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Sam Palladio
Nine Songs
Sam Palladio

As he gears up for his debut album announcement, Nashville actor and musician Sam Palladio recounts the most important songs of his life to Olivia Swash.

09 May 2024, 16:19 | Words by Olivia Swash

Sam Palladio is shedding any characters and embracing a new chapter as his own musician.

From noughties nu metal cover bands in the DC skate shoe-imprinted sands of his Cornish hometown, to his role in Nashville leading to dream collaborations with Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil and Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett, Sam Palladio’s musical journey has taken him places.

His trajectory changed forever when he was flown out to Music City, Tennessee in 2012 to film the pilot, leading to six seasons playing country musician Gunnar Scott for the hit musical drama series. Thankfully for musician and actor Palladio, the show had changed tack after a producer on an early iteration of the team had been open to actors with no musical competence playing guitars with no strings, with plans to digitally add strings in post. The rethink resulted in the show bolstering its authenticity with multi-Grammy-winning executive music producer and one-time Bob Dylan guitarist T Bone Burnett. “It could’ve very easily been, like, cowboy hats and a Glee version of country music, but it wasn’t. He set the tone for the music of Nashville being deeper,” says Palladio. “The first song I sang was written by John Paul White of The Civil Wars. Episode two, Elvis Costello wrote a song. He’s a gauge of great music.”

He’s also set tween hearts aflutter across the globe as a literal prince charming opposite Vanessa Hudgens in Netflix’s rom com movie hat-trick The Princess Switch, and played Joe Strummer in the recent film Bob Marley: One Love. “The stuff I’ve done has had some joy in it,” he says of his good-vibe roles. “I’ve been very fortunate that [Nashville] just made people feel good, and music is the great connector. I used to get a lot of messages saying it bonded a lot of families."

More recently, Palladio has turned his focus to his core identity as a musician, completing an under-wraps forthcoming album that’s been in the works for years. Connection is still the beating heart of his output, having released a particularly vulnerable single which served cathartically after his mother died. “Starting with ‘Something on my Mind’ being very personal and about losing my mother – about bearing all, in a sense… It’s been a really special start to me releasing music as an artist,” he says.

“I think people have connected to that song and the messaging,” he says of the fans who have shared experiences and stories. “One reached out when I first put out that song and said, ‘I lost someone and I haven’t been able to grieve or cry, and I listened to your song and suddenly I burst into tears, so thank you for helping me start the grieving process.’ It’s like well, fuck. That’s what I want to do with music really, is connect people,” he says. “If there’s a hundred people I’ve made some sort of difference to, that’s enough.”

This public vulnerability and openness has signified a new chapter for Palladio, having grown used to dealing in the imaginary problems of fictional characters in his outward-facing persona. “It’s usually smoke and mirrors,” he explains. “For a long time I didn’t lean into, ‘What’s Sam’s mental state,’ and how I felt being vulnerable on social media.”

Spanning the spectrum of his influences, Palladio’s rip-roaring new single “Tennessee” features Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters on lead guitar. The pair had stayed in touch since Palladio opened for Shiflett on his solo UK tour in 2017. “When I was dreaming of this song and I wanted that fuzzy Black Keys kind of Jack White thing, I gave him a call and he said, ‘I’d love to,’” he recalls. "He sent back these amazing super-thick prog riffs. The solo was just one take, and it was perfect. It just had a little bit of country, which is his world – he’s got a country career going at the moment.”

Shiflett is just one of the impressive features Palladio has called in lately, and he’s seemingly a magnet for organic collaborations. “I seem to attract similar energy or something, I don’t know! I got really lucky,” he says. “Have I used all my favours on the first one?! I hope not!”

Palladio co-wrote his two latest singles with Ed Harcourt – an artist who he looks up to as “a virtuoso.” “Ed is like a mad scientist. I love his energy,” he says. “He’s a loose cannon in the best way. We really hit it off. By the end of that session I did have a few tears trying to record [“Something on my Mind”]. It was like trauma bonding, pretty intense. That song was really special so I knew I had to do more with Ed. I’d let my guard down a bit with him.”

As for the rest of his upcoming album, Palladio sees it as a representation of his trans-Atlantic journey, with influences and elements from genres, places and themes that have overtly inspired him. “There were a few opportunities where I probably could’ve just put a cowboy hat on and continued the Nashville [thing],” he explains, “but the record feels like it has enough of the headbangy, Britpoppy, Kaiser Chiefs guitar moments that I love, mixed with some real storyteller stuff.” He cites his track “Wake me up in Nashville” in the latter category: a true story about his Grandad missing a final farewell to his girlfriend in Tennessee during the war. “I couldn't believe that he had this Nashville connection as well,” says Palladio.

