TO GET TO KNOW the real Sam Quinn, I suppose you should start with the video. Posted by his label, Ramseur Records, the clip is intended as a "get to know" piece on the incredibly bearded frontman and a preview of his debut solo recording, The Fake That Sunk a Thousand Ships. But within seconds the Tennessee singer confesses that his pain is akin to a knife to the chest and admits to making a recording of "intrinsic sadness and pain."
"If I can just take [listeners] to a very sad place in their life, one with no shimmer of hope, that's what I was going for," he explains. "I think I'm pretty close with this one."
He is. But this is not a sadsploitation video aimed at churning up sympathy for the lanky singer. Quinn lets the cameras into his bedroom (a photo of Neko Case—the iconic Farrah Fawcett poster for the roots community—adorns the wall); he fishes, jogs, and even uses a pellet gun to take out his frustration on a few innocent cans of chewing tobacco (RedSeal, Skoal, and Kayak all fall, Grizzly remains defiant).
Previous to the BB-riddled chew and this confessionary clip, Quinn spent a half dozen years penning rootsy Americana songs in the Everybodyfields alongside Jill Andrews. Following her pregnancy, this onetime couple went their separate ways last summer; Andrews planned on splitting time between her solo material and newfound role as a mother, while Quinn contemplated quitting music entirely, before eventually changing course and shuffling off to go solo with his former band's collective sadness in tow. (In a weird twist of fate, the two will reunite to teach a workshop together at Pickathon.)
Knife firmly in chest, Quinn devoted himself to the catharsis of The Fake That Sunk a Thousand Ships. Like an orphaned Avett Brother or every single inspiring moment—and none of the misguided ones—from Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker, The Fake walks that fine line between country twang, revisionary bluegrass, and unhinged rock and roll, all with the delicate grace of Quinn's weakened state. In "Fanboy," Quinn howls of dreaming of sleep with fire in his veins, before erupting in a resigned chorus of "never needed anyone except myself." In a record swollen with such incredible moments of sheer vulnerability, Quinn's ability to express his sorrow is a wondrous accomplishment. Elton was right, sad songs really do say so much.
Sam Quinn plays the Workshop Barn on Friday at 5 pm (with Jill Andrews) and the Galaxy Barn on Sunday at 4 pm.