Sam Clines, English singer songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about winning the Open Mic UK Competition, where he sees himself in five years time, his musical inspirations and the release of his debut EP

Sam Clines is a 19 year old singer songwriter from Worcester who was crowned Open Mic UK 2016 champion before a prestigious music industry judging panel at The NEC Birmingham, after beating more than 10,000 other applicants. As the overall winner he has won recording studio time to record his album and a video of the best single, plus extensive media promotion from a professional PR company.

The judging panel for the Grand Final included record label representatives from Sony, Universal and Syco Entertainment, as well as representatives from music management companies.

As a self taught musician he has been playing instruments from a young age, starting with the piano at only seven years old. From there on he has taught himself to play the guitar at sixteen years old and refining his talent in other areas of his performance such as using his kick bass drum and taking drum lessons. He has now built up his portfolio and performance by doing regular open mic nights in his local area.

Whilst taking a well earned rest he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Sam how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m very good thanks, how are you today?

I’m very well thank you and let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not a problem at all, it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at his moment in time?

Life is very good thank you; things are going pretty well. Life for me has become pretty lively after the Open Mic competition, and I have had a few management offers, so all in all things are looking good.

I have to congratulate you on winning the Open Mic competition. How did that feel?

Thank you very much. I have to say that it was over whelming really. To be honest with you I wasn’t expecting to win. When I originally signed up to the whole competition I saw it as more of a singing competition as opposed to a musician’s competition if you like. I class myself more as a musician than a singer. There were some awesome acts; and so for me to win the competition was very overwhelming. In fact it took a couple of days to sink in really.

I would think that it would be especially overwhelming when you realise that you had beaten nine thousand people to the title.

(Laughter) I know. It’s almost quite daunting in a way that this actually happened. I didn’t actually realise until I got to the finals when someone said to me “did you know that there were almost ten thousand people who auditioned for the competition”. I just looked at them and said “wow” (laughter). And then for me to come out on top was very pleasing.

Did you write Learn To Love, the song which you won the competition with?

Yes I did. I said at the competition that I had written it a couple of weeks back but in fact I had only written it two days prior to the competition (laughter). I didn’t want the judges to feel as though I wasn’t quite prepared. I have to say that I think that it was quite a brave thing for me to do. I’m always writing; it is something that I love doing. I started writing when I was around seventeen years old and I always try to write a song or a guitar riff every day. It all adds up and helps me whenever I am re-working ideas.

I understand that a certain Bob Dylan has adopted that train of thought too. He writes something new every day, even now.

(Laughter) yes I was going to mention that because Bob Dylan is probably my main influence. There is an absolutely brilliant quote of Dylan’s when he is talking about writing every day and I just find it so right. He said ‘you don’t write a song to sit there on a page. You write it to sing it’ and I totally understand what he means by that. He is truly an amazing figure.

The word legend is frequently banded around far too often nowadays but in my opinion Bob Dylan is one of the few living legends.

Yes he is most definitely. He defied all aspects of popular music back in the 60s and he still manged to come out on top of everyone. The man is a poet. He would simply put a piece of music to his lyrics. It’s bizarre when you look at it one way but it really is quite something just what he achieved during the 60s and 70s. He truly is an amazing figure.

I was fortunate enough to speak to Tom Paxton who used to see Bob Dylan as a young man growing up in and around Greenwich Village and he said that even then, right form the word go, there was something special about Bob Dylan.

I personally think that Dylan and (David) Bowie as well were both tremendous writers. Bowie was in my eyes probably one of the most creative writers that I have ever come across. Not that I ever met the man you understand, but he was very influential on my writing as well.

What you have to remember is that on more than one occasion David Bowie single handedly changed the face of British music.

Yes he did, he really did. I was recently watching a documentary about Bowie and there was a pianist basically explaining how when Bowie was singing the chorus of a particular song, everybody was expecting the one chord and he came out with something completely different and made it work (laughter). I personally think that he was just incredible.

I do feel for the singer songwriters out there because every day you are trying to reinvent the wheel.

Yes most certainly I think that is right. One of the major obstacles is copyright, which is all well and good but if you are taking influences from someone then although you put your own twist on things, in a sense you are copying them. You simply cannot take influences from people without copying a small piece of what they have done before you. It is very difficult to put your own twist on things nowadays and music has been around for so long. I know that is quite a weird way to look at it but that is just how it is.

I know exactly what you mean. I personally don’t feel (rightly or wrongly) that there has been another ‘musical explosion’ since the Sex Pistols burst onto the scene back in 1975.

