Standardizing the Issue with Sam East

Sam East has been performing for about as long as he can remember, whether it be singing in church or writing and reciting poetry. However, “I didn’t actually start singing until the end of high school,” says East, a 22-year-old political science major / music minor from New York.

“I grew up playing a bunch of instruments and writing a lot,” as well as singing in church. The impressive list of instruments that East knows how to play include the cello, piano, guitar, drums, and bass. East says that he decided to start singing seriously as he was applying for a music scholarship program at GW. “I was planning on going in with cello,” he says. But he had a change of heart after a conversation with one of his high school music directors. “He was like ‘you should do something that you love.’ And instead of auditioning for cello, I auditioned for voice.”

From there, East realized that he could express himself through music and songwriting, which he previously did through poetry. “That’s why I fell in love with singing,” he says.

As for his sound, East does not want to develop one specific sound, which he learned from his musical background. “From classical stuff to the church stuff to hip-hop stuff to R&B; a lot of people think they’re different, but they’re all kind of the same. It’s all music.” As for influences, he cites everyone from Frank Ocean to Michael Jackson to James Brown to Luciano Pavarotti. “I’m just trying to take everything that I know and make it into something amazing. It has no genre.”

When East makes his music, however, he has no set process. “When I’ve tried to force it, it usually doesn’t work. Whatever that genuine feeling comes from is what I go with,” whether it begins with guitar or with lyrics. East also looks for influence in other parts of his life. “I’m literally nothing without the amazing people around me. Everything is completely dependant on the people who have cultivated my tastes,” he says. “Music with the band guys, love life, family, my race. Being an Asian-American is huge. All of that is all thanks to other people and my faith.”

Recently, East also started working with a band called the Standard Issue, comprised of Zach Blankstein (guitar), Jeff Armstrong (drums), Gavin Preller (piano), and Eric Boulter (bass). “I was just doing stuff on my own and then I met a group of guys who are also amazing musicians.” While East and the Standard Issue are separate, they often collaborate on various aspects of the music process. “We recently just made a song together.” But East will also ask them for their input on songs that he makes, and vice versa. “I consider us more as a bunch of solo artists that work together,” he says.

So, why study political science? “I was into it because I also like the performance aspect of speaking in front of people,” says East, before realizing that music was something he wanted to pursue. “With music, I would prefer to be a performer and singer, because that’s what I love. But I also love almost every single aspect of it. I wouldn’t mind being a session musician, a producer, a writer, a marketing guy.” But more than that, East says that he simply likes creating. “Being the creative lens behind the project, I love that almost as much as performing.”

So, what’s next? As East prepares to graduate, he is producing and releasing a single about once per month, which can be found on Spotify. Everything that East has released on Spotify up until this point is by him and “usually one producer friend,” he says. However, he’s looking to expand his network of musicians and producers that he works with. “In the fall, I’m planning on going to Philly. It’s kind of the halfway point between New York and D.C. I also have a big crew in Chicago that I love, so I’m probably going to go there and work with those guys, writing for them.” But in D.C., East says, is where he has the most amount of gigs, as well as the band.

As for what to expect at the Songbyrd performance on May 1, East says to expect a bit of everything. “I’m really trying to take performing to a different place. I’m really trying to have a hybrid that combines all of my flavor palettes.” But don’t expect to hear his songs exactly how they sound on Spotify, he says. “I’m taking my originals that are super electronic and hip-hop based and I’m making them into jazz fusion hip-hop. We’re trying to take it to a cool place of originals that you will only hear once.”

Nobody for sure knows what the future holds for music; one thing’s for certain though, Sam East is here to stick around.

Alexandra Hardle