The country music industry is going through a period of scrutiny, with Palladio’s musician girlfriend Cassadee Pope hitting headlines for quitting the genre after speaking out against transphobia and racism. “It was a brave decision, and she was just calling out bigots really, and saying what a lot of people wouldn’t say,” he explains. “It was her and Maren Morris just going, ‘You know what, you can’t fucking say that. We’re not shy about standing up for that.’”

“I think the genre of country has people that really legitimise it and appreciate the history. Beyoncé’s new record is fucking amazing and she’s doing it the right way, using the right players and being selective,” he says, pointing to Rhiannon Giddens on "Texas Hold 'Em". “Then there’s the super commercial side of country music that’s still governed by a bunch of good old boys at the labels, and [Pope] has just been burnt a few too many times throughout the years. Also just becoming more of an activist and, as we all get a bit older, starting to think about the future and families, caring about people’s kids and gun control. So many of those big label artists have such a huge platform but just don’t talk about that, or support Trump-era politics.”

Palladio’s musical exploration started out strong: the first single he bought was “What I Am” by Tin Tin Out ft. Emma Bunton on CD, while the first song he wrote had the delightfully teenage title of “Why Didn’t She Text me Back?” “I had Music 2000, which was a PlayStation game that predates Logic and ProTools,” he explains. “Me and my friend made some tracks on that game, and I think what I did was I played the song in the game through the TV, recorded it on an old cassette player and then sang over the ambient sound. I’ve still got it! I have a digital version in a Dropbox somewhere.”

Palladio stays curious with seeking out new music, albeit alongside an unexpected pastime. “Late-night, I’m into model-making,” he reveals. “It’s all Dungeons and Dragonsy kinda stuff – it’s super meditative. I’ve got really good at all the nerdy airbrushing.” While engrossed in this world, he listens to new music playlists and takes note of songs he loves by new artists. “And obviously there’s so much great music in Nashville, so I get to see a lot of shows.”

Each of Palladio’s Nine Songs evokes a pivotal moment or a beloved person, and his teenage cover band, Liquid Sister, did covers of many of the mid-noughties bands that made it onto his list. “I think a lot of it came back to teenage Sam, so I had to really go back and think what the songs were that really got me where I am, as opposed to just, ‘Oh I love this song, it’s a banger.’”

His musical reflections have gone hand-in-hand with gearing up to announce his first solo album. “As I try to figure out why I’m doing this, what led me here, and why it’s taken me thirty-something years… It’s a good thing to think about,” he says.

"Colorblind" by Counting Crows

My dad was always just throwing me bands like Biffy and Muse, and Counting Crows are one of his favourites. It was this song that got me into drama school – it was my audition song. The brief was to prepare your musical theatre standard with sheet music, but I’d never seen a musical in my life! But I wanted to do something that felt a bit Talking Heads, or a bit artsy or something. Not like, [sings] “Do you hear the people sing?” So many kids do something from Les Mis or Miss Saigon – that’s just not me, so I thought I might as well show them me.

This was a suggestion of my dad’s, and I really resonated with those lyrics: “I am ready / I am ready / I am fine”. It felt like a really bold choice, and I remember stepping up at the audition in front of all the other auditionees, going, “Oh fuck.” I got the place out of 2,000 applicants, and I was one of four guys on the course. So it’s an important song.

I don’t really know what it’s about, it’s on a different level. I like when songs don’t lay it all out step-by-step for you, and you can interpret it. It’s that melancholy piano and cello - the instrument that’s so close to the human voice.

I find myself going back to this song and back to Counting Crows themselves. I think they were an early taste of Americana for me - big bold Americana references and guitars and banjos. Adam Duritz’s voice has always been a favourite - such a great timbre and texture. It’s pop but it’s artsy.

"Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" by The Blues Brothers

I remember watching The Blues Brothers for the first time at about 15 and just dying with laughter, but also it was an introduction to Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. It’s such an incredible film. It’s a musical but with real musos – Donald Dunn playing the bass, Blue Lou, who plays with James Taylor. It was always a feel-good favourite film.

At school in year 11, my music teacher put together this Blues Brothers band, all in the gear and everything. I was really into music at that point, and I had a couple of school bands and was sort of like the star pupil in terms of being “The Performing Kid” in the school.

I played the Elwood character in the production, and that then spilled out into a little Cornish tour. We took The Blues Brothers to the Scilly Isles. It was a very important moment for me getting confidence on stage. It got me feeling like, “Oh, I can be a frontman!” – even if it was playing The Blues Brothers guy. I was the guy with the fucking hat, doing the moves!

