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Sammy Rae & The Friends

Sammy Rae shot by Mia Aguirre

Sammy Rae & The Friends is an alt/indie band that is rapidly rising in the music industry. Consisting of Sammy(vocals), Will(guitar), Kellon(alto sax), Max(tenor sax), Debbie(keys), JQ(bass), and CBass(drums), this band brings music to a whole other level. They do this through, as Sammy emphasizes in the interview, listening not only to each other as a band but also to their audience. They began releasing music in 2018 and have now accumulated about 17 released singles. With 7 members, Sammy Rae & The Friends are a family and they express that on and off the stage. They even make sure they include their fans as a part of The Friends. Sammy says in the interview “Our hope is that if we can make a family out of ourselves, and the audience can see that onstage and off, it will encourage them to work to make space for those around them in their communities as well”.

Read below to learn more about Sammy Rae & The Friends, including conversations on pride, hard work, advice about the music industry, sneak peeks, and so much more!

What does pride mean to you?

To me 'Pride' means permission to be myself. Queerness is so much deeper than gender identity and sexual orientation. While this is a part of the queer experience, being queer is also about self-love and self-permission! It's about walking through the world in earnest, constantly expanding your worldview, and reveling in your authentic self-expression. It's about being who you are. Pride Month is a time to celebrate how much the LGBTQIA+ community has overcome in the past few decades. It is a time to acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of queer folks from all walks of life. It is a time to educate ourselves more deeply on the Stonewall Riots, the gay civil rights movement, and the ways we can further advocate for the liberation of LGBTQIA+ folks across the United States and beyond. It is a time to connect with, socialize with, offer support to, and uplift the LGBTQIA+ people in our lives. It is a time to meditate on the notion that all people deserve the right to love who they want, and live their authentic lives expressing themselves fully! Pride Month is a time to do all those things and share that perspective with the world. But above all (in my opinion), Pride Month is a time to educate ourselves on the LGBTQIA+ trailblazers that have come before us, their sacrifices and accomplishments, and the ways in which they have paved the way for a more inclusive way of life. More on this in a later answer!

Who are The Friends?

The Friends are the 6 band members of Sammy Rae & The Friends who are not Sammy Rae. The Friends is also the community of people who support this band by buying tickets and merch, streaming our music, and sharing our content with their communities. If you've ever come to a Sammy Rae & The Friends show, you are a part of The Friends! Sammy, Will, Kellon, Max, Debbie, JQ, and CBass are just the 7 Friends you see every night at every show. But The Friends is how we address our greater community of those who support us doing our thing.

What sets you apart from other bands?

Firstly, we're big. There are 7 people on stage, all of whom play several instruments in the studio and during the show. Secondly, we're a family onstage and off. It takes a great deal of trust, communication, and understanding to live on a tour bus with each other for most of the year. There's a siblingship there that we've always kept at the forefront of everything we do. We have a vision for this project to grow over time, with us, as our lives change around it. We've seen each other through break ups, family losses, new pets, new apartments, and wedding engagements...and we work just about as hard at maintaining that family dynamic as we do the music. It's hard work. We come from all different walks of life, all different studies of music, and all over the world. Our hope is that if we can make a family out of ourselves, and the audience can see that onstage and off, it will encourage them to work to make space for those around them in their communities as well. A huge part of our mission is not just to make killing music, but to exemplify love to our audience.

How did Sammy Rae and The Friends become what they are today?

