Interview: Sam Pura & Jihad Rabah of Family Drugs
I always get inspired by people who have a bunch of different creative projects up and running simultaneously. That’s why I decided to do an interview with Jihad Rabah and Sam Pura. Their music collective Family Drugs recently approved a test pressing of its upcoming release; Self Defense Family’s The Corrections Officer in Me. The record is a 12” EP due in july so I thought now would be a good time to have a chat with the Family Drugs duo. Here’s what they had to say.
Instead of starting this interview with you guys introducing yourselves, I’m gonna ask you to introduce each other. So Jihad, tell me about Sam Pura?
Jihad: Sam is a smart, highly-motivated, and driven individual with a deep passion for audio engineering. If you’ve ever recorded with him, or been around the studio enough, you’d realize this on your own. While Sam has the option of being the typical I-don’t-like-you-or-your-music engineer, he instead chooses to befriend everyone who walks into his studio, and make them feel right at home. Also, he’s got a very good, and unique, sense of humor.
And who is Jihad Rabah?
Sam: Jihad is the only person I’ve met that has the same drive as me. He’s extremely smart and can easily strike up business conversations on a casual personal level with some of the big brains at Google. His sense of humor is very blunt yet poignant and is done in a way that continues to progress positive discussion about anything at all. Whenever I grab beers with Jihad, he’s smiling, has great new things to discuss, and is ALWAYS immediately striking up a casual hello with a stranger with his humor. He’s essentially my business mentor and the guy I have all my creative conversations with.
For how long have you been friends and how did you meet?
Jihad: Sam is a good friend of mine that I’ve known for 7-8 years now through his deep involvement in the local area music scene, and his studio. He had recorded Heavy Heavy Low Low’s Fuck It EP which was a follow-up to their EP on my label, which happened to be my first release as well. Sam’s also credited with recording an EP for a god awful band I was in, So Help Me God. I Googled the band name to make sure no one would find any traces of it, which is why I’m disclosing this information.
Sam: I originally met Jihad when I was 16 and my band Nebulous played a show he was the promoter for. He eventually started Twelve Gauge and was working with Heavy Heavy Low Low. He recommended I record them because I was just starting recording bands in my garage and he said “I really think this could be huge for you!” …and it was! I think from that point Jihad and I had this mutual understanding that we were passionate, in-tune with what’s “hip” and motivated to work hard.
What is Family Drugs and how would you describe what it is you’re doing? You call it a collective and not a label, right?
Jihad: Family Drugs is simply just an outlet for Sam and I to collaborate on. We consider it a collective of sorts because we’re keeping our artists fully engaged, involved in, and contributing to the end-to-end process of putting out records. This may not seem like much, but there are various decisions that come into play during the process that most labels would simply make. Instead, Family Drugs engages the current (and former) artists to be involved, contribute, and help shape the next release.
It’s difficult to say all this when we’re just now getting our second release out, as you’re probably asking “OK, how about in 2-3 years?”. I can only tell you about what we’ve done so far, and how we’ll likely continue to work for the next few releases.
Sam and I are fairly risk tolerant individuals, that’s probably what bonds us together, so if we find out that the way we’ve been doing it isn’t working well or can be improved, we’ll change it without much hesitation.
Sam: For me Family Drugs is about celebrating what Jihad and I do best… which is bond with our artists, and work passionately alongside these artists who have a unique style. Basically, I can’t happily exist in the world if I’m not recording bands. I assume that Jihad probably wouldn’t enjoy existing in the world if he wasn’t involved with music in some way shape or form either. There are artists / bands out there that cannot happily exist in the world if they aren’t playing music and progressing their art. With or without support… those artists are going to keep doing it because like myself, they are 138% about it. Family Drugs is about identifying those artists and saying “You and I are the same, we exist right now, let’s collaborate and make something unique together because I believe we have the ability to do something awesome if we combine our talents”
It seems you guys have a lot of stuff on your plate. Family Drugs, Twelve Gauge Records, Panda Studios and The Waiting Room youtube channel. I suppose working at the studio is Sam’s day job? What about you Jihad, do you work a regular job as well?
Jihad: I work full-time at a search engine in Silicon Valley. I like to keep my regular job separate from the label, and vice versa, although it’s come up often and most people know that I’m a “suit”. JK, kinda.