"You Can Close Your Eyes" by James Taylor

Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon was one of my mum’s favourite records. She died of a brain tumour, she had three over the course of 10 years. She had to do thousands of MRI scans and stuff, so she’d always take headphones and listen to calming music. It was a coping mechanism. James Taylor and Ron Sexsmith were her safe space.

In 2009 she had to have her first major brain operation - and that’s when I turned to what she listened to for comfort. So James Taylor was really healing for me in that early stage, in that first couple of years of dealing with very scary shit, and through my life since then. It’s very melancholy, “You can close your eyes, it’s all right.” In this reality, it’s even more sad now.

I’d been deep-diving his catalogue and this is just a pretty little song that I really loved, with him and Carly Simon. Nashville called and wanted me to send them a song. I’d just learned this one, so it felt appropriate. So that’s the big one that changed my trajectory and sent me over there.

Years later, I became friends with Ben, James Taylor’s son, and I ended up out in Martha’s Vineyard staring up at his mum’s house, Carly Simon’s house, only like a year and a half after auditioning with this song. Being in this world where I found myself writing music with his son, it was another weird moment of, like, “How the hell am I here?!” The first night I ever landed in Nashville, I met Kate Taylor, and I had to say to her that I’m here because of her brother.

I’ve never met James Taylor or seen him in concert. One year I got a ticket, but it was going to be at an arena with a bunch of friends. I thought, no, I can’t be with a load of people, I need to not talk to anybody, I need to be in a moment.

"Wish You Were Here" by Incubus

Growing up in Penzance, we were all wearing skate shoes, Rip Curl, Billabong, DC and Hurley. I think that translated to that California Malibu surfer thing over there. We all just wanted to be like them, and I think Incubus came with that kind of California cool.

I think this is one of my favourite Incubus songs, because it lives in a very melodic but still epic world. “I dig my toes into the sand…” It’s instantly like I’m on a Cornish beach or I’m transported to Malibu. That album Morning View was such a great record. They were just effortlessly cool. I had a poster of the drummer Jose Pasillas on my wall. My cousin had given me a drum kit when I was 14, so I was just bashing out Chillis and Incubus, with a poster of him. So they always felt like a band that somehow was connected to coastal Cornwall.

Incubus had an Alive at Red Rocks DVD that I wore out. At that point, I had my long Brandon Boyd hair. He was my first man crush.

You performed this song at Red Rocks, opening for Blues Traveler. When you have a huge moment like that with a song you love, does it eclipse your pre-existing relationship with it?

Red Rocks definitely amplified my connection to it. I’d just wanted to be Brandon Boyd, and there was a moment where I could be – I could do my best impression!

I almost chose something fromA Crow Left Of The Murder…, the next record, because I used to listen to it going to college. An hour bus ride every day with my little CD burner.

"Goddam California" by Will Hoge

I met Will the same night that I met Kate Taylor, at the Grand Ole Opry, my first night there when we were shooting the pilot of Nashville. He blew me away with his voice and tone. He gave me like six of his CDs, and I went to LA for two months to wait it out while ABC decided whether to pick up Nashville. So my first solid memories of being in America are of driving around LA listening to Will Hoge records for two months, in a convertible, loving life! His music was my soundtrack to my first couple of years in the states, so that’s a special little moment in time for me.

That’s quite a juxtaposition, you in a convertible in LA listening to “Goddam California”!

It was the first time that I was like, “You know what? I think I do miss Tennessee, I think I relate to this song. This place is awesome but there’s a lot of fucking fake people here. I get you man, I get what you’re talking about.” Twelve years later, I’m still in Tennessee, and that’s what my song “Tennessee” is about. My creative community there feels like a safe place – somewhere to retreat from the buzz and ins and outs of the entertainment industry.

Will has gone on to be an amazing spokesperson for things that Tennessee is trying to push through, and the US government is trying to make us do. They just passed a bill which allows teachers to concealed carry firearms in schools to protect kids. It’s like, are you fucking nuts? Will’s just saying, “Come on, open your eyes, you can’t just put more guns into schools.”

Does he face a lot of backlash?

You know what, he probably does. But he’s just a smart and compassionate guy, and he’s not playing a game anymore. I can’t speak for him, but I can imagine maybe 15 years ago, the pressures of the music industry being like, “You might not want to say too much.” But he’s like, “No, this isn’t right.” He tells it like it is, and it’s a brave choice. He’s a beat poet - an American poet - as far as I’m concerned. He could just be churning out “In my truck, I…” songs, cause he could do that in a second, but he’s chosen to stick to his guns.

