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.