As for having a full plate: yes, I do, and it can be quite miserable at times. Honestly, running two labels is a time sink. A time and money sink that can be quite draining with little to no reward. Especially when you get to thinking about money you could have saved or spent on other things like getting a car that works. But, something about this damn work has me coming back like a puppy to it’s parents who have been gone to work all day. I come back, and I’m salivating with eagerness to spend more money on better vinyl, with more colors, better jacket stock, and cooler merch. Blah.
Sam: I’m 138% Panda. Everything I do involves recording music. It leaves little to no personal time and an unstable financial life, but I don’t do anything else well and I’m 10 years into recording full time now so I’m sticking with it! At the end of the day, when I’m broke and tired from recording all day, someone random will hit me up through social media and say “Hey Sam! I really appreciate the work you did on “blank” record!” That’s why I do it. I know my hard work means something to the world and I continue to keep doing it because I feel like it’s where I belong and what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
So how do the two of you work together? Would you say you have specific roles in Family Drugs?
Jihad: I think we have very specific roles which keeps the label alive, despite it’s slow pace. I think the question above covers an important point: we both have regular jobs, and we’ve got things outside of the regular jobs. This label comes second (or third, technically) and the best way for us not to block each other’s productivity is to carve out specific roles so that the process can be more like an assembly line (i.e. Sam is done, now Jihad’s work begins). Sam is the audio guy, I’m the business guy. When Sam finishes mastering the audio, my work begins.
Sam: I’m pretty much the creative production guy. I want to build a cool relationship with the artist so we can communicate effectively and I want to make cool art that I think will mean something to people. At the end of the day I ensure we have a good piece of art, and a solid artist we’re on the same page with who is ready to go push this art into the world.
The No Sir performance on The Waiting Room is one of my favorite episodes. Who are No Sir and how come you decided on them for your first release?
Jihad: No Sir is members of Sabertooth Zombie, and at the time, All Teeth, who are mutual friends of Sam and I. To be more specific: Sam and I both have a very close and long-standing relationship with Sabertooth Zombie. I’ve put out 9 of their records, and Sam has recorded 5 of those. So when they started No Sir, not only was it a given that they’d record with Sam, but we immediately wanted to put the record out and start the label with their EP. You can now begin to picture what we mean by the label being like a collective. You’ve got Cody, Jason, Michael, Casey, Ian, Sam, and I all in one room, with lots of booze, talking about music, records, record labels, artwork, etc.. That’s our idea of a collective.
Sam: I try to make The Waiting Room more of an artistic statement rather than just an “in-studio-live-performance” No Sir was one of the bands who had a theme and took this creative platform we gave them and made something really unique. Their episode is a powerful statement to all the bands who do episodes with us. We always show them No Sir and say “Think of a cool idea and concept that will help viewers understand the vibe of your band”. They killed it!
What kind of response have you been getting from that first EP and Family Drugs in general so far?
Jihad: Response has been positive but our reach has been low. Starting with our second release, we’ll dedicate more effort, time, and money into better marketing and publicity. We’d like to reach many more people in many more places to get the artists’ music and Sam’s work out, and my name on more Thank You lists.
Sam: Ideally I’d like to see Family Drugs be an entity of its own rather than just a label that releases music. People who support FD either know us personally or know of myself & Jihad and our unique passion for music. Ideally the support will continue to grow and will be a strong one that embraces all new releases and builds a better music community and stronger support for these artists.
I’m really excited for your next release which is The Corrections Officer in Me by Self Defense Family. They’re one of my favorite bands actually. From what I’ve heard this was recorded quite a while ago, am I right?
Jihad: Shit man, we recorded this in 2011 I think. Self Defense Family had done a Waiting Room episode the year before while in the area, and so next time around we got them to swing by The Panda Studios to record those three songs in a day before a show in SF. The songs turned out great but it took us a long time to get moving. Couldn’t be happier to work with Self Defense Family. What a weird band they are, which makes them all the better to work with.
Sam: We did record a really long time ago. It was one of those things where I got so tied up with The Waiting Room, Panda, expanding Panda to a second location, and exploding my wrist snowboarding and requiring some surgery and long recovery. Life was pretty intense and I don’t half ass anything. If something needs to be done today, yet I’m multitasking and know I can give that my full attention tomorrow, I’d rather wait ‘til tomorrow and ensure I’m completing my task to the best of my ability. Life got in the way, and then I had enough time to dedicate to final mixing for the EP.
