is about is how we live in a world where bullshit runs everything. Our bosses and our creators and the people who make the rules do it through fake means. So it’s kind of part of it to be something onstage that isn’t really real. It’s part of the performance; it’s almost the point of it. It’s a not so carefully but somewhat calculated thing.
"Drawing is the same thing as being on a stage. Because when you draw, you’re entertaining the viewer's brain with something that may or may not be real. It’s entertainment. It’s giving their brain something to do, So when you’re on stage, it doesn’t matter exactly who you are or what it means to you. What I think really matters on a stage is whether you are communicating at all. Are you a communicator, and is there something moving up there, or is it self-indulgent crap? Because if you think it needs to be only real and it needs to be purely emotional every time, then in one way it means that it’s something that you don’t really have control over. So is that good performance? That’s debatable if you don’t have control over it.
“What I think the fans don’t get to see up there is the fact that I’m a timid and shy person who just likes to read, who wanted to create something else for the sake of an art science project. That’s what I think people maybe don’t get. Assembly Line Gods to me is like a science project in a way. It’s like a sociology project, trying to dabble in messing with people’s minds and getting a group of people to do a thing, even if it’s just enjoying themselves. There’s a lot more that we haven’t done yet down that road of the idea of it being a science project that hopefully we’ll be able to explore more in the future. Maybe other people don’t see it as that, but I think I see it as that.”
Assembly Line Gods are well-known in Springfield for being a marketing machine. Their shows are some of the biggest in the scene, and they have earned the respect of their fellow musicians and the love of their droves of fans. When they start playing, the crowd is sucked up to the stage, throbbing in simultaneous movement to the music, screaming out the lyrics when Samples holds out his microphone.
“I think that Assembly Line Gods have made it this far because everybody in the band has some sort of secondary weapon,” says Samples. “They have some sort of secondary thing that they’re good at besides just playing an instrument or being that instrument onstage. Bronson and Carson (Underwood) both are really talented computer technicians. They’re very intelligent people, and I think that they’ve always brought that. One thing I’ve always brought is kind of an art director’s perspective. Because there are things that I do that they can do still. And Bronson has thought of most of our logos because he’s always had a great ability to take a whole bunch of things and say, this is kind of like the one common denominator. He’s really good at thinking of that one logo idea, the one thing that looks like everything, but it’s one thing, if that makes any sense. My specialty has always kind of been making up the back story, making up the universe where everything is taking place in. So if it were Inception, I would be the Architect,” he laughs. “Let’s not get into that though.”
Samples' goals as an artist have to do with furthering the idea of art as a science project.
“Something that’s really been on my mind lately is how marketing is changing and people’s attention to TV is turning into attention to YouTube. And people’s attention for the news is turning into attention for YouTube. We’re living in an exciting time for arts and for media. I want to experiment more with viral marketing and stupid videos and the effect that has on people and why that works on people’s brains. Why does it work on my brain? Why will I sit there on YouTube and watch the same video over and over again? I’m probably the guy that gave “Climbing in your Windows” 11 million views. Why? To me Assembly Line Gods is another means to understand that. I think that if you can understand that sort of stuff, that to me is like the holy grail of being an artist, like understanding what really makes people tick.
“That’s another reason why it’s so fun to try and entertain people with art, because you can’t possibly ever know their experience of it, and the way that they hear your song will always be completely different from the way you wrote it. It might be really close, but it’s always going to be just one off. I think that in itself is a reward. Just the fact that you’re never going to know what your work is going to mean to somebody else until they say, ‘Does it mean this?’ And it’s like, ‘No, but that’s a lot cooler that what I thought of.’
"Some people think that art is here to convey a message and I think that it is, but when you think that you’re here to convey your message, then you have to be careful and ask yourself how worthy is your message really. You’re one out of one hundred billion humans that have occurred so far. So I think that you’ve got to just focus on your work and creating work and being better at creating, and then if it means something to someone else… The idea that I created this just for me and it’s about my idea and it’s only just for me and screw everybody else, that sort of thinking has it’s place, but at the same time, that obviously means that you have a problem. There’s some sort of weakness going on if you have to be using that many negatively charged particles in what you’re saying. If someone else comes up and says it means something to them, and it’s completely different from what I thought, then mission accomplished. It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger.
“I feel successful in that we’re doing our thing. We’re doing what we love and then there are other people like you, you’re doing what you love, and you come and you write about us. We do shows, it helps you, it helps us. That to me is success is when there’s a community of artists starting to all light up and do stuff. That’s a form of success. I think another form of success is when someone comes up to you and you can tell that they thoroughly enjoyed what you gave them. When that happens and it gives you that feeling like you’re a part of something a lot bigger, you’re a part of the machine that night, the good machine, the entertainment machine, the human machine… That’s success.
“We can be born with a love for something. I think I was born with a love for art and that’s why I spent so much time trying to make myself better. The people who are exceptionally talented are the people who just love it so much that they spent so much time on it. I think talent and love are the same thing in a way. Talent is just a form of love. Talent is mutation of love.
“I think you’re better off focusing on what you love and not focusing on what you hate. Even in those times when it seems like it’s completely worthless and it’s not very inspiring and it doesn’t really seem like it’s good for anything, you’re going to do it impulsively later on. You can’t escape it.” DM
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