Over the past few years, Sam Riggs, along with his band The Night People, has made quite an impact on the Texas music scene. In 2014, his debut LP release Outrun The Sun sent two songs to the Top 10 on the Texas Music Charts while another song, “Collide,” was featured on the ABC drama, “Nashville.” Additionally, Sam has recorded sessions for both the Texas Music Scene TV and Day Trotter. The singer- songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is primed for an incredibly successful 2015. Sam graciously took the time to talk about his roots, Outrun The Sun and what's ahead.
When did you begin to have an interest in music & a desire to pursue it professionally?
Well, I have been interested in music since I was a kid. My family was very musical. My mom played guitar and sang, my granddad played guitar and banjo and my dad played guitar. I guess I just picked up instruments because they were always lying around the house! When I was younger, my first aspiration was to be a bull rider and a race car driver, but before all of that I wanted to be a singer in a country band. As I got older and my ambitions changed, I came full circle back to music. After high school I went to work as a welder and soon decided that I didn’t want to work my life away doing something that I didn’t absolutely love. So I just hit the ground running and headed to Texas to start a music career.
Since music was prevalent in your house from a young age, what types of music were you exposed to?
There was all kinds of stuff, but one album that sticks out in my mind the most is Paul Simon’s Granceland. My mom gifted that album to my brother and myself. We traveled around the country quite a bit when I was younger, and that record is kind of like the soundtrack to my life. Of course I also listened to all of the greats: Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson and then Garth Brooks as I got older.
What spurred the move to Austin as opposed to say, Nashville?
Well, what I was trying to do with my music didn’t quite fit into the Top 40 pipeline. A friend of mine brought back a cd that had a bunch of Texas artists on it, like Randy Rogers and Reckless Kelly. I thought the music was great, unpolished and unfeigned, with these guys singing about real life. That turned me onto the Austin music scene and I thought, ‘hell, I’ll give it a shot.’
Are those artists you would want to model your career after?
At one point, definitely, but as I venture further out into the field, I would say my goals have changed and broadened. I think those guys are insanely talented and happy where they are with their circuit and their fans, but I’m looking past that now. You know, you can play 365 days a year in Texas at a different venue each night, but I want to be a bit more vicious about touring, both nationally and internationally.
Early on, you were mentored by Ray Wylie Hubbard. How did that come about?
I was introduced to Ray’s wife, Mother Hubbard [Judy], by a friend. I was going through a tough time and was faced with some things I never had encountered before. She helped me and taught me to pull myself up by my bootstraps when things got dark. I met Ray through her, and our relationship blossomed, first as teacher and student and then later as friends.
You have said that “He opened my eyes to songwriting, and I could see the idiot I had been and the idiot I was going to be, and he helped me to navigate that. He taught me what it really is to be a songwriter.” How did your songwriting change with him as a mentor/teacher?
I’d say my writing became more honest. I started writing in the tenth grade, and it was not good at all (laughing)! In my senior year of high school, I began writing more seriously. Some of the songs I had written when I met Ray, I was proud of, but I don’t remember half of them anymore (laughing). He taught me the importance of writing words that matter, which had a profound effect on me. He has a saying that when you write a song, if you cut the words, they should bleed; they should be living words, words that mean more than what the masses want to hear. What came out of that experience was the Lighthouse EP, which was full of songs that were very deep and emotional.
The Lighthouse EP was followed by your full length album, Outrun The Sun in October 2013, which really moved things around for you and the band.
When you make a record, you have certain hopes for the project, but Outrun The Sun took on a life of its own. It exceeded every expectation that I ever had and became a turning point in my, and the band’s, life. When you take the time to put something together with a lot of love and emotion and then see it come to life in some sort of almost Frankenstein like way..…it’s pretty incredible.
Outrun The Sun is really a complete record, full of story songs, ten of which you wrote or co-wrote. Is it important to you to write for your records?
It is important for me to write and sing songs I have written because I have to believe what I am singing. “Fire and Dynamite” [written by Drew Holcomb, the only song on the record not written by Riggs] I cut because it was a song I believed in and one that I felt I could make my own. We are working on a new record for this year, and there will be a couple of songs on there that I did not write, but most will be ones that I have written. I have a tendency to narrow down the songs, but also keep an open mind for what I choose to put on [the records].
The record produced two Top 10 singles on the Texas charts, “Angola’s Lament” and “Hold On And Let Go”, the latter of which had a motion picture quality music video. Will there be another single and accompanying video?
Yes, there will be one more single, “Long Shot,” which was the song I initially wanted to release first. “Long Shot” will be the song to carry us through the summer while we are in the process of making the new record. I would like to do a video for the song, but what we want to do and what we can do are two different things. We work hard to make videos that reflect the passion and intensity of the fan base. The fans allow us to do what we do, so, when we make a video, I like to have it be something special.
Your fans are certainly passionate about your live shows, which are known for being extremely energetic and electric.
I feel like the live show is the end game, right? It’s the culmination of everything we do here as artists, well, for me anyway. Everyone in that crowd paid money to see the show, so when I step on that stage, I feel that they deserve every single bit of me, and I’m not going to let them down. I have been modeling my approach after Garth Brooks - I want it to not just be a show, I want it to be an experience that people will never forget. Cody Johnson and I have this pact: 5 or 5000, it’s the same show - because everyone deserves it.
There were some pretty amazing moments for you in 2014. Do you have any one that is a specific highlight for you?
The huge highlight for me personally was that I got married in May. Professionally, having two Top 10 singles in one year was just great. The way that things have grown, the way the crowds have completely shown me and the band love and support has taken my breath away.
This year has barely begun, but many are saying it will be “your year.” What’s ahead?
It’s funny because every year you’re like, ‘this is it, this is the year things will happen,’ but as things have grown, it has become a monster of a machine. I have a great team, great management and of course great fans…..the whole nine yards. Moving into 2015, this year is going to be huge, and I am strapped on the rocket, ready for it to launch (laughing)!
In addition to the single and the new album, we are going to be touring non-stop. We’ll be in the northern part of the US and are talking about going to Ireland in the fall. When I’m not on the road, I’ll be busy writing. I’m going to be constantly going!
Finally, I always like to know if there is one album that came out recently that you cannot stop listening to?
I listen to all kinds of stuff, but one of my new favorite artists is Sturgill Simpson. Both his new record, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and his older one, are outstanding.
Watch the video for "Hold On and Let Go" here
For more information visit Sam's official website
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Purchase Outrun The Sun here