Article by: Annalee “Alee” Noel
Hot off a string of recent releases, Sam Foxx refuses to slow down. His latest arrival, “The Martian” and “Phantom” arrive well packaged on an A-side/B-side single. His busy string of releases include “Money,” played out by Pendulum at EDCLV in October, “Oh Baby" headed by Reid Speed, and "Lose My Mind" on Yana in the UK. He also has signed upcoming releases stacked out all the way until August. In the emerging American Drum and Bass scene, Sam Foxx is definitely a name to know. This writer was lucky enough to sit down with him for a chat, but first let's get to a little track analysis.
“The Martian” opens up with slippery sonic elements and an inspired radioed vocal, “the following message is being transmitted at the request of the Office of Civil Defense, this is an emergency broadcast, this is not a test… this is not a test, this is a dangerous situation.” The video-game vocal opening with a stripped back drum section definitely makes you sit up on the edge of your seat, curious for what follows. “The Martian’s are coming this way, we must evacuate the city,” are the pre-drop vocals and it slams you into a tasty DnB drop full of glitchy, yet slippery bass sounds draped over delicious drums. The dry snare in particular roots the drums together as a contrast and really adds to the overall groove of the track. A brief break with dropping risers and bell-like elements give you a moment of relief, but you know ‘The Martian’ is far from done. The vocals chirp back in once again creating suspense as they carry you into the build and then run you right into the following drop. Escalating tones throughout the track almost have a high-end submarine-pulse quality, creating the dark shadowy sonic landscape of “The Martian,” while buzzy and complex bass noises round it out on the low-end. Just as you are enjoying the track bump through the second drop it tapers off, and one can only assume that the city was most certainly not saved, falling to the Martians invading from the nearly hidden maniacal laughs in the background.
Contrastingly “Phantom” provides a sort of release from “The Martian.” Quick history lesson: This choice of having the B-Side of the single is actually a common old practice. Several iconic bands over history used to release an “extra” on the B-Side that was sometimes the band’s favorite, or just a free track for fans. These B-Sides were often stripped-back tracks or more chill offerings that strayed from the initial single idea or album idea. However, those were the years of vinyl, and with the rise of cassettes, CDs, and now digital releases, the A-Side/B-Side model has mostly died. Bringing it back is not only advantageous to artists, but a really fun way to give more on what we would think of as a traditional ‘single’ release. “Phantom” definitely has a different flavor than “The Martian,” with its second drop being half-time, but the sonic palette has so much overlap it was an easy choice to release them as a double offering.
‘Phantom’ starts with a spooky overall vibe with very few elements, showing Sam Foxx’s more minimalistic side. The long intro gives you time to settle into the different vibe of the track with the few female vocal elements, drifting chord pads, and almost relaxing drums. Then just like a literal phantom, the drop sneaks up on you completely out of a very short build, announced by a male vocal calling out “The Phantom”. A buzzy bassline and changing tonal wonks through the drop keep it fully alive and engaging. Along with the perfectly timed pauses and tasteful turnarounds, the first drop is perfection. The break brings us back to the nearly ethereal chords and pads of the intro with the female vocal again, except with the fresh addition of drums to keep your head bopping along. The second drop is similar sonically, but switching to half-time drums keeps a looser feel to the groove of the track, allowing you to easily sway back and forth. Then just as suddenly as it began, it’s unfortunately over and descending chords usher you to the tracks end.
Sam Foxx and I sat down at good ole’ Fat Sal’s in the heart of Los Angeles to talk about his upcoming move out of LA, his creative process and direction for his project.
ALEE: So first off, I have to ask what kind of music you listen to, because your drum and bass doesn’t sound a ton like other drum and bass.
SAM FOXX: I listen to the Pixies, Wu Tang, Pink Floyd and A Tribe Called Quest and old school emo shit. Pink Floyd is definitely an influence of mine. My favorite album of theirs is The Division Bell, which is one of the most influential albums I have ever heard in my life…Besides the Linkin Park x Jay-Z collab album, Collision Course, that was pure fire. The Division Bell is literally an entirely continuous album which is beautiful. When I try to write music, I don’t listen to a ton of electronic music because I don’t want to try to mimic that in the back of my head. I don’t want it to influence my creativity on what I’m feeling at that moment.
ALEE: I love it when people do that with albums! It’s somewhere between a mixtape and a work of art because it flows so well. You aren’t really writing using a reference track then when you sit down to produce?
