Stephanie Fravel and Adam Stein, an up-and-coming musical duo known as A Sample Life, are bringing a fresh vibe to the Chicago indie scene. A deviation from the typical band setup you'll likely find most nights at rock clubs around town, the two put on a unique show, combining guitar, keyboards and vocals with samples and beats from both original material and well-known songs. Since launching A Sample Life in late 2009, Fravel and Stein have played bars such as Martyrs' and Cal's, and they'll play Red Line Tap this Friday, January 22 ($5, 9 p.m. 7006 N. Glenwood). The duo also has shows lined up for February 2 at Subterranean and March 3 at Tonic Room.
As they prepare for their upcoming gigs and the release of their debut EP, Fravel and Stein took some time out to answer some questions about A Sample Life for WCR. Read on to learn more, and click the link to hear a medley from the two.
Download mp3: A Sample Life - "A Sample Medley"
The concept behind A Sample Life is one that’s definitely unique to Chicago indie music. Tell us about how the project came to be and what you hope to bring to the scene.
Stephanie: The project began when I auditioned for a band as their new vocalist. Adam was the bass player. I came in with a song to teach them, "Time Alone," and Adam caught on right away. That developed our musical connection that stayed dormant for a few months until we decided to get A Sample Life up and running.
Adam: Considering that we combine many different styles and performing for a variety of audiences, we hope to bring to the table something that people can dance to, kick back a beer to, even headbang to. Also bring back the enjoyment of going to a show – like the feeling of being 13 and rocking out. And to bring a level of honesty into a business that is, unfortunately, a business.
Your material consists of both original material and well-known songs. Were either of you writing music before forming A Sample Life, or did you begin after you came together as a duo?
We were both writing a lot of music before. Adam was a conscious songwriter and Stephanie stumbled into songwriting when she co-wrote a full-length musical in college.
Tell us more about A Sample Life’s original material – what are some of the specific songs, how did they originate and what can people expect stylistically?
A: “Tyouesday” came about because that was the day we had band practice. Stephanie was out of town one week, and the song is based around how empty it felt. This was the first song that lent itself to experiment with melody and counter melody (which is also symbolic in the song in terms of singing alone/being alone to Stephanie joining in/ending the track together).
S: “When Life Just Sucks” is about personal life frustrations, but not taking them too seriously. Like being able to approach certain things in life with a sense of humor but still not denying the vulnerability of reality.
Stylistically, the two of us come from very different backgrounds of music. So you’ll hear a little R&B/pop princess in "Strong Like You," a little funk-fusion in "Composition 8," and truthful rock ballad singing in some of our other songs.
What about the existing songs you sample in your set? What are they and how do you decide which ones to use?
Culture Club’s rendition of "You Spin Me Right Round," "Come Together," "Walking on Sunshine," "Replay," "Octopus’s Garden." Some are mashed together and some are stand-alones or paired with our originals. We decide which ones to use based on personal experiences so that we can play them with a certain sincerity, along with their popularity. We want people to instantly connect with what they hear at our performances.
You’re currently working putting out your debut EP. Will it include a similar mix of originals and samples as in your live set? When do you hope to have it released?
The EP will be strictly original work, considering copyright laws. Yet the recording will still communicate the intensity and entertainment value of our live set. We want the popularity of our live mashups to travel word of mouth, kind of creating that element of surprise at our shows. Like, “what are they gonna do next?” and “I hope they play track #3!” Growing, more writing, and funding studio time has pushed the release date back to the end of March or early April.
So far you’ve played a few local clubs and have some more dates on the schedule. How have the shows gone so far?
The shows have gone extremely well and have gotten better and better with each one. Our last show at Martyr’s was when something finally clicked. The turnout was great, the atmosphere was beautiful. We’re still hearing about it now.
Tell us about A Sample Life’s stage set up. What sort of equipment do you use?
We like lights. Our most important instrument is a light-up tambourine.
But really, topping the list is a laptop, guitar, bass, drum machine, looping machine, and other percussion instruments.
Do you think the fact that A Sample life is not typical to what people might normally see at a rock club has impacted how people are receiving you? Has it made it more or less of a challenge to get people to take notice?
S: My ignorance to what is expected at a rock club disables me from fully answering the question. But I also want to say that it’s beneficial because then we’re not trying to mold to that certain, preconceived said image.
A: We stand out more because we’re a duo, but that also puts more pressure on us to sound bigger. There are nerves involved when you’re guessing how it will sound in a certain club’s PA. It’s also more of a challenge with technology at our base, but people are more accepting of that now than they were 5 years ago.
What clubs/venues would you most like to play that you haven’t yet?
Metro, Double Door, Schubas…you know. If you play those clubs, your band gains a certain respect. A bigger weight is attached to your name. We’ll play there when the time is right.
Where can people go for more information on A Sample Life?
Search us on Facebook.