Funny, but funky, the spirit that guides Sam Shain’s songwriting

Sam Shain will happily admit to anyone that asks him that he’s an unabashed goofball. Ever since he was a teenager, first learning the acoustic guitar in high school, he’s always been one to crack a joke or a pull a prank. That sense of humor has served him well as he’s grown up and started to write his own songs.

“I am a proud former class clown, Hall-Dale High School 2005,” said Shain, a Hallowell native who now fronts his own band, Sam Shain and the Scolded Dogs, who will play Friday at Rooster’s Coal Fired Pizza in Augusta, and Saturday at Higher Grounds in Hallowell. “Most of my songs have some sort of humorous undertone, though maybe they’re not all as in your face as, say, ‘Bath Salts Shuffle.’”

Yes, that’s right: on Shain’s new album “A Song We Know,” there’s a song called the “Bath Salts Shuffle,” which is exactly what you’d expect it to be about. Provided you’ve got a functional sense of humor, it’s a hilarious addition to both the album and a live show – Shain came up with it on the fly at a gig at Ipanema Bar & Grill in Bangor last year, and it’s since become a staple of his repertoire. But Shain cautions that that’s far from the highlight of “A Song We Know” – though there’s flashes of humor throughout it, the album is mostly a collection of loose, funky, often very clever songs Shain has tested in countless gigs across the state over the past two years.

“‘Fake Talk’ is about constant cell phone use, ‘Player Piano’ is about club DJs, ‘A Song We Know’ is about getting badgered with song requests as a live musician,” said Shain. “But those are much more subtle lyrics then ‘If you want to eat somebody’s face off, do the Bath Salts.’”

Shain got his start in the fertile music scene in Hallowell, where he learned from friends and from his father, Brett, an accomplished guitar player. His brother, Josh, is also a musician and is the drummer in the Scolded Dogs, and Brett Shain occasionally fills in on harmonica.

“With all the music going around in the family, between my dad being a working musician and hearing all of the wonderful albums my parents exposed me to, I fell in love with music at a young age,” said Shain. “I was the only kid in the 5th grade yearbook that wrote artists like Aretha Franklin or Stevie Wonder as my favorites, instead of what everyone else liked, like Spice Girls or Savage Garden or other 90s pop.”

Shain still lists classic r&b, soul and funk as his main inspiration – he lists his old favorites Stevie and Aretha next to Parliament, Sly and the Family Stone, Jamie Lidell and G. Love as influences, as well as classic rock. That diversity of musical tastes is reflected in the eclectic mix of covers that Shain plays live, in addition to his own songs. He’ll play Johnny Cash followed by Snoop Dogg. The Velvet Underground, followed by Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” And then his own songs, which he’s pleased to note are as well-received by audience members as his covers.

“It’s a blast dipping into all of these genres, and it keeps the crowd on their toes. It’s exciting to be able to throw some Sam Shain songs in there as well,” he said. “I got a nice compliment the other day when someone excitedly said ‘You wrote ‘If You Can Call That Dancin’? I had no idea!’ It’s flattering that they had assumed an accomplished musician had written the tune.”

Sam Shain and the Scolded Dogs will play Friday, Feb. 8 at Rooster’s Coal Fired Pizza in Augusta, and Saturday at Higher Grounds in Hallowell. He will also play a CD release party Feb. 22 at Brian Boru in Portland.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.