I know just what you are saying and I would have to agree with you and say no there hasn’t. There is a really interesting documentary about David Bowie and he was being interviewed back in the 90s. Bowie basically said that in his opinion there are now no longer going to be any definitive artists and that in thirty years’ time their songs will not be being played on the radio and as a singer songwriter I found that very interesting. I don’t know whether it is true or not but it is a very good way of looking at the music industry I suppose. In my eyes, I think that the last definitive band were perhaps Coldplay. Their albums are still being played today. However, I am sure that other bands will replicate that but when you look back to the 60s and 70s there were huge bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac etc. etc. and their music is still being played all over the world today.

I think that today’s generation of music buyers and consumers are once again looking towards electronic music a little more. When I originally started writing I hated that aspect of things simply because I wanted people to hear my music being played on traditional and original instruments such as the piano and the guitar to override anything else in music. However, inevitably consumer’s habits are changing and I have also accepted that electronic music is becoming a very large part of the industry today. Things do and will continue to change. I think that taking all of the popular music being produced today into consideration then I feel that electronic music will eventually come out on top.

You could be right because one of the most anticipated tours here in the UK this year is Kraftwerk.

You see, I told you (laughter). My opinion of the music industry is always changing even though I haven’t really experienced it yet which is almost like me judging a book by its cover a little bit. I do want it to almost escalate back to how it was in the 70s. However, I do know and accept that it is not going to be like that ever again. I feel that the music today is more about the image than the actual music.

Whenever I speak to people in the business they all tell me that the biggest change is that it is now all about making a living for yourself whereas back in the 70s it was more about entertaining your audiences.

Yes that’s right. Going back to the documentary that I mentioned earlier, Bowie said that if he was entering the music business today he said that he wouldn’t do it. He would much rather be a collector of music and not a maker of music because he felt that it was all about the internet today. I have friends over in Japan and the music industry over there is almost a decade behind us here in the UK. Over there they still listen to music on CD and cassette tape. So I really do have to agree and say yes, I think that it is all about the internet today.

It’s funny that you mention cassettes, I recently spoke to Grant (Nichols) from Feeder and he informed me that they are releasing their new work on cassette tape.

Really, that’s great. Cassette tape is something that I am really interested in getting into. I have actually still got a cassette player in my car (laughter). I have the odd tape or two in there and I have to say that I would love to collect them. I love listening to vinyl when I am at home but cassettes are a great way for you to listen to music. I think that people are finally beginning to realise that the CD is not the saviour of the music industry. Vinyl sounds so much warmer and better even including the crackles (laughter). It’s good to see that quite a few artists are now releasing their work on vinyl.

However, the waiting list is huge because there are only so many companies at the moment that are capable of producing vinyl because they all died out once the CD became the norm. I would love to get my music out there on vinyl but at the moment I have to seriously take into consideration just how well it would sell compared to other formats. For me at the moment it is simply a case of supply and demand.

Anyway going back to you; why the Open Mic competition and not The X Factor?

I saw the advert for the Open Mic competition online over the summer and thought that I could sign up for it right there and then and the whole process was much shorter than if I had entered The X Factor. Personally I don’t think that I am the sort of artist who would go for The X Factor. I think that it is a very good platform in terms of getting your name out there and obviously it is televised but I just don’t think that my music would, or myself as a musician would work within the show’s environment. As I said earlier, I see myself more as a musician as opposed to a singer and I see The X Factor purely as being a singing television programme. I try to be fairly original and attempt to play original songs.

Simon (Cowell) would have no doubt passed out if you had walked out onto the stage with your guitar (laughter).

(Laughter) I know and the other thing is that I play the kick drum as well as the guitar so whenever I am going out onto the stage I’m the one with the fat lump of equipment (laughter). They would all probably be gobsmacked if I walked out to audition for The X Factor like that (laughter).

Just how did music start for you?

I have always loved music from a young age and I have to say that my dad was a very big influence on me to begin with. He got me piano lessons when I was seven years old and I haven’t stopped playing the piano since. I picked up the guitar when I was sixteen and started writing when I was seventeen. I also began playing the drums along the way as well. I have to say that music does run in the family. My Dad is a very keen musician and he is in a band and things like that. It’s always nice to have that in a family.

Do you still play the drums?

I do, yes. It’s funny because I only ever had ten lessons over a two year period in order to play the guitar but I actually had lessons on the drums for five years and actually went down the grades route. I managed to get to grade seven but then ironically the drums are the instrument that I now play the least, perhaps because I went down that standard lesson routine, and always being told what to do. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that lessons are a bad thing at all, in fact I am going to be having singing lessons simply because I would quite like to do that. However, I think that taking on an instrument in your own way is a very good thing to do. I just see myself as a musician who has learnt how to play the instruments the hard way.

