peace sammy wishes he smoked cigarettes, but not for the nicotine buzz. The cancerous and carcinogenic effects are a little intimidating for him: he just likes the aesthetic. Cigarettes are an accessory in the image of himself that he wishes to curate, the self he shows us in casual Instagram posts, all-lowercase text, and simple song titles.
This is the freshly minted musician’s eternal paradox. “It’s the dichotomy of who I am. One side of me wants to go surf and stick my head out the window of the Jeep I don’t own. I wanted a cartoon tattoo of the breeze blowing on my leg for a while – that’s who I aspire to be. A cool skater kid who doesn’t care about things.”
To give him some credit, the artist’s music does exude breezy-skater energy externally. He fidgets with his silver butterfly earring.
“What are three things you can’t live without?” I ask.
“My mom, my sister, and…come back to this, I’ll think of something super creative and quirky.”
The tall, tan, lanky 25-year-old sits on our shared bench, hugging his knees to his chest. His freckled, half-moon eyes stare into the view in front of us as he brushes an overgrown strand of slightly wavy black hair behind his ear.
He’s wearing what he claims to be “not his best” outfit. On his feet are his roommate’s Patagonia hiking shoes with thick gray socks. His long legs are exposed despite the chilly breeze. Two tattoos stick out: one of a smiley face and another of a peace sign. It’s a mix between hiker and hipster: Adidas running shorts with multicolored chevron-print compression shorts underneath, a vintage car t-shirt from his best friend’s brand, his girlfriend’s oversized brown peacoat. Somehow, it works.
“But who are you really?” I ask.
He pauses, then sighs. “A neurotic piece of shit that can’t stop thinking. That’s why I felt a desperate need to start meditating in college: I was like, Jesus, I gotta slow the fuck down. I gotta stop. That’s the way I present myself: cool, calm, and collected, but behind the scenes I’m just worrying over thoughts, incessantly.”
Made up of six tracks, his debut EP piece of peace is a dizzying dive into the real peace sammy: a philosophical, therapeutic rambling fit into a genre-bending and sometimes heart-straining 11 minutes and 22 seconds.
I met peace sammy in the heart of Los Angeles to talk through it. We’re at TreePeople Studio City, a granola nature oasis of his choosing. Five minutes from the coffee shop job that pays his bills, we’re surrounded by thirty-something women in Lululemon gossiping. sammy doesn’t quite fit into the demographic, but I assume he likes the foliage. I’m sitting on an oversized bench made of smooth logs cut in half. It’s crisp out; a rare respite from the temperamental heat of LA in April. Gaze still fixed on the Hollywood Hills below, sammy continues to compose himself with a quiet peacefulness that might be mistaken for carelessness.
But any unconcerned attitude was surely shaken by piece of peace.
peace sammy is a do-it-yourself experiment, the embodiment of the broke twenty-something archetype. But what distinguishes him from some pop star wannabe is his refusal to adhere to one path, one sound. Not only does his music fuse styles at the blink of an eye (much to some critics’ dismay), but sammy himself told me he considered psychiatry, startup technology, and medicine before settling on music. “I learned I’m not the most practical in that process,” he joked.
The result, an economics degree, is an absent influence on his cerebral, emotional work. Many have compared his sound to the likes of sad boy Rex Orange County, romantic shredder Dominic Fike, or cryptic philosopher Frank Ocean. A mix of witty ad-libs, heartbreaking admissions, and sweet melodies, sammy’s style can’t quite be prescribed to one genre. Tracks like “simple/grown ass kid” boast groovy guitar riffs and easygoing vocal runs, while others like “life philosophy freestyle” provide head bopping drum beats under pithy, lyrical-rap-like ranting. I asked what his influences were, what informed this sonic mosaic.
“Boylife. I love boy life. He’s my idol. Dijon, too.” Niche, left-of-center hopeless romantics. “Other than artists, I’m obsessed with distinctly American things. I steep myself in them so that I can insert myself into places I don’t exist, I shouldn’t exist. Old Western films, country music, pop art in the sixties, the seventies. Warhol, neon lights, old diners. I love Dazed and Confused and Dawson’s Creek and chick flicks.”
Knowing these influences, I asked him to go through piece of peace with me, track by track.
We started with “already,” the EP’s intro. It’s a breathy secret between sammy and the listener. He laments his fears and anxieties as he navigates the liminal space between adolescent and adult. “It was one layer where I strummed the guitar and turned on the mic,” he says. “It was a very raw take, I wasn’t trying to get the best vocal run. But I think it sets it up, maintains a rawness…the EP is supposed to go from anxious and scattered to resolved.”
“I wrote that one in October, late October, sitting with a well of anxiety in my stomach. Debilitating anxiety. So I just drove to the studio. Was it drizzling or is it just my memory?”
