I spoke with guitar wizard Sam Holt before he heads out on the road with the Interstellar Boys later this week for the band’s first summer tour (tour dates below). Sam has played with the likes of Widespread Panic, Outformation, Sam Holt and Friends and now The Interstellar Boys are bringing together some of the jam scenes finest live musicians including Holt, Jerry Joseph, Todd Nance, Daniel Hutchens, John Neff, and Jon Mills.
Having had the chance to see Sam play music with Widespread Panic and his own bands over the years it was a pleasure to chat with him before the Interstellar Boys hit the road. You will most likely be hearing a lot about this band in the future…
Sam Holt Interview
MWN: I want to start off by saying back in (I think it was) 2006 through about 2009, those were some of my favorite times in life. I know when you were up on stage with Widespread Panic, it meant a lot to so many people, and I’m starting to kind of hear that same buzz right now with the Interstellar Boys. How did this come about?
SAM Holt: Oh cool, Well, it really started last… Well, I think 2015. I was off the road, so we put together something. I was in Athens, and Danny Hutchens was in Athens, and John Neff and Jon Mills. We were all kind of familiar with each other, and it just kind of fell together to play some shows as Todd Nance and Friends. So, we did that for a while.
Then, at the Bloodkin and Friends last December, Jerry was there—Jerry Joseph. We all ended up on stage together for a few tunes, and it just felt really exciting. Having Jerry added to that mix just took it to another level, so that was the formation of it. I don’t think anyone really thought about it.
The guy that put the event on, Peter Jackson, he manages Bloodkin and has his hand in the music world, and he kind of suggested… He said, “That was a really cool few songs there, you guys.” So, we decided to see what we could do and booked some shows this summer.
MWN: Wow, that sounds really fun. As far as your catalog, you’ve got so many different songs that you’ve written and Jerry has written, Danny—I mean everybody. What kind of music can fans expect to hear at this kind of show?
SAM: You know, I think it’s going to be pretty collaborative. I think everyone has songs to bring in. Danny and Jerry have written for a long time together. They have several songs that they wrote even in the early ‘90s. Some of the songs we were playing last year when it was Todd Nance and Friends before Jerry. I have some originals in there, and Todd has some of his original songs, and then Danny is just… Boy, he can just… He has got a lot to choose from. And then we also like to play a few songs that Mike Houser wrote because he meant so much to everyone in this band, and it’s just fun playing some of his tunes.
It’s going to be pretty collaborative, but I think it’s going to have a band feel, you know? It’s not just a bunch of individuals coming up there to play their songs with guys backing them. It’s going to be collaborative. Our catalog is pretty extensive. I know Danny has been writing, and I’ve been writing, so there could be a few big songs as well, and I’m sure Jerry has probably got a million songs hanging out somewhere.
MWN: How did your friend Mikey influence your guitar playing in particular?
SAM: Man, it started when I was pretty young, relatively speaking. You know, I started to get into them when I was, like, 19 or 20, and I had never heard anyone play like that. It just spoke to me. It moved me. So, I would literally go and get up front if I could. This is a time when they were still playing bars and stuff and small clubs. They were starting to get a little bit bigger, but I could still just go to some random show. I mean, we’re going to a show in Bowling Green, Kentucky on a Tuesday night. There were, like, 100 people there. I would just kind of park myself in front of him for a little bit and just kind of take it all in, you know? I never really said, “OK, I want to emulate that guy,” but it just sort of seeped in over the years, and that’s when I was just starting to really play guitar—not seriously but just more often. And then, some of the songs were really intriguing, so I would just try to figure out some of the parts of the songs and stuff. I would say I’m definitely inspired by him—his music, his songwriting, and his playing.
Then, later on, I started working through them, so I was around him more as an individual, just seeing him interact with people and how he was. I try to let it be an influence on me as to how patient he was or just his presence, you know? There was something significant about it. I don’t know. I can’t really explain it, but do you know what I’m saying? On stage or off stage, there was some significance in his presence.
I don’t know. I became friends with him, and we hit it off pretty good, and then, later on, I would be like, “Hey, how does this part go in this song?” and he would show me. So, that was kind of cool. Man, it just kind of seeped in. I guess it was osmosis over time. I have a lot of other influences, too, but he’s definitely one of the big ones.
MWN: As far as the connection with Widespread Panic and the Interstellar Boys, do you see this band maybe doing late night for Panic or opening for Panic? Or is there kind of a separation that you want to see? And then, the second part: Is there any flack from Brown Cat or from the band being like, “Hey, you guys are essentially going out on the road,” because I know a lot of people right now are really interested to see this band as opposed to something they’ve seen in the past?
