Samuel SC // ARTIST BIO
Eric Astor: drums
Vanessa Downing: vocals
Nick Kain: bass
James Marinelli: guitar, vocals
Dean Taormina: guitar
Samuel SC began life in late 1993 as Samuel, when drummer Eric Astor (who had cut his teeth in the Arizona hardcore scene) joined seventeen-year-old avant-garage guitar prodigy Josh Deutsch (later of Elliot Smith and Gang Gang Dance), powerpop fanatic and bassist Dean Taormina, charismatic ex-Junction vocalist Vanessa Downing, and future Ethel Meserve guitarist Chris Baronner. The band started rehearsing in a basement on South Burrowes Street in the small university town of State College, Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, West Virginia transplant/singer-guitarist James Marinelli’s band Glendale (featuring former Lincoln frontman Jay Demko and future Channels drummer Darren Zentek) had disbanded, and Marinelli (who happened to be living in the very basement where Samuel was practicing), was suddenly without a band. Soon thereafter, Baronner exited the band, and Marinelli took his place.
This lineup began woodshedding in earnest, thereby developing a signature (and singular) sound and style: Downing’s soulful vocals and evocative lyrics, Deutsch and Marinelli’s roar-and-chime guitar lines, Downing and Marinelli’s ferociously weaving vocal acrobatics, and Taormina’s propulsive, infectious bass attack -- all anchored by Astor’s powerhouse drumming. Two 7” EPs on the seminal Art Monk Construction label followed, as did a split 7” with Texas is the Reason on British label Simba Records.
Throughout this period, Samuel toured relentlessly, sharing stages throughout North America with future legends Avail, the Promise Ring, Dillinger Four, Chamberlain, Anti-Flag, and dozens more. A new set of songs was worked up, talk of a full-length album ensured, free lunches from A&R people were eaten, phone calls to noted indie rock producers were made, chatter of a European tour followed.
What went wrong? Samuel disbanded late 1995, just weeks before they were slated to record their first LP in Chicago with famed indie/punk engineer & musician Bob Weston (Mission of Burma, Volcano Suns, Shellac), and just after a grueling summer tour that was closely tailed by an ill-fated relocation to Washington, DC. The subsequent years have found the five of them scattered across the globe -- their sweaty, flesh-and-blood legend relegated to some scratchy 7” EPs and a handful of staticky-but-charming live videos on YouTube. However, the band left behind a legacy that has only intensified in the past three decades. Because their hard-driving anthems were equal parts stadium-ready indie rock (Sugar and Superchunk) and spiky angularity (Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu), Samuel’s hooky harmonies and roaring melodies later became the calling card of “mainstreamo” outfits like Jimmy Eat World and Taking Back Sunday. Moreover, Downing’s presence as a young, openly queer woman was contemporaneous with the blossoming riot grrl movement and inspired women, girls and LGBTQ youth within the burgeoning DIY/hardcore/punk scene.
Despite their ill-timed breakup, the members of Samuel remained close friends, and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic picked up a conversation about reuniting to record the set of songs they’d written before disbanding. All but Deutsch -- who offered his sincere blessing -- were in. In the summer of 2021, they and Darkest Hour/Be Well guitarist Mike Schleibaum convened at Ivakota Studios to record the best of their “lost” set of songs. Those reimagined songs were later augmented by exciting, newly written material, and the band realized they had enough music to demand a full-length LP. Thus, with the help of Schleibaum and talented engineer Benjamin Green, High Places -- the debut LP by Samuel SC – was born.
While its makers are firmly rooted in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s DIY independent music scene, High Places is very much an artifact of the present day. The music has the same momentum, emotion, and melodicism as underground hits like “Lives of Insects” and “Empty and Then Some,” but the eight songs that comprise High Places burn and sway with a contemporary-yet-timeless energy that will satisfy both new listeners and older fans of vintage indie/punk/emo.
The relaunch has been followed by a slight rebranding, with the band officially changing its name from Samuel to Samuel SC. Not only do the added initials reflect a change in personnel, they’re also a nod to the group’s original homebase of State College. More importantly, the name change signifies a demarcation between the band’s past and its present.
“High Places began as a simple desire to finally capture on record a few songs that had been lost to our untimely breakup in 1995.” Downing explains. “The project swiftly turned into something more urgently present – a fresh, creative effort between longtime friends who came back to the songwriting table with greater assets and a bit of perspective.”
Indeed, the camaraderie, chemistry and love for songcraft that bound Samuel SC decades ago endures and thrives, ensuring an exciting future for the band. Downing continues, “The added ‘SC’ in our name reflects our new makeup, while also affectionately acknowledging our beginnings. Yesterday always informs today, but what interests us the most now is tomorrow.”