Apart from being an absolutely fantastic band, Self Defense Family are famous for their social media activity. Their video-casts, tweets and Tumblr posts are always extremely entertaining. How was it to have them hang out at the Panda Studios?
Jihad: Patrick encouraged Sam and I to not stay sober.
Sam: I really like Patrick and the guys. Jihad pointed it out earlier with No Sir that we prefer to sit in a room over some beer and weed and just chat about ideas and life and celebrate being creative friends. Like everyone who has met Patrick, I had some really great conversations with him and we immediately clicked like all the dudes in No Sir. We talked a lot about morals and possessions and music genres and just life and how we’re dealing with it. They are a really present and perceptive group of guys and gals. They definitely “Get It”. Recording them is also fun because they try things and push me to record in ways I haven’t before. The experience with them has always been unique and quick / forces me to commit to on the spot creative decisions and leaves me listening back the next day absorbing it all in and thinking “Man this was actually really fucking cool!”.
Family Drugs aside, you also record and produce a ton of other bands. Would you say that there’s a difference between recording something that is going on your own label? Do you have a different approach to those sessions?
Sam: Definitely a different approach. When I’m doing label sessions most of the bands have styles and sounds they want to replicate / build on. Where-as the Family Drugs artists are basically saying “We have no influences we want to replicate, this is us, record us as we are”. The approach is basically to keep things as live and as real as possible. I’m trying to do things I don’t do and make these records sound like a unique sonic footprint that I can’t re-create.
The stuff I’ve heard that you’ve recorded for the Waiting Room sounds really really good. For how long have you been doing studio work and what got you behind the controls to begin with?
Sam: Thank you! I played guitar in a band and was a huge tone nerd. Eventually got into tones of records and when I started to record some demos for my band, they were all immediately saying “This sounds better than the studio we paid to record at!” …I didn’t really believe them, but other bands came calling and the routine of working with other bands every weekend cancelled out my band practice and I just started recording full time. I think the main aspect of recording that I enjoy is essentially being a member of this band I’m recording for the short period of time. You can be the best live band possible in your area, but if you don’t have a recording that holds up to that… then no one will care. I like being the guy in the band who makes them sound right.
For you Jihad, who also run another label, what is the point with Family Drugs? Couldn’t you just have hired Sam to record and then put it out on Twelve Gauge? I’m just curious.
Jihad: Yeah, I could have, I suppose. I’m really weird about Twelve Gauge because I started the label on my own 9 years ago and have been running it solo since. I am weird about two things: 1) involving others, 2) what music I put out. I’m working on being less of a stickler as I’m now working with a PR agent, getting help from a friend on A&R, and being far more open-minded on what music I put out. Sam and I wanted our own “anything goes” label, and that’s what Family Drugs is. It needed it’s own identity, so we gave it that. Plus, I’m not even sure Sam would have wanted to be involved with Twelve Gauge either.
In your world, what are the key ingredients for making an amazing release?
Jihad: Good music, a decent budget, and a band who “gets it” and is willing to work hard.
Sam: Vision. Without it, you aren’t making shit. You absolutely have to “Get It”
Are you in any bands yourselves?
Jihad: I’ve played in two bands but don’t consider myself a musician.
Sam: No, but I do play on moments on almost every record I record. That’s good enough for me.
I’d love to see more frequent releases from Family Drugs. Are you at a pace where you feel comfortable or are you looking to speed things up? I mean it’s been a while since you put out your first release.
Jihad: We’re definitely comfortable right now because we’re moving at the pace of a snail. I’d like to pick things up a bit, but not by much. Ideally, we’d put out 2-3 records a year. Not really more unless we grew our team to get more help. 2-3 releases from Family Drugs, plus about 4-5 from Twelve Gauge: that’s A LOT of time and money. More than enough.
Sam: This really depends on the artists. We’re not going to release things we don’t believe in. We need artists with vision, and the passion to tour and be 138% about this like we are. Ideally I’d love to release more things, but we need more bands in the world who don’t give a fuck and just want to play music. The world is an overwhelming place and lots of people play it safe with a financially stable life. To be 138% about it, you can’t be handling double duties.
The Self Defense Family EP is out in a month or so. What’s next?
Jihad: I don’t know. I want to do some soul music!
Sam: Absolutely anything with passionate that people respond well to. No limits!
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