Sam Varga’s “Half Heart Hallelujah” Addresses Bouts of Depression, Failed Relationships and the Beauty and Truth in Between
In just a few short years in Nashville, Sam Varga has already established himself as a serious writer and dynamic performer. Coming up in the fast-paced punk scenes of his high school days and the Blues of Austin TX, there is an edge and energy that makes his songs stand out in Music City.
In March, at your Light Me Up EP release show, you raised money for a family affected by the tornado that had just hit Nashville. In a twist of fate, the pandemic crisis was about to hit the music industry hard. At the same time, many artists have found creative ways to continue making music and staying connected with their fans. How have you fared these past eight months?
In all honesty I’ve fared pretty well. It was hard at first because there was all this momentum built up behind Light Me Up, but after awhile I had to accept that run wasn’t going to happen and I needed to get back to work. So I wrapped Light Me Up with the “When She Falls” music video and went back to work. I recorded 4 singles in LA in one month with William Stone and came back to Nashville with songs in my pocket and enough work to bring me into next summer. Aside from that 2020 has been a great year with a new relationship, new place, and a lot of personal growth.
You posted that Matt Klevorn “is the sonic vein that stretches throughout the entire album.” How has he become an inseparable part of your sound?
I met Matt literally my first show in Nashville. He was playing pedal steal at Frisky Frogs in Nashville, which is now Live Oak. That guy has an amazing story and I think he’d tell you that instrument brought him out of a dark time. And you can hear it that dude bleeds when he plays. My tunes wouldn’t be the same vibe without him.
“If You Don’t Know,” one of your favorite songs, was written the very first time you and Patrick Murphy wrote together. What inspired the song?
I was falling for a girl at the time, and the situation had an expiration date so I had debated about taking the jump. It was actually my mom who said, “If you don’t tell her the tragedy won’t be the you didn’t say it….but that she didn’t get to hear it.” The relationship ended later on, but grateful for the person and the song.
Other co-writers included Kacey V., Lauren Weintraub, and Will Stone. You shared that Will helped you find your artist voice. How has he helped you discover who you are as an artist and what you want you say?
Will is my music big brother. I was in Nashville trying to get bro-country cuts because…hey I’m in Nashville now, guess that’s what I’m doing. He ended up showing me what we’d refer to as, “the shit,” just the real deal writers who twist the knife and say the truth. I’d say he really taught me how to write and definitely showed me all of my favorite current artists to date. He also made me a complete cocktail snob which has led to a dangerous relationship with Smith & Cross Sazeracs. (Delicious)
“I Got Prozac For Christmas…” There was something about the lyrics that resonated for me — how hitting rock bottom is the catalyst necessary for us to take chances we previously wouldn’t. What has been the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your music career?
Honestly? And this took me awhile to realize. I’ll go through hard times but when it’s all said and done I’m a pretty happy person and I’ve lived an easy life compared to most. I don’t believe you have to suffer to be an artist, but It took me a while to find my voice because I didn’t realize what I wanted to say or what my grievance with the world was. It took a great friend Valerie Morehouse just coming down hard on me and say “Listen guy, you’re not gonna be able to do this until you find what you’re afraid of and write it and sing it. And if you don’t think you’re afraid of something you’re wrong”. Now a days it’s just getting out of my own way, making myself sit down and do the work.
Going to say I love you for the lack of …“A Better Word.” What has helped you the most when you find yourself stuck trying to find the right words in your lyrics?
I have some mantras. If I’m stuck I’ll ask myself, “Okay what’s 3rd level above this? What’s a different lens?” Or “Alright, quit trying to write. How would you just fucking say it?” But most the time the answer is to always pull from personal experience.
You were able to promote your EP at your hometown station, 91.9 WFPK, in Louisville. Which artists did you listen to on the radio growing up in Kentucky?
I was all emo. Senses Fail, Saosin, Escape the Fate, Brand New…. But you can’t talk about Louisville without talking about My Morning Jacket. Every band in Louisville looks up to them and I can say without a doubt Patrick Hallahan and his wife Brigid were instrumental at a very young age in how I approached and respected music and the work.
Canter’s Deli. Guns N’ Roses. Los Angeles. Gibson Guitars. Which song of the band’s is your favorite to play on guitar and why?
Gibson’s Baby. I have a list in my phone of all the ones I need before I die. As far as GnR goes I have to say “Sweet Child O’ Mine”… I mean that could be my favorite song of all time. I say that with all due respect to all the players and bar tenders down on Broadway.
Sum 41. How has the band influenced your music?
I found them right before my emo phase. Their dynamic and energy and angst really laid the template for what I would come to need in music. All the itches that needed to be scratched. It’s gotta come in hot, be dynamic, and say some shit.
Videos for your songs, from the “Mayday” lyric video to hitting the empty streets of Nashville for the one for “When She Falls.” What’s the process you go through to conceptualize your video storyboard?
I think I’m a pretty visual writer. When I first started writing I would do it almost as a score. I’d write music and lyrics to some story or scene in my head. When I’m thinking about music videos I just kinda turn it around.
“Half Heart Hallelujah.” A song written on a Christmas morning, following a breakup and the death of a family member, while recuperating from both a hangover and a holiday cocktail that put you in the fetal position on the couch in your childhood home. You shared that this song in particular really spurred a six-month writing period. How so?
It was just a more personal voice that I hadn’t really tapped into. After that cat was outta the bag it was like “alright, guess were going down this road.” And tapping into this new, more personal/brutally honest voice really opened the flood gates to some new creativity.
On The Bus Acoustic Sessions. In The Round Podcast. Daddy’s Dogs Drive in Concert Series. Live performances. How will you be promoting your new single?