Having acted in the hit television show, “Glee,” during seasons three, four and six, and most recently, portrayed Zed Evans in Anna Todd’s hit novel-turned-movie, “After,” Samuel Larsen has formed his new band, NEXT CItY, and ready to take on the masses. Filled with garage rock riffs, innovative and insightful lyrics, Larsen and his band’s latest singles, “Blue Star” and “Tell Me” are their definitive single’s highlighting the band’s influential love of icons like David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson, and 90s grunge faves like Nirvana.
We chatted with Larsen about his love of creating and making music, along with acting, the band’s influences, their creative process, and his “fun favorites” in music.
How do you get your creative outlets from both performing as an actor and simultaneously as a musician?
Well, the cool thing about acting is it’s so personal. No one really knows what you’re thinking or what you’re pulling from. You can kind of get demons out, or even good feelings out when you’re just kind of being someone else, and no one has to know what you’re thinking.
With a song, you get to be really transparent and put your name on it to say that, “This is how I’m feeling. This is how I’m going to relate to you.” You have to take a little more credit, I think, with songs because you’re being yourself. With acting, you can be angry or happy, or you can be an asshole, and it’s okay because you’re pretending. No one needs to know how honest it is, so that’s good.
I know you’ve always been into music, so what was the idea behind Next City and this new band that you guys have going on?
I’ve been making music a long time, and I’ve made a couple of different deals as a solo artist doing that. I play a lot of different instruments, and I’m a bit of a control freak a little bit on certain things because I just like having the rein over that a little bit. Being solo, it’s pretty lonely. You’re always changing band members. Maybe sometimes writing songs by yourself, maybe you don’t think it’s that great that day, even if it is. You need someone there to tell you it’s great or to contribute more.
I was doing the solo thing, and I just left a big deal. I didn’t like how it ended, so I just started touring with my friend’s band. That’s where I met our guitar player, Phillip [Paulsen]. We were both hired guns out there. We both wanted to have our own band. I wanted to have at least a collaborator, someone I could write with and someone I could do the whole thing with, and that’s Phillip.
When we starting this band, it was our idea. We wrote all of the songs. We went in the studio the first time, just us two, and really just hashed it out ourselves. Then we found our drummer Benny, and we found our base player Nick, and it just rounded everything out. I knew I wanted to be in a band. I wanted the camaraderie. I didn’t want to be David Bowie as much as I wanted to be Mick Jagger.
I wanted to be with my gang. It’s cool because I think because I did start solo, I still get a lot more freedom than I would have. I still see myself putting up stuff on my own as just an outlet, but I’m very excited about Next City. It was great to get in a room with Phillip, and we had talked a lot about what we want it to sound like, and how to sound original. It was great to just write and immediately it sounded how we wanted to.
In fact, “Blue Star,” specifically, that was the first song I started writing before I even met Phil, with the idea of like, “Okay, if I was going to do the kind of funk, dancing thing I like with rock and roll what would it sound like?” I was stuck on that for a while, and Phil helped me finish it. That’s kind of how we work together. Whatever ideas we come up with, we help each other out, and it always ends up sounding like us.
Since the lyrics came first, and then the music secondary with “Blue Star, is that how you guys’ creative process is, mostly, or does it change?
For “Blue Star,” the lyrics kind of came at the same time. It’s weird, I write ideas for lyrics all the time. Then once we write music and stuff, once you get like a feeling of, “Okay, this is kind of eerie. We should make sure it’s not a love song.” You can hear like, “Oh, this is really sweet and beautiful. We should make this a love song.” That’s where the lyrics kind of follow.
“Blue Star” was just like this idea I had about the three sides of Hollywood, the glamorous side and also the nightmare, the dream and the nightmare. That’s kind of what that became about, that dangerous feeling it gave me. I was just like, “What should it be about?” That’s always the big thing for me; the topic has to be right.
Exclusive music video of NEXT CItY’s second single, “Tell Me”:
Absolutely. There is a nightmarish side to both music and acting. Is there one that you prefer over the other, or do you prefer both?
I always have to do both. I’ve thought this. The thing with music is I want it to be a career, but it’s fulfilling even if it isn’t. I’m pushing for it to be a career, obviously, but with acting you can’t just sit in your room with your guitar and sing and feel fulfilled. You have to have a whole team. Someone has to dress you, and someone has to act with you. Someone has to light it and direct it. It’s a whole team effort. I don’t know if I prefer one or the other. I just think music is a little easier to feel fulfilled with without the whole team around you, but I love both. I really do.
I love that you guys have such a variety of influences, from Elvis Presley to Queens of the Stone Age. Obviously, you guys take from all of that, but is there one that you take more from than the other, or is it all kind of like a conglomerate of all of those? Is there anybody current today, other than the Queens of the Stone Age, that really help you guys define your sound?
