A chat with singer/guitarist Sam Quartin
Ulster County, NY, especially the Woodstock region, has served as a harbinger for creativity in rock since at least when Bob Dylan and The Band landed there in the mid-60s.
But there’s never been a group quite like The Bobby Lees who’s called Woodstock home. The band–Sam Quartin on lead vocals and guitar, bassist Kendall Wind, guitarist Nick Casa and Macky Bowman on drums–boasts a sound that’s far more CBGB than Joyous Lake; more Jon Spencer (who produced their 2020 LP Skin Suit) than John Sebastian. And on their new album Bellevue, the group’s first for Ipecac Recordings, this band proves how much they belong in the same conversation as Starcrawler and The Linda Lindas about the future of new rock heading into 2023.
Gen Xers will hear The Cramps and Pussy Galore in the roar of these 13 songs, while Millennials have cited acts like The Bronx and Death From Above 1979 as reference points. But to be honest, the savagery by which The Bobby Lees attack the music is very much unique unto themselves, the X factor being Quartin’s deeply honest lyricism and the cabaret ferocity of her vocal delivery.
Rock & Roll Globe sent Quartin some questions via e-mail about Bellevue and living upstate. Here’s how it went.
Bellevue is available now wherever better albums are sold.
How did you all arrive in Woodstock? Are you guys from Ulster County originally?
Macky, Kendall and Nick were born in Ulster County, I moved to Woodstock six years ago and met them soon after I moved.
How did you all meet?
We met when I heard about the Rock Academy. I met Macky and Kendall there, and a guitarist named Chogyi Lama. After him Alex Wacksman joined, and finally Nick was our lucky number 3 at the end of 2017, that was when the band fully came together.
What is it about that area that inspires the music of The Bobby Lees?
We have no idea. But I love the woods, that is my happy place.
What do you love most about the woods?
I feel close to God there.
What informs the ferocity in your sound, in your opinion?
I think the concept/idea that today could possibly be your last day alive, or last show you get to play, or last song you get to record, so maybe that’s why it feels urgent or feels like i need to put every molecule of myself into it.
What inspired you to name the album Bellevue?
“Bellevue” was my favorite track so we named the album that. We voted on a few options and that one won. I used to live near that hospital when my drinking was out of control and it led to a nervous breakdown/breakthrough — whatever you wanna call it. I’m grateful I was able to get sober after that and start the band.
How did you connect with Henry Rollins and do you recall what he said that sold you guys to Ipecac?
No clue, but it’s very cool how he’s helped us and promoted our music and this album. Thank you Henry!
Are you a fan of Mike Patton and Ipecac Recordings?
I knew nothing about that label, but we’re psyched the music is getting out there and that they took a chance on us.
You recently appeared on my Facebook friend Julie Novak’s radio show No One Like You. You were so great on it and I wanted to take this moment to ask you about the importance of local independent media in Ulster County and how it has helped you along since starting the band.
Julie’s so great! The local community has been really helpful and generous to us. I don’t know if we’d be where we are without them building us up and supporting us these past few years.
In regards to the song “Greta Van Fake”…. are we all being too harsh on these poor young dudes who are way into old school album rock or are they legit posers who deserve every egg thrown at them?
I honestly never gave them any thought…this song was written the one time we talked about them. We wrote it very quickly as a joke, and that was the only time we ever talked about them I think. I didn’t think it would ever get recorded or put on an album. I have no actual issue with them, I don’t know them personally and I tend to not have a judgment or opinion on someone if I dont have first hand experience with them. It was just a place to put our frustration about bands succeeding very quickly and having all this help, easy tour lifestyle, making a living etc when we’ve been working very hard and struggling to attain those things ourselves. I also got to explore my frustration with bullshit in general lyrically — people who are full of shit, people that put you down when they themselves aren’t doing much, the current state of the industry, the look of something now being more important than the content itself or how it makes you feel, most people spending 4-5 dollars on a cup of coffee but won’t give you a dollar for your music you worked hard on, etc. I could go on, haha.
How did you come up with the idea for the album cover for Bellevue?
I heard playback of the vocal track for this song and thought I sounded like a mad pig, so I got the image of me being in a pig pen. I wanted to do it with a large amount of pigs and visited 10 farms trying to find them but ultimately needed to shoot at our friend’s place in Oklahoma, and they only have one, but he’s a lovely guy.
The video for “Hollywood Junkyard” is fascinating. That shift towards the end is jarring in the most beautiful sense of the term. I’d love to know the story behind the song and video. Was it based on a specific moment or is it more of a universal observation?
More of the latter – It was awesome to have a place to put my thoughts and feelings about what I was exposed to when I lived in LA before going to Woodstock.
VIDEO: The Bobby Lees “Hollywood Junkyard”
Back to Ulster County for a second. What is your community like up there these days?
I’ve found a small but solid community of really beautiful people here – mostly in their 60s and 70s and they’re all very creative, caring spirits. There’s also a ton of amazing people I’ve also met through community service – the woman who runs FAMILY is an angel- I would check out some of those organizations to find some special, kind humans! Also check out Angel Food Meals and People’s place- I’ve volunteered for both of those and everyone was very cool there.
Do you ever hang out in New Paltz?
I haven’t hung out there much – there used to be a great record shop called Jack’s Rhythms and the owner was super nice to us when we were starting out/put our records up in front etc, but he closed during the pandemic.
What was it like recording in Nashville?
Vance has his own studio there so we got to record a song a day, which was a dream for us. The first 2 albums we recorded all the songs in a few days so this experience in Nashville was truly a gift. I was talking with the band and this is the one album where nothing makes us cringe and that feels really good. There’s a ton of those moments on our first two albums so I think Vance and taking our time had a lot to do with us being as content as we could be.
Given he is a fan, what is your favorite Iggy Pop album?
I don’t have a favorite, I guess Stooges stuff is my go to, but I love his solo stuff too. I have a dream list of three acts I’d like to open for and he’s one of them.