SAM FOXX: I will reference some sort of arrangement just to get a flow, but other than that I just shut my brain off and start writing and whatever comes out; sound design, drum patterns, everything it’s all me I don’t think about anything else.
ALEE: So you’d say you have a really authentic approach to writing then?
SAM FOXX: Yeah, I definitely try to not sound like anyone else. I’ll talk to my friends and they’ll be like ‘well everyone sounds like somebody’ well I can’t place my music usually off other labels or other people’s music usually.
ALEE: That’s definitely true from what I’ve heard of your music. To talk about the A-Side/B-Side, the two tracks are very unique from each other, yet with overarching sonic elements which I found really cool. Ending on the B-Side with the second drop of ‘Phantom’ being half-time, what was your inspiration behind that? And which track did you write first?
SAM FOXX: I wrote ‘Phantom’ first and originally the half-time drop was the first drop. I sent it out to people and they were like ‘oh no, you need to switch it’ and it was going to be a full half-time song. I was going to change the second drop the way I did on ‘Oh Baby,’ how I did that with a completely different sound design. But then I actually wrote ‘The Martian’ which was going to be a different A/B single drop. Then I realized the two songs worked really well together because it’s a similar sound palette. Sent it off to Reid and Play Me, they said ‘yo these are fire, we are gonna do that’ so we went with that. I really like having the ending of it with ‘Phantom’ with the half-time too, and you get the little tease of the hip hop feel at the beginning of it, just *chefs kiss* [laughs] Can’t believe I’m talking about my own music like that…
ALEE: [laughs] No, it’s really good! As one should be proud of their work! What is a little bit of inspiration then behind ‘The Martian’?
SAM FOXX: I just love space stuff, the original songs I wrote were all about space, I had a song called ‘To The Moon’ and another song, ‘Solar’ something, and they just didn’t click as well all together. So ‘Phantom’ and ‘The Martian’ together worked well. I actually watched ‘Mars Attacks’ a couple days before I wrote that and I love that movie, so I was like ‘okay cool this would be dope’.
ALEE: That actually brings me to my next question! Do you draw inspiration from film and other art or is it driven by real-life situations and emotions, or kind of a play of both?
SAM FOXX: It’s a little bit of both. I did write a song that’s not out yet after watching Field of Dreams. I sampled that and that hits home since my great-grandpa played baseball. So that’s where Foxx comes from as his last name, and it’s my middle name, so it’s literally me and my family name. So it comes from films and old school music. I'll watch something and the next morning I’ll just start writing. I can’t produce at night. So I’ll wake up with a fresh brain and fresh thoughts. I basically just watch movies to sample from, find a sick sample and use that.
ALEE: That’s actually super cool. Where do you start when you sit down to produce? Is it drums or arrangement or do you just focus on getting a solid 16 bars and a groove going?
SAM FOXX: That just depends too. My process is sometimes weird. Sometimes I’ll actually work on an 8 bar drum loop, create all my drums, do all that and then sound design after. Or I will start with an intro, get that down and figure out the drop later. Or I’ll just grab a drum loop, work on the sound design of the drop… so I never know where I’m gonna start. A lot of people go in with a direction, I never really have one, I just go in and say ‘Alright coo, I wanna write a song today, how do I feel? And let’s see what actually comes out.’ Is that weird?
ALEE: No, that’s epic! [laughs] I absolutely love that! It definitely speaks to the authenticity of your music.
SAM FOXX: It’s just all feeling 24/7. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve written and I’m like ‘it has to sound like this, or I have to do it this way’ and it never comes out good. And I’ll delete the song. So everything that’s gotten signed has been authentic which is nice. That’s why I love Play Me. Reid is such a good friend and will give me feedback and she is super, super supportive of my vision and what I’m trying to do. A lot of the time I’m not even sure what I’m doing, I’m just writing, but then I’ll send them and she’s like ‘these are fire. I want these,’ and I’ll be like ‘take them, take them all!’.
ALEE: Definitely speaks to you being true to yourself and not chasing a certain sound or direction at all. Which makes your music special! It’s also hard because there aren’t as many drum and bass labels in America right now. It’s massive in Europe, has a huge following there, basically everywhere else in the world except for America. Which definitely makes it more challenging to pursue this genre here. How did you end up writing drum and bass? You chose it because you loved it or because that’s what comes out?
