SAMMY BOLLER: “I Miss Playing Live So Much. It’s Gonna Be Good Getting Back Out There”

Sammy Boller

The Sun Shines Bright Over Detroit

Detroit native Sammy Boller released his debut solo instrumental album Kingdom of the Sun on March 20, 2020. Boller had aspirations to tour in support of the album at the time, but of course World events prevented it. After a year of releasing singles, play-through videos, new songs, and other social media interactions, Sammy Boller is ready to hit the road in support of Kingdom of the Sun. I had the chance to speak with Sammy about the new album, his past and future band work, and much, much more. Our interview was originally a video chat, but it had to be transcribed due to an audio playback issue.

MER: If I knew absolutely nothing about Sammy Boller, how would you describe your music to me?

SB: Good question. Well, I’m a guitar player first of all. The record I just put out, Kingdom of the Sun, is an album of all instrumental guitar music. I think if somebody’s never listened to it before, I guess a good place to start or a good thing to know is, a lot of the melodies on the album come from… I do a lot of like two-handed tapping stuff on guitar. Even though the music is really heavy and it’s Hard Rock, Heavy Metal… a lot of the melodies come from a more clean style of guitar tapping.

MER: You mentioned your new album Kingdom of the Sun. It came out in March of 2020, kind of a horrible time to release an album for musicians unfortunately. Going through this album, is there sort of a theme that you have running through there? I’m looking at the titles it looks like a theme musically. They kind of all blend together.

SB: Yeah I’d say there is a theme. It was my first solo album and before we started recording and writing it, I never really even considered doing an instrumental record before. A lot of the songs came from just arrangements on guitar. They were kind of pull pieces just on guitar alone. I started demoing them out with full instruments, and after showing them to a couple of friends, they’re were like dude you should really put a band together and record this.

For me it was like a challenge just to see if I could even record a full instrumental record. I’d say the theme as far as the song titles go, I definitely want to be uplifting. After I got off the road a few years ago. I got really into Eastern spirituality, religion, and stuff. So a couple of songs are devotional songs, like “Cloak of Light” and a few others on there. I’d say that’s the general theme of the record.

MER: Since the release of the record, you’ve actually released two more singles that don’t appear on [Kingdom of the Sun]. You have “Path of the Heart” and “Ritual Lights.” Is this going to be leading towards a new album or is it in the same vein as Kingdom of the Sun?

SB: Yeah I’ve been working on the new album man. I’m gonna put those two tracks on there for sure. I’d say those songs sound like a continuation of the record. They definitely could have fit on the original album, but some of the new stuff I’ve been working on is definitely a different sound. It’s a little bit more expansive. I’m just trying to change it up a little. I don’t want to make the same album over and over.

MER: With me growing up in the ‘80s, a lot of the guitar based albums were shredder albums like Tony McAlpine, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and stuff like that. You don’t really go there. You’ve got a lot of rhythm in there. It’s not about showing off what you can do, but you do focus a lot on the finger-tapping. I noticed in your videos you just make it look like a piano. Was there somebody or something that inspired you to kind of lean on that finger-tapping technique?

SB: Thanks so much, man. I’ve always loved tapping. I was a huge Van Halen guy when I was a kid. Obviously he kind of pioneered that and made it popular. After I got off the road a few years ago, I was playing in a band… I don’t know, sometimes you kind of get burned out as a guitar player. So I started working on some of the tapping stuff because I thought it was fun. I thought it would be a good way to be creative and write songs. Whenever you find something in your playing that kind of excites you, it’s good to try and expand on it. For me, that style kind of started out really simple, and then every day I just try to expand on it a little bit. I feel like I’m still really working on it.

MER: You’ve had a lot of time under lockdown, as most of us have, but I saw that you’re going to hit the road pretty soon, at least locally. You’re from Detroit, Michigan and you’ve got a date on the books there. Do you think that’s going to expand? Do you think that show is going to happen?

SB: Yeah we’re finally going back on the road now. I’m so excited. It was a total bummer, the album came out the first week of lockdown. We were going to be on the road all last summer, like a lot of musicians, but of course as you know, as 2020 went, there were no shows. We’re going back on the road in October, so that Detroit date is the first day of the tour. We’re announcing the rest of the dates soon. I’m so excited. I miss playing live so much. It’s gonna be good getting back out there.

MER: So is your backing band going to be comprised of the gentleman that played on your album, or do you have to put something together for the live shows?

