Sam Cash is working hard to remember what life was like before it became so damn complicated. As the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (and leader of Sam Cash and The Romantic Dogs) explains, he’s been thinking a lot about certain feelings from his youth, ones he doesn’t want to let go: “I basically try to get back to the way I lived my life when I was like, 10 years old. All I really cared about was just being a songwriter and having fun and working hard. And as principle you can live by that, but when you get into it, it’s never quite that simple,” he explains. This elusive bundle of emotions—and the pursuit of holding onto them despite, as Cash puts it, “life getting in the way”—fuels his band’s latest effort, Tongue In Cheek Vows.
Right now, the group is getting ready to take this new batch of songs on the road, including a stop in Halifax at The Carleton Music Bar and Grill on Friday, July 29. And when I say “right now,” I mean it literally. When I phone Cash, he answers from a car’s back seat, navigating to pick up bandmates and begin their journey east.
As the car meanders through Toronto’s streets, traffic sounds create a chaotic symphony over which the conversation wanders. Cash explains the record’s name, lifted from lyrics on the disc’s seventh track, Carmen. “It’s summing up a lot of things on the album. It’s a very nostalgic record about when you go through that period when you’re 21 and you’re just figuring out what works in your life and what doesn’t. And, in that sense, a lot of how you live is tongue in cheek; a lot of the things you’re doing are sort of half-jokes, and you’re figuring out life in a comical way. There are these situations that you look back on that are funny, before things get too serious,” he explains, briefly interrupting himself to pass along directions to the driver.
At 24, Cash is quick to add he knows he still has a long way to go before he knows it all (“I dunno if I’ll ever figure it out,” he adds). But, as he enters a new life phase, he’s mindful about what he might be leaving behind—including the feelings he explained earlier.
This exploration of who he’s been and where he’s going has lead to some small waves of nostalgia for Cash, as well as the inspiration for Tongue In Cheek Vows’ first single, “That Was The Summer.” “In my life, I tried to remain sort of naive to a lot of things on purpose, because I think that’s where the best creative stuff comes out of. That theme plays into a lot of songs I write, and ‘That Was The Summer’ is just about getting back to the simpler things, which as a rule is something I try to live by—but is harder the older you get,” Cash says.
The song is the perfect windows-down, volume-up sound of summer. It reflects the album as a whole, weaving reflective, folky lyrics with catchy, almost-poppy melodies.
And while the song feels radio-hit-ready, it isn’t quite that easy for Cash. “People are confused about what the current music industry is about. It’s not about a good song anymore,” he says. “There is a nostalgic thing with this record because it’s about making music for the sake of making music, in a time before I got so caught up in what it means to be in the music industry.”
This ability to follow your own creativity and not bow to industry pressures is something Cash views as vital. “Springsteen’s Darkness on The Edge Of Town was a big one for me. It’s sort of the ideal record in my mind because it’s artistically strong. He was a massive artist at that time and totally took a left turn. It was a super bold move, as he had just made Born To Run and was on top of the pop world and he could have just done that again,” Cash says. He adds that Springsteen has been an inspiration of his since the early days—something that’s evident in Tongue In Cheek Vows’ warm, guitar-filled sounds.
“I wanna prove that good art can still be accessible. There’s a ton of other people like that but I’m just trying to put myself in that school of thought,” Cash says, showing he may have more of this life and art stuff figured out than he thinks—and that it doesn’t have to be complicated at all.
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