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|Sam Brown Biography
This biography was written by Sam's press office on 31st August 2000 and is also published on the Mudhut website. As well as being a biography/interview, it also contains Sam's own track-by-track analysis of her new album "Re-boot".
Sam Brown has been up; she's been down. She's been a big star and she's been a Lillette. She's been everywhere from Chigwell to Chelyabinsk. Through it all the constant factor has been the powerful pulse of fired-up music in her bloodstream.
Born on October 7, 1964, she came to it as naturally as breathing because she grew up in the most musical of families. Just before The Beatles broke through, her father, Joe, was an influential guitarist and had three Top 10 pop hits. Her mother Vicki was a top backing vocalist from the early 70s onwards, with her partner Liza Strike famously providing the harmonies for T. Rex. What with Joe owning a nearby studio too (The Grange), Sam's childhood home was always full of musicians, among them Small Faces' Steve Marriott and Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour.
Amid the hullabaloo, she reckons she was "quite a solitary person" but that didn't deflect her destiny: "I'd be in my room listening to Elkie Brooks or Rickie Lee Jones and knitting or writing my diary, or playing the piano". Lyrics fascinated her. No clich\xe9s, no love, were her self-imposed rules. At 14 she put words and a tune of her own together for the first time. "It was called Window People," she recalls... "I wrote it in 7/8 and played it to my dad and he said "Yeah, it'd be all right if you put it in proper time". It did make a B-side later, but what I did naturally was not commercial in any way whatsoever."
With no career plans in mind, just swimming with the tide of her background and talent, she appeared as vocalist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and in 1977 her "first musical pay-day" sang back-ups on the Small Faces' final album In The Shade (later, with her mother, she sang back-ups for Marriott's Packet Of Three as The Lillettes).
By the time she was 17, though, she felt the need for independence and moved to London. "I didn't want my family to have anything to do with my music then," she says. "When I did my first demos, although we had a studio at home, I found one in Yellow Pages and paid for it with my own money that I'd made from singing on sessions. These were simply piano/vocal demos."
Still, the music world always brought her new friends. Sometime Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh and Paul McCartney band keyboardist Wix were among those who helped her with a later, full band demo. Much varied writing and demoing led to her signing with a major label, A&M, and her brief experience of full-on fame: "What that made me realise was that I grew up with music, not the music business. The business was a big shock to my system."
Her self-reliance fully established, to record her debut album she turned back towards her family, asking the label to try her guitarist brother Pete as producer, even though she had "never really got on with him". It worked. Slowly. In 1989, almost a year after release, following Top 10 showings in Holland and Germany, the single Stop began to get saturation radio play in the UK. It reached Number 4; the album did likewise and went on to sell 2.5 million world-wide despite a variety of sounds, which set it beyond any fashion of the day: "There are songs with strings on, jazz, out-and-out Dixieland, dance tunes.
Although promotion over such a long haul," says Sam, "completely did my nut, buying a couple of houses and other perks were nice." However, she was about to hit an unwontedly steep commercial decline. Despite more chart singles, the follow-up April Moon (1990) dipped to something over half a million sales and, preposterously, sales of her third album 43 Minutes (1993) also plummeted. A promising career ruined in three easy stages? "I did that incredibly well," she laughs.
While her unfashionably passionate style had something to do with it, there was also the matter of a grievous disruption in her life, which affected her priorities and her music. Just after Sam had produced a solo album for her mother, Vicki Brown became very ill with cancer. "My aunt, a close family friend and I nursed her through it," says Sam. "My mum died in June 1991. While she was ill I started writing 43 Minutes and the main lesson I learnt was a record's no use to anybody unless you believe in what you're doing. All I want to do is sit down and write songs at the piano, not think about copying Stop and having hits, which everyone wanted me to do at the time.
"43 Minutes is the first album that really represents me. It's not directly about my mother's death, but it is a whole piece and very fierce. Pete produced it and I basically said, "Don't change anything, this is how it is. It really homed in on what I thought, what death chucks up at you. So many people go through that experience and you're not supposed to talk about it. Well, how the fuck are you supposed to deal with it if you can't talk about it?"
