On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the rise of the gay liberation movement, DW's Robin Merrill spoke to Sam Vance-Law about the inspiration for his music — and his commitment to continue the fight.
Sam Vance-Law was born in Canada but left for England aged five, where he attended boarding school and learned the violin and joined the choir before returning to North America to study literature — and get inspiration from fellow musicians like indie superstar Mac DeMarco. He was 23 when he visited Berlin from Paris after leaving Canada. On that first day he decided to stay. "The city afforded me the space to figure out what the hell I wanted to do next," Vance-Law once said.
In Berlin, the singer-songwriter was looking to capture the gay experience in his songs when the word "homotopia" came up randomly in a conversation. He and his friends decided it would be a great album title. Vance-Law soon headed to an island in the Baltic Sea to pen the lyrics before the record was produced in Berlin.
Released in 2018, Homotopia is a unique pop record that candidly explores queer lives — and taboos.
DW's Robin Merrill had a chat with him on Arts & Culture.
DW: It's the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this year. I can remember when it was illegal to be gay in my country [the UK]. So we have come a long way haven't we?
Sam Vance-Law: Absolutely. I think the other the other problem though is assuming that any rights gained are rights that are then irrevocably gained. And I don't think that's the case. I think anywhere where there's still bigotry and discrimination you have to work against it.
The song "Gayby," about gay couples adopting a child, is just one example of the monothematic subject matter on your album. The record title itself is a clear statement of intent. Why did you feel the need to stick to the one subject?
First of all, the title is too good not to go with. And the second thing is that we like to pretend that perhaps because we have gay marriage that now we've finished whatever fight there is going on. Germany has become a less safe place on the gay travel index for queer people. That doesn't suggest that any fight is over quite yet.
You have a beautiful baritone voice and it's not typical of pop music. In fact, I find there's a classical quality in your music generally. Where does that come from?
I grew up as a classical musician. I was a chorister first and then a classically trained violinist at least as a child and youth. So that's where I come from. I didn't get into pop rock and anything not classical until I was in my very late teens-early 20s. So that all came way later and I'm still getting used to that.
The song "Faggot" on your album rails against Christianity's attitude to homosexuality. I quote: "I love God, but he doesn't love me." I think God hopefully loves you, but it's the bigoted non- Christians — I would say — who don't. Isn't that right?
The songs are not necessarily written from my personal perspective they're written from the perspective of the various different characters. And this character believes that his god does not love him, which is not a strange belief in some parts of Christianity. The C of E [Church of England] which I grew up in, always was kind to me in regards to homosexuality and relatively open. When it comes to conversion therapy and other strange, cruel practices, those tend to be rooted in one's own self-hatred.
Are you working on another album?
I'm making a new record. I'm already very proud of it and we haven't even finished yet. I'm loving it. I'm working with the band at the moment to make it as good as possible. I think lyrically it's working.
Will it be different?
Very different. I mean on Homotopia we don't do the same song twice. And this is definitely not the same record twice either.