An interview with Rob Samps | By Morgan Y. Evans
Rob Samps is a troubadour of the punk rock sort, a dude who has been in the scene forever. I have lots of memories of Rob up on people’s shoulders yelling into the mic at Boysetsfire, Snapcase or whatever the heck shows over the years. As someone who has always taken the lifestyle seriously, it’s no wonder that Samps is currently really devoted to writing and releasing his own songs under the monicker Casting Ships. The Sleepy Hollow, NY based project, labeled “sea shanty folk punk” on the band’s Facebook, is just plain infectious and great (whatever you call it). Casting Ships music caught my attention when I was planning a (short lived) reunion for my old band Divest, and I asked Rob to do a guest vocal. Unfortunately that never happened but since then CS have self-released a killer EP called You Are Welcome Home.
The highlight of the EP is probably the very memorable song “Old Timer,” which wrestles with some heavy lyrical themes of rejection but comes out strong in the end. It is pretty much a “keep on going” anthem that fans of legit music should rally around. I was thrilled when Rob dropped a link to a video for the song in my Facebook inbox and even more thrilled when I watched the video! Holy shit! The “Old Timer” video shows Samps sort of alone and determined, but in the end joined by a gazillion fellow punks and soccer enthusiasts celebrating their love of the Supporters’ Shield winning New York Redbulls. It’s pretty much my favorite song/video I have enjoyed in the folk punk genre since Tim Barry’s Avoiding Catatonic Surrender.
How did Casting ships start and what was your purpose?
Casting Ships started about 3 years ago. I was frustrated with past band members and what I saw as, not by all of them, but a lack of work ethic. I said to myself, “you know, just go do your own thing for a little while and do it exactly how you’d like to do it.” So I wrote some songs, called my buddy Jon Karel (the number 12 looks like you) and asked him to come and do some drum work. So “The Year” was then completed and distributed online. I began to play shows just by myself, not having anyone who was really interested in being in the band. We still have that issue [laughing]. I’ve toured and played on my own since that time. My purpose was just to do something that was my own, something different than what I was hearing at shows. I’ve grown very tired of people not being sincere in their crafts. I’m not saying that we are more sincere either and putting CS up on a mantel, but I am deadly serious about it and feel there’s a serious lack of how some of these “artists” treat the people that they play in front of. Everyone can choose their own creative path and I’m not knocking you for having a haircut or clothes that you like, I’m simply asking you to be real to yourself and the people that you are playing to. Acting is for Broadway. CS goal was simple – be yourself, be sincere and be honest.
What can you tell me about the song “Old Timer” and the balance of lyrical alienation versus the supporters camaraderie you find at the end of the music video?
I’m glad that was something you picked up on, I’m not too sure if people will see it from that perspective. The song itself, is about being self destructive. It’s a familiar feeling to me. Although due to a recent event that has really shaken my world, I’m realizing that you can simply not carry on like that. Sure, things are terrible at times. I’m not gonna lie to anyone and say they aren’t. Plus we all define “terrible things” as something different, so who am I to say what’s more terrible than others? But you must find a way to push through these times and move on. At least this is what I am learning now. The spoken word at the beginning of the song, is actually from a movie called 16 Years of Alcohol. I borrowed the movie from my friend Emily and while I watched it, it felt like I was staring into a mirror. It was haunting, really. The main character is basically narrating his life and he’s exposing himself, emotionally. This film had a huge roll in writing the lyrics for “Old Timer.” I have never had an issue with alcohol but I know self destruction very well.
The only camaraderie that I’ve ever found is with people who don’t fit into main stream ideas. Going to punk shows when I was growing up was my escape. Before this, I was very alone. All of my best friends to this day, are from those days. I find the same thing now in football culture in the US. I’ve yet to see a match overseas, other than on TV, so I don’t want to speak for those groups of people. But here, I get a almost harsh reaction from people when they ask me what I am doing on my Saturday night. “Going to see a soccer game? Really?” Somehow I get this reaction that’s rather abrasive and all because I couldn’t give a shit about the Yankees, Jets or Giants. When I meet people who watch real football, there’s this instant understanding. Just like in my early hardcore years of meeting a kid on the street with an Agnostic Front shirt on. Like you each get it, you both understand each other somehow. The New York Times had an article not too long ago about how New York sports are epic failures, because no team in New York has recently won a championship and get paid a ridiculous amount of money, etc etc. They failed to mention that New York Red Bull had won the Supporters’ Shield this year! They didn’t even mention them! The same with the New York Cosmos! So basically, I get the same feelings hanging out with my supporters group that I do from my early days of going to shows. Something that isn’t mainstream and rebellious, especially in the tri-state area. I have the world’s best group of friends and I needed to include them in something that I also love, music.
Can you talk about filming the video and the Red Bull supporters shield/bridge scene at the end?
