Singer-songwriter Pickering Pick
Singer-songwriter Sam Pickering Pick is a man after my own heart — a man in love with words, words sung and words written. Setting his words to music, he paints beautiful pictures and tugs at the heartstrings. I also love his sense of melody and his guitar work. Low key and humble as he is, I think he has huge potential among folk music fans and beyond.
Originally from England, he has been living in the United States for eight years and now makes his home in Sacramento, California. Though his singing accent is a bit soft, he notes that his “speaking voice is just as English as ever.”
Sam has made nine albums to date, plus two EPs. His latest, The Boy in the Back, was just released this year. He is in the process of remastering his other albums in his home studio.
Though I find his guitar work quite beautiful, Sam doesn’t consider himself a hot shot musician. Lyrics are his main focus. “I played guitar and a bit of piano growing up, neither one particularly well, I might add. I’m really not a ‘good musician,’ and I’m just lucky to have long fingers and a sense of rhythm, so that fingerpicking a folk guitar is relatively easy for me. I have always been much more about the words than the music, so Paul Simon and obviously Dylan had huge appeal for me.”
I recently asked Sam what he thought of British singer-songwriter Donovan since I get a bit of a Donovan vibe off his music.
“You know, Donovan is an interesting one,” he said. “A couple of his songs are spectacular, but often I think he’s a bit too sweet for my taste. His fingerpicking is lovely, though. I love that scene in Don’t Look Back where he’s playing in a room of Dylan groupies and Dylan is just really mean to him, but Donovan plays much better. I think the English folk singer I most identify with is probably Cat Stevens [aka Yusuf Islam].” He is also a big fan of English folk singer Richard Thompson.
Sam recently turned 32. He grew up in a town in England called Cheltenham “in the Cotswolds, in the south-west Midlands.” He describes Cheltenham as a “posh town with posh schools, but lots of problems”
Sam himself did not grow up in a posh family, but his father is a notable figure in the music world. David Pickering Pick is a record producer and serial studio-builder who built studios from the ’70s up to the present. Musicians recording in David’s studio include Luther Grosvenor from Mott The Hoople, The Vigilantes of Love, Decameron and Bill Mallonee. “I think Judi Dench was there the other day doing some voice work. Anyway, a lot of English folk royalty over the years…” His studio company is FFG Recording.
“I grew up in Cheltenham, went to school, listened to all my dad’s old folk records from the mid- ’60s through the early ’70s — he gave me a whole stack when I was about 11 or 12,” Sam said. While his friends were listening to Guns ‘n’ Roses, Sam notes, “I grew up on James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan. Later on, there was Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Incredible String Band, etc., but earlier on it was the American folk singers I adored.”
After leaving school, Sam went to London to study architectural history. “Around that time, my first year, I wrote the songs for The Attic Tapes, and recorded them with my dad producing at his studio,” he said.
Sam moved to the U.S. in 2002 after meeting an American girl in London as a 20-year old. He and his wife married in 2000 and recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. They have two children, a 7-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. He has been a stay-at-home father since their son was born.
Sam’s sister Sera recently made some very nice videos of him singing in his home studio. “Sparkling Thing” may be my favorite from the new album:
I’ve always loved “Unseen Hook” as well:
Visit Sera’s Youtube channel to see the rest.
Below are some of the topics Sam and I covered during a recent interview, including RateYourMusic, Bandcamp, TheSixtyOne, LastFM, and his dream of becoming a published novelist.
I discovered Sam on RateYourMusic, an amazing website that has grown into a thriving community with a very impressive database of albums and artists. Like me, he was one of the early members of that site back in 2002. I beat him there by just a few months.
“It was a tiny website back then,” he said. “It’s amazing. I’m so happy to see it turning into the resource it has become – one of only a tiny handful of extraordinary truly social media.”
MM: “Me too. [Site owner and creator] Sharifi is such an amazingly awesome guy. Sort of Zuckerberg’s good twin.”
Sam: “I owe him a HUGE amount. Seriously, w/o Sharifi and RYM, I wouldn’t have recorded all the albums I did. And I wouldn’t have reached the people I have reached.”
MM: “I certainly wouldn’t know about you. Or about tons and tons of my favorite music.”
Sam: “He’s on top of my Christmas card list for sure. RYM pretty much changed my life musically.”
MM: “How so? Just by giving you a venue and some networking?”
Sam: “Well, let me see… First of all, it opened up my eyes and ears to a whole world of music I wouldn’t have discovered, which influenced and changed me as a musician. Then, importantly, it provided a platform for me to experiment with listeners. I had played live in London for a while before moving to California, but I never had the feedback I got from RYM. Then, of course, the viral nature of a social website like RYM made distribution of my music very easy in way I had never imagined… I mean, RYM was not conceived as a venue for unsigned/under-the-radar musicians to upload their music, right?”
MM: “From my understanding it was an experiment, to create a database others would contribute to. That part definitely works.”
Sam: “But with the help of [RYM users] Matti, Kevvy, Jon Bohan and a few others, and tremendous support from many more, I was able to use the site as a personal musical forum.”
MM: “It’s an amazing database at this point.”