"Gold In Them Hills" by Ron Sexsmith

Ron was another really important songwriter for my mum that, again, I needed to absorb through her. When she wasn’t well, I was consuming his music just as much as she was. Like, “OK, this guy’s music is affecting you in a really positive way, let me have a listen, I wonder why.”

When Mum got through her first major surgery and she was in remission from the first brain tumour, I got her up to London to see Ron Sexsmith at Union Chapel. That was a really important moment that we shared, having seen her very sick. It was just Ron acoustically, and at the end of the concert she ran down to the front of the stage through the pews, and sort of stormed the stage, like, “Ron! Ron! Ron!” I then opened for him on tour in Europe in 2015, and I got a signed CD to her.

His music has been very healing for me. We had his song “Sneak Out the Back Door” played at her funeral, and Ron sent messages and some lovely things. He’s an artist that has weaved his way into my life more than he knows.

His voice is so vulnerable and perfect, but imperfect at the same time. He’s a great storyteller. “Though our troubles seem like mountains / There’s gold in them hills.” What a line.

"Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies" by Biffy Clyro

Biffy Clyro are my favourite band, and have been since I was a teenager. This always blows my mind, but Biffy were playing in Nashville in 2016 or something at this tiny club, Mercy Lounge, which is like 300 cap. Just before I got there, I tweeted them saying I couldn’t wait to see their show. Then I got a message back like, “Oh my god it would be great to meet you afterwards, we’ll put a pass at the stage door.” I was like, what?!

Simon Neil is there in a white dressing gown with his hair wrapped up, just out of the shower, and he goes, “Hellooo, it’s great to meet you! Oh my god – Boys!!” I was like, what’s happening? It turned out they were mega Nashville fans, and had watched every episode. The first thing they said was, “Oh my God, Rayna’s dead!” So surreal. The nicest guys in rock. My first time seeing them live was when I met them, so it was a bit overwhelming.

We started this friendship, and I got to open for them in 2018 when they were doing a stripped-down acoustic tour in Oslo, Hamburg and Copenhagen, which was sick. Simon ended up becoming this sounding board/spiritual guide for me. I asked him if he would help me write a song for Nashville, so over Zoom we wrote a song, and we pitched it but they didn’t take it.

He’s just been so supportive. He came to the Nashville show at the Apollo in September, and I asked him if he wanted to do a song, so we did “Many of Horror” together. Best night of my life!

This song just blew my mind when I first heard it. Ben [Johnston] is such an amazing drummer. It’s so creative and detailed. It’s a perfect Biffy song. I send it to friends who want to know who Biffy Clyro is – Get through this, and your mind will be opened.

"Know Your Enemy" by Rage Against The Machine

Liquid Sister, that first band that I had around 16 or so – this was one of our cover tunes. Our guitarist Charlie passed away only a couple of years later. He died really young, so those days felt so special.

That band was a period in my life when I was getting my confidence as a little mini frontman, getting used to playing tiny pubs in Cornwall, in my hometown Penzance. I played my own 18th birthday at the club. All my mates, we all just loved Rage Against the Machine. It takes me back to those times, and it was a building block for where I ended up.

I love Tom Morello’s guitar, he’s just one of the best players in the world. Certain musicians feel like superheroes for me: Tom Morello and Dave Grohl are almost like fictitious characters, like, if you were playing Street Fighter you would choose this character.

Being an angsty teenager and the sentiment of the song – I feel like I was probably a bit more political then, when I was learning about that kind of stuff. I spent a lot of years back-and-forth, not really being in one place or the other, not being back home to vote but not being a citizen in America and missing stuff, so my politics has slid around a bit.

"Californication" by Red Hot Chili Peppers

My really old school friend Simon introduced me to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A few years ago I opened up the BBC News app one day, and this article came up on my feed about a fatal great white shark attack in Australia. I didn’t think much about it, but the next day I opened up the news app again and they had named the person. I only knew one person in Australia, and that was my friend Simon – and it was him. He was a scuba diver instructor and he was just going for a swim one morning. I sort of knew before I saw his name.

He was my best school friend, I hadn’t seen him for probably eight years or something. When I think about all those times of bikes and skateboards and cruising down the promenade and jumping into the sea from the harbour walls… My whole childhood was me and Simon doing that kind of stuff. He was always a daredevil, he was the kid that was jumping off too high of a cliff or something - we were always hurting ourselves.Californication was a record that we would listen to a lot. It made me think, I don’t know, that maybe I can talk about Simon for a minute.

"Tennessee" featuring Chris Shiflett is out now. Find Sam Palladio on Instagram.

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