NX MEET: Sam J. Garfield

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday February 28, 2022

Sam J. Garfield
Sam J. Garfield  

EDGE and Lexus NX Beat have partnered to profile six of today's hottest LGBTQ+ recording artists. Click here to see the full video featuring Sam J. Garfield and Ezra Michel, and read the EDGE interview with Sam below.

Prolific producer and sound engineer Sam J. Garfield's output is prodigious — and varied. From his own 2020 album "Easy" to his work with an array of LGTBQ+ recording artists (including Todrick Hall, Rhea Litre, and Ezra Michel, among others), Garfield shows his comfort with different musical styles while forging his own distinctive sound — a sonic signature that's also led to work with television projects like "RuPaul's Drag Race" and "We're Here."


EDGE: Sound engineers are often unsung heroes. In what ways do you help the artists you produce flesh out and realize their creations?

Sam J. Garfield: I work as a full stack engineer. I come in, I sit down with an artist, I ask them what the reference tracks are, what the sound is they're trying to create, and I begin from the ground up creating that sound with them, starting usually with what kind of a beat they want, what kind of instrumentation that they want. I put together multiple types of beat references, baselines, any kind of type of instrument tracks that they want for it, and then I move them into the recording process.

I like to be the guy who can not only create your track, but record your track, and begin mixing the track, and doing leveling, and cueing, and all that, as well. It's a very broad range of things that I do with my artists when they have me do the entire process for them.

EDGE: What was the moment you realized you wanted to express and create via the music sphere? Or was there a moment?

Sam J. Garfield: There was a moment. I had been in Los Angeles for just over 10 years; this was back in, probably, 2017. I had been modeling and acting my whole life. And my dad passed away. My dad worked in music. He was more in composition, music directing, that side of things, not so much the recording aspect. But after he passed away, I inherited all his mix boards and software, and just all of his stuff that he had with his home studio. One day I was working on a film in Chicago, and I had this epiphany that I didn't really want to be doing what I'd been doing anymore. The only thing that I realized I liked more than acting and modeling was music.

I decided, "Okay, so then what do I do? I don't want to move from one hard kind of struggling artist's career path to just jump into another one." I had no real training in any kind of music production at all. I played instruments growing up because everyone in my family had to — that's kind of how my parents were — but I didn't know anything about production. I thought to myself, "Okay, how do I make this a business?" I realized that production and engineering and these skills are technical skills. You can turn this into something that's not just, like, sitting around and writing songs all day and not knowing what's going to happen with that.

I went and got an apprenticeship at a recording studio in Burbank called PS Audio. Once I got in there my brain was just blown, because I had this whole new world of music that I had never been in before. Everything really just clicked and snowballed. I think it was what I was really supposed to be doing the whole time.

EDGE: You identify as queer. Would you say that has influenced your work?

Sam J. Garfield: I never found myself fitting in any boxes, really, and I definitely can see that reflection within my work. It definitely has kept me broad in the sense that when I write about something, or when I'm taking from inspiration, it's definitely from so many different places within my personal life, which has always been a very fluid, all-over-the-place kind of thing.

EDGE: Have you had a chance to work with LGBTQ+ artists, and if so, what do you get from that?

Sam J. Garfield: I have so many different connections and different kinds of friends from all different walks of life, and that identify in all different kinds of ways. That's broadened my scope in my work, as well. For instance, there's not a lot of producers and engineers I know who have a large base of trans performers that they work with; I have a very large pocket of people that are very close to me that are transgender artists. And that is different from what you've learned, even in the technical aspect of how you work with people's voices and how they want to be heard, and how they want to be portrayed in their music. That's been an eye-opening experience for sure; I get to do so many kinds of art for people. One moment I'm talking with one of my trans artists about a song about his dysphoria, and how that's going to communicate into music. The next minute, I'm working with, you know, my hot bombshell, straight-identifying, cisgender, R&B female artist, and she's taking me down this whole other path — we're talking about this guy who's shamed her or done this and that. And the other next minute, I'm talking with, like, one of my gay-identifying artists, and he wants to go this route with this song. I've been able to be really broad in each of those genres of people I work with, as opposed to being so stuck into, like, one kind of pocket of person or music, because that's just not who I am as a person, either. I think that that's cross-translated very well into my own art and my own work.

EDGE: It sounds like that same sense of not wanting to be stuck in any given pocket or any given label is true for you also in the genres of music that you work with.

Sam J. Garfield: Except country music and hard rock/metal, I have pretty much dabbled in, or have artists that are working in, everything — a lot of R&B and jazz-inspired, a lot of downtempo electronic, a lot of pop artists right now. I've got a couple of hip-hop artists, as well.

It's been something that I love the most about my production journey, that I have gotten the chance to work with so many different genres of artists, because it keeps things very, very interesting. I had a new artist start with me the other day, and his whole reference was coming in from a K-pop style. It was a whole different experience. It was learning a whole new style that I'd never really done before. That's what I love about staying open-minded. I know many producers who, if they were asked to do that, they'd be like, "It's not, like, really my thing. I'm not really the guy for that." I'm pretty much like, "If I'm into it, I'm the guy for that." Even if it's something I've got to stretch myself a little for, I'll never limit myself being like, "No, that's not really my thing. That's not my pocket of music."

EDGE: So, if some country western artist did show up at your doorstep and said, "I really want to work with you," that genre wouldn't be a deal breaker?

Sam J. Garfield: I mean, if it was Orville Peck or somebody, absolutely! I would be very down! I never try to limit myself into one thing, but there's obviously things that I prefer over other genres.

EDGE: Is there a genre that you feel you have not worked in as much as you want, or some emerging genre or emerging artists that you're thinking: "Boy, I'd really love the chance to see what I can do with that"?

Sam J. Garfield: Yeah. I came from a folk background, with me and my sister, when we first started playing it was very, like, dueling guitars, harmonizing girl/boy vocals, very folk-related lyrics, storytelling type stuff. I came from that background, but I very quickly moved away from it as I started getting more into electronic production and working in studio band type stuff.

I actually was just having this conversation with a colleague recently, and I'm like, "Well, how did I get over here, like, how did I get to be known for pumping out dance tracks and doing club tracks for drag queens?" It's funny how the journey works, but I would like to work with some artists that are more folk-based again.

I do produce my younger sister, and she is an amazing indie folk artist. She kind of keeps me grounded in that, but I would like to branch into more of a kind of a folk/indie folk artistry that goes back to my roots. But I would love to put a new twist on it. I love to take things like traditional folk and put an electronic edge on that, and kind of mash it together. I've dabbled a little bit with that kind of cross genre, but I want to do more of that.

I would love to work with people like Angus and Julia Stone, an Australian duo, brother and sister, who were very inspiring to me and my sister growing up. But I would love to take that traditional genre and go further with the way that the electronic edge works within that, because I think it's a very cool duality.

Check out Sam J. Garfield on Spotify, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and on Linktree.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.