Dave Sampson is enjoying a cup of coffee at home in Halifax, taking a break after several weeks promoting his new six-song EP, the countrified All Types of Ways. On the wall across from where he sits hangs a framed Gold record, marking domestic sales in excess of 50,000, for his 2016 song, “No Pressure, No Diamonds,” which Classified recorded and released as a single with Snoop Dogg. Last February, Sampson inked deals with Sonic Publishing and the Paquin Artist Agency, and in the spring Tourism Nova Scotia used one of Sampson’s songs (“Gets Me Through the Night”), a co-write with Dylan Guthro (of Port Cities) and Sam Ellis, for an international ad campaign. Sampson also just placed a song on Nurses, a new Canadian drama set to air on the Global TV network this fall.
At times, it all feels surreal. The reality? these successes are no fluke. The 29-year-old songwriter has been building his career for years now by learning the craft, and the business, from industry veterans like fellow East Coaster Gordie Sampson (no relation).
The real turning point came a decade ago when he met Gordie. The Grammy-winning songwriter invited him to his Gordie Sampson Songcamp. Since then, the pair have become best friends. These annual retreats also introduced Dave to the Nashville co-writing method he now uses to craft new songs, and also to many other Nova Scotia-based singer-songwriters, like Mo Kenney, Carleton Stone (also of Port Cities), and Guthro.
Born in Sydney, Cape Breton, the songwriter moved to Halifax eight years ago. During his first few years in the city, Sampson played to half-empty barrooms; sometimes, the staff were his sole audience. Following the release of his new EP in early October, Sampson sold out his favorite local venue, The Marquee Ballroom.
When it came time to pick a producer for this EP, his good friend Gordie Sampson was the logical choice, and Music City, where Gordie’s now based, was the right locale.
“I use collaboration as an excuse to get together with people, drink some coffee, and write great songs.”
Before learning about these sessions, you need to hear the back-story. It was 2017. Dave Sampson had no money, but he had songs ready to record. To finance these sessions, the songwriter sold his 1966 Martin acoustic guitar, and booked time with a producer at Toronto’s Phase One Studios; members of the Arkells were his backing band.
“All the stars were aligned,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, these sessions never came out to what I needed them, or wanted them, to be – so I ended up sweeping those songs under a rug!
Sampson returned to Halifax with no guitar, no record, and no money. While figuring out what to do next, fate intervened. Some funding from FACTOR came through. He was back in the game with a new vision, and ready to take another shot at recording some songs, this time around with his pal Gordie. The Sampsons convened in Nashville at The Sound Emporium, the legendary studio where records such as Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler and soundtracks for movies like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Walk the Line were born.
When he’s not in the studio, or on the road, most of Sampson’s time these days is spent at home doing administrative work, so scheduling songwriting time is essential.
“Sometimes I’ll sit at home at the piano or on the couch with my guitar, cooking up ideas, but songwriting for me works best when it’s a job,” he says. “I love collaboration, because I get to work with other people, open my mind, and use my brain to develop these relationships. That’s important for me mentally. I’m such a people person; I need humans around me all the time, and as a solo artist I picked a job where you’re alone a lot. I use collaboration as an excuse to get together with people, drink some coffee, and write great songs. I leave smiling every time!”