JOE SAMPSON is a man of few words and an arid sense of humor.
So if you ask him about the early days of his jangle-rock band Salad Boys and whether he clicked with bassist Ben Odering and drummer James Sullivan, you might get an answer like this: "I'm pretty egotistical, so even before the band started, I knew it was going to be good."
To be clear, Sampson is making a joke. Spending a decade and a half starting bands, hoping they'll take off, and then bumming out when they don't is enough to humble any musician, even one at the relatively young age of 27.
"I started my first band when I was 11, with basically the same goal in mind the whole time," Sampson says. "I decided [in] the past few years, if I achieve something, then I'll consider it potentially the biggest thing I'll ever do and try to enjoy it. It's something I had to train myself on, to enjoy what I'm doing at the moment and not be disappointed when things don't turn out the way you hoped they would."
So far, Salad Boys are providing Sampson's best ride yet. He formed the band in 2012 with Odering and Sullivan, two other members of the Christchurch, New Zealand scene. "People seemed to like us straight away," Sampson says. "It happened much quicker than any other band I've ever done."
It helped, perhaps, that Sampson "gave in," he says, and started playing stuff he thought people might want to hear, rather than his previous brand of "self-indulgent, introverted, Smashing Pumpkins-obsessed music."
Indeed, Salad Boys' sound is a charming blend of acoustic bubblegum-strum (à la Big Star), occasional krautrock freakouts, and the kind of fuzzy, frothy indie-rock that has been New Zealand's top rock 'n' roll export since the '80s heyday of the Dunedin sound and Flying Nun Records. To hear the band at its best, check out the song "No Taste Bomber."
Through the magic of the internet, Salad Boys caught the ears of tastemaking Chicago label Trouble in Mind, which recently released the band's debut, Metalmania. Now the trio is on its first tour around the United States, a rarity for a Kiwi band.
When he stops to take stock of Salad Boys' current situation, Sampson's a man of even fewer words than usual. "I had always planned on [touring America], but I'm still surprised that I'm actually here doing it," he says. "It's sort of left me speechless, really. It's quite overwhelming. There are so many bands in the world, [and] a lot of better bands than the Salad Boys that don't get to do this."