Like any good songwriter, The Samples frontman Sean Kelly is an analogy enthusiast. "I'm from Vermont, and we pride ourselves on maple syrup. It takes a lot of sugar maple--like 50 gallons--to make one thing of syrup," says Kelly. "They pride themselves on its purity, and that's what I like to compare our music to."
Kelly's comparison is accurate enough: The Samples' sound is sugary sweet, a jam-style mix of folk, reggae and pop, built on lyrics with the lovelorn analogies and tear-jerking sentiment of bands like Train or Sister Hazel. But there's something to remember about maple syrup: It tastes good on a short stack of pancakes, but too much will leave a nasty stomachache.
Perhaps that's why The Samples have always missed the musical mainstream. The band reached its creative potential in the early '90s. Their songs catered to the frat-rock scene that eventually spawned the popularity of acts like Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Widespread Panic long before that scene had turned into a multi-million dollar affair. But, more than a decade later, their inability to leave the past behind and, like their more-famous peers, evolve as a band makes Kelly's best stuff sound like old radio standards.
Still, 18 albums into it, Kelly shows no sign of stopping. He insists his muse is as alive as ever, captivated by life's requisite day-to-day struggles.
"I get inspiration from my life and the world around me. My artistic output hasn't slowed down at all over the years," he says. "That's helped the band out."
Then again, maybe that's just the maple syrup talking.
The Samples play The Pour House on Saturday, June 17 at 10 p.m. with BIG 10-4. Tickets are $10-$12.