CD review: Sam Friend, Lady Madly (with Q&A and video)

Violin and mandolin play mixed with folksy guitar strums and harmonica hums create a debonair air that dances behind the melancholy falsetto of Miami singer-songwriter Sam Friend on his 2010 release, Lady Madly.

The high-pitched emotion of Friend’s voice is captivating and vaporous, like early morning sun rays piercing through a haze of clouds, and has an indie-pop flavor reminiscent of those like Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam and The Shins’ James Mercer. He uses his atmospheric vocal tone to deliver poetic lyrics that exude an enchanting ambiguity.

Recorded in Friend’s basement while he was living in Seattle, Lady Madly opens and closes with candidly recorded moments, setting the homemade, city living ambiance of the EP. Of the five-track compilation, “ToeToToe” is a fanciful tune I understand to be about not letting life’s inevitable confronting situations get to you, “We can join the club/ Take the edge off/ Sail to the coast at the break of the/ morning/ Honey let’s keep it going,” Friend sings. “Magnifine 2.0” is another highlight, with emphatic drumming and twinkling sonics that illuminate lyrics about growing older these days. Friend sings, “Kid you were adorable/ But we’re professional now/ All grown up idy up buddy up/ With words that associate/ We speak in tongues/ And take to university/ To study complex management.”

Not only did Friend write, engineer and produce the record, but he also helped design the accompanying artwork, and the South Florida alt-weekly, City Link Magazine, named it 2010’s best album in its “Best of South Florida” edition.

Ultimately, Lady Madly is a great listen for those who have thrift store wardrobes, like to hang out in bookstores and coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks or Barnes & Nobel, and need some dreamy background music while doing crafty things like painting or developing vintage photography.

I caught up with the singer-songwriter via email after he completed recording sessions at Flux Studios for his next release, Spirit Mirror. Answering with some of the same lyrical ambiguity he uses in his songs, Friend told me about his experience recording in NYC, how the title Lady Madly slipped out of his consciousness and his school day battles with having to intellectualize other people's writing. Check out the Q&A below. Also below is a video Friend did recently for “Part of the Show,” a track off his 2008 release Secure and Fastened for Daisy Buchanan.

3 Stars

CL: What can you tell me about Lady Madly? It was obviously a labor of love, as you wrote all the music and played many of the instruments, as well as helping design the artwork for the cover, correct?

Sam Friend: I approached Lady Madly with a philosophy. I went about it methodically. Pacing myself. I put a lot of work in front of me to complete A-Z. And so I did it daily, not in spurts or third winds. And keeping it consistent actually ended up being a pretty quick way to create. Who knew? It’s not all bursts and 3am bubbles. I don’t play violin or cello, so I'd ask a friend to help balance on occasion. Seattle people have a way with music and I was intent on hiking the trail until I got to the magic mountain. The artwork was a co-creation. I made the plans, drew what I could, and was lucky enough to share a house with a lady named Melissa Wardlow who applied the finishing touches. She also let me play downstairs as loud as I wanted, what more can a guy ask for? We were friends, for the record.

Where did the title Lady Madly come from?

The name Lady Madly came from a rap I wrote for my then partner in arms. I wrote these lyrics into Stickies on my Mac, had an apple robot voice record them and then I made an amazon beat on Reason Beat Maker (track not released and likely to remain in hiding). While writing freestyle, I referred to her as "Lady Madly" as a matter of course and didn’t notice until later that I didn’t know where the phrase came from, but I had written it, so I must’ve known it somewhat was my train of logic. So that seemed like an interesting way to find a title. And the symmetry was appealing to a word nerd like me. After all, the two words share four letters!

What inspired the lyrics on Lady Madly and how do they reflect the record as a whole? In general, what in the world around you acts as a muse for your songwriting?

The times inspire the rhymes. Simple as a dimple when you stop to think about it. Not that anything stops.

Any specific example you can give me of how a particular song of yours came to be?

“Magic in.a Package!” emerged from a dinner party conversation. I think we were talking about pharmaceutical cures, and then I instantly felt better because I had a new little baby title to explore.

With the Daisy Buchanan reference, I’m interested in how lit and books influence your music or songwriting? Do you have a fave author simply because you like the style of writing?

Reading is fun. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s fundamental, but it’s helped me get to a plethora of places imagination style. Great Gatsby was one of the books in high school I actually liked. Which is another conversation, but I always liked reading. Just the whole what-the-author-meant-by-using-the-color-red-to-describe-a-wagon thing was a little much for me to accept, just because my teacher used to have tea with Mark Twain or something. Maybe the author thought red was the best color? Maybe there was no ink left after the b, so they couldn’t complete the word blue. But I get why they teach that way, and teaching me couldn’t have been easy. So I hold no grudges, just the fallout from intellectual battle. Nothing personal, in fact I respect all my teachers. It’s a noble thing.

To answer your question, I like Tom Robbins’ style of writing in a way that transcends narrative. I know he’s popular, but I think he’s up there with the rarest of talents. So when people argue that he’s not the tops, I call rubbish. It’s ok to pull for artists to be put in an elite class despite general popular consensus, I think. It means you’re paying attention. And that’s cool.

What can you tell me about your recent experience recording Spirit Mirror at Flux Studios in NYC? What was the result of the sessions? Will it be a full length release?

Still working on the answers to those questions, but New York has always had a natural home cooked kind of feel for me, even though it’s not where I live, currently. So, when it was time to record again, I chose to take that sentiment as a good sign and it was as easy as a couple of emails to put the loaf in the oven.

The really exciting part for me is the group of people involved with this project. We laugh together and stuff, it’s gross. But for serious, the people I’m fortunate enough to have enhance my songs on this outing are the same band I’ve been playing shows with over the last several months. I’ve found nothing that can replace the sweat and unspoken bond that comes from playing live over time. Especially, when attempting to affect a body of songs with a fill of character and boomeranging them back through speakers. It’s a challenge we’ve welcomed in this chapter. I constantly can’t wait to find out what happens next.

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