By ROB DUGUAY
For the past few years, one of music’s rising stars has been Sammy Rae. The Derby, Connecticut native got involved with New York City’s illustrious music scene and in 2018 she made her mark with her EP titled The Good Life. The success of that release got her and her backing band The Friends gigs at some of the biggest venues in The Big Apple including the Brooklyn Bowl and Le Poisson Rouge. Since that time Rae and her band have become a must see live act with the amount of fun they bring to the stage. Folks around these parts will get to see what they’re all about when they take the stage at The Met on 1005 Main Street in Pawtucket on October 14th with Boston genre-defiers Couch opening up the show at 9pm.
Rae and I had a talk ahead of the show about her musical upbringing, starting out on the keyboard, moving to New York City and some recordings the band plans on releasing in the near future.
Rob Duguay: You & The Friends have a sound that’s very funky, very groovy with a lot of soul and R&B elements. With that being said, what was your musical upbringing like in Derby? Did you listen to a lot of that type of music or was it a hodgepodge of all sorts of stuff?
Sammy Rae: I grew up with a lot of classic rock, stuff like Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Billy Joel. That songwriter style mixed with classic rock and it’s still some of my favorite music. These days I do listen to some funkier stuff while leaning into more of Sly & The Family Stone and The Doobie Brothers. I think that the soul and the funk that comes in through our live shows is really a product of all of our influences kind of combining together. We’re a band of six people so we have rock & roll influences along with funk, soul and world music influences and as we’ve grown together we’ve started to add an edge to it that a lot of people would interpret as funk or Motown.
RD: You started writing your first batch of songs when you were 12 years old. To reflect, how much do you think has changed with you as a songwriter since that time?
SR: I knew that I always wanted to front a band, I didn’t want to do this thing alone and when I was young it was just me and a keyboard. I was predominantly taught by ear so I wasn’t taking intense lessons and I wasn’t going to just focus on being a keyboard player. When I got to New York City and I started to get onto the scene, see shows and witness the capability of a live band, I was really eager to get a group together as soon as I could. I went down more of a songwriter’s path when I was young and my interests were limited to what I was capable of doing on the keys. As I’ve grown older I’ve gotten to play with so many talented musicians and my ability to write what I feel while being comfortable with sharing it has vastly changed.
RD: Speaking of going to New York City, you started going there originally to attend Manhattan College and you did that for a year before concentrating on music full-time. Derby is the smallest town in Connecticut, so how was the transition for you going from one vastly different place to another? Was it overwhelming at first?
SR: Obviously there’s a major learning curve and where I grew up is definitely a small town and I lived in the woods while my backyard was a state park. It definitely took getting used to not having immediate access to nature and that kind of privacy in the way that I did growing up. I knew myself as someone who enjoyed time outdoors and time by themselves, which is hard to come by in New York City. When I started to go out to shows and I started singing I seemed to fit right in and I realized that I’m not just good for Derby, I’m good here as well. I found out that I could handle myself in this environment which is really encouraging and exciting but yeah, it was a huge transition period and it just came naturally to me.
I had been waiting for so long to be in highly artistically charged environments and to finally be able to be in that whenever I want and as often as I want has been very special. It was rewarding at the start and it still is rewarding. I don’t want to be in New York City forever but it’s the perfect place for me to be in now, it’s the place to be for me to be doing what I’m doing.
RD: What do you consider to be the main thing you’d like to accomplish with your music career? Do you have a set list of goals you’d like to accomplish or do you approach your career in a different way?
SR: There’s so much. I wanna be part of a very talented band and be part of a group that puts out really interesting, powerful and moving music. I want to put out a full-length record and pull out all the stops. I want to get some Academy recognition, a Grammy for Best New Artist would be great. I think the most important thing right now is that we’re very proud to be able to do what we love for a living and have this become everybody’s primary project as a source of income.
We have a very special live audience and fan culture at our shows. They come out and have a great time, they’re so grateful and they party in the room before we get on stage. We want to make that experience as enjoyable and accessible to as many people as we can and we hope to play larger rooms. We want to continue to travel, we love seeing the world together and this is the kind of thing we want to do until our 60s. There’s no reason why we can’t, especially as I look at the bands I love so much and how they’ve run their careers. Longevity, sustainability and growth while having a cultural impact on an audience and in terms of the music industry is definitely something I hope to accomplish.
RD: You & The Friends recently put out your rendition of the ‘80s hit “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” originally done by Tears For Fears. Can we expect a full-length album or EP to follow this up?
SR: We just went back into the studio to record another original single and we hope to release a couple more of those along with eventually another EP. We also plan on putting out another cover at some point. We’re also excited for the opportunity to make more music videos and more visual art. Further down the line we’ll be making a full-length record and hopefully it’ll be as powerful as our singles and EPs have been.