First and foremost, I think, just the marriage of Phil and I’s songwriting. My favorite music is funk music. I like dance music. My biggest influence is always going to be Prince and Michael Jackson and David Bowie and all that. Even the lyricism is very machismo, cosmic-type stuff, very sexual, but deep. Phil being the guitar god of the band, he listens to a lot of guitar-driven music. One thing we really talked about was me and Phil, we love nostalgic music. We love throwback music, but we don’t want to sound like it at all. We can’t. It’s just not cool anymore. AC/DC sounds great because they’re AD/CD, but if someone sounded like that now I’d be like, “What are you doing?” That’s that nod to Queens of the Stone Age, they’re so modern rock. They’re very funky and dancy. As far as new bands that we like, Royal Blood is a big one. Another one would be like Death From Above 1979. Really bluesy, like modern, single-note kind of stuff. Not a lot of chords going on, just a lot of riffs.
Watch the music video for the band’s first single, “Blue Star”:
Being the creative people that we are, as I said earlier, I love the video [for “Blue Star”]. What was it like finding the director for it and having that cohesive vision for that video to come to fruition?
Right. With my solo music I started working with this guy, Jeff Thomas, at Vertex Photography, just an incredible DT. Doing this music video that I was going to direct, which, if I can give anyone advice, if you’re on a budget, and you have a time limit, and you want to be the singer in your video and the director, don’t do it. It takes so much time. It was really hectic. That’s how I got to know Jeff.
Then Sergio, our director, he was like an old roommate of mine that I met maybe three years ago. He has a degree in directing. One thing I love about Sergio, our director, is he has just such a great vision. He loves music so much, and he loves the lyrics because the lyrics tell him where the video is, which I really love that he is intuitive like that.
The concept for this video, it was the brainchild of both Phillip and myself. We knew we wanted it to have a dark and scary element to it. I think just the overall aesthetic of it, of our visuals with our pictures and with the sound of our music and our videos, that we wanted to have this kind of campy, horror, comic book kind of feel to it, a little bit over-the-top so it’s obvious.
That video, yeah, I really wanted it to represent just Vanessa [Dubasso] being the dreamer, the Hollywood dreamer, and then walking into a nightmare. The band being like the glamorous side of Hollywood, like the enticing side, and then these entities that are almost not even human come out of nowhere. That’s the nightmare, and it’s kind of this thing of like you can’t live without either.
You’ve mentioned that you play a variety of instruments. I know you play guitar and Phillip [Paulsen] plays guitar. What are the other instruments that you play, and is there anything that you want to play more?
Well, I play bass and piano as well and drums. Because I started on drums, I’ve been playing drums the longest. I don’t want to go back to drums, but I’m very involved in what the drum beats are in our music. Even the first couple of songs we recorded in the studio I did the drums on those. These two songs, on “Blue Star,” I played bass on that one. Phillip played bass on “Tell Me”, our next single. We kind of traded off while we were finding members. Then Benny came in, he played drums on “Blue Star” and “Tell Me.” He’s a great drummer. I’m always very involved. I’m very opinionated about how the drums should sound. I think a lot of singers are like that, even if they don’t play drums.
Let’s get to the fun questions: Who was your first concert, and which one has been your favorite thus far?
My first concert was probably … I kind of have two answers. I saw this Christian singer with my parents when I was three named Carmen. I remember it very vividly, but we weren’t there very long. I was like three years old, and we bailed pretty quick, so I don’t know if that counts. Years later when I was 12 I saw Van Halen for the first time. That was kind of my first concert that I was aware of. Then my favorite concert I’ve ever been to was Mötley Crüe in 2004, or 2005.
I was like 13 years old, and it was, oh, my god. My parents were very sheltering a bit. They’re amazing, but they were very sheltering, and they really didn’t want me to go see Mötley Crüe. I went anyway, and it blew my little 13 year old mind. I couldn’t believe it. It was just so much craziness everywhere. Still thinking about it, that show. I wouldn’t have appreciated it if I wasn’t so young, and if I wasn’t allowed to go. It made it all so much better.
What was your first album on cassette, CD, and, or, vinyl?
All right. My first music I ever owned, I was three years old, and I got The Lion King soundtrack on cassette. I think subconsciously that’s a huge influence on my taste in music because it was just so rhythmic. I just loved it. Ever since then my favorite thing in the world is rhythm. That’s everything of me. You can probably hear that in our music. Then my first rock and roll record was OU812 by Van Halen. I got it at a garage sale.
Who are the top five artists and, or, albums that you can’t live without?
Well, top five artists would be Prince, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, The Strokes and Queens of the Stone Age.
Albums would have to be … It’s funny, because some of the albums aren’t even the top artists. I would have to have Astral Weeks [Van Morrison] with me. I would really like to have a Fleet Foxes record with me, maybe their first self-titled record. Dirty Minds and 1999 by Prince. Hunky Dory by Bowie, let’s go with that one.
Grab your tickets to the band’s upcoming shows at LA’s Peppermint Club on June 5 here, and at NYC’s Mercury Lounge on June 11 here.