SB: The producer of the album, Steve Lehane, we’ve been playing together since I was a teenager. He’s playing bass, then I’ve been playing with John Dudley, who was the drummer in my old band Citizens Zero. John played on a couple songs on the album. That’s who I plan on going out with in October.

MER: The current album Kingdom of the Sun was released on CandyRat Records. Is this your own imprint or is this somebody else that you were able to sign with?

SB: It’s someone else’s label. The owner’s name is Rob Poland. I’ve known about CandyRat Records since I was a little kid man. They got really popular at the beginning of YouTube. They had a bunch of acoustic guitarists that went viral on YouTube, like Andy McKee and a couple others. They’re mainly known as like an acoustic label, but for the past few years they’ve been expanding out to electric. They’ve just been so awesome to work. I feel really lucky to have them helping me out.

MER: Absolutely. You have to get that label support. I was talking to one act, and they were saying that some labels were just putting out albums to stay afloat though this whole pandemic. At least you have somebody that supports you, that’s going to stay in the pocket there for you.

SB: Yeah, it makes a huge difference. I’m one of those people… I just like to play. As far as all the other stuff goes, it’s really nice to have people helping you out and supporting us. I’ve been really lucky to be able to work with them for sure.

MER: What is some of your favorite guitar gear; between the guitar itself, your amps, you pedals… I know you’re tied to Friedman Amplifiers. I believe you have some sort of endorsement with them, so I assume it makes up a lot of your rig?

SB: Yeah I’m definitely a Friedman amps guy. I’ve been playing their stuff for a long time. Basically what Freidman is, for anybody who maybe hasn’t heard them… the amps they make are like hot-rodded Marshall amps. All the best Marshalls from the early or late sixties, early seventies….basically what Friedman did is made them sound like the most bitchin’ Marshall ever. It has modern features too, so you can really do a lot with it. Other than that, I’ve mainly been a Les Paul guy. I play a Les Paul through that amp. I use a couple of delay pedals. I’d say delay is a big part of my sound as far as the clean stuff goes. Other than that it’s pretty raw. I like to keep it simple. I don’t like to go too crazy.

MER: Big surprise a guitar player’s into the Les Paul (laughs).

SB: Yeah, it’s hard to go into anything else. I do play a couple of other guitars but there’s some about having that the power of a Les Paul on stage.

MER: I’ve just found them to be really heavy personally. 

SB: Yeah, they are heavy, but you get used to it. I have an SG too. That’s like half the weight of a Les Paul.

MER: In addition to putting out your solo album, you do some clinics, you do some instructional stuff, and you have article in Guitar World magazine still?

SB: Yeah, I’ve been doing lessons with them for a long time. It’s just a weird coincidence man. When I started playing in bands when I was like 19, 20 years old, the original founder of Guitar World [Brad Tolinski], he’s from Detroit too. His brother used to come and see our old band play all the time. I met him at a couple shows, and he said I really want to introduce you to my brother. They helped me out. I’ve been working with Guitar World for years now.

MER: You mentioned your old band Citizen Zero. You guys released an album called State of Mind. You won a Detroit Music Award for outstanding rock recording. What happen with the band after that?

SB: That was my first band. We started out when we were teenagers. I feel really lucky because we did we did have a pretty good run there for a few years. We we spent a couple years playing around Detroit and working on an album. At the end of 2015, early 2016, we ended up finally getting a record deal and putting our album out. When your kid and that happens, it’s the most incredible thing. Me and [John Dudley] celebrated, alright, this is it. We toured on the road for almost two years on the album. After the initial release of the record, we kind of had some tough luck, music business wise. Which is kind of a common tale.

When we started working on the second record, something wasn’t there, like the magic was gone. We ended up breaking up. [John Dudley] and I actually started a new band during quarantine, which is kind of this silver lining under quarantine for me. We still play in different bands and are really busy, but since we had some downtime we started a new band called Pharaohs. The singer is just incredible man. We met the singer through the guy that produced the Citizen Zero album. We’re working on [the Pharaohs] album now. I’m actually working on two albums right now.

MER: Is Pharaohs going to be similar to Citizen Zero is it gonna be a little bit Sammy Boller? I noticed your guitar technique all over the Citizen Zero album. I listened to it last night. I’m like oh, yeah it’s definitely him. So, what is this Pharaohs going to sound like?

SB: I would say [Pharaohs] is similar [to Citizen Zero], because it’s John and I. All of us write the music together, but John and I grew up together. We have a certain bond. It’s definitely a different thing. When you start a band you can talk about it forever, but until you get in a room and start playing… what makes a band great is the combination of the four guys equally. Everybody giving their input. You kind of take all of your influences it becomes this thing.

