I met Sam Buck some years ago in Western Mass while reporting a story about another band, Wet. I didn't know him as a musician, then—maybe as a painter, but mainly as a smiley, fun guy at a bar. 

When I saw his 2018 debut EP Borderline a while later, I listened entirely because he'd been so endearing, and I loved it. The record sounded both a part of and very much apart from the trendy country of the era—it had some of the laptoppy production hallmarks of bedroom pop, but the energy begged for a big Nashville stage.

“Faces” was my favorite song from the EP. It was like a Miranda Lambert bar romance as sung by the Barenaked Ladies, with lyrics that were both explicit and explicitly gay. Clearly, Buck was in love with country radio, even if he didn’t stand much chance of being played there—for at least a dozen reasons. Maybe that’s all the better, as Buck now hosts the not-quite-weekly KFM Country Radio via Patreon, where he’s like the foremost indie arbiter of new country music and Nashville gossip. It’s a delightful show, and alongside its adjoining monthly karaoke revue, it does great world-building ahead of his debut album, a work in progress that’s hopefully coming soon. 

Sam talked to me about his attempts to make Luke Combs songs, his early days of touring with Vampire Weekend, and the not-quite-a-conspiracy-theory that Taylor Swift might have (inadvertently) jacked one of his songs.

What was the first music that made a big impression on you?

I grew up in my mom’s pottery studio, which was very Lilith Fair soundtrack: Annie Lennox, Tracy Chapman, Dixie Chicks. But the first song that ever got its hooks in me and still has them is Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You.” When I was younger, I could not hear that song enough. Every time we went to a restaurant, I had to play it on the jukebox. To this day, I think that's the greatest song ever written.

Were you part of any scenes when you were younger?

When I was 18, I moved into this house in Bed-Stuy [with] the Dirty Projectors guy and Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend. It was like a who’s who of 2008 music in this house, and I was making not-very-good music in my little room upstairs. It basically made me incredibly insecure for ten years. 

My claim to fame at the time was being Vampire Weekend’s number-one friend on Myspace, and I opened for them on their first big tour, but it was a huge disaster for me, and the music I played on that tour will hopefully remain in the vault. It was like art rock, kind of genreless Lana Del Rey Lizzy Grant music. They were encouraging me beyond my means, and I was just unprepared.

Then, in 2013, country found me, and it all clicked. I was like, “This is my zone.”

Did anyone encourage you down the country path?

The person who got me into country is just my cool bestie from high school. She was the one who was like, “This is Miranda Lambert. Fun country music is good.” It needed to be unlocked for me because growing up in a little seaside town in Massachusetts that’s not culturally cool.

Who from the music world first put you on?

I’ve never been signed. Every record label always just dangles the carrot far out of reach and pulls it away before I can grab it, which is fine and probably for the best. Really, it was people like Rostam and Kelly. Rostam and I have grown up together musically, a little bit. I don’t know if he would think of it that way, but we’ve been working on shit together here and there for years, and he recorded drums from my last EP and just donated his studio for me to record. He didn’t come out until his mid-20s, I think, so we were gay indie music friends at a time when it was few and far between. I mean, straight-up gay guys still are kind of pariahs in indie music. 

Do you feel like you’re part of a scene now?

My little scene now is sort of like a demented world of my own creation because I do my radio show KMF but then I have the KFM Karaoke Country Revue, which is a monthly show here in LA where I curate 10 singers and not-singers who memorize a song and sing it to a karaoke track. It’s like an elevated karaoke experience, and I have a beautiful family of regulars like Rosie Ruel and Chloe Coover. One of my favorite local musicians is my dear friend Thurmon Green, and he is more just like R&B and pop. Hearing him sing country every month at the show is incredible. My brand of country is pretty offbeat, so to have carved out our own country niche in LA feels luxurious and affirming. In this setting, it makes sense.

Who is an artist that you feel is a touchstone for the music you make now?

For my own style of music, I’m always trying desperately to be something that I’m not, which is Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, or something. So basically, every time I’m trying to write a Terri Clark song or even a Megan Moroney song or a Dwight Yoakam song, I end up with what I end up with, which is probably my background from my teenage years loving DIY music from Olympia like Mirah or Gillian Welch and Aimee Mann. My background is firmly in indie music, but I always try to be country-pop.

I love and am inspired by a new crop of country girl singers who haven’t quite made it yet, but they exist in the Nashville music scene. In our current time, it’s extremely old-school sounding, but they’re trying to get signed and play the Opry. It’s like Carter Faith, Alana Springsteen, Lacey Kaye Booth. The one thing they all have in common is that they put in the hard yards. They did the hours. They put in a ton of blood, sweat, and tears to get where they are. 

Are there any artists who have told you that your music has inspired or influenced them?

My boyfriend was like, “Say Taylor Swift,” because multiple people have pointed out to me how “Anti-Hero” is the same beat from “Faces.” Someone reached out to me who’s in that world and shall remain nameless and said, “Jack [Antonoff, one of Swift’s collaborators] has definitely heard your music, and you should know that he does this…” 

Who is a younger artist working today that you see as kindred in spirit artistically and who you want to put on? 

There’s this girl Flannery who has a band called F.G.S., she had a song called “Passions” last year that rocked my world. It exists in her own world. I want to collab with her. Then, Thurmon Green and Rosie Ruel again. She’s about to release new music. At my shows, she took the country prompt, flipped it on its head. and does Mexican Ranchero music, and people go crazy for it.