The music of Slow Bullet is vibrant yet vulnerable, revealing but masked, gently melodic and loud. Sam DeBurgh explains how his music can be totally contradictory and incredibly unique.
Dave Hawkins: Thanks for coming for a talk Sam.
Sam DeBurgh: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Dave: The name Slow Bullet is new label for you, since you used to go by Spider Mansion. It’s sort of like you moved from Halloween to The Matrix.
Sam: Yes, indeed! You’re not wrong.
Dave: Why the switch?
Sam: I started Spider Mansion when I was 17 years old and now, putting out my first LP on a label, there was a need for a restart, a rebranding, if you want to call it that. I think it was time, because the songs I wrote for Spider Mansion were different. The whole project now is different, so we went ahead, renamed it, and took the first step as Slow Bullet.
Dave: With Spider Mansion being started at 17, you’ve now hit the ripe old age of ……?
Sam: I’m 21 now.
Dave: So, you’re over the hill. (laughs)
Sam: Definitely! (laughs) I think my best creative years are behind me. (laughs)
Dave: That’s it. It’s a downward spiral from now on. (laughs)
Sam: That’s what I’ve heard. (laughs)
Dave: I know that Slow Bullet is a solo effort with you doing everything. Have there ever been times where you’ve wanted to pull in other members to help out?
Sam: Uhmm, I could see myself maybe doing the band thing a couple of years down the road. I think as long as I have the songs in me I’d like to do it myself, but I’m definitely not opposed, at some time and place, maybe opening it up to the idea of a band. I think as far as right now, I’m really sort of into the idea of creating and authoring it all myself. It’s a really fun and unique process.
Dave: Solo artists are sometimes concerned that by pulling in other band members they might lose control of their own music.
Sam: Yeah, that’s definitely what I’ve heard. I’ve played in other bands and side project stuff. So I know I still need to work on the chemistry and that magic of being able to collaborate with people.
Dave: We’ve talked about Spider Mansion so I guess this question will take us back to those days. At some point, every musician wants to start recording and have people hear their music. When did that begin for you?
Sam: I started just recording stuff at home. I think from a really, really young age I’ve been into writing, whether it’s been poetry or songs. So I had all these songs. Probably around 16 I started dabbling in recording stuff onto a computer. I put out a good number of EP’s. You know, just crappy computer recorded stuff. I’m not really super learned on the recording side of things, but I did my best, as you could imagine, just being a kid in my basement.
Dave: But it works.
Sam: Yeah, definitely. (laughs) It’s a place to start.
Dave: Is it important for you to be a musician Sam? Like, is there something you’re trying to achieve?
Sam: It’s funny that I was thinking about this the other day in a conversation with somebody. I think there are certain people that just have the need to write and express themselves. That’s always how I’ve been as a person. Whether I played in a band or not, or whether I had the opportunity to put out records or not, I would still be writing and creating. That’s just my disposition. I write a bit every day and 98% don’t turn into anything. It makes it my life easier to write out my thoughts and poems. So yeah, I think musicianship is a great medium for it, but regardless, I would I still find myself going through these creatives paths. It’s my disposition.
Dave: I’ve found that the songs of Slow Bullet can be dark. Since lyrics are a reflection of the songwriters, it leaves me wondering if there are any bright times in your life.
Sam: Yeah! (laughs) From a young age I’ve been able to capture the necessity for expressing that in song. I think that actually allows for my personal and social life to be a pretty positive and normal thing. I’m not really a brooding kind of guy. (laughs) I’m not overly emotional in real life. Getting to channel that stuff through the music is the only outlet I need. (laughs) There are plenty of bright spots on a daily basis.
Dave: So if you were a poet, you wouldn’t try to emulate Edgar Allan Poe? (laughs)
Sam: No. Definitely not in the lifestyle aspect by any means. (laughs)
Dave: Then how much of your LP, Still Close Enough to Go Back, is written from your own personal experience?
Sam: The first song and the last song, kind of intentionally, are about me and my personal experience. Everything in between is a big stew of personal things and stories of other people. Some fiction and some stories of real people that I know and things that they’ve gone through. It all sort of goes through the filter of the way that I perceive the world, but definitely that first and last track are coming from a personal, literal, standpoint.