“We can call it drizzling,” I reply. In peace sammy’s world, sad days are met with cloudy weather.
“life philosophy freestyle”
We moved onto the next song, a turmoiled boiling point called “life philosophy freestyle.”
“Was it really freestyle?” I ask.
“Well, I call it freestyle because that’s just what people say. You’re just spitting bars essentially.”
He readjusts on the bench, maneuvering his long frame into a criss-cross seat.
“It was literally just to vent and get out whatever I was feeling at that moment. It was definitely after I moved out of my mom’s house, probably sometime in November.”
“life philosophy freestyle” is organized chaos. It’s wounded and angsty, yet upbeat and punchy. At one point during the first verse, sammy mocks, “my dear friend, Mr. Joe Black!” I asked him what this meant. He described a niche nineties movie starring Brad Pitt. I made a note to look it up later.
“Basically, Brad Pitt is the personification of death. He’s a very pretty boy and he looks stellar. It’s sexy death, 1990s, 2000s, with the oversized tuxedos. Very sexy man.”
I nod, pretending to follow. “Noted. Hot take on record.”
“That’s not a hot take, that’s fact.”
Celebrity commentary aside, death and grief are constant themes throughout piece of peace, informed by sammy’s personal experiences as he entered adulthood.
“With that track, if you really listen to lyrics, it’s very existential on big questions and qualms. I wanted to add that part to add some levity to it and humor. The ad libs are supposed to be funny.”
Like the rest of Gen-Z, sadness for sammy can never stand alone. When I asked him what song he’d play in the background of a party, he chose the EP’s third track, “selfish,” but with a caveat. “I feel like it’s catchy in terms of structure and chords. But if you really listen to it, that’s not something you should be vibing out to”
“selfish” was also the fruit of stress. “That was back in May 2021. I was just going to the studio as a routine, putting a lot of pressure on myself for no reason. I was so tunnel vision during that period, narrow minded, compressed. This song is about not taking any advice from anybody else under the guise that I have it all figured out by myself, but really it’s coming from a place of insecurity.”
I asked him if he did take advice.
“Of course I take advice. But at that time, I was just so clouded.”
“simple/grown ass kid”
The single from the EP, this track provoked him to explain his aforementioned eternal paradox. A two-part song, sammy ponders his own psyche in the first half, then sings of our universal similarities in the ballad-like ambiance of the second.
“The older I get, the more I see adults and my mom at an equal level. The job market is the great equalizer. You’re 22, you graduate, then three months later you get a job and now your coworkers are middle-aged women with kids. You go out on the weekends to drink with them and they talk about their marital problems. You graduated three months ago, but you see really they’re not much different than you.”
In an equality-obsessed world, sammy’s comments shed light on another facet of our generation. In our crafting our niche, unique identities, we forget that the real world is a sundry combination of people striving for relation.
sammy smoothes down his hair again, and I ask him why he chose it as the subject for his satisfyingly beautiful penultimate track, “that’s why.” It’s a meditation on self love.
“That was a song where I finally felt like I found some resolve.” He started.
He tells me the lines “I feel so pretty!/I feel like Mindy!” were funded by not only rhyme, but Emily in Paris. “She’s an Asian-American character in that show, so, fitting. But I attached that after writing it.”
He giggles, then continues. “In college I wanted to grow out my hair so I could fling it around in concerts. I thought that was so cool. But in that same sense, I feel like the breeze feels so much better when you have long hair fluttering in the wind and bouncing on your face.”
The breeze was, in fact, moving his hair and eyelashes ever so slightly.
“But it’s also supposed to feel like I’m not quite there yet. I’m still broken, ultimately.”
“her mom is a florist”
“her mom is a florist” is reminiscent of Jack Johnson or John Mayer – a warm, simple love song. It serves as the EP’s resolution. While it’s as simple as “already,” it lacks that strained exhaustion.
“Valentine’s day gift. Girlfriend. Mom is a florist.” He deadpanned with a sweet smile.
Coy from exposition, we absorbed the silence for a moment. sammy is modest about his music, preferring that it speaks for itself. I was left wanting to know more about him, not only as an artist, but as a human being. I was shifting in my seat, out of questions.
“You have one minute to give your listeners a SparkNotes of your life. Ready, set, go!”
He panics and laughs. “God, um…death, grief, trauma, love, biking, breeze, surfing, national parks. Mom, sister, feminine energy. Let’s see…”
“15 seconds!” A pack of jogging moms whipped by us.
“Ah! Los Angeles suburban, first generation Korean-American. Presbyterian. New York.”
As our time came to a close, I asked him what he wanted people to know about him. Expecting something philosophically profound, he surprised me: “Uh…I can shake my hips and write pop songs!” I laughed.
I asked finally, “And what’s that third thing you can’t live without?”
Confused at first, he gingerly replied, “Oh, god.”