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Sam Tru at the Pearl: an Interview

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McCallum J. Morgan

March 12, 2024

Sam Tru is a genre-blending singer songwriter from Sandpoint, now based in Boise. Trained as a Classical and Jazz vocalist, she mixes the two with soul, pop, and R&B in her original compositions. Her debut album, Cycle, made number 1 on Amazon's Top 100 New Releases and made the nomination ballots for the 2021 GRAMMY awards in several categories. She is currently on tour and will perform at the Historic Pearl Theater on March 16th with the Alex Sjobeck Trio.

Sam was kind enough to answer a few on my questions about her life, music, and touring. I am really looking forward to the show this Saturday. Check out her website to learn more and find her music. You can find out more about acclaimed pianist Alex Sjobeck here. Buy tickets to the Pearl show here and read on for the interview!

You were raised in Sandpoint, right? What would you say is your favorite (or least favorite—or both) thing about your hometown?
Yes, I was. There are so many things I love about Sandpoint! But I think my favorite and least favorite thing is how small of a town it is. I love seeing people you know pretty much anywhere you go, and having been there so long I have a lot connections throughout the community. But, being a small town means that it is far fetched of me to think about settling down in Sandpoint while also wanting a career in music.

Who was your favorite artist, growing up?
My family listened to a lot of vocal jazz when I was growing up, specifically The Rat Pack and Ella Fitzgerald. Ella will forever be my favorite, she was an incredible vocalist and improvisor and as long as I can remember I have been transcribing her songs and trying to emulate her.

Who do you think is the most influential jazz musician?
As far as the most influential jazz musician in my life, it is Ella Fitzgerald. I like to consider my music “jazz adjacent” my influences come from all over the place. Artists like Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, John Mayer, Jacob Collier, Emily King...The list goes on and on.

Did you take any formal music education?
I did! I went to college at Pacific University in Forest Grove, OR (Go Boxers!) and studied Vocal Performance. It was a classically based program, but I really wanted to study Jazz so my Junior year I got linked up with a jazz vocal teacher, Jeff Baker, in Portland and would travel into the city once a week for lessons. After I graduated from Pacific, I joined a jazz choir at Portland State that was run by Jeff, and continued taking voice lessons. Jeff and I have been working together ever since, he has been a great mentor and friend to me and was also the producer on my debut album, “Cycle.”

When did you write your first song?
Oh boy, it’s hard to pinpoint the first song - I have notebooks full of lyrics that go back to high school and an insane amount of recordings on my phone (and a handheld recorder that I used in the pre cell phone days) that will never see the light of day. I can tell you that the first song I wrote that I felt I could share with others was in 2014ish? Thinking about that now seems like I was pretty late to the game, I’d been singing all my life but I don’t think I had all of the tools and knowledge I needed until that moment to write something worthwhile. That song didn’t make it onto my debut album, but it was a jumping off point for me and gave me the confidence to keep writing.

You’ve performed or shared the stage with some pretty big names, who were you most intimidated by?
Performing with the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra was pretty intimidating. It was a very different experience for me, I am used to playing with a band that consists of 3 or 4 people (piano, bass, drums, and sometimes guitar.) But in this case, I was backed up by 80+ musicians. My usual setup is pretty intimate, and its easy for me to communicate with the band - but while singing with the orchestra you are all dependent on the conductor which leaves me with less room for error. Though it was intimidating, it was amazing to be backed up by this wall of sound that the orchestra puts out and everyone was so welcoming and kind.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will have be back one day soon.

On this tour, you are premiering some new material, if you could condense the themes of your upcoming album into a few words, what would you say it is about?
I think in comparison to my last record, the best way to describe my new tunes is that they are more playful. My writing style is definitely evolving and this record I hope to record this year will showcase that. During this tour I will be singing tunes from my previous album and my new stuff so the audience will get to see this first hand!

What makes a good tour?
The band you choose makes the tour. You are stuck with each other for however long the run goes, you’re car pooling for hours at a time, sleeping on couches, eating too many snacks and not enough real food, cramming in rehearsals right before shows, and then every night you have to be on top of your game, perform and do your best to wow the crowd. When you are going nonstop it is so nice to be surrounded by a group of people you love being around and playing with - it takes a lot of the pressure off and keeps stress levels low. This will be the second time my piano player, Alex Sjobeck, and I have been on tour together and we hope to make it a yearly occurrence!

Do you still have family in Sandpoint/how often do you make it back/what’s it like coming ‘home?’
My parents still live in Sandpoint. I usually come home for Christmas and for a couple weeks in the summer - I am trying to get home more often though. It is always a treat to go home and revisit my old haunts and whatever new places pop up while I am away. It does often feel like I am a tourist in my home town. Things have changed a lot since I left after high school, which I should expect being that I graduated 14 years ago, but it doesn’t seem like its been that long!