The singer is just incredible and I can’t I can’t speak highly enough of him. We’re all from Detroit but Cam [Clark]’s from Kentucky, so he’s been driving up and crashin’ on my couch. I can’t wait to start playing live shows with them. We’re doing our first live show in Nashville on July 14th. I’m really excited about that. I’m excited for everybody to check out the stuff.

MER: You have a [Pharaohs] performance online right now on your web page I believe?

SB: From New Year’s, yeah. We were still writing the album at the time. We came together last minute. It was really cool. We did it from the studio where we’ve been working out of. It seemed to have been well received. I miss playing in front of an audience so much. Doing the live stream thing is fun, but it’s not the it’s not the same thing.

MER: A lot of established acts from the ‘70s and ‘80s actually came from Detroit. Have you had the chance to either share the stage with them, run into them, or talk to them?

SB: Yeah, growing up here it’s a blessing. It’s just an amazing, amazing music city. I used to work for Bob Seger. That was the first hero I met. I was the guitar tech for him while he was rehearsing. That was really cool, getting to see someone like him play up close and talk to him. It’s just crazy. He’s such an amazing musician. I’ve gotten to me a lot guys from around town.

Kid Rock helped our old band out a lot when we were starting out. He was great to us when we were kids. I didn’t get to meet him, but my best friend Steve just got to work on the new Alice Cooper album. He said Alice was just amazing. There’s such a great history here. Growing up I really loved Seger and Grand Funk Railroad. I’ve gotten to meet them a few times. Any time you get to meet your heroes its just so cool.

MER: Absolutely! That’s why I do this. I get to meet my heroes from time to time.

SB: Do you have a favorite person you’ve interviewed?

MER: Yes. So, we’re interviewing for Metal Express Radio here today, and they’ll probably laugh at me for saying my favorite interview was with Rick Springfield.

SB: He’s a legend man.

MER: That was that was years ago when I ran my own website and I was like, I can’t believe Rick Springfield is talking to me…

SB: Badass man. Did you watch that Sound City documentary that Dave Grohl did?

MER: Not yet.

SB: You should check that out. Rick’s in that. There’s a lot of great stories with him on that. He’s a great musician and still is great all these years later.

MER: We’re going to go a little further back for you. In 2012 you won a Guitar Center contest called ‘Master Satriani’. Did you have to copy a lick or a riff of his? What was that contest all about?

SB: I did a cover of “Satch Boogie.” It was super cool. I was in college at the time and I saw the contest in a magazine. Basically it was a cover contest, and out of a bunch of people, he picked 10 winners. I got to fly to California, meet him, and watch him do a master class. I had never been to California at the time, so that alone was really cool. He’s just an amazing guy, in addition to being able to see him play up close. He’s such an amazing and innovative musician, but also a down to earth person as well. It seems like forever ago now.

MER: Do you have a timeline on the new solo record and Pharaohs album?

SB: I was hoping to have the second instrumental record out by the time we go on the road in October, but I think it’s probably gonna be closer to early next year. Probably soon after that is when the Pharaohs stuff will come out. We’re still working on both. I kinda like working on more than one thing at once. I don’t know…it keeps you busy.

MER: Every musicians doing it. Even guys you wouldn’t even think of are working on multiple projects. Joel Hoekstra comes to mind. He’s working on like ten different projects right now.

SB: I was in California last weekend and a friend of mine has a shop across from Mates Rehearsal Studio. George Lynch was over there playing. He’s always got a million bands going.

MER: In the meantime, people can check out your 2020 album, which is still considered new, Kingdom of the Sun. It’s on CandyRat Records. I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with Metal Express Radio today.

SB: Thanks for having me George.


  • George Dionne

    George was a contributor here at Metal Express Radio, reviewing albums and conducting interviews, out of Massachusetts, USA. George has contributed to numerous music related websites and blogs, and even managed his own from 2004-2009. George's first assignment was covering a live show by the mighty GWAR. By contrast his later assignments featured Judas Priest, Van Halen, and Bon Jovi. George was also the front man for the South Eastern Massachusetts cover band Sound Tower from 2009-2015.  Sound Tower played 300+ shows across MA and had two original songs on the Cape Cod radio station PIXY 103. George enjoys a good whiskey, scotch, and/or bourbon and fights crime in his spare time.

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