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Sam Trammell is an accomplished New York stage actor, but it’s his role as Sam Merlotte on the HBO series True Blood that catapulted him to fame. He revisits the different phases of his life in his Guest DJ set, including how he discovered the indie spirit in R.E.M., found inspiration in the dark poetry of Tom Waits and solace in the angst-driven music of Pavement. The True Blood season finale is Sunday, September 11.
For More: http://www.hbo.com/true-blood/index.html
1 – Radio Free Europe - R.E.M.
2 – Dead Set On Destruction - Hüsker Dü
3 – Singapore - Tom Waits
4 – Loretta's Scars - Pavement
5 – Spike Driver Blues (John Henry) - Mississippi John Hurt
LR: Hi, I'm Liza Richardson from KCRW, and I'm here with actor Sam Trammell who stars in the HBO series True Blood, and today we're going to be talking about songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Sam, welcome!
ST: Thanks, I could not be more thrilled to be here.
LR: So what's the first song you chose, I see you've got some REM?
ST: Radio Free Europe. I had been into, like Foreigner, and of course The Stones, and The Who and all the classic Zep, but Radio Free Europe, that album, and that song especially, was so sort of indie and different and exciting.
The first band I was in - basically a friend played guitar, I played bass - and his brother also had a band and in their basement we all used the same equipment. His brother's band, his older brother's band was a lot better than ours, and they played Radio Free Europe, and I would sit there and watch them play this song, and watch the bass player play those lines. It was just so inspiring, and it was sort of like a story this guy would tell with his bass. It was an extremely exciting style of music to come out, and very new at the time, extremely new.
Song: Radio Free Europe – R.E.M.
ST: And you know, the thing is, you didn't have access like you do now, with iTunes that kids have now, to all kinds of different music. We only had albums, and CD's, and the only new music you heard was basically what your friend's older brothers had. Radio was only playing very mainstream stuff, so it was a lot harder to find independent music, and so something like this was just really, really mind-blowing.
LR: So that is Radio Free Europe, it's by R.E.M., the choice of our Guest DJ Sam Trammell. So tell us what's happening next on your list.
ST: Well, the next song I have is by Husker Du, it's "Dead Set On Destruction". That was an album off of Candy Apple Grey, it came out in 1986, and it was kind of actually Husker Du going into a little bit more of a pop zone, but I didn't know Husker Du at all, so to me it was very kind of hardcore [laughs].
And I remember the first time I heard it I was at this summer school in North Carolina, and it really tapped into a lot of, I guess, anger or something that I had at the time. This one song was a window into this whole kind of hardcore scene where it was a little more thrashy.
Husker Du was a seminal band for me. You know, they're just so influential. If you listen to the Foo Fighters, they're Husker Du, and [frontman Dave] Grohl will admit that he's extremely influenced by them. But I mean, Husker Du could come out now and make music and they would be relevant.
Song: "Dead Set On Destruction" – Husker Du
LR: That's "Dead Set On Destruction", it's by Husker Du and it's the choice of our Guest DJ Sam Trammell. The next one touches me personally, big time. What is it? You reveal.
ST: Sure. This is Tom Waits "Singapore". This is a really random one for me, because I completely by chance became a big fan of Tom Waits. What happened was, I lived in Paris and went to college in Paris for a year, my junior year, and a friend of mine from the program, we moved into this apartment, we had to find our own apartments. And it was this strange glass, totally glass apartment, in the air shaft of this apartment building. I'm sure it was not legal, and I lived there for the first semester with him. And there was, of course, some random mattress there, but there was also this tape, this cassette tape, and it was Tom Waits. Somebody left it. I didn't know Tom Waits, I didn't know anything about him and his music.
Song: "Singapore" – Tom Waits
ST: We put it in the tape player, and we would listen to this song almost every night. We were like Hemingway or something, every night we would drink wine and write in our journals. And we had the best time doing that and it was so kind of this romantic vision of being an expatriate in Paris and drinking wine and writing. We snuck into Père Lachaise one night and went to Jim Morrison's grave, which was the classic thing you have to do as a young person.
LR: As a young poet in Paris.
ST: As a young poet, exactly [laughs]. But Tom Waits' "Singapore" was the experience, I will go right back to Paris when I hear that song.
LR: That's Singapore by Tom Waits, it's the choice of our Guest DJ, Sam Trammell. Great story about Paris, very interesting. Sam, what is next on your agenda here? Another favorite of mine.
ST: Oh my gosh, this is "Loretta's Scars" by Pavement, off of Slanted and Enchanted. This song, I mean, okay, I think this song holds the record for the most amount of years that I had the same favorite song. I think this was my favorite song for like a decade. You know, I first heard Pavement in New York in my tiny little box of an apartment in the West Village, it was like 20 feet by 24 feet that I lived in for ten years. This was my anthem during those days. You know, it was kind of a dark time, it was like a struggling time. The first song I heard of theirs was a song called Greenlander, which is actually available on the reissue of Slanted and Enchanted. And I heard it on this radio station in New York, like late at night when I was sitting in my apartment being sad about something, being frustrated about something.
Song: "Loretta's Scars" - Pavement
ST: I think what I liked about him, Stephen Malkmus and Pavement, originally was they really reminded me of Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, for some reason. Just a lot of the way his attitude is and the kind of the distortion of some of their songs, but this is absolutely an amazing song and one of my favorites.
LR: That's Loretta's Scars, and it's by Pavement, and it's the choice of our Guest DJ Sam Trammell. And Sam, time is running out, how unfortunate.
ST: Oh boy.
LR: I know. So, what's your last one?
ST: My last pick is Mississippi John Hurt. This is a total left turn, but I got into finger-picking blues a lot through Stefan Grossman, he's a teacher who I would get his videotapes in New York and learn how to play these songs, and he plays a lot of Mississippi John Hurt. And Mississippi John Hurt, his style of music, is so soothing, it's kind of like dance. You have this alternating thumb that does alternating bass and then you have this melody that goes over the top. And "Spike Driver Blues" is such a great example of that, and it's a song that I learned how to play and play all the time.
Song: "Spike Driver Blues" – Mississippi John Hurt
ST: This was really, in my 20's, I would play these blues songs that are real finger-picking, and Mississippi John Hurt is just, he's like a grandfather. If you ever see him in person on a video, his voice will literally lull you into the greatest stupor that you've ever been in. It's like butter.
LR: Sam, thank you so much for joining us on KCRW.com, I really appreciate your excellent choices.
ST: Thank you, it's been an honor to be here.