Dave: I think one of the most impactful songs is “Forgive Yourself”. Can you share what brought that song out?
Sam: Yeah. That one’s interesting because it might have more of a personal angle than a lot of the other songs on the record. I’m really fascinated by the idea of having to forgive yourself. Whether you’ve felt wracked with guilt. I that think half the time it’s very difficult to forgive yourself and half the time it’s really easy. There’s a line on the song; “It’s too easy to forgive myself because I’ve done it a thousand times”. I don’t think that I really have any trouble forgiving myself most of the time, because I can do shameful things in life and I don’t feel guilty about them. I think that sometimes, you know, you look at yourself in the mirror and you realize that you’ve turned into this hard-hearted person that you didn’t want to be. It’s because it’s not as hard to forgive yourself, for a lot of things, as people might make it seem. So the song comes from that angle. Definitely an introspective thing, you know? I want to ask myself all the time ‘Is it way too easy to forgive myself for the wrong things that I’ve done?’ I don’t want to become desensitized to that as a person.
Dave: Then forgiving yourself a thousand times, means that it’s a repeating sequence of what’s been going on? How do you change yourself from that?
Sam: That’s an interesting question. I think that for myself I want to look into myself as often as possible and really, really practically think about how the words I say and the things that I do affect the people around me.
There’s a big theme across the record about family and marriage, divorce, and children. The reason being is that your family is the best gauge to use when you’re thinking about how you treat other people. Not everyone has a family who they’re close with or still together, but if you do, you’re able to look at your family situation over the years. You see how you treat your mom and see how you treat your dad and your siblings. That’s a great indicator of how you are as a person, on a daily basis. That plays into the forgive yourself too. So I really want to be intentional about how I treat other people and sometimes I notice those bad habits. Maybe that’s where some of those darker themes come from.
Dave: The song order of an album is usually intentional. That makes me curious as to whether you were searching for a redeeming moment by having “What A Friend” follow the song “Eating Puke”. A song that talks about being hypocritical.
Sam: I think that’s up to the listener to take it how they want. If they want a redeeming moment for them, then I think that’s great. That wasn’t my intention. I think that including the excerpt from “What a Friend We have In Jesus” is meant to serve as a prelude to the song “Penance”, that comes after. As the closer for “Easting Puke”. I think it fits the record in sort of an ironic way. There’s a lot on the album about trials and suffering and the difficulty of life on earth. There’s a line in that hymn that I was never sure if I actually believed it or not. It’s “Oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer”. I’ve noticed, over the course of my life, that I carry things to God in prayer and I still feel pain about them. So I think that was not meant to be redemptive, but as maybe another dark and introspective look into yourself and what you believe. Again, it’s 100% up to the listener to take it how they will.
Dave: You were speaking about penance. You don’t hear people using that old word. Maybe you should share about that song.
Sam: Yeah. I’m sort of endlessly fascinated by religious imagery and specifically Christian imagery from the Catholic and evangelical faiths, because that’s what I come from. Stuff like that goes a really long way for me, whether it’s in films or novels or music. At the time I was fascinated by this idea of penance, of paying for your sins and being forgiven. The way that it fits into the song is very similar to “What a Friend We have In Jesus”. The idea that I can go to a priest, confess my sins and pay for them. I can do what it takes to make things right, but that’s not going to make my life any better. That may just be my personal experience. Depending on what you believe about God and the world, you may have a different experience. I’m really fascinated by the idea that the good that we do doesn’t bring about blessings in our life in some superstitious way. You know, you can make penance for your sin or you can keep committing sin and you’re still going to suffer. I think that was sort of my thought process when writing that song.
Dave: Since the music of Slow Bullet is written from a Christian perspective, have you ever wondered if your music could make some Christians uncomfortable?
Sam: I think so. Probably.
Dave: Then I guess another question would be; is it intentional to make them uncomfortable?