Coming right up to date, how close is your EP to being finished?

Me and my producer haven’t really spoken about a date for the release of the EP but I would say that we have got two tracks left to finish. I am writing on the go and am always working on new ideas and things so we are both hoping to get the EP out there sometime over the summer. So not too far away I suppose. This will be my debut EP so I want to be absolutely fully satisfied with it. I am doing all of the artwork for the record myself as well because I am quite a keen painter and artist.

Do you have a title for the EP as yet?

(Laughter) yes I have.

Can you tell me or will you then have to kill me (laughter).

It is either going to be called Call You or Forgotten Faces. But again it is a work in progress in many respects. I am a very indecisive person who has four or five notebooks full of ideas with a big fat cross on all of them (laughter). It’s just the way that I work. I look back at them the following day and think ‘no, I don’t like that at all’ (laughter). It may take a while for me to find something and just say ‘let’s just go with it’ which as I say is just the way that I work. But having said that I feel that you have to compromise in almost any respect.

Will the tracks on the EP be drastically different from what you are already doing?

It’s interesting because I have always been a solo artist. In the past I have jammed with a couple of bands but I have never really had a bass line or a drum beat behind me. So coming into the studio I would have to say that yes, the style of my music has in fact drastically changed. Again I am still experimenting with sound, I am still trying new things out, but yes it is all going very well and I have to say that I am really pleased with the production side of things.

Are there any signs of you playing any live dates in the near future?

As of yet there are no tours to announce. I have literally just been concentrating on my writing and I have just been developing ideas really. After the Open Mic competition I have had offers from potential managers and a number of record labels but I have almost taken a step back from it all and thought ‘okay, let’s get the product together’ and then I can pitch it to people. I don’t want to get too caught up in the element of trying to get signed at the moment. I am simply taking it one day at a time.

Once you have got the finished product in hand then the offers with be better offers.

I certainly think that you are right about that. I totally accept that without a finished product then the offers will not come in as quickly nor can I waltz up to a record company, give them a semi-finished product and expect to be given a record deal. It just doesn’t work like that. You need the product. Another thing that I have learnt over the past couple of months is that I need to build a brand.

That’s right, you are then pre-armed and you will have something to show them in any subsequent meetings.

I think that I am going to make sure that I am fully prepared and ready for when things finally come my way. I just want to make sure that I have got everything together. At this moment in time I would have to say that I am not really looking any further ahead other than the release of the EP. I am desperate to get the EP finished and get a feeling of satisfaction from actually finishing that and getting it out there. I recently had a meeting with Syco together with a few other independent record labels which I probably shouldn’t talk too much about at this stage, but yes, let’s get the EP out and take things from there.

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh god that’s a good one (laughter). I think that it was probably when I was eight years old and it was Undiscovered by James Morrison.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That’s easy, that was Newton Faulkner. He still rings out to me because I thought that he was just incredible. Not that his music is similar to mine but he too is a solo artist and the sound that he generates through his guitar I think is just amazing. I can really connect to that because I too am trying to create a very full sound. I really would love to meet him as he seems to be a really cool guy.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Wow, when did I last cry? Invariably that is a very difficult question to answer but I would have to say that would have to be Lighthouse by Patrick Watson. It is an absolutely incredible song, very mellow, very sad, but a brilliant song with beautiful piano.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?

That’s a brilliant question. In five years’ time I really would like to be signed to a decent record label. The main aspect that I would like to have in five years’ time is to have people listening to my music everywhere. I am one of those artists who doesn’t really want his face to be known for my music, instead I want my music to be known by everyone who listens to it. I simply want to be recognised through my music. I would quite like to walk around the streets without anyone knowing my face but they are all playing my music. That would be quite nice; I would love that feeling. I simply do not want my appearance to be the main aspect of my music.

I recently read a very interesting article about Birdy. She won the Open Mic competition back in 2008 but still to this day she can move around London freely on the tube and no one knows who she is. They are probably listening to her music while she is sat next to them on the tube (laughter). It is such a bizarre thing to think about really. But that is the sort of artist that I would like to be.

Sam let me once again thank you for taking to time to speak to me today, it’s been great. Good luck with the EP and no doubt we will be speaking again later.

No, thank you very much Kevin. It’s been wicked to talk and I look forward to chatting to you again in the not too distant future. Bye for now.