SAM: That’s a good question because we’ve never really spoken about that. I don’t know. If it came up, I don’t know. I would think that if the situation was right, we’d be open to it, but I guess we’d have to cross that bridge when we got to it and see what the situation was like, you know? I wouldn’t rule it out, but I don’t know if we would jump in to do it either, you know?
No, there’s been no flack as far as anyone goes that I know of. I think it’s people playing music to satisfying themselves because it’s what they do, you know? It’s what we do, and I don’t think there are any problems on either end of whatever. I don’t think anyone is going to be offended by anything. I hope that answers your question.
You know we cross the bridge when we come to it on the first part.
MWN: Now, a couple more fun, personal questions. As far as barbecue, what’s your favorite barbecue joint? If somebody is heading to the South, heading to Georgia, heading to Athens, where would you point them?
SAM: Well, there’s Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Atlanta. It’s just always been my favorite. We started playing parties there, Outformation did. Before they had a restaurant, they would have these backyard parties with ribs and pulled pork and sides, and they would have a keg. It was $30 for all you could eat and drink, and we would play in the backyard. I know Jerry Joseph did that a few times, and that’s how they got started, at least in Atlanta. They kind of moved in, and they had a restaurant—Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta—where they would start serving some Fox Bros. food, and it was such a hit that they eventually started up their own restaurant. That’s my personal favorite.
But you know, man, it’s kind of like music, in a way, because on any given day, someplace could be unbelievable. You just hit them at the right time, and they’ve got the right amount of smoke, pulled it at the right time, or whatever, but Fox Bros. is my personal favorite.
MWN: You’re a family man now, and congrats on that. What’s the transition like, going from touring full time with a band like Widespread Panic and Outformation to having a wife and a daughter and working a regular job on the side?
SAM: Man, it’s definitely a transition because there were probably 15 or 20 years of my life where I was up until 4 AM every morning either working or playing, so it’s definitely slipped back to where I’m usually up at 7 AM now, hanging out with my daughter, getting her breakfast or whatever, or getting ready for work. It’s really cool that I work at a place… The place where I work is called Technical Service Audio/Visual—TSAV. It just kind of happened, and it was built by musicians, and they’re really tolerant of me going and playing music. I guess “supportive” is better than “tolerant,” the word to use. I just kind of landed in Athens, and Todd being here, we’ve had a good relationship for a while, and playing with him is something that really inspires me. I can’t really hit the road for a month now, but we can do three or four days in a row for a few weekends or something like that.
But it’s been a pretty big transition, having my daughter and wife support me, and I’m really excited because it was like, “We’re going to play…” There’s this festival in Athens in June called AthFest. My daughter is three—her name is Hayden and she is going to get to see me play on stage at this festival, and I’m really excited about that. I think she’ll be able to comprehend what’s going on, and that’s really exciting to me.
MWN: Wow, I could feel your passion as you were talking about her seeing you on stage.
MWN: As soon as tickets came out, everyone was buying them. We’re really excited about this, Sam, and I appreciate you talking about how you and Mikey met. I didn’t realize you were a fan first. I thought you were just this ripping guitar player and came on as a tech.
SAM: Oh yeah. Dude, my buddy that I went to high school with went to Georgia right out of high school. The summer after our freshman year or whatever, he was like, “Man, you’ve got to see this band.” I started listening to Space Wrangler, and I was like, “God, that sounds so cool!”
Actually, the first time I saw them, I didn’t get it. I went to Ole Miss for a year. They played there, and I didn’t get it. I just went. It was whatever. I had seen the Grateful Dead at that point, but I hadn’t seen Panic. One thing I remember was people… And there were only, I bet, 40 people there in this bar, and these guys kept yelling “Barstools!” and I was like, “What? Do they need something to sit on stage? What’s going on? Why do people keep yelling that?”
Then, a month later, my buddy and several friends of mine went and saw them at the Center Stage in Atlanta, and it was like… And Colonel opens with the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and I left that concert, and my life was changed for sure. My path started to become a little bit more clear. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but music had to be involved.
MWN: You’re making a lot of fans really of Panic really happy, and visually, just to be able to see you guys on stage it’s going to be amazing, and then, to hear the music that’s going to come out, it’s really special to a lot of people, including the fans. So, I just want to say that from a personal standpoint.
SAM: Thank you, man. We’re excited for sure. This is exciting, so I’m glad that a lot of people will want to see it and hear it.