A&M asked her to add a hit single, she refused and so it went out on her own hastily created label Pod. "We gigged it for ages and that was great too, one of the best things I've done," she says. "I played it solo in churches sometimes. It would really move people, I suppose because I meant it."
She's carried on meaning it through another strong independent release, Box (1997, on Demon), which pleasingly picked up to 17,000-odd sales - boosted, no doubt, by that promotional trip to gun-toting Chelyabinsk - plus sessions, and a lot of gigs as featured vocalist with the Jools Holland Rhythm & Blues Orchestra and backing singer on Pink Floyd's Division Bell tour in 1994.
That's not to mention the birth of her children, Vicki in September, 1993, and Mohan in June, 1995. Her husband is Robin Evans, a producer who started out on early Manic Street Preachers and spent summer 2000 in the studio with Dodgy. And, since the early 90s, Sam Brown and family have lived in a tiny Scottish village. As ever, the house is invariably full of musicians.
Reboot: The Story Track By Track
1. In Light Of All That's Gone Before (written and produced by Sam Brown)
"The first thing I should say is I decided for the first time I would produce at least part of my own album - although I'd done it for my mum. It's a big step and I didn't really have that much confidence. But my brother Pete was so positive. Anyway, when the band first played this song it sounded like Katrina And The Waves [of Walking On Sunshine fame]. That wasn't the idea at all because I'd got much more into blues and soul having worked with Jools a lot and I wanted a more contemporary vibe so I ended up doing it with samples and vocals. I think the lyric is fairly self-explanatory."
2. Heartbeats (written and produced by Sam Brown)
"This is the oldest song on the album. It was the first one I started on my own and I had terrible trouble doing it. The lyric is basically a bit of a piss-take of our neuroses about the environment."
3. Let Go Move On (written by Richard Newman, produced by Pete Brown)
"Richard's the drummer and he's got those mad piercing bright blue eyes, very scary if you're in the wrong frame of mind. But he's a very lovely bloke. When he played this to us none of us had ever heard him sing before and we said, That's brilliant, we've just got to do it. The lyrics are quite intense."
4. Timebomb (written by Phil Saatchi/Ian Sugar, produced by Sam Brown)
Phil is a great singer and writer, quite an eccentric character, we were A&M label mates. I sampled the clocks, including the cuckoo, in my manager's front room."
5. Understand The Animal (written by Sam Brown/Pete Brown, produced by Pete Brown)
"Sometimes I write totally from my own point of view and sometimes not. This is a relationship song, but it's more a sentiment rather than personal experience."
6. Breathe In Life (written and produced by Sam Brown)
"I wanted to write something to take you to a place where you just feel really lovely inside. Warm and sweet like honey. Please, try not to vomit."
7. The Key (written by Sam Brown/Pete Brown, produced by Pete Brown)
"'I was going to be a brain surgeon, but I never really bothered' is one of my dad's lines. Pete had played this one with his band and it was really heavy rock, but I wanted to try to get away from that. It's probably the cheesiest lyric on the album, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of cheese now and again, is there?"
8. Call Me (written by Sam Brown/Margo Buchanan, produced by Sam Brown)
Margo is one of my closest friends and we've written together for years. It's about being a woman in today's world and all the different roles that that entails. A wife, a friend, a mother, a lover or even an escape route. Sometimes it's really hard to find yourself in there."
9. Out Of Focus (written by Sam Brown, produced by Pete Brown)
"It's when you just can't think straight, you can't remember where you've put things, you're forgetting appointments. Probably just being knackered from having children actually. Housewife's lament. I'm an artist - then I go home and clean the loo."
10. Blood Runs Cold (written and produced by Sam Brown)
"This started with the title - and I felt the lyric had to be chilling enough to illustrate this."
11. Learn To Listen (written by Sam Brown/Pete Brown, produced by Pete Brown)
"It's a matter of getting older. I think I have learned to listen now. In the past I was quite conceited. I thought I was listening, but actually I ignored a lot of good advice."
12. Rainbow (written and produced by Sam Brown)
"A song about the death of a love. It's not a specific event, it's a feeling I had that I wanted to put words to."
Band Line up:
Sam Brown (vocals, piano, Hammond, percussion)
Last Updated: 11th May 2003 | Top of page