Arts & Culture

Grad student to release haunting E.P.

Samuel Proffitt’s GS melancholy songs inspired by Russian literature, personal experiences

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2016

Samuel Proffitt’s new E.P., which draws from his study of Russian literature and a lifelong obsession with Russian culture, will be released Oct. 10.

The haunting electronic melodies of Samuel Driver GS — known by his stage name Samuel Proffitt — began with tragedy. The same day Proffitt wrote the song “Cranes,” he learned his roommate had died after spending three months in a coma. A long-term relationship with his girlfriend had ended earlier that day.

“Obviously that was horrible, and it was just so much piled on at once,” Proffitt said. “What really affected me was the death.”

“There was so much absurdity within a six-month period that I think that just really (lent) itself to what I was writing,” he said.

Proffitt, who is currently studying for a PhD in Russian literature at Brown, said his taste in music and literature has always tended to be solemn, but these experiences prompted him to shift from more upbeat rhythms to a melancholy tone. “I like dance music, and I appreciate it. … But it just wasn’t fulfilling, and there wasn’t enough storytelling,” he said.

“For me, I needed there to be a darker aspect, and there needed to be something that was more raw.”

Proffitt counts jazz legend Miles Davis and electronic singer James Blake among his favorite artists.

“I’ve always been obsessed with James Blake,” he said, calling his music “gritty but incredibly emotional.”

Russian literature has also been a vital source of inspiration for his music, Proffitt said. “There’s just something in the soul of the writing that was so different from anything else that I had ever encountered.”

Proffitt said the concepts he finds compelling in Russian literature are an important component of his work.

“My first E.P. was ‘Blue Notebook No. 10,’ and I wrote my honors thesis on a Russian absurdist named Daniil Kharms. … Arguably his most well-known work is called ‘Blue Notebook.’ And it’s about the dissolution of character, the dissolution of story, of all of the normative ideals of storytelling.”

Proffitt is excited for his next E.P., “Grey Notebook,” to be released Oct. 10. “This E.P. production line is leaps and bounds over the previous one,” he said. “The writing and the production is more complex and a little more elevated.”

“Drown,” a single from “Grey Notebook,” features classic piano chords injected with electronic irreverence amid the melancholy but sultry vocals of SKYLR. Proffitt said he found it unusually difficult to work the piece into shape.

After receiving the a cappella recording from SKYLR’s management, Proffitt said he “sat on the track for maybe seven months … (and) just worked at it little by little, little by little, and then a couple months ago something just clicked.”

Because Proffitt is used to writing his songs from scratch, he said working from SKYLR’s vocals was difficult. “I get writer’s block because I see that there’s already a finished product.”

The last song on “Grey Notebook” is “Depth,” featuring the Russian band, “Наадя.”

“One of my main goals is to find a way to continue bridging the gap between Russia and the (United States) with the music that I make and the artists that I work with,” he said.“They’re not the bad guys in every James Bond movie — they’re creative, loving, intelligent people, just like we are here.”