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FLOODWALL frontman Sam Friedman first carved a path in the Richmond music scene as the lead guitarist for the instrumental jam band SCHAK. During the three-piece’s fabled live shows, Friedman would often lose himself – and, in turn, the crowd – in free-form, effects-laden solos that could instantly enthrall an entire audience. It was strikingly obvious that Friedman had a natural affinity for soloing, so much so that his guitar seemed more like a physical extension of his soul rather than a separate, lifeless object.

Several years ago, when Friedman decided to switch from PHISH-inspired noodling to ambient, structured, inwardly-turned post-rock, he had to learn some new tricks. In SCHAK, the goal was to jack up the volume and set the crowd to dancing. FLOODWALL — on the other hand — aims to wrap the audience in a cerebral wave of dreamy guitar arpeggios, spacious rhythms, and breathy vocals. It’s a disciplined style of music, a study in the art of restraint. Friedman and his band mates – all of whom have roots in the jam band scene – have adopted to the world of post-rock quite gracefully. The hardest part about making the switch, Friedman said, was kicking his reliance on his guitar and learning how to use his voice to express what he was feeling in his soul.

Last Thursday, Friedman brewed up a fresh cup of coffee at his place in the Fan and partook in a thoughtful phone conversation with The Dominion Collective.

I hear a lot of RADIOHEAD, GRIZZLY BEAR, and SIGUR ROS in FLOODWALL’S music. Would you consider those three bands major influences?

RADIOHEAD was a big change for me. I was into jam bands and into PHISH and played lead guitar. It wasn’t until I got into RADIOHEAD that I started experimenting with singing and songwriting, so they kind of took me into a whole new musical direction. SIGUR ROS is a definitely big one. That’s the one band that all four of us love and take influence from. We’ve seen them live multiple times and they’re killer. Our bass player, Seth, is a huge fan of GRIZZLY BEAR. We have a really wide variety of influences. [Our drummer] Matt goes to NYU, and he’s into classical percussion. He’s also into INCUBUS, so it’s a wide variety. Seth listens to anything from Spanish music to French to electronic to folk. But I’d say Andrew and I are pretty synonymous with a lot of the music we like. It’s a lot of electronic, ambient, stuff. We like this guy BURIAL, FLYING LOTUS, FOUR TET, PORTISHEAD, and a handful of groups.

Can you talk about some of the changes that came along with making the switch from jam band-style music to ambient post-rock?

Learning how to sing was the main thing. It was really hard. Still figuring stuff out today. I had a lot more natural amplitude to pick up guitar than singing, so singing was sort of an uphill battle. They say, “If you know one instrument, it’s a lot easier to learn the next one,” and that’s definitely true, but that wasn’t the case with singing. It took me a long time to present anything that was decent. What really helped me out was playing a bunch of open mic nights. Three or four years ago, I started forcing myself to play at The Current. I went there every Monday night and did a singer/songwriting set and learned how to sing in front of people and expose myself. I would record myself and send it to friends to get feedback. Then I switched to Emilios. So it was Monday at Emilios, Wednesday at Ellwood Thompson, and sometimes Thursday at Postpub. By doing that, I got used to singing in front of people and not relying on my guitar and effects. Andrew and Seth both came from jam bands too. So all of us have this natural background of improv, funk, and rock. We were all kind of in it together. So I think that helped a lot.

Did you take professional singing lessons?

I did a lot of online stuff. If you go online you can learn almost any instrument. I did pick up a couple of lessons from this guy, Eric, who’s in DC. He really helped develop my voice. He also had a ton of stuff online and gave me a bunch of his videos. So I taught myself at home a lot. Doing it over and over makes it a lot better. If I didn’t play all those open mics and learn other people’s music that was beyond my comfort range, I don’t think I would have gotten there.

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Do you write all the lyrics for FLOODWALL?

I start all the lyrics for FLOODWALL, but they may get changed along the way. So every song has been drafted by me, but I send all my lyrics to Seth, Matt, and Andrew. Seth does a lot of editing. Sometimes he will, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes I take his changes, sometimes I won’t. I will write a verse and chorus and send it over to Seth, and he will give me some suggestions of where to go next. But yeah, they all start with me, and they grow from there.

A lot of your lyrics are about anxiety, emptiness, and existential yearning. Do you view your music as a way to come to grips with certain feelings that you may not be able to express in other ways? Is it sort of a catharsis for you?

For whatever reason, I gravitated toward themes of struggle and suffering. But in my day-to-day life, I’m a pretty happy, normal guy. Everyone has those moments where you’re in doubt, where you need an extra hand. I think performing the lyrics live is a cathartic experience, but when I write them, I’m just trying to get something out. It’s born out of having a certain feeling or anxiety or crisis of identity. You know, a feeling of not really having a self. It’s good to be able to put it down on paper and for it to be poetic, knowing that it can come to life when it’s paired up with the music. When I write lyrics, it’s sort of like working through and growing out of those feelings. Once I put it down on paper, I’m able to move on a little bit. Then when I perform it, I re-enter the mood that I was in, and it’s kind of a weird thing. I’ll sing about something that I experienced years ago, and you kind of get into that zone. I guess that is sort of the cathartic part: performing live.

I saw you guys played a show with MY DARLING FURY recently. How was the show?

I had a cold, so I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t go so well, but it actually worked out pretty well. They’re definitely my favorite Richmond band. I loved their album Licking Wounds. They’re all great guys so every chance we get to play with them is a treat. We’ve played with them four or five times now. Andrew and I are working on a remix competition for their song “In The World”, and it’s been really fun.

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Any upcoming shows in the Richmond area?

We’re mainly just working on writing stuff right now. Hopefully recording soon, trying to get some of our own gear so we can do it ourselves. Andrew and I do production, and Seth does recording and engineering as well. We’re just trying to get our hands on some equipment so we can do a little bit of our own thing. No shows as of right now.

For more updates on FLOODWALL, be sure to “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and listen to their music on Bandcamp.

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