The front man on making music because you want to, even if you hate it.
Sam Ray takes his time parsing words when he speaks about his band, American Pleasure Club, and their new record, A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This. This makes sense for someone whose project was formerly known as Teen Suicide — a band name he found regretful and embarrassing, born from his personal brand of dark irony and from an expectation that the project would never blow up.
With a new lineup and band name in tow, and after a year of touring in support Teen Suicide’s last formal release, It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot, Ray frames Lifetime as a radical return to sincerity, breaking from his previous, more sardonic output. We caught up with the Maryland-based polymath to discuss the experiences that inform his most recent release, getting married, and being dumb on Twitter.
A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This is available now via bandcamp.
AdHoc: A lot of people ask you about the nomenclature of the different projects you’re involved in, but I wanted to ask you about your Twitter handle, @fugazi420, and why you tweet under that handle.
Sam Ray: 100% because it’s funny to me. A couple of the Fugazi fellows are old family friends—we didn’t exactly ask them their permission to do that or anything, but once we did do it and it got verified, my uncle let them know and they thought it was very funny. Not Ian [MacKaye]—I don’t know how he feels about it. But Brendan Canty, who I would play football in the park with him in DC when I was like five or four, told me in an email that he was gonna start a Twitter impersonating me and call his band—and this was one of those good dad jokes—Adult Homicide. We had a good big laugh about it one day over dinner.
The @fugazi420 thing was just a dumb joke that we thought we’d probably end up changing soon after, but then we got verified and are now stuck with it [Laughs]. Of all the things to be stuck with, I’m very fine with it. Much more so than our old band name.
It’s funny you’re able to get rid of the old band name, but you can’t change your Twitter handle.
SR: Exactly—there’s a statement there or something. I don’t know what.
Your previous album, It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot, was the last one you recorded under the Teen Suicide moniker. Knowing Honeypot would be the final record under that name—did that affect how you approached the writing and recording of A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This?
SR: There was some change—I didn’t think a whole lot about it, I guess, because with Honeypot I was thinking way too much about where are we as a band, what do people expect of us, what do people not want from us, what makes me the most mad that I have to do? Just like a constant whirlwind, swirling around in my head.
For Lifetime, it was purely about writing an album that was only what I liked and what we would want to release if we changed our name, which was a maybe at that point—how would we re-introduce ourselves, how would we dive into our past and update it, how would we rewrite our old albums that people seem to like the most, what would those sound like if we wrote them now at 26 or 27, with the knowledge of the world we have, and how we’ve changed as people?
Honeypot’s lyrics seem more abstract than Lifetime, which seems more intimate and interpersonal. With getting married and all the events that have influenced you as an individual in the past year, I imagine those influenced the songwriting on Lifetime.
SR: That is maybe the key difference, or what I consider a victory for Lifetime over Honeypot, no matter what. Honeypot was very abstract—I had a lot of trouble writing about anything to do with myself, my life, people I know, or stories that wasn’t filtered through some kind of weird, irreverent obfuscation. Basically songs on Honeypot that were 100% true to my life, names changed only, like “Neighborhood Drug Dealer”—people take it as a wry, dark joke. Which I appreciate—it is very funny in a dark way. But it’s like, that’s a song that was taken out of a single day. Other songs on that album — like “Violets” or “Alex” — both of those were not written about anyone or anything at the time. So for that album, I was using that style, knowing that was something people take away because of how much I talk about it. I did it to myself, but people don’t always know what is serious from us, what’s true, what’s made up, what’s sincere.
Honeypot very much played intentionally with how blurred that line [was] and used it, at the time, to its advantage. It let me at the time write more about stuff that was very real to me, but without me having to get too deep into it yet. For Lifetime, I definitely wanted to move away from using that as a crutch, and just actually write not just about me, but with a given sincerity where you don’t have to, as a fan, question if there’s a joke there. I don’t want it to feel exclusionary to anyone listening. I never want anyone to listen to anything I’ve released and say, “This really affected me, it’s meant a lot to me,” and then worry, “But should it?” Like, “Is this something stupid to you?” The song “Violets” isn’t about anything, but it means a lot to me now. That’s how I want all of it to be now. That’s not to say it can’t be really stupid still, for fun—it’s just the joke should never be on someone who likes what you do.
It seems to me that Lifetime was an experiment for you to move away from irony and sardonicism and back towards sincerity, which is a difficult thing to do.
SR: Especially now, on a personal level. We were doing something like that just by virtue of no one listening to us when we were writing our early albums. I never thought about any of this at all, so I was just writing stuff that was very real to me, and [that] I never thought that I’d ever have to talk about. We were just writing stuff that we didn’t consider for a single second would have eyes on it. We still channel that stupidity; it’s just now at shows or on Twitter—somewhere that is fleeting and ephemeral, like the way the jokes should be.
In a Tumblr post six months ago, you said, “Music makes me want to kill myself,” and in your article for Track Record you said, “Music is fucking stupid anyway.” It seems you have a tempestuous relationship with your craft, and I was wondering if you could elaborate upon that a bit more.
SR: Hey—Van Gogh cut his ear off. Everyone hates art if they make it. But you also feel compelled to make it. If you don’t feel that, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re probably doing it for a different reason than compulsion or relief. That’s a whole box of worms: I hate music and art sometimes, like with all my heart. And people ask me, “Well, why do you do it then?” And I don’t know—I don’t love it but I wanna do it. And I don’t know why.
I think a lot about trying to puzzle out the exact answer to that question. As far as why I say it, I think it’s form of joking, like “Music’s fucking dumb.” Normalizing that idea is fun, as an artist. There’s a humor to trying to make a living off of songs. People don’t always agree with that.
You’ve spoken previously about being embarrassed by the previous name of the project. Do you regret naming the band Teen Suicide, or do you see it in hindsight as a learning experience?
SR: Definitely both. I hope that no harm came out of it. Regret—not kind of realizing a lot of the stuff I’ve come to realize about it sooner. But not being able to change it for a while, not knowing what to do—we tried to find whatever good could come out of it, which was nice.
We still do try to do a lot for charities and organizations, playing shows that were fundraisers for places like The Trevor Project. I’m not trying to plug anything I’ve done, which would be weird. We did a lot of stuff, not from a place of guilt, but from having learned a lot from stuff and issues that I didn’t know a lot about before. And on a personal level, meeting and talking with a lot of people who were going through stuff similar to what I have been through—stuff with drugs, depression, anxiety. Stuff where a lot of people who listened to our music felt compelled or able to reach out to us and say, “I’m going through this; I don’t know who to turn to.” And being able to say, “Well I’m glad you hit me up.”
In a general sense, to have any good that could come out of it, come out of it—that was big. And I’m very glad of it. I regret the dumb part of it, but I’m glad that happened—I’m glad that it shaped me as a person, though I don’t think this is about me growing. I don’t look at it from a selfish way. I’m just glad that I did get to take something from it. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t [Laughs].