Originally posted May 11, 2012
When I first about The Happy Problem, I noticed that Sam Shaber was the lead vocalist. Sam Shaber? In an indie punk band? Yes, that Sam Shaber, the same Sam Shaber who spent several years on the folk circuit where it was just her and her guitar. I took one listen to her new project, The Happy Problem and was hooked. It’s a departure from her singer-songwriter days, but it’s still amazing!
What was the first concert you every went to?
Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” Tour at Radio City Music Hall, 11th row. After the Beastie Boys opened for her, they came and sat right next to us! I was traumatized and fascinated – life has never been the same since.
Who are your musical influences?
My influences run the gamut from Nirvana to Duran Duran to No Doubt to
Nine Inch Nails to Green Day to the White Stripes and beyond. But while those are the bands I most learn from musically, when the moment comes to start working on a song, the inspiration can come from anywhere. This week I’m working on something kickstarted by the 3D documentary PINA about the avant garde choreographer. There’s one scene with dancers making the most out of an on-stage, man-made lake, accompanied by this joyful, funky rap music about getting stoned, and all of a sudden I was sitting in my seat with an idea!
You were a solo folk singer and have now transitioned into a much heavier sound. What was behind the change?
I just got really bored with myself. I wanted to make a bigger sound, a bigger impact, and share the making and performing of music with a full,cooperative rock band. I’ve never been a Dylan or Baez person, so I was always on my own wavelength a bit with the folk stuff. It’s a wonderful community of artists, venues and audiences, but I was ready for something totally different. Besides, I’d never be Simon LeBon at that rate, eh?
What is your songwriting process like now as the Happy Problem compared to your songs from your solo career?
Songs are usually started by me – either just a riff, a full section, or almost the whole thing – and then I bring them to the band and we play with it, flesh it all out, turn it up and finish it. I spend a lot of time at the studio alone making weird noise before I bring something for people to hear. Tony Cortes and I then add drums to the mix and see what happens after that. I hate writing without drums – a song completely changes once you put that in the mix.
With my solo stuff, I was the lone writer and the whole song had to be playable alone on an acoustic guitar. Some artists find that “pure” and “freeing,” but I felt very limited. I get stretched as an artist by thinking about the song as a whole collage of sound, adding all the other parts and heads in. I guess if you’ve always worn a costume, it’s refreshing to strip it down, and likewise, I was always stripped down, so now it’s refreshing to dress it up!
Do you think you’re ever go back to your folk roots?
I actually feel like my roots are in the music I’m playing now, as though I’ve only just found myself after all this time. So I think I’ll keep moving further in this direction as I explore rock, pop, punk and indie more. I never really had roots in folk music – I was always listening to Prince and Green Day while other people were talking about Mary Chapin Carpenter or Johnny Cash. So this feels more natural to me and I’m inspired now in a way I don’t think I was before. But I’m also terrible at looking at the past – I never like what I did before! So who knows? I can say that I love just writing a really good song, so that’s what I hope will never change, regardless of the label or coating that gets put on it!