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Sam Beaubien (of Will Sessions) Interview

March 4, 2009

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Initially, trumpet player Sam Beaubien wanted to be like all the other kids and play drums. But since the music department at Royal Oak, Mich.’s Northwood Elementary ran out of the instrument when Beaubien was in fifth grade, he had to pick up the horn. Fast forward more than ten years later, and the frontman for the instrumental Hip Hop/jazz collective Will Sessions, in tow with a Bachelors degree in music from Wayne State University, has been enlisted to work with both established and fledgling Detroit Hip Hop acts. Beaubien has peppered the horn ingredient for “Give The Drummer Sum” on Black Milk’s 2008 album Tronic, and for Buff1’s Pure album, along with layering Will Sessions’ debut album Many Faces, released last November. The trumpet is a notably versatile instrument, but Beaubien has taken a passion for the microphone-checking art form cultivated from his childhood — sprinkled with some jazz and bebop, to the main stage of the Michigan indie urban music surge. Whether it’s being the driving force behind Will Sessions’ Hip Hop-tinged jazz sound or crafting horns for Black Milk, 14KT and even the up-coming Slum Village reunion LP, Beaubien puts new meaning in the Detroit nickname “Renaissance City.”

When did you first start playing trumpet, and how did you get started played on tracks for Hip Hop artists? 
Well I’ve been doing music since I was a little kid. I started out playing trumpet in like fifth grade, and then I played in band and I picked it up naturally. It wasn’t really hard for me to pick it up because kids pick up things way easier than adults do. They absorb things a lot faster, they have a lot less things on their minds. So it was pretty easy for me then, because I didn’t really think about much. Then I went to Wayne State for music; I was always playing jazz and writing. So when I graduated and started making beats, messed around with that a little bit, I hooked up with Buff1 and that’s pretty much where I started with the recording Hip Hop stuff. 

Speaking of back in the day, who were some of your musical influences growing up?
Prince, I remember listening to Purple Rain all the time. My parents had that vinyl and I loved that album. When I was really little, it was like everybody else, Prince and Michael Jackson. And I got into Hip Hop pretty young too, I liked old school stuff and remember having a lot of tapes. I remember having a Young MC tape, how crazy is that? I got into jazz a little bit because I played trumpet, so I listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. My dad had a lot of old jazz records. I always liked funk but I was never into rock, I really don’t like country and all that, just funk, Hip Hop and jazz mainly. 

I also heard you were a music teacher. What made you travel down the road of being an educator?
Yeah, I teach music Kindergarten through eighth grade in Hamtramck. At Wayne State I got a double major in music and education, so I teach and play, but man I really love teaching. I don’t just do it for a pay check—we expose the kids to everything. We don’t just do standard, funk, soul, blues and jazz and we talk a lot about the history. I never got to learn that in school so they learn a lot of different stuff than I did. 

The musical divide seems to be closing dramatically everyday with all the old school genres like classical and jazz. When we had to listen to Bach and Steven Sondheim in schools, are you finding that students now only want to listen to Weezy and Young Jeezy, not absorbing at all? Especially in the inner city, do you think it’s getting harder for kids to listen to different genres of music and possibly pick up instruments like you did?
I get that all the time, everyday. Every day they come in, wanting to hear Soulja Boy, it drives me nuts. But they definitely reject a lot of stuff if you don’t bring it to them in the right way. For example, [when] I want to try playing the blues, the first thing I would do is usually try to find a song or sample that someone has used, that’s been a song they might have heard on the radio. And then play the original over the sample. Like I found the Ray Charles song “I Got A Woman” that Kanye West sampled for “Gold Digger,” I played that and they loved it, because the original sounds just like the Kanye beat. Then I’ll say “Ray Charles got his stuff from this” and then play something else. Usually you’ll find a stepping-stone they can relate too, but it’s hard to force stuff they can’t really relate too. 

How did your band Will Sessions come together and create such a Hip Hop infused jazz sound?
Will Sessions is a core of three guys. Myself I play trumpet and I arrange, produce and write I’m like the bandleader. And then the bass player and drummer, I went to Wayne State with. If you see these guys play it’s like crazy and I’m like I’ve only been playing piano for about a year and a half. Like, we will play Herbie Hancock and all that 60s and 70’s fusion stuff too. But both those guys are killing it. We met at Wayne State and those guys are major jazz players and all, we played all kinds of clubs for money, and at weddings and stuff. When I started producing beats, I wanted to record stuff and I could never get the drums the way I wanted them to sound, so I would layer live drums with the guys. I had my buddy record them and one day I taught myself keys. The next week we were playing shows with the material. 

With the album Many Faces, how long did it take for you guys to put it together? And also, what’s with the cluster of tracks that seem to have that J. Dilla vibe to them? How much of an influence did J. Dilla have on the sound your sound?
All that stuff was made over two years ago, that was music I was making just for fun and just recording it. One of the buddies I went to school with was majoring in music business, and wanted to start his own label. He wanted to hear my stuff, he liked it and said he wanted to put together the album. So basically it’s a compilation of everything we’ve did to that point. Everything we do is so different. Like we have probably like three albums worth of material right now and each one is very different. This album is basically Hip Hop-based but there are a number of songs that aren’t really Hip Hop. And I just think at that time we were just listening to mainly Hip Hop and it was the kind of music I could make myself and just layering the live instruments afterwards. As for Dilla, I’ve been a fan of his since he did stuff for The Pharcyde, so he was definitely an inspiration. We just really worked on how we feel man, I wasn’t trying to recreate Dilla or anything like that, it just sort of came together.  

