picking a favourite Sam Doores song is a little bit like choosing your favourite album from a selection of folk, blues, country, and Americana in a record shop.
From the Tumbleweeds and collaborations with fellow Deslonde, Riley Downing, to co-writing Hurray for the Riff Raff tunes with Alynda Lee Segarra, Sam Doores’ back catalogue to date draws on an eclectic array of music history, in the spirit of folk, with a toe in the old as he writes anew.
The Deslondes derive from New Orleans, named after the street on which they began. Their debut album is every bit rooted in the rhythm and blues of the state of New Orleans, continuing the work they started as the Tumbleweeds on Dollartone Records.
The Deslondes are a travelling band. You might well ask what band isn’t, but, aside from their seemingly constant touring, even listening to the Deslondes when stationary the songs conjure the road – a dusty, well-worn trail with lyrics and stories narrated with hardened sentiment, like the insta-classic country, folk and blues melodies played by calloused fingers on rusty strings.
As important as the melodies of the music the Deslondes’ sound is rooted in are the stories and writing behind it. The often simplistic-seeming structure of classic country and folk offer a deceptive framework wherein, with few words, times, places and lifetimes are captured and created. As such, it is music better experienced than described.
The Deslondes’ journey to date has seen the band whittled from the templates of others, but now as they cross the pond for their European tour, the band have carved their own identity with their self-titled album, released by New West Records. It is the paradox of being so rooted in the aforementioned genres and their home of New Orleans whilst constantly travelling and taking inspiration from the road that defines the Deslondes in their own right.
In tracing his evolution as a songwriter, from solo work to the sound of the Deslondes, it’s difficult to imagine a beginning, much like the timeless tales of folk and country that, to someone, is always new.
“Honestly, I started because of Woody Guthrie,” said Doores. “His music was a revelation for me. I was a drummer at the time and after reading his book, Bound for Glory, I picked up the guitar and started writing and singing. I still think about him and what he stood for when I write.”
What comes first – the tune or the lyrics? And to what extent do they influence one another?
SD: It’s different every time really. Sometimes I sit down at the piano or a fiddle and a melody falls out of nowhere. I haven’t the faintest idea what the song’s about until I’m walkin’ down the street a couple weeks later.
Other times I’ll be standing in line at a department store and overhear someone say something that catches my ear and the lyrics just pour out for a tune I haven’t made up yet.
Do you have an aim in mind of what you want to say when you sit down to write?
SD: Generally I don’t. Just try to stay open and ready to write anything. Sometimes I’ll get inspired by an idea or worked up about an article I read in the news and sit down with a goal in mind.
When playing live, is it challenging returning to the mindset in which you originally wrote a song?
SD: Yeah, that can be a real challenge. It helps to reinvent a songs meaning to some extent each time you sing it.
Touring all over the world from New Orleans to Manchester, England, how much do your surroundings influence your writing when travelling? Does it differ from place to place?
SD: Tremendously. I feel completely influenced by my surroundings at all times. We live in New Orleans and naturally our writing and our sound reflects that. When I lived in Ireland I found myself writing more ballads and sea Shanties.
How much does the writing process differ when you write with other people, rather than by yourself?
SD: It’s a completely different experience. You have to let go off whatever your original idea of the song was and be open to another person’s vision. I love writing with others, but you have to have a special kind of creative chemistry to pull it off.
How were things different writing with the Deslondes on the new album?
SD: We all work together and add a lot to each other’s tunes. That’s been my favourite part of being in this band. Most tunes we write on our own but soon as it goes through the band filter it sounds like a Deslonde song – each member contributes so much.
I’ve been thinking about songs as short stories quite a bit lately. Sometimes they just come out as simple emotions though.
Bob Dylan once said he doesn’t write songs, that he write short stories. Is that something you relate to when setting a scene in your songs?
SD: That’s something I’m working towards. I’ve been thinking about songs as short stories quite a bit lately. Sometimes they just come out as simple emotions though.
What do you think makes a listener associate with a song’s lyrics?
SD: It’s a mysterious thing that happens between the writer and the listener. There are so many factors involved… Life experience, the singing, the production, whether or not the writer was able to tap into something real and authentic – more than anything it’s just a feeling some people share.
What would you be if you weren’t making music?
SD: My poor parents have been asking me that for years. I really don’t know… My favourite “real” job I’ve ever had was working on a sustainable farm. I could get into something like that I bet.
The Deslondes are currently in the UK on their European tour. To find out more, or if you’re reading this too late, keep up with their journey here.
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