A Beer with Sam Burton
Originally published in August 2016 as a press release for Sam Burton's album Until Returning.
“That fuckin’ swirling string section is the best,” says Sam Burton, beer in hand, across the booth from me at Junior’s Tavern in Salt Lake City. He’s referring to “Take Care” by Big Star. We are supposed to be talking about Burton’s new solo album, Until Returning, but right now we’re ruminating on some of the songs most important to him. I think “Take Care” shares a sonic likeness with the current lineup and sound of Burton’s band the Circulars. He doesn’t disagree, and he takes a swig of his beer to prove it. Burton earnestly praises the moody tractor beam of “Sally” by the Chameleons, and waxes sentimental about the “fireworks at night type-of-feel” of Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat.” I tell him I can hear both of these songs and both of these sentiments in the Circulars’ original lineup, both in their 2013 self-titled album and 2014’s Ornamental. He agrees, and admits that back then he was hiding behind a sound and mood.
As a solo musician, he says he feels drawn to the “American pastoral awesomeness” of songs like “Kimbie” by Jackson C. Frank. Burton finishes his beer and adds, “He’s the Elvis of folk.” I tell Burton that “Kimbie” reminds me of him, sitting on the floor with a guitar and harmonica, playing a house show at Tucker’s house years ago. Tucker White is the owner and operator of Chthonic Records, who just released Until Returning on cassette. “I can see that,” he says, looking into his empty pint glass, nodding. “Lyrically, I feel the most kinship to Nick Drake,” he says.
Sam gets up to use the restroom and I take out my phone. I find an email that Burton had sent me earlier in the week. It is a quote by Federico Garcia Lorca:
“The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation … everything that has black sounds in it, has duende.”
It’s the most Sam Burton–like thing I’ve ever read. As I finish reading it, he returns to our booth with two fresh beers. We clink our glasses together and take a drink and I ask him about Until Returning. It’s his first solo release since forming the Circulars, and it’s just Burton’s voice, an acoustic guitar, sometimes a harmonica, alone in a room. “I don’t wanna say it’s a folk record—the sentiment is different from folk. It’s ghostly shadow-puppet campfire flickery,” he says. I ask about making music like this, without the support of his band. “It makes me have to face all the sides of myself once they enter the room,” Burton says. “It’s the most outright thing I’ve done.”
We sit for a while, just drinking our beers and listening to Dexter Gordon’s “I Should Care” drifting from the bar’s speakers. I decide to ask Burton a stupid and annoying question: “Why do you make music?” He thinks for a few seconds. “I think it’s my fate,” he says. “You have to find your fate and follow it.” He finishes his beer and we sit in silence for a minute. He adds, “If you follow your fate it will leave you alone. It will sever your ties. It’s the bravest thing you can do.” I have absolutely no response to that, so I empty my glass.
“Wanna go smoke a cigarette?” I ask.
“I thought you quit,” Burton says.
“I did,” I say.
“Me too,” he says, as we both fish our lighters out of our pockets.