Spend some time with Sam Tudor and it gradually becomes obvious that, as far as he’s come as a songwriter with his magnificent second album, Quotidian Dream, the 23-year-old is in many ways still figuring things out.
The Straight meets the Vancouver singer at Chinatown’s Matchstick coffee shop for an hourlong conversation touching on everything from the genius of David Lynch and Sheryl Crow to the challenges of growing up in a rural community and then moving to a big city. Tudor, who is about to release last summer’s Quotidian Dream on vinyl, is as comfortable talking about his love of albums in a singles-obsessed era as about the façades we all put on to mask our inner demons.
The take-away is that there’s probably a lot going on inside. Tudor doesn’t attempt to deny that. In many ways, he suggests, Quotidian Dream is his way of attempting to make sense of a world where, sometimes, there are no easy answers.
“If I have to admit it, I do like pop music that people can sing along to,” Tudor says. “But I also wanted this album to sonically reflect how I was feeling. It was like I was living in this manicured world in Vancouver where things—especially in the summer—were all rosy and impeccably placed. I’m a film student, and I really like David Lynch, so I love the idea of a perfect Barbie-doll world where, underneath, there’s this slow oozing pool of sadness.”
If that sounds a lot like Lynch’s classic Blue Velvet, it’s no accident. Tudor is wonderful and engaging in person, but when he’s left alone with his thoughts, a different side of him sometimes emerges.
“I’m perfectly charming in this interview,” he says with a smile. “But I feel everyone is like that. When you combine all of their back-of-their-head secrets, you end up looking into a dark pool. So, fundamentally, I feel like Quotidian Dream is a sad album because I was sad when I was making it. But I like that the poppy, upbeat nature of the songs reflects the theme that, sometimes, the darkness is underneath.”
Quotidian Dream, the follow-up to Tudor’s 2014 debut, The Modern New Year, is indeed a record of contrasts, beautiful musically while at times melancholy lyrically. Consider the quietly majestic opening track, where lines like “All alone in your new apartment/Tell yourself it’ll all be fine” are set to a backdrop that nods to Sufjan Stevens chamber pop and the boho brilliance of Tom Waits without really sounding like either.
Raised on a rural property an hour outside of Williams Lake, Tudor relocated to Vancouver to study film at UBC. One of the things that struck him first when he landed in Lotusland five years ago was the seemingly unlimited access to high-speed Internet. And as anyone who’s ever found themselves mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds at midnight will tell you, the information overload sometimes gets to be too much.
Reflecting that, there’s a line in the sepia-toned “Chlorine” where, over woozy throwback-jazz horns and clarinet and 3 a.m. acoustic guitar, Tudor sings, “I mostly sit inside all day, staring at the feed.”
The singer confesses with a laugh that quotidian—meaning occurring daily, and often mundane—is a word that he learned in university. And while he’s been ribbed for being pretentious for naming his second outing Quotidian Dream, there were indeed days when he felt caught in an endless loop.
“At the time I was working on the record,” he says, “I was going to school and living in Point Grey, which is this Lynchian, perfect neighbourhood. I felt like, overall, I have a pretty good life—I’m just another white, heterosexual songwriter. But I also felt kind of sad. So the challenge was to bridge those two feelings. Like, everything’s normal, and yet there’s a real deep sadness to everything.”
But out of that time definitely came something amazing. The record’s gold-standard moment is “Truthful”, a song that will one day be remembered as one of the greatest pieces of art ever to come out of this rain-soaked city.
Like the rest of Quotidian Dream, “Truthful” doesn’t sound like any of Tudor’s influences or favourite artists—a list that includes Radiohead, Sheryl Crow, and Vancouver’s Destroyer. He credits part of that to his band—violinist Tegan Wahlgren, drummer/brother Harry Tudor, bassist Jasper Wrinch, and guitarist Craig Aalders—which had free rein to help shape the material this time out. (His extended group also includes saxophonist Jen Davidson, clarinetist Birch Kuch, keyboardist Sasha Olynyk, and synth player Brandon Hoffman.)
But, also wearing the producer’s hat, Tudor is as responsible as anyone for how the record sounds. He notes that, when he was in high school, he was already fascinated by songwriting and recording. One of his teachers, Brent Morton, was a musician who performs under the name Drum & Bell Tower, and he let Tudor work on songs for one block of classes a day.
That helped ingrain a DIY streak that remains strong today.
Quotidian Dream sounds like a record that’s been smartly, and professionally, produced. Consider the way the vocals are layered to eerie, otherworldly effect in the grey-hued meditation “Joseph in the Bathroom”, or the symphonic violin and viola that make for a beautifully menacing undercurrent in “Truthful”.
Funnily, though, Tudor put the record together himself, not in a studio but by toiling away on a computer, tweaking his own parts and the contributions of his band members until everything fit.
“Recording came first for me—in high school, I was recording even before I knew how to play music,” he says. “I just love messing around with stuff. On the song ‘New Apartment’, for example, I think I have four vocals where I sang the melody, but each one is done differently. Same with ‘Joseph in the Bathroom’. It’s not even some artsy, conscious decision. It’s more that it wouldn’t be fun to just record a guitar and vocals, and then just leave it.
“I’m still learning,” Tudor continues, self-deprecatingly, “because, really, I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s a balance of me wanting to get better and taking recording classes and stuff, but I still like how I kind of sound shitty a little bit. It’s a weird one—the longer you do music and the older you get, you’ve gotta progress. It’s a balance of maintaining a sound that I like, but also moving forward. So I don’t know what I’m going to do for the next record.”
It’s no accident, then, that he sounds like a man who’s still figuring things out.
Sam Tudor plays a Quotidian Dream vinyl-release show at 1601 Johnston Street on Friday (June 15).