What was it like arranging your own album as opposed to working on other artists’ projects?
When I make music I’m really not making to really sell. I’m really just making the music I want to make, the songs I always liked listening to. Whatever I feel like making like something off Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, or if I feel like something off of (J Dilla’s album) Welcome to Detroit. If I’m working with Black Milk or 14KT or stuff like I’ve been doing with Mayer Hawthorne for the new Stones Throw album, they just tell me what they want. I don’t put much thought into it, those guys are all pretty good at what they do, they already know what they want, they tell me what to do, and I play it. 

What do you think of the soulfulness factor in Michigan’s music scene right now? How do you feel about the fact that your expertise fits in so well with the current direction of Detroit’s urban music?
I feel like ever since all the neo-soul stuff, it’s kind of fitting back in and with Dilla passing, all this old stuff if coming back to life and it’s kind of what was missing in a lot of the music. His stuff wasn’t synthetic; it was really organic, so a lot of people are trying to get that sound and mimic that style of production. In early 2000 after Cash Money came out music kind of turned to that kind of stuff. I really think it’s great to be able to use different styles so everything doesn’t sound the same all the time. 

How was the experience working with Black on “Give Tha Drummer Sum”? How did you guys link up?
Actually the first thing I’ve ever done, the first beat I’ve ever made, I hit up Buff1 on MySpace because I’d heard him live. And I was like “hey man I get this beat you should check it out,” he liked it and rapped on it. It was on the Small City, Big Name mixtape, which was the first thing I did. Then Buff1 told 14KT that I did live instruments and stuff like that, he hit me up on MySpace and I did trumpet on “Pretty Baby” on Pure. Then 14KT was putting together his The Golden Hour soundtrack and I had a song on there with AB and Zo! and it’s called “Less Than Enough.” So I played piano, trumpet, kind of like soul, and jazz kind of stuff. Then he passed my name onto Black Milk, I don’t know how that even came up. Black Milk just hit me up saying, “I got your name from 14KT, I need trumpet.” Hit me up on MySpace, and we were in the studio for no more than 45 minutes to an hour. 

I had already listened to his music. I had a couple of albums of his, at the time he had two albums out already: Popular Demand and Sound of the City, Vol. 1. So when he hit me up I was down. He’s a really laid-back guy, really clear-headed, very professional. He knows what he wants and he has a really good ear too. Like the melody on the song for Tronic, he actually sung that to me, I didn’t write that part, the hook. He sung it and I figured out what he was singing and I played it and layered in harmony. He is not your stereotypical Hip Hop producer; you go in there expecting them to be like most people smoking weed and shit like that. He’s real business, he’s a really lyrical guy. He played me a bunch of beats, which were sick as hell. Bunch of stuff I think is unreleased, sit chilled and talked for minute. Recently we recorded on the Slum Village album together. We’ve been talking and linking up on some more things and of course we did the Slum Village track.

Yeah, how was the experience working on Slum Village’s upcoming album? 
It was sweet when they hit me up for that. I was real excited to go in there and do that. The plan wasn’t to have all those live instruments we were just going in to lay down the horn parts, he made his track and already had some horn parts he had chopped up. So I was there with my buddy—a saxophone player—[and] we laid them down, and I was like, “You really need to get a live base player on this one part.” So then I brought my bass player in and then they wanted drums, I brought my drum player in and we played all the parts. The parts are still on the beat we are actually just playing over it. It sounds crazy; I mean, it’s Slum Village. I heard the vocals on it, Elzhi and T3 are crazy man, really sick. They’re really thinking about the music and really focused on it. I have been a Slum Village fan since ninth or tenth grade.

Who else are you working with and what can we expect from the future?
Of course I’ve worked with Black Milk and 14KT. Right now I’m working with Mayer Hawthorne on that new Stones Throw album, his solo album, which is him singing and I’m doing all the horn parts. It’s crazy. … He’s singing all these old doo-wop and soul songs, a bunch of covers and originals. Also I’ve been talking with Nick Speed and he wants to put together an orchestra of all live instruments and that is what a lot guys are calling me for now. I can put together anything and write it for you. Like I can hear the track and figure out what horns go best for it and lay down all the parts. He’s been playing me a bunch of shit with strings in it and we’re going to write it out like for an orchestra and record it. He’s really excited about it and I hear he is enlisting a lot of big name people for that, but we’ll see. Other than that, working with Asylum 7, who is on the Many Faces album and that’s about it. I’ve been really busy.

1 Comment »

  1. Fresh Selects / WEEKEND BEATS #3: Will Sessions - Leaks Beat Tape (feat. Buff1 & Asylum 7) says:

    […] on Will Sessions, be sure to check out Sam’s featured interview with the good homies over at Michigan Hip Hop from earlier this month, as well as this video of the group recording with Black Milk for the […]

    March 20th, 2009 at 7:14 am

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