Things aren’t always going according to plan for Säm Wilder, and that’s exactly how he likes it. His stellar debut EP Homebound, a richly layered 27-minute pop crossover effort, is here as of last Friday after a lot of dominos fell rather perfectly. Originally from Holland, Säm was going to school at Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo after falling in love with the states during his high school foreign exchange program. He started making music when an LA studio musician happened to hear him singing at a party and invited him to Santa Monica to record. This was the spark that started the fire, as someone who had only high school choir experience prior then grinded to learn to produce, play keys, and record at a freakishly fast rate. “I immediately fell in love with making music. I had found something I was truly passionate about for the first time in my life.” Säm Wilder absolutely hit the ground running, constantly trekking to Santa Monica for the weekend, making music all day and sleeping in the studio.
He then released a mixtape under the moniker Beekwilder and played a few California shows under Noah Cyrus before realizing something was off. He was unhappy with his current collaborators and their creative restrictions, certain that he could do bigger and better if left to tackle the industry his way. “I just wanted to be able to create without someone over my head making decisions, not having a set image I need to chase.” So in a sudden reinvention, he scrapped the mixtape from streaming services, dropped the name Beekwilder for Säm Wilder, and started from scratch, this time by his own rules. He then assembled his own home studio and sought out to make the music he wanted to make, which now, years later, finally exists. With Homebound, Säm finally can exist again on his own terms, and the music surely has reaped rewards because of it.
“After the initial recording, it’s months of obsession.”
Listening through Homebound, the talent and staying power speak for themselves. Säm’s voice is absolute candy; it’s silky smooth with a super wide range, reminiscent of a young Adam Levine. On the production side, it’s baffling that he’s only picked up these skills within the past few years. His ability to craft creatively ambitious and dense instrumentals so smoothly is truly impressive. The songs absolutely require multiple listens: the first run through will have you lost in the grooves while the next ones will have you discovering different unique layers. The thoughtful crooner “What’s wrong with me” for example had over 100 tracks in the studio files. “After the initial recording, it’s months of obsession. I’ll go like fifty times over and add a bunch of crazy colorful layers.” Säm has found a fascinating take on pop music here, one that’s a refreshing addition to the current canon.
The exact genre of Homebound is difficult to pin down. It can quickly be dismissed as simply pop music, but one can hear a variety of influences in every track. “I listen to a fuckload of music. In college I worked for a radio station and listened to everything I could. To me, genre is decided when the song’s finished. I don’t go in with a decision of what the song’s going to be. Whatever it is in the end is what it is.” In our 60 minute conversation, Säm cited Anderson .Paak, Queen, James Blake, Denzel Curry, bossanova, and Dutch electronic music as influences, to name a few. This eclecticism works highly in Säm Wilder’s favor, as he manages to hone it all in and still maintain cohesion in the whirlwind of musical directions.
“I listen to a fuckload of music.”
Speaking with Säm about the chaotic past few years, his stories and attitude are charmingly reminiscent of monologue at the end of The College Dropout; it took so damn much to get here, and he’s so happy he’s here now. On Homebound, the pop maximalism carries the same reverence, sounding like a victory lap despite just getting started. The sheer existence of the album is an achievement in and of itself. As the booming closer “Bring It Home” proudly echoes Säm’s proclamation “I’m here to stay,” he really means it. For all of the things that had to go right to get to this point, there’s not a chance he’s gonna blow this.
What’s especially inspiring is how true to himself Säm Wilder stays. Regardless of past or future, he knows how talented he is and that he deserves to be here. Beating the odds thus far seems to be enough for now, and it’s apparent when talking to him. “Even if no one listens to this or it doesn’t blow up, I’m just happy to exist again. I’m happy I got to do things on my own terms. So I have no expectations for it. I’m just happy it’s finally out.”
Säm Wilder exists now, and it wasn’t always the case. For years, the music of Säm was an afterthought, subject to the rules of the world around him. Now that he’s clawed his way back to the beat of his own drum (literally) he can focus on what matters. Homebound now functions as a beautifully fitting reference point for the journey thus far, informing the hardships that led up to it while simultaneously providing visceral escapism, bringing attention back to music where it belongs. The journey to where Säm Wilder is now can be best summarized by his words on “Penelope,” the albums penultimate track: “Don’t it all take a little too long, when it’s easier said than done. When the rain starts to turn into a storm, promise this. You’ll come back home to me.”