The previous answer has a lot to do with this. We listen to each other. We listen to the audience. The band trusts my vision and they listen to me and our team. I always envisioned us as a band made for big venues. In the beginning, it was hard (as it is to start anything new) to be fearless and steadfast in that vision. I always paid my band to establish respect, even if it was minimal. If I couldn't afford the rehearsal studio or the players, I would pick up extra shifts babysitting or at the pizza restaurant I worked at for a number of those early years and save up until I could afford the gig. I upcycled a lot of our outfits for the stage from Dollar Tree or Rainbow outfits with hot glue, felt, and sequins. I never took no for an answer, from any venue or any studio. I distinctly remember one venue not believing me when I said I was the front person when I showed up for load-in. They made some misogynistic comments. I never returned. I never let my being a woman or being queer or being young or being unknown stand in the way of putting on a great show or finding some sort of loophole contact for the venue I was looking to get into. I guess you could say we faked it until we made it. When it came time to add some team members like a booking agent, tour manager, and band manager, I was upfront about who I was and how this band operated: as a family first, but also as a group of professionals. In the band, we call it 'vibe checking' before anyone comes on board. We need to hang out and be our wacky selves in front of them to see if they can hang with 7 adults who very much lead with their inner child. From the very first show, I've always asked the audience at the end to come back with a friend if they enjoyed themselves. It's simple math, the rooms started doubling in size and would always sell out. We always give the audience what they ask for, but only if it's in line with our vision for the future and the reasons we started this project.

When did you begin creating music?

I started writing songs when I was about 12. Around that time, my parents had a few CDs they played on repeat. The bands I remember most vividly are ACDC, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, and Fleetwood Mac. I come from classic rock, and I come from bands. I was always inspired by bands. I never wanted to grow up and make music solo. I thought it was such a cool life to make art with your friends and travel around the world collecting great memories together, with people you could share these memories with. I took piano lessons for a brief period of time when I was little-little, like 4 to 8, and then fell off it. I started to pick it back up again by ear around 12 and also found the ukulele around age 15. I was attracted to the concept of writing songs as a 'safe' way to express my emotions with metaphor and analogy. I could be as vague to the listener as I wanted and still get my feelings out. I could write my own version of things that happened to me or never happened to me. I loved that idea.

Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?

The road! And also, nature! It is an inherently loud and stimulating life we live, performing for so many people almost every night. I always find myself called to retreat to nature to get some peace, quiet, and inspiration for new songs. A chance to process what magic I've been experiencing out on the road, listen to myself, and write.

What do you want your fans to take away from your music?

There are a few big themes in SR&TF tunes (at least the ones that aren't character tunes, like 'Jackie O'.) Be unabashedly yourself. Never stop growing. Find joy in the little things in life. Every day is a gift. Be good to those around you, yourself, and the Earth. You've got a place in this world, and you are important. Being your authentic self is an easy way to make the world a better place. I hope these themes ring true for our audience and shape the way they view the world!

Do you have any advice for people starting out in the music industry?

Go to every show, and meet every person. While it seems daunting, you can't create all the music you want to create only by working with yourself. You need to collaborate and learn from other people you admire to grow as an artist. See every show you can, and connect with the musicians afterward. Start building your community as soon as you can! Ask people to go to coffee so you can 'pick their brains'. Every person has a different story about how they got started, and it's worth it to hear as many stories and as much advice as you can. It’s also important to consume lots of different types of music as you discover what moves you and rings true to you, this will help you shape your own individual sound and style as a musician.

If you could perform anywhere, where would it be?

I've spent some time visiting Mexico City, which quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world. I would love to be able to play in Mexico City, around Mexico, and on a South America tour. And also Madison Square Garden. Which we will eventually do. I front a band in Brooklyn. You have to dream about The Garden ;)

What are some common misconceptions people have about Pride Month? How do you think we can address them?

I think a lot of people both inside and outside of the LGBTQIA+ umbrella see Pride Month as an all-around joyful time for queer folk. Parties! Parade! PRIDE! In reality, a lot of LGBTQIA+ people (those who are both out and about, and maybe not out fully or at all) have a hard time with Pride month. This can be a time when people have their queerness and past or present queer trauma at the forefront of their brains. For example, seeing and hearing so much conversation about the LGBTQIA+ community and experience might bring up memories of times when an individual was targeted, bullied, or made to feel bad about themselves in the past. It might also be a time when queer folk still in the closet experience sadness that they aren't ready, or don't feel safe enough to 'join the party'. I personally experienced that sentiment every Pride Month until I came out at 25 years old.

Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. On June 28th of 1969, patrons and the community of The Stonewall Inn, a prominent gay bar in New York City, rioted against police who had organized a raid to arrest individuals presumed to be 'homosexual'. While we can celebrate that this event kicked off an important time in LGBTQIA+ history, we can't forget that many people were killed, fired from their places of work, arrested, and so on for being visible in the riot and taking part in adjacent events. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans-woman and LGBTQIA+ rights activist, who is widely considered the mother and spearhead of this movement, was murdered in 1992. This case remains unsolved. Many other LGBTQIA+ activists in this time lost their lives to violence at the hands of police and bigots, as well as the AIDS epidemic which disproportionately affected their community (and therefore, was not taken very seriously as a public health crisis by the United States Government).

While Pride month is a time to celebrate how far we have come as a community and a country, it should primarily be a time to remember where and why we started. It is also a time to mourn the loss of LGBTQIA+ lives over the decades, and advocate for those queer folk who are still targeted and discriminated against in certain parts of this country. We can address this by educating ourselves...everyone! Straight folks and allies, and queer folks as well! LGBTQIA+ history and culture are deep, important, and extend back much further than you might expect. Even if you consider yourself well-educated on the topic, dig deeper. Chances are you'll find a queer inventor, artist, politician, or doctor who you never knew about, and learn something that changes your worldview.

Have you ever struggled with your pride? Do you have any advice for those who are?

Totally. I touched on this briefly in the last question. I knew I was queer from the time I was a child, but I didn't give myself permission to talk about that with friends and family, or fully be myself until I was about 25. I had a hard time watching other people celebrate who they were, especially during Pride Month. I was also very intimidated by what my family would think. Even though they had never made me feel threatened, or like I couldn't be openly queer around them (and they were hugely supportive of me from the moment I came out to them) I had a lot of internalized homophobia instilled in me by the church, the media, and generally the world. I can tell you that once I gave myself the freedom to stand in my authentic self as a queer woman and artist, I started to attract all the things in life I had ever wanted; good friends, meaningful work that fulfilled me, musical inspiration, body positivity, and healthy and beautiful love relationships. It's hard to give someone advice on how to overcome the fear they might have about being their authentic self as a queer person because that experience looks very different for everyone. Some people live in locations and situations where they risk losing their jobs, homes, or family if they come out. While gay marriage has been legal in the United States since 2015 in all 50 states, I want to reiterate that queerness is so much deeper than that. While the right to love who you want is there in the law, there is so much discrimination, exclusion, and hate which is implied socially and politically. I would say this: You have to be yourself as hard as you can. Otherwise, you will spend your whole life frustrated that you can't achieve the ultimately unattainable goal of being someone else. The easiest way to make the world a better place is to be yourself so loudly and stand so firmly in your joy, that it encourages others to be themselves and stand in their joy. Imagine a world where people stop pretending, and just exist. You are allowed to be who you are. While you may not always feel that way, you are allowed to be the most joyful and full version of yourself. Unfortunately, some people who aren't comfortable enough with themselves won't understand that. Your joy will unsettle them. There are people out there who understand and love you. You just need to look for them. And you can't attract the people, the opportunities, or the energy that you truly want unless you put your true self out there.

What is your favorite song you have written/played so far?

I really love 'Saw It Coming'. It's a bit of an underdog, but it's a joy to sing and perform and I think the messaging is really lovely and whimsical. It kinda lives in my head as the quintessential SR&TF song. That, and 'Denim Jacket'.

What is in store for you guys? Is anything new coming up?

We're headed out on a fall world tour! We'll hit a lot of major cities in the US and UK, as well as some more of Europe. In between time on the road, we're happy to say we're working on our first full-length album. Fans can expect it in mid-2024!

Sammy Rae & The Friends will be performing at the SummerStage show in Central Park on 6/15 from 7 pm-10 pm (doors open at 6 pm). It will definitely be a show you won’t want to miss! So get your tickets now. We hope to see you there!

Interviewed and Written by Grace Bugin

Photography by Mia Aguirre

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