Sam Weber’s expansive blend of
driving rock, dream pop, and roots influences is
a testament to fierce ambition. At 19, the singer songwriter
and guitarist, along with his band
River, has just released an epic debut album in
Light Up to Burn Out [Landsend Studios]. The
recording features 18 adventurous, linked songs
infused with deep wit and wisdom that reach far
beyond Weber’s years.
Hailing from the open skies and minds of
Victoria, British Columbia, River is a group of
multi-instrumentalists. Weber and fellow band
members Marshall Wildman and Evan Hillier
all share bass, drums, piano, and synth duties.
Together, they’ve created music that manages
to be both artful and addictive.
Describe the concept behind Light Up to Burn Out.
It documents the bitterness and detachment
that occurs when a band breaks up. River had a
previous quartet lineup that was really tight, and
then half the band quit, annihilating everything
we had worked for to that point. We faced the
challenge of restarting, and captured the journey
on the album.
Who are some of your key guitar influences?
When I was 12, I was into Joe Perry and Brad
Whitford from Aerosmith. Next, I progressed
into a lot of classic rock, like Rush and Stevie Ray
Vaughan, including his work with David Bowie.
It’s a phenomenon of my generation to resent
modern music. Until I was 15, I couldn’t relate
to anything after 1989. I needed to hear a guitar
solo in order to have the time of day for a song.
At 16, I opened up to current music, including
John Mayer—who has real guitar chops—and a
cool, weird Canadian band called Metric and its
guitarist Jimmy Shaw.
What guitars did you play on the album?
I played a 2010 Gibson SG Classic with stock
P-90 pickups. Most SG models don’t have P-90s,
but they sounded pleasantly strange, which was
the deciding factor. They have a sweet, natural
kind of gain and crunch, even before you add gain
with an amplifier. I also played a modified 2002 Fender Stratocaster with a set of Fender Fat
’50s pickups and a Fender Custom Shop
tremolo system. In addition, I used a Telestyle
guitar loaded with Seymour Duncan
pickups that my dad and I built.
Describe your signal chain.
The pedal I use most often is an Electro-
Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb, which I use
to create Daniel Lanois-style atmospheres.
I also use an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer for
all the gain sounds beyond what’s naturally
there on my SG, and a Z.Vex Box of Rock
for really nice, present crunch and overdrive.
For slapback delay, I rely on an Ibanez AD9.
You favor heavy D’Addario sets with a .013-
guage first string. Why?
I love the sheer physicality of heavier
strings. You’re almost cheating with thinner
gauges because you don’t have to work
to get the notes—and I feel that if you don’t
have to work, you’re not putting any emotion
into your playing.
What was your recording setup for the album?
I played through two amps: a vintage
silverface Fender Super Reverb modified to
blackface specs, and a Matchless Clubman
35 with a Yorkville 2x12 cabinet. I pointed
a single Shure SM57 at both amps, and also
used an Audio Technica AT2020 condenser
mic to capture the thickness of the room
ambience. From there, the mic signals went
to an Apogee Duet converter and into Apple
Logic Express. We set up the drums in the
corner of my bedroom, and I hung some
rugs on the wall to create an acoustically
controlled environment. We ran the drums
through a Mackie 16x8 analog mixer and a
Zoom R16 recorder, so that we could use the
R16’s converters to feed Logic. We fought
with the sound quality every day, but our
philosophy was that even though we didn’t
have the greatest converters or preamps, we
could play well and mess with mic placement.
We paid attention to everything we did have
control over to put together what we think
is a quality release.
You attended Berklee last year on a scholarship.
What did you take away from that experience?
It’s so competitive. When you’re there,
you could easily forget what music is about,
which is making art, not one-upmanship. You
could lose your mind trying to be as good as
the next guy. What I learned is to completely
ignore what everyone else is doing, maintain
my own voice, and get on with things
on my own terms.