Les Sampou Biography
Right now it seems to want female singer-songwritersùwomen expressing themselves in a way that's honest, direct, vulnerable and emotionally loud. Writers like Ani, Alanis, Sarah and many other women, discovered and undiscovered, are delivering. Les Sampou delivers too ù a collection of hook-laden songs about disillusionment, revenge, petty wars, and admitted failure...all heavy stuff, but when you sit back and listen, you dance to the loss.
"I was knocked out by the CD ("Les Sampou"). Every so often an album comes along in a particular genre that ups the ante for everyone else. This is a powerful artistic statement with commercial potential.... These days it's rare to find an album that holds my attention from beginning to end. On the CD player it's easy to skip the bits that don't excite. (Les') album is a complete work that sustains throughout. It is a powerful achievement... and it stands out among the best things I've heard in a long while." Sean Timmons, Promoter, Appel Farm Music Festival
Les turns it up a notch on her new self-titled release. On Flying Fish/Rounder Records, "Les Sampou" is a departure from her folk/blues roots moving more mainstream, alternating folk rock and modern rock arrangements ù a from-the-hip delivery start to finish, and, par for the Les Sampou course, there are no fillers here.
What does remain the same between albums is her talent as a songwriter no matter the genre. "In writing this album of songs, it's obvious I spent most of my time at the deep end of the emotional pool," Sampou says, "but, mining my dark side provided the richest inspiration this time around. To me, it's an album about love and anti-love. Some emotions aren't that fun to sit with during the time it takes to write the song; in fact, I know I'm on to something if I'm crying and writing at the same time," she laughs, "but art is often fresh insight that the pain of living provides so generously, so you gotta get it while it's hot."
While "Les Sampou" has its light-hearted diversions heard in "Sitting on Jupiter," and "Afraid of the Dark," respectively an alternative rockabilly hybrid about the fragility of the ozone, and a Little Featesque song about the trepidation of falling in love, the album's thematic core arrives with the very first cut, "Broken Pieces," where Sampou confesses "All my lovers have been lost, bad boys, I guess the broken pieces catch my eye...like shiny glass, they mirror back some part of me I try to hide."
What Sampou can't hide is her talent: Les is a triple threatùa unique and accomplished guitarist, a chanteuse with a voice "capable of ripping off rafter-raising blues tunes and then turning even grand concert halls into house concerts with her intimate balladry" (Boston Globe 2/99), and a songcrafter of the highest quality who whittles and smoothes every line by hand. "Layered meanings, inner rhyme, symbolism are just some of the games I play when I write. But the goal is to create a universal point to each song. What's challenging is finding and revealing what's truth. With this group of songs, I laid bare my own bones of how I love and don't love, forgive and don't forgive," Sampou says.
"It was really important to me to disguise the intensity of the lyric behind what Adam calls the "booty factor," Sampou explains when referring to her co-producer Adam Steinberg (younger brother of Sebastian Steinberg/Soul Coughing) a Boston producer/musician who recently toured Lilith Fair with Patty Griffin. "The booty factor means, in order for a track to stay on the record and not end up on the floor, it's got to make you move right down to your gut...that's where the music gets you...that's where our deepest emotions and desires lay."
To insure "booty factor" throughout, Sampou and Steinberg hired a top notch crew including bassist Lou Ulrich of the popular Boston band "Groovasaurus" and John Sands, another Beantown session player who toured with Amy Mann of Til Tuesday; Tom West on piano and Hammond organ from the Duke Levine band; Mariah Carey's keyboardist Andrew Sherman, to name a few. "It was easily the best musical experience of my life," Sampou says about the time she spent in the studio. "It was my first real experience as a producer and all that mattered in my life for those nine months was every sound that went down."
Sampou grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, one of five children with no musical heritage other than her parent's collection of Burl Ives, Peter Paul & Mary, and Joan Baez records, but she began singing as soon as she could talk, memorizing old folk songs for long family car rides. Writing began in the form of journals, poetry, plays and prose at the age of 12, but it wasn't until she was in her mid-twenties that her musical muse finally, as she describes it, woke up. "Every weekend in high school I went to at least one rock concert at the Boston Garden or the Orpheum. But while I dreamed of being up there on stage, I never seriously thought I could do it. It took a lot of searching, a lot of other jobs, and perhaps a bit of fate to commit to music full time. But once I started, I never looked back."