Sam: “Probably the only one of its kind – almost too complete! Lots of very anal music fans with too much time on their hands… I used to think I was a music geek, but now I know otherwise.”
MM: “There are levels of geek.”
Sam: “I am low-level for sure.”
Growing up with a music producer for a father had a big impact on Sam, but he has another passion: writing.
“Music was everywhere when I was growing up. Musicians of all kinds in and out of the house. I used to sit and watch the sessions from time to time, but I don’t remember ever thinking I wanted to be a musician. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I wanted to be a writer and that has never gone away.”
He has written two novels and would love to become a published novelist, but notes, “music is just as much a love of mine.
“You know, writing is just enormously satisfying. The writing process — I get a huge kick out of it. I finished the last novel this summer, right before i started working on The Boy in the Back and when I was done, I felt bereft.”
His novels cover a variety of subjects, including wasted youth, anxiety, sexual tension and murder. His last book was a comedy, which he refers to as “fluffy teen fiction, like Gossip Girl.” He pitched it to some agencies but didn’t have any takers. “I used to work in book publishing, so I know how it works. New authors never get a look-in. Only established names. You have to know someone or be someone.” But he notes, “people will continue to seek out good writing.”
He has toyed with the idea of giving his books away through digital downloads, the way he does his music. “There’s a way it could work. For the Kindle generation.”
Like other indie musicians I’ve spoken with, Sam is a big fan of Bandcamp.com, which lets unsigned artists stream, give away and sell their music. “I never made anything from my music until I put the albums up on Bandcamp,” he said.
In fact, during our interview, he interjected, “Cool! Someone just bought an album on Bandcamp! While we were chatting. What a coincidence…”
Sam still thinks the website could be better: “It is really cool — but it isn’t perfect. It’s not a cohesive site. There’s no ‘web.’ It’s like a stack of pages, but no cross-references. So one artist is pretty much isolated from all the others and there’s nowhere for fans to comment on artist pages.”
MM: “Yeah, I’ve noticed that. It’s like each artist has an independent website, which is cool in a way, but not very lively for the music explorer.”
Sam: “Exactly exactly exactly. Great for me as an artist, not as a consumer.”
But speaking as a blogger, Bandcamp is pretty doggone convenient as it lets me embed songs and albums like so:
Sam isn’t currently doing live performances, but doesn’t rule them out in the future. He is a bit stage-shy, but while in London he performed in some important folk venues. “I even played the 12-Bar on Denmark Street one time, probably my most prestigious performance,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking but well-received.” He explained that Denmark Street is “pretty much the epicentre of folk music in London and the UK, and the 12-Bar is the focal point — a live folk club for acoustic artists.”
He finished building a proper home recording studio last year and wants to get comfortable in it. “I am not opposed to playing live, but having been away from the live scene for so long, it is hard to know how to get back into it again,” he said. “I’m not keen on open mic, but i do appreciate that listeners want to see their favourite artists playing ‘in the flesh.'”
I’m the one who talked Sam into joining TheSixtyOne.com. I was gratified to see how quickly he formed a bond with other folk musicians and found his audience. I was a little embarrassed later on, when the site changed into its current artist-unfriendly format, stripping away all those social networking tools. I’m relieved to find that he still thinks his time at T61 was well-spent. His songs are still on the site, though he isn’t seeing much activity there.
Sam: “T61… well… You introduced me to it and I was very excited at first.”
MM: “Yeah. I was trying to win a quest. The Evangelist or something. Plus I thought highly of your music and I thought you would do well there — and you did.”
Sam: “I had had a long hiatus from writing and recording, but something kind of clicked and I was excited about writing again. That was amazing — to be able to be involved in the process, watching people respond to my songs. It was very addictive.”
MM: “It was quite a supportive environment wasn’t it?”
Sam: “The charts, and the front page, etc., the comments I received were encouraging.”
MM: “Yeah. your fans rooting for you, trying to get you on the home page, helping you strategize.”
Sam: “And then, boom. It just ended.”
MM: “Your songs are still up right?”
Sam: “I guess — I never go there any more. Wouldn’t know how to get rid of them.”
MM: “I would leave them. The more places, the better.”
Sam: “I don’t disagree.”
Sam also enjoys the popular music website Last.fm, which gives him valuable exposure as a musician. “I have a good relationship with Last.fm,” he said. “They’re good people.” He admits the site isn’t perfect, but is still a fan.
MM: “They’ve got issues too. That duplicate artist thing is a mess and a half.”
Sam: “Oh, yeah, that’s true. There were a couple of Pickering Picks last time I checked… One’s a Sam Pickering Pick I guess. But the communities and groups are cool.”
Speaking of which… A quick Internet search will come up with quite a few Pickering Picks.
Sam: “Ha ha. There are a few notable Pickering Picks. Thomas Pickering Pick is probably the biggest. My family were all famous surgeons. Surgeons to the royal family, etc.” (Gray’s Anatomy was co-written and edited by Thomas.)
With a bit of luck and perseverance, I’m betting that one day, Sam Pickering Pick the musician will be the first Pickering Pick folks think of when they look up his family.
Check out Sam’s website, listen to some of his songs and maybe send a little love his way. I think he deserves a few bucks at the very least for the musical gift he’s given us.