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La page myspace de Sam Amidon nous apprend qu’il a enregistré un disque de chansons folk américaines traditionnelles, All Is Well, à la guitare et au banjo, avant de les confier aux experts en arrangements Nico Muhly et Valgeir Sigurðsson, que sa famille compte vraiment beaucoup de musiciens et qu’il n’hésite pas à faire des grimaces dans des video par ailleurs délicates et émouvantes.

En concert, le jeune homme aux larges épaules se laisse hanter avec humour par différents personnages et met en scène d’étranges ballades, réinventées génération après génération, dont il est à présent le passeur.

So you’re very interested in traditional American songs. Do you know where your family comes from?

Historically? Amidon, « c’est un nom français », it means cornstarch. Roger Amidon was a French Huguenot. He came to Vermont in the 1630s. It’s an old New England family. It’s pretty waspy. My Mum is from New Jersey and her family has some people from the Isle of Man. My middle name is Tear. I’m from Vermont. I love being from Vermont. That place is an amazing combination of farmers and hippies and all kinds of different people.

The music that I play is not the music that my people play, it’s usually from the South, but I did learn a lot of the songs from my parents. So it’s a mix.

Are you nostalgic of old times you haven’t even known?

That’s a problematic notion for me in a way… Yes, of course and I think everybody is. But I think that I probably am less than a lot of people… The reason why I hesitate when I answer that question is : many people think I or anybody sings folk songs because they’re nostalgic. That’s definitely true to an extent but to me that kind of thinking implies that the songs aren’t good enough on their own.

In a way what’s important about the songs is not the fact that they’re old. For me what’s important about the songs is the fact that they’re weird, strange and beautiful and we don’t know where they came from. We don’t know if they’re authentic. Maybe the recording that we heard of the old bluesman, he forgot the third verse and used a different third verse. So yes, I’m nostalgic but it’s not why I’m excited about the songs. To me it’s the mystery of them.

Where did you get your instruments? Do they have a history too?

My banjo is a high school graduation present from my Mum. My parents both play banjo so I’d just been playing theirs. The style of banjo I play is the clawhammer banjo. It’s the original banjo style. It comes from Africa. It’s a gourd and a stick and it was played in a way that is different from picking. The picking came from Europe, from the lute I think but the clawhammer is the original style. It’s pretty easy. Well, it’s not easy but it’s automatic. Once you’ve started it just does itself so it’s less something that you practice and more something that you find out near the couch and you’re bored and you do that. I just did that with my parents’ banjo and she gave it to me as a present.

If you could travel in time, where would you go?

Somebody just asked me this! I would go to New York City in the 1950s and be able to hear Thelonious Monk play with John Coltrane at the Five Spot.

If you could live one day in somebody else’s shoes, who would you choose?

Definitely a film maker, a really good film maker… No, Michael Jordan! The basketball player. Ten years ago.

What job would you do if you weren’t a musician?

I’ve had a job when I can’t make money with music. I type a hundred and twenty words per minute. I had a job that was listening to interviews and typing them so that they could be edited for a documentary. It was a third party company so it could be for any TV, all the major networks. It was the best job in the world. I’d walk in and they’d give me a cassette tape. I’d press play and listen to these stories for hours. It was before they were edited so it was the person’s story the way they wanted to tell it. You also heard how the interviewer pushed them one way or another. You would get totally caught up in this and you would never know why you were transcribing the stories. So for an hour somebody would be talking about their lives, then something really dramatic happened and you felt like you knew them so well. It was really a great job.

What do you do in your free time?

I prefer to have as much free time as I can. I’m really lazy. I watch lots of films. I do like to read. I don’t read lots of books. I read slowly and fitfully. I take long walks.

Any characters in books or movies that inspired you?

A book that inspired me a ton is Balzac’s Illusions Perdues. I read it in college and when I came to New York it just felt like it. The people there weren’t necessarily similar to any of the characters but the book really helped me figure out what a weird world New York was and all.

The little brother of Elijah Wood in the movie The Ice Storm by Ang Lee, based on a novel by Rick Moody. I don’t know why but this just popped into my head. I like the smaller kid in this movie.

Is there an instrument you’d like to learn to play?

I wish I was a really good bass player. Being a good rock bass player is a mysterious skill.

What do you play or listen to to cheer you up?

Most recently the new Q-Tip record. I don’t know why but a lot of R. Kelly. You can listen to R. Kelly for any reason because he writes songs on every topic. it’s amazing. Joni Mitchell.

In your opinion, where is the best place, when is the best time to listen to music?

I love taking long walks and listening to music with headphones when I walk.

You have a song called Wedding Dress. Can you think of the top three songs to play at a wedding party?

(laughs) I don’t know, I don’t have any wedding I’m planning right now. Anything by R. Kelly.

What have you learned today?

I learned that tomorrow we’re going to play in Strasbourg. I learned that (reading from Wikipedia) in July of 1518 an incident known as the dancing plague stuck the residents of Strasbourg. Around four hundred people were afflicted with dancing mania and danced constanly for a week. Most of them eventually dying from heart attack, strokes or exhaustion. So I’m gonna try and get it tomorrow. That’s my goal. My goal is to get dancing mania.

What a great story! The stories you sometimes tell between two verses of the songs remind me of the Lounge Lizards. I saw them a few years ago and John Lurie also told stories during the show.

Well, one of the connections with the Lounge Lizards - who are an amazing band - is their drummer in the early 90s was Dougie Bowne. He is the drummer in a band called Doveman where I play. Dougie is one of my all time heroes in life and music. To this day he’s one of the greatest drummers alive. He had a major accident about ten years ago and now he pretty much only plays drums with Doveman.

Who or what’s your favourite monster?

I was really scared of monsters as a kid. I didn’t like scary movies for a long time. When I was little, my Dad would go behind a tree that had a big pile of leaves in the autumn. He’d come out covered in leaves and he would be a pretty scary monster.

What’s the last funny joke you’ve heard?

Well… This guy goes to the doctor. He’s sick and he says « What’s the prognosis, doctor? ». And the doctor says « It’s not very good. You don’t have long to live. » And the guy says « How long do I have to live? ». And the doctor says « Ten. » And the guy says « Ten what? ». And the doctor says « Nine… »

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