video • Joe Lu
words • Jake Krez
To put it modestly, Sam Trump does a lot.
Akin to the scattered notes of the trumpet that seems surgically attached to his hand, the Houston transplant has grown deep and varied roots throughout the Chicago scene since arriving at Columbia College in 2009 to be lead trumpet. Purple Skies, his full-length released in January is a manifestation of the time he’s spent here, but it’s just one piece of the larger puzzle that is Sam Trump.
Since arriving in Chicago just under a decade ago, multi-instrumentalist and teaching artist Sam Trump has finally started getting his music out on the internet, having established his name in the meantime in a throwback style of constant gigging, live performances and physical contact with his listeners. Those experiences have given way to deeper perspectives within his art that manifests itself in many ways depending on the day and earlier this year came packaged as Purple Skies, Trump’s first full-length in awhile that’s been a longtime coming.
“My sound is different man, my content is different than mainstream, it’s not marketable for a lot of people who try to market like their new wave. There’s a little bit of nostalgia with my music, but its also just really unique, it doesn’t sound like anybody and I pride myself in that,” said Trump. “I wasn’t even thinking about an album though, even though they were a part of this album. So I have a whole bunch of music that I’ve been working on, different types of music too.”
Nostalgia is a word that comes up often to describe Sam Trump. Whether it’s in reference to the throwback spirit of his music, the wistful yearning to be onstage in front of a crowd or his innate fashion sense that seems well-suited across several decades, it’s immediately obvious upon meeting him that Trump’s style is steeped in another time.
Music is life for Sam Trump and it’s immediately evident as soon as one starts talking to him. That nostalgia that finds its way into his music is an innate part of his personal style and aesthetic. He moves about a room deliberately and each word he speaks seems somehow rehearsed or choreographed, never rushed or insincere. Sitting across from him for several minutes, it’s impossible to not notice the effect incessant performances have had on him. A natural onstage, he seems to be perpetually there in some part of his being, and the same careful moves that make his music also influence his general personality. Like his performances, it’s selflessly endearing and makes you want to hang around a little bit longer.
Purple Skies is a true time capsule of a project that aptly sets the tone for what listeners across the country have known for years about one of Chicago’s more hidden talents. A series of dated recordings, the tracks that make up the album are a manifestation of where he was at the time, released years later with the lessons learned in the time since.
This album was recorded five years ago and is today as it was then. Eschewing an editing process, choosing instead to maturing the songs naturally allowed them to be. While it took years for the release through physical and digital means, the tracks that make up Purple Skies have been worn in by time. Last year, Trump played over 200 live sets. Between personal gigs, performing with the band Sidewalk Chalk, or any other number of ensembles and collaborations he has his fingers in; the sets allowed him bountiful opportunities to get real-time feedback. Gauging the receptions, facial gestures or general disposition of those in his crowds as he played, he could pinpoint which parts of the songs were working, which needed work. Taking advantage of the unique, if somewhat forgotten aspect of being a regular musician, the experiences, once sewn together, created a patchwork of new realizations for his project.
“I love those intimate settings,” Trump explains, sitting across a table in a studio near the Loop in late February. “Because often I get to see what parts are affecting people the most, the parts that people are singing along to. For me though, I wrote it and it’s coming from my heart but there are so many layers to feelings, it comes from experience, conversations, growth, things that you see but you don’t even know that influence what you think and say. I feel that its ever-changing and even though I’m singing the same song, me as a person has grown, the meaning of it and even how I perceive it when I sing, it changes.”
What he’s chasing is forever. While perhaps as fleeting as getting a play, garnering the attention and appreciation of a room full of humans. It’s a much more potent drug. Whereas chasing numbers keeps many artists in studios, apartments, or whatever closet might suffice for a recording space, the journey for the particular moments Trump seeks out will eventually take the artist far from the origin point. It begs the question to the contemporary music industry that Trump is quick to correct to ‘entertainment’: is it better to be stagnant with clout, or active with real people understanding and digesting the work? For Trump, success is defined somewhere in a middle grey area.
“Work where you can interact is kind of like the lane I’ve been able to thrive in because that’s what I truly care about,” Trump explained, touches of his Houston drawl entering his speech. “And because I truly care about it, I go into these various settings and that’s the constant. That I’m touching folks, that I’m making people stay longer and making people follow and want to come out again and again. That’s honestly the goal.”
Sam Trump hasn’t stopped, won’t stop and has no reason to. Not beholden to the trappings of his contemporaries, the only race he runs is against himself. Rather than focus on the participles of clout that pace many in his artistic periphery, he hones in the most effective note transitions, how one of his songs sounds in a fresh arrangement, or which way to take a solo to achieve the largest impact in the room. Because at the end of the day that’s all that matters to Sam Trump; the music and the room and those inside it.
“You know a lot of people don’t look at the music industry as a music industry, they look at it as an entertainment industry, right? And so that’s what it’s become, its all about how can I market this how can I make some money out of this instead of, is this good music? Is it musical? Are there some really cool soundscapes I can really just lose myself in, is it some good writing? Is there something I can share with someone that they’ll dig,” questioned Trump, largely to himself. “A lot of people lose, even just musicians sometimes, make it so much about the self. But to me, performance and music is all about the exchange, if that’s what you’re not into and that’s not your goal then you’re doing it wrong.”