Sam: It’s definitely not intentional. I don’t sit down to write anything hoping for one reaction or another from any person, but I can see how a more traditional or conservative Christian might have a different worldview than what I express in the songs. That’s fine. I come from a more contemplative place. It’s never been enough for me to say; This is God, this is who he is, and this is how it’s going to go. I dig deeper into things. If that makes people uncomfortable, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not my intention. That’s going to happen in art.
Dave: I love that answer. It’s like a politicians response. You would make a great politician. (laughs)
Sam: I don’t know, if in this day and age, whether that’s a compliment or an insult. (laughs)
Dave: (laughs) We’re not going to get into American politics are we?
Sam: Hopefully not! (laughs)
Dave: is a full length, but it’s also quite short. Just over 28 minutes for 11 songs. Does creating a brief song make it more impactful than a long track?
Sam: I don’t know if it’s necessarily as cut and dried as that, but it certainly could be. I shudder at the thought of ever writing a song or record just to be different or to maybe fit into a mold. What I mean by that is that I kind of write the songs as they come out of me. That’s how I record them and how they’re released. I’d certainly thought about that. It is a short record and some of the songs are short, but that’s just how it came out. I would feel a lack of integrity if I went into the studio and extended parts just so it could be longer. I want it to be as genuine and as natural as it comes out.
Back to your point, if that helps it to be more resonant to a listener, I think that’s great. I like it when a band or a movie doesn’t drone on too long. I like to take it and collect my thoughts about it.
Dave: Talking about your style, you draw in quite a variety. Some are quite mellow, with slow paced acoustic numbers. Then others are hard hitting. Where does your music background come from?
Sam: I like to listen to a lot of everything. I hope that reveals itself in my music. It was definitely intentional, on this record, to not write 11 songs that sounded the same. But with that there’s always a danger that you’ll end up with a record not sounding cohesive. I would much prefer that the cohesion between my songs come from the subject matter, the lyrics, and the general tone and feeling, rather than just the music. If I have the opportunity to go into a studio and create a record, I want it to showcase a variety of things. I want it to be fresh and interesting on every single song.
Dave: It’s interesting that, Still Close Enough to Go Back, is full of doubts, fears, pain, and questions. There’s not many answers. So, what do you want your listeners to draw from the album?
Sam: I think that questioning, in itself, can be an OK thing for people. That could be a young person raised in the church or somebody whose a bit older and has made up their mind about more things. I think that you shouldn’t be afraid to question. It can be a valuable thing. I don’t think that those questions actually merit an answer in order to be complete. The concept of questioning can be a lesson and an answer in itself. I’m also a fan of having the listener creating their own answer, if that’s what they want to do. I’m not here to tell people what to do. I don’t like it when an artist spoils their music with a one-sided interpretation. That’s the beauty of putting art out into the world. People can take it and go whatever direction they want to go with it.
Dave: Then for you as the artist, could you say that there’s one song that actually defines who you are?
Sam: That’s a tough question. I really like the record as a whole. I like having the concept of an LP defining the band, rather than a song. Each of the songs are so different. I mean there are some that I like better than others, but the record is 28 minutes. Maybe if you have 28 minutes to listen to it, you can let that be its own thing. That might speak a little bit more. If that makes sense.
Dave: Sure, we’ll just pretend that it’s one entire prog rock song. (laughs)
Sam: Yeah! That works! (laughs)
Dave: If that’s the case for now, what do you see happening in the future for Slow Bullet?
Sam: Well like I said, I’m writing everyday. I’m going to keep putting out collections of songs that are organic and reflective of the things that are going on inside my head. I hope that people will be able to find themselves in the music. If not, then it will be something I need to do for myself. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and see what happens. (laughs)
Dave: This has been awesome Sam. Thanks for coming and sharing about Slow Bullet.
Sam: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for the thoughtful questions. I appreciate it.
Slow Bullet’s Still Close Enough to Go Back is available through Blood & Ink Records. http://www.bloodandinkrecords.com/site/releases/
About the interviewer: Dave Hawkins is host of The Antidote, a syndicated weekly radio broadcast featuring interviews with innovative artists who share a Christian worldview. http://www.theantidoteradio.com/