‘You don’t want your baby to be ugly’: Sam Kaiser on success of new EP

Queen’s artist talks memories and ‘Pocket Change’

Sam Kaiser’s EP Pocket Change was inspired by the pandemic. 
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Sam Kaiser, ArtSci ’22, released a single last November called “Good Things,” an apt title considering it skyrocketed to three times more streams on Spotify than his next most popular song.

“Good Things” was the first track Kaiser ever wrote while a publicist represented him, and the first of his tracks to be featured on a Spotify-curated playlist, Folk & Friends, which has amassed nearly 140,000 followers. The single is one of four songs on his latest Indie-Folk EP Pocket Change.

“I grew up around music,” Kaiser told The Journal. “Both my parents love music—both very different kind of styles. My dad is a white guy from Saskatchewan and my mom is Chinese from Hong Kong, and so I listened to a lot of different stuff growing up.”

Kaiser named his biggest influences as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and his dad.

“[My dad] is a poet and he really got me to think about lyrics and writing. The music side kind of came when I started learning guitar when I was about 11 or 12.”

Kaiser has been making music on and off since writing his first song in high school. He writes and records every aspect of the tracks himself while studying drama and music at Queen’s. The transferrable skills he learns in his music classes have helped him in his burgeoning career as an artist.

Over the summer, Kaiser released Harper’s Sorrow, which he described as “a little quarantine album with some songs I had stewing around for a bit.”

If you listen to his stuff, you’ll quickly notice he’s being very humble here—the tender acoustics and rustic self-harmonies in his work could give Mumford & Sons a run for their money. 

“Putting your art into the world is super scary,” he said. “You don’t want your baby to be ugly.”

After dropping Harper’s Sorrow, a publicist from a Montreal company called Presstown Media approached him with a deal: release a single in November and an EP in January, and we’ll promote you far and wide.

That’s how “Good Things” and Pocket Change came to be. According to Kaiser, the tracks were strongly inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

For example, the first song on Pocket Change, “Back to Kingston,” was written right before the Fall 2020 term started. Holed up for 14 days in a Toronto hotel in limbo between Hong Kong and Kingston, Kaiser was alone with mixed feelings about coming back to Kingston, a place that’s been good to him in the past but has changed in the presence of a deadly virus.

“As I continued writing it, I kept thinking about a lot of the people that I know here that are in between places right now […] Man, it’s kind of a strange concept […] that going back to Kingston would be a strange feeling.”

While the first two tracks on the EP, “Back to Kingston” and “Good Things” are in the vein of Kaiser’s Indie-Folk stuff, he said the last two songs “Give You Time” and “I Belong” are more of a bedroom pop vibe. He hopes to continue experimenting with his style and might release more music this year—time willing.

“This last EP kind of really took it out of me. I was working on it for a long time […] There’s definitely plans for the future. I just don’t know when.”

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