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Sydney-raised Dave Sampson has his 'Ways' with writing songs

Dave Sampson launches his new record All Types of Ways, recorded in Nashville with his Cape Breton cohort Gordie Sampson, at Sydney's Highland Arts Theatre on Saturday and Halifax's Marquee Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Dave Sampson launches his new record All Types of Ways, recorded in Nashville with his Cape Breton cohort Gordie Sampson, at Sydney's Highland Arts Theatre on Saturday and Halifax's Marquee Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 19.

Dave Sampson has lots of reasons to celebrate. The Nova Scotia songwriter has a brand new record All Types of Ways and a pair of upcoming launch shows in both his childhood and adopted home towns, but at the time of this chat about those landmark events he’s particularly enthusiastic about the fact he’s just received his first gold record.

The shiny framed circle comes by way of his collaboration with Nova Scotia hip-hop star Classified on the song No Pressure, the song from the 2016 album Greatful that also happened to feature a vocal contribution from Snoop Dogg.

Just to show how the music business works these days, No Pressure was named Song of the Year at the 2017 East Coast Music Awards, making Sampson the latest example of the old proverb “good things come to those who wait.”

“Thank God for streaming, that song is three years old, so it took a little while,” says Sampson with a smile over a coffee at Java Blend. “I finally get to have a gold record on my wall, and it’s got Snoop Dogg on it.

“I’m trying to convince my partner Marcy that we have to move this picture of us because Snoop is coming in.”

The Sydney-raised songwriter has become used to waiting for good things to happen, All Types of Ways was mixed and mastered and ready to go after he recorded it in Nashville with fellow Cape Bretoner Gordie Sampson (strangely enough, no relation) a year ago. And that was after he’d already made a record in Toronto with members of the Arkells among his studio crew that he ultimately wound up shelving.

“It just didn’t sound right,” sighs Sampson, who sold his prized 1966 Martin acoustic guitar to finance the scrapped session. “It wasn’t where I wanted it to be, a little too safe and a little too CanCon alt-country. I could already tell where the songs were going to go and where they were going to sit.

“Looking back, it’s kind of crazy; selling my favourite guitar, getting all excited about going to Toronto to make a record and meeting all these great guys. All the stars were aligned for something to be awesome, and it didn’t work out.”

Sampson still misses the guitar; he shrugs and says at least he got a good story out of it. He considers the experience one of those rites of passage since he doesn’t know any musicians who haven’t had to sell gear to pay for something else at one time or another.

Some of those songs were reworked for All Types of Ways, which bears out Sampson’s confidence in the material, in terms of its writing and its skillful blending of roots songwriting and country/pop performance. This time around he reteamed with longtime friend and mentor Gordie Sampson at Sound Emporium, the legendary Music City studio opened by Cowboy Jack Clement in 1969, whose premiere session was Canadian folk duo Ian & Sylvia.

Nearly a decade ago, Dave Sampson attended the Gordie Sampson Songcamp at Celtic Lodge in Cape Breton, which cemented his friendship with musicians Carleton Stone, Breagh MacKinnon and Dylan Guthro — a.k.a. folk-pop trio Port Cities — who also appear in the single-take video for his soulful new song Trouble.

He credits the elder, Grammy Award-winning Sampson for giving him additional insight into the craft of songwriting, and for lending his expertise to making All Kinds of Ways’ tracks shine.

“He was around when I was writing some of those songs, and some were written with him, and he’s really shaped me as an artist and a writer. He’s opened a lot of doors for me, and I’m sure the fact that a lot of people think he’s my uncle or my cousin has also opened some doors as well,” laughs Sampson, who has learned that his main strengths are in crafting a melody and being a “big picture songwriter” who can visualize the shape a composition is going to take.

Sampson considers the six songs on All Types of Ways his favourites from the past couple of years, out of dozens he’s written. Each has its own unique flavour, but Boom Town stands out in particular, partly for it’s universal message about the ebb and flow of good times and bad times, but also for the singer’s memory of writing it.

“I wrote that with Gordie at my parents’ kitchen table when we were both home for Christmas. It was 3 a.m., we’re having some Breton beers, and we decided to write a song about Sydney and about small towns in general,” he recalls.

“I mean, it was a coal town, then it was a steel town, everybody had a job and it’s like every town everywhere. Sometimes something replaces what came before, sometimes it doesn’t.

Right now, Sydney is all about entrepreneurship and small business, and that’s what’s happening everywhere, which I think is amazing. And that song resonates everywhere I play; in Ontario, people come up to me and say they grew up in places like Sarnia, and that’s what happened there when the plant moved. So that song means a lot to me.”

The passion Sampson’s poured into his latest recording is already reaping dividends, as the self-managed artist has been using the record as a calling card that’s found him an agent in Paquin Entertainment, and earned him Halifax-based Sonic Entertainment’s first publishing deal.

“We hadn’t even signed the deal yet, and the instrumental version of my song Gets Me Through the Night was picked up by Tourism Nova Scotia for an international campaign that’s running everywhere but Nova Scotia,” he says. “That’s been very significant, and it’s going to be in the final scene of the final episode of the first season of the Global TV series Nurses, so already it’s been worth it.”

If you go

Dave Sampson’s Saturday night record launch show at the Highland Arts Centre in Sydney starts at 7 p.m., while the following show at Halifax’s Marquee Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 19 starts at 9 p.m. He can also be found in Truro during Nova Scotia Music Week 2019, with a showcase on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. and the Gordie Sampson Songcamp 10th Anniversary Show on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. at First United Church.

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