Q&A: Sam Ray of Teen Suicide is as deep and ethereal as the music he creates

by Micaela Stanley

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The singer and musician opens up about the digitalization of music, the embarrassment of inspiration, and the joys of a broken CD player.

The life of the 25 year old Maryland native Sam Ray is as deep and ethereal as the music he creates. From opting out of college to hang out in the woods, to producing music under a variety of different names, Ray has found comfort in the constant development of his circumstances, ideas, and sound. He’s a force of refined energy who lives for himself, free from the burdens of approval and validation. This mindset is prevalent in the ambient experimentation that is his music.

Along with his band, Teen Suicide, Ray has made a name for himself by putting out a wide collection of emotive music via Bandcamp. Overtime, the melancholic beats and loose pop punk melodies earned Teen Suicide a devoted following and an expansive volume of diverse tracks. The band’s growing popularity comes from their ability to express a wide range of emotions and sounds that invite the listener to feel at home within the warmth of their noise and the honesty of their lyrics.

Their newest, and final, album, It's the Big Joyous Celebration, Let's Stir the Honeypot reflects this same warmth and honesty, thus encompassing the spirit and style that is entirely Sam Ray.

I was able to talk with Sam about the digitalization of music, the embarrassment of inspiration, and the joys of a broken CD player.

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What are some of the challenges you face when making music that can be streamed?

I actually have more challenges with it as a listener. All the music I’ve loved, a good portion of it, has come from people handing me things.

Well. That’s changed.

Yeah, whether it’s a CD or a thumb drive or someone sending me a Dropbox link. In many ways I miss the secrecy of those transactions.

Yeah, but if you make music to keep it a secret, how do you make any money? Does streaming help your bottom line?

We’re not that big, but a lot of our income comes from Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes sales. That’s the thing about keeping something hidden cause it’s so good or whatever: it kind of sits in the middle where people I’ve known, even family members with great taste, or friends, or friends of friends, have passed me things and said “you gotta hear this it’s awesome, no one's heard it,” and then I’ll just kind of download whatever. There’s a lot of bands and artists who've gotten very popular that way.

Are you ever surprised by what inspires you?

Yeah all the time. Recently, I was creating music on my computer and I needed to sample a song that had strings, and the only one I could isolate at that moment was that Linkin Park song Faint, with that very gross sounding string and break thing. So I grabbed that and I ended up repurposing it, re-recording notes, and changing the melody. There’s this idea that you have to be doing things that are traditionally cool or ahead of whatever the curve is at the time. They stand out in some way, and if you get stuck, thinking about how exactly to do that, it’s very limiting. You can end up making something a lot more interesting if you just use whatever is lying around and not really think about it. That’s why I agreed the whole rap rock period of time was an embarrassing period of my life in particular. It was well before I ever made music, but you know.

I am going to admit that I also owned “Three Dollar Bill Y’all”. And I will have no shame in saying I was like 12. I think it’s because I was introduced to the wrong songs by great bands. I liked Talking Heads when I heard them on the radio, but they just only seemed to play “Burning Down the House”, which is a cool song, but is a weird place to start with the Talking Heads.

Oh yeah that’s definitely happened to me too. I’ll hear one song, and then someone’s like “oh that songs goofy, they’re like a joke band,” and I never think to listen to them for like five years, and then I’m like older and like “what the fuck am I doing with my time, this shit’s awesome.”

What about a favorite album? Is there one that has stuck with you throughout your career?

I guess the Yo La Tengo record “And Then Nothing Turns Itself Out” is probably the thing I’ve listened to the most for the past three or four years at this point. It never grows old. I got into it cause it was in a thrift store somewhere and I had a car that only played CDs, so I picked it up and it just got stuck in the CD player and I never got mad at that.