Singer/songwriter Sam Ventura reckons he's written more than 1,000 tunes. And while many remain in larval form in his noggin, others will take up permanent residence in your head. You might want to make room.
"I've got so many songs people will probably never hear," says Ventura. "I mean, if you write three songs a day - or a few ideas a day - a lot of them never surface." Those that do will knock you out in all their simple splendor.
Sam Ventura is going to be the next big thing. That's right; everyone's going to know his name. Everyone's going to sing along. Bank on it. Just give the song "Strawberry Soda" off his brand-new CD, "Beautiful Tragedy," a try. It's a beautifully simplistic, future-classic pop/rock gem that will hook you before the first chorus. That should put an end to any doubt.
Your skepticism is understandable. The music business is full of hustlers and pushers with their snake oil, and Monday-morning quarterbacks who buy into the lie too late. And the model for the contemporary male pop star today seems to be either that of angst-ridden asshole or shoe-gazing pussy. Semantics and analysis aside, you've just got to hear this 19-year-old Geneva native's music. It's infectious, undeniable, and almost immediately unforgettable. And he's got the boyish good looks and shaggy hair that seem to drive the young girls bananas.
Ventura is an incredible songwriter with a tremendous grasp of melody, which is as much talent as it is luck; it's one thing to stumble upon a gorgeous melody, it's another to stumble upon a gorgeous melody that hasn't already been stumbled upon by someone else. We're running out of notes, folks.
What adds to the catch is Ventura's use of that pop staple, the nonsense chorus. The average fan only has to hear a "na-na," a "shoo-bop," or a "rama-lama-ding-dong" once before they're ready to join in.
"I do that a lot," Ventura says. "A 'la-di-da' chorus or 'na-na.' A lot of great songs do that. There's something special about taking a really catchy melody and using something like just syllables, something with no meaning. It really brings the melody out." He oughta know; he's been at it a while.
"When I was like 8 years old," he says, "I recorded this album - that's what I called it, anyway. I took this cassette tape and sang 12 songs. I wrote the words down on a piece of paper, the melody, the verse, the chorus, whatever. It was a cappella, but I think I did a little drumming while I sang."
But it was when Ventura picked up the guitar at 12 that the floodgates opened. Unlike most kids with a guitar, he didn't ease into it by learning off others. He was under no influence.
"I totally just started writing my own songs," he says. "That's just my type of personality and it may not always be a positive thing. I learn by ear, so I can listen to any song and know how to play it. But at the same time, I don't want to sit and learn anyone's songs. I don't know how to play any of these classics that people are always teasing me about. I learned to play a few first position chords. As soon as I knew, like, G, C, and D I wrote, like, six songs using different combinations of them. And that's how it kind of took off."
Today Ventura's velvety pop sparkle belies the notion that punk rock - "nothing too hardcore," he says - swayed him in any way. Yet he dug classic punk like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, and next-generation punks, especially Green Day. On the surface it doesn't come across.
"I totally agree," Ventura says. "I will say that Green Day... their songs are very simple, short, to the point, always very well structured. I listened to a lot of Green Day; they were my favorite band back then, and that kind of gave me a good sense of simple melody, simple song structure. I learned that from Green Day. Now, whether that shows or not..."
Maybe it's this unfettered, uncluttered long view that makes Ventura less of a catch-and-release composer and more of a pioneer in already trampled territory. He's a vessel. The songs come to him.
"Ninety percent of the time I would say I pick up the guitar and I just start playing chords," he says. "Maybe three or four chords in a progression and start singing a little, messing around with it a little. Then I'll change it around and if I hear something I like, I'll develop it. Sometimes you get lucky and you end up writing a totally cool song. Sometimes I'll write something really cool but it's only 20 seconds and never surfaces. There's always something in development.
Ventura's new self-released album is getting him noticed. Alternative Press magazine featured him last month, his MySpace page has experienced a veritable stampede of listeners and new fans, and Warner Bros. has been sniffing around.
Because Ventura played all the instruments except for the drums on the disc, his performances have been limited to the young man and his guitar playing to backing tracks from his iPod. He's currently pounding the pavement between Buffalo and Syracuse and has a college tour in the works this fall. This doesn't leave a lot of time for songwriting. The day we talked he bemoaned the fact he hadn't written in a while.
"I haven't written anything today," he said. "Last night at 11 o'clock is when I wrote my last song."
Opening for Uncle Plum
Friday, August 28
A-Pub Live, 6 Lawrence St.
10 p.m. | $3 | myspace.com/sammyvmusic