SAM FOXX: Well going to Icon I was actually writing dubstep. Then I wrote a drum and bass song, not even knowing it was drum and bass since I wasn’t into that scene really. But I used to listen to Sub Focus and Fox Stevenson all the time, then wrote that and I was like wow, I’m really good at this and I like it’ I wasn’t good at it at the time [laughs] but I thought I was. So then I totally fell in love with it and was like ‘okay cool, this is what I’m going to write forever.’ My friends said ‘no, you need to write other genres and break it out some’ and I figured ‘nah, I’ll just keep writing sub-genres…of drum and bass.’
ALEE: What a cool route to drum and bass! More general question: When did you start DJing?
SAM FOXX: Hmm like 15-ish years? 2007 or 2008? And I’ve been writing music since 2006. My brother had Fruity Loops, I wasn’t dead serious about it then and we just made hip hop beats. Then Excision came around with his Shambalah mixes in 2007-2008 and a friend gave me a cracked version of Reason 5. I tried to work on that, but I was so bad at it I gave up and just started focusing on DJing until 2011. Then I was full-force into writing myself.
ALEE: What DAW (digital audio workstation) did you end up with the second time around?
SAM FOXX: Ableton. Only been Ableton, always been Ableton, only will be Ableton. Then I went to Icon in 2015. I originally drove down in October not even knowing if I was getting in and I was actually supposed to be in the Spring semester but then they called and said that had an opening in Winter so I just went for it.
ALEE: Wow, so after 6 years, you’re moving back home. What are you most excited about in terms of work-life balance as you continue in Angels Camp, California?
SAM FOXX: Peace.
ALEE: Oof, thats nice. That’s something you don’t get everyday in LA!
SAM FOXX: Yeah exactly, It’s too hectic down here, everyone’s trying to fight for the same thing and I’m really not about that life. People say ‘you gotta fake it ‘til you make it,’ and I was like ‘I don’t really like that.’ I also was working full-time just to be able to live out here and not fully write music. Did a lot of not-sleeping, especially during Icon where I was working full-time and going to school full-time. But actually everything that is coming out now, I actually wrote during quarantine, and there’s still more that is signed yet to come out. But now I get to move home, spend time with my family, watch my baby nephew grow, write music, and teach him how to write music even though he’s 2 [laughs] but I’m gonna be like ‘screw it here ya go’. Ever since quarantine, people realize you don’t really need to be in LA to make it in music. So I can go home, write music, work on my mental health, maybe even get in shape again [laughs.] It’s gonna be great to focus on music for the next six months and just get some fresh air.
ALEE: Oh yeah we don’t have much true fresh air here! It’s great you’re gonna be able to get back to your roots up there. What are some of the positives you’ll take from LA? What are the things you’ll miss?
SAM FOXX: Oh easy, a lot of my friends. I don’t even see a ton of them now since I’m working so much. But definitely them. My best friend Richie (Wraith), he literally got me to where I am now in the drum and bass scene, and I owe that man everything. He listened to my music and was like ‘this is cool, I see you have potential, let’s keep working.’ We have two songs coming out together in July, which I am really excited about too. Him and I have so many collabs together that haven’t come out yet. But also going to drum and bass shows, they have some in San Francisco which I am excited about too. But other than that I probably won’t miss LA much.
ALEE: What is next in terms of the release schedule? You have a lot of work stacked up, a lot of work coming out. Is this going to be a monthly thing?
SAM FOXX: Oh yeah, it’s been stacked, right now it’s mostly monthly. I had three tracks come out in December, ‘Ooh Baby’ came out in February, the collab with Reid last week ‘Alarm’, these two new tracks. I have a remix coming out on a Yana compilation, on their 50th compilation. I have the two tracks with Richie in July, in August I have an original coming out on Yana as well. Also hoping to have some stuff out as well at the end of the year, I’m in talks right now. Additionally, I am dropping an Avril Lavinge remix for free which hits so many genres; drum and bass, half-time and psytrance. I have a bunch of other collabs I’m working on too, but some might not see the light of day [laughs] we will just have to see!
ALEE: Well I am super excited to see you creating in a vacuum up there and see what comes out! I have a feeling it’s gonna be great.
SAM FOXX: Thanks dude! Gonna focus on some social media as well, some branding and really push it to the next level.
Keep up with SAM FOXX using the links below, and be sure to check out "The Martian" and "Phantom" along with many other great track on our New Music Friday Heat playlist!
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