The video was shot over a few months. I work full time as well, so the only days that we really had to do it were on the weekends. We originally were going to have a huge hooligan fight take place, but no one was available for one set day. So we had to take a different approach to it. The New York Red Bulls are one of our favorite clubs, so we wanted to put the focus on something local. We included our supporters clubs, Garden State Ultras and Viking Army SC in it. This actually became very easy to do, considering this march to Red Bull Arena happens every home match. The day we shot the bridge, was the last home game of the season and if RBNY won that day, it would be the first time in franchise history that they won the Supporters Shield. So, we knew that a lot of people were going to come out. The bridge passes over the river from Newark into Harrison and essentially looks like it’s on fire in the distance. We knew that the only way that we were going to capture that was to film it for real, with real supporters and no actors. I should say that all supporters, ultras, skinheads, casuals, etc…do not fake what they do. It’s their lifestyle. It’s the only sport in the world that has this mentality built into it. Subcultures do not come out of other sports, period. When supporters love a club, they will support them with every bone in their bodies. Ben (the director) really had a clear vision of what we needed to accomplish – just capture supporters in their element. This subculture is growing every year in the US and Canada, we love that more people are getting involved in their cities. We know members of other supporters clubs across North America. We see their passion and love it. We didn’t need any actors for the bridge because we knew we would receive all the passion that we were looking for.
What are some standout memories for you as a punk, emo or hardcore fan that made you who you are today…from shows to records? I always remember you being one of the most enthusiastic “show kids.”
Oh man, I have so many! I’ll tell you two though. My first show ever – No Doubt came to play a local college around here. I had gotten really into them around middle school time and was starting to explore the punk world. This was right around the time that “Just A Girl” had hit the radio and I think it was an interesting time to be involved with music. This was November 1995, and I believe I was 13.
It is interesting you mention that. I remember I was interning as a teen at popular Upstate, NY radio station WDST and the now pretty well regarded DJ Nic Harcourt played me No Doubt and said, “This is going to be huuuuge.” He was so right.
I was so pumped because as I stood in line for that No Doubt show, I saw all kinds of people that I had never seen before. This was before the mainstream success they had, so the room was much different than I think it would be today. But the band that played before them, I had never heard before. They were called Shelter and people in the audience were kinda ragging on them while setting up because they were monks. Well the lights went off and this chant began, I had no idea what the hell was going on. All of a sudden, the lights flip on and the drums kick in, 3 guys run and pull the most unbelievable stage dives and they launch into this UNREAL set. Ray Cappo is flying through the air and in-between songs talking about love, compassion and getting along within the music scene. On the way home that night, I was sure that I had witnessed something that no one else knew existed…little, did I know [laughing]. I went to the store and bought Mantra, played it non stop from that Saturday morning until Monday morning for school. This set me on a path of discovery. I would spend every day it seemed, just searching for records, reading zines and searching the web for the history of this underground scene. That was the exciting part about those days, finding new (old) bands to listen to.
As far as records that really stood out to me? There’s so many, all different genres. I’m addicted to emotion and I search it out in every situation. The first time I ever listened to Refused – The Shape of Punk To Come was with my friend, Chris Lombardi. He bought it and we sat in his downstairs room just listening to it and no one said a word until it was over. Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves helped me learn to play guitar. Bane’s Give Blood literally saved my life. It gave me the spirit to eat again during a terrible case of depression. Bad Brains’ self titled taught me that spirituality needed to be involved in my life and my own music. While Madball’s Set It Off told me that I also needed to be tough as nails. So each record that I picked up taught me different things about myself. I didn’t have the same upbringing as other kids in my school, so I found these lessons through my records. They’ve guided me in my darkest days. Forever indebted to those bands.
What do you feel about the whole acoustic punk movement of late, with many formerly loud punk bands opting to go Woody Guthrie style as they get older? I think it is rad and makes for some great stuff like the dude from Drag The River or Tim from Avail or even also what you are doing.
I think that the acoustic punk thing is somehow getting labeled for “old” or “retired” punks. I don’t know if people look at them as being musicians and songwriters first, that were just in some punk bands. For instance, Chuck Ragan is an incredible songwriter. I didn’t get into Hot Water Music the way that I get into his solo stuff (here comes the boos, I can hear them [laughs]). But it’s true, not that I didn’t like HWM but it’s a different time and perspective that these people have now. Not Chuck specifically, but you can’t hold these people to this idea that this is what they did 15 years ago and they should still be doing it now. I was a young straight edge kid, that now enjoys small brewing companies and backs the use of marijuana for anything from recreation to cancer research. My ideas change because I’m older and experienced more than a 15 year old kid, growing up in a small town. I think it’s amazing to listen to these guys and their new songs and perspectives on life. I didn’t know who Billy Bragg was as a 15 year old kid, but now he’s one of my all time favorites. So, what I’m getting at here is growing up and finding something new. True artists are always discontent I think, it’s what pushes us forward into something new.
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