Andrew Stephen and Chrissy Renick are Sample Kulture, the St. Louis “future soul” duo blurring—no, obliterating—the lines between jazz, synth-pop, and contemporary R&B. Today they return with a resplendent, late-summer anthem called “Cola,” premiering below.
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“Andrew had initially written ‘Cola’ as an instrumental,” Chrissy tells American Songwriter over email. “I heard it blasting from the studio one day and felt compelled to sing it instantly. The crunchy synth got me excited and I told him I had to write lyrics/sing it. Learning that the song was already titled ‘Cola,’ I used that imagery to describe the adventurous, carefree feeling I got when hearing the tune.”
The track pairs Chrissy’s lush melodies with Andrew’s booming synths and twinkling piano flourishes. “The aim was to capture the caffeine buzz of a newfound love or adventure,” says Chrissy. “We hope this song will elevate the listener’s mood during these uncertain times. As a whole, we want listeners to internalize the need to balance the organic and synthetic aspects of modern life. We also wanted to show that jazz doesn’t have to live in a box, and can be mixed with pop, hip hop and even electronic music to produce some refreshing results.”
“About half of the material [on the album] was written while I was finishing my jazz studies in college,” Andrew explains. “I so desperately wanted to make a record, but school demanded all my time—the best I could do was use my composition studies as a way to start writing an album.”
The rest of the material came together within the last year. “I recorded and produced the entire album in our recording studio built in the second story of the house,” says Andrew. “You won’t believe how hard it is to get a 500+ lb. large-format analog recording console up a flight of stairs! Two large bedrooms were converted into a full-fledge studio, hence the album title ‘Upstairs Headroom.’ Over the years I have had the pleasure of producing countless records from the space.”
The duo first started collaborating a few years ago when Chrissy was visiting St. Louis.
“I was passing out flyers for one of my former band’s shows and a mutual friend introduced us,” says Andrew of Sample Kulture’s origin story. “Chrissy was visiting from out of town and her friend insisted on her recording a demo with me before she left. Sure enough, the next day she called and came to the studio, guitar in hand. I was pleasantly surprised by her voice (not everyone who walks into a studio can sing!) and in exchange for the session she paid me with a case of beer.”
The rest, as they say, was history: “My roommate and I were both full-time musicians and we all had a long conversation about our choice to pursue music full-time,” Andrew recalls. “To my surprise, I received a call from [Chrissy] days later telling me she was going to quit school and move to St. Louis to do music.”
In addition to “Cola” and “See You Through,” Upstairs Headroom’s nine tracks include the Sample Kulture’s previous singles “Pix Elated,” “Are You That Somebody?”, and “Summer Breeze”—last year’s ode to “the sweet taste of summer,” as Chrissy sings in the track.
“A prominent theme [in our music] is the need to preserve our humanness in an ever evolving world,” says the duo. “Technology offers us new wonders, but it comes at a price. Ideally, we are able to strike a balance that allows us to retain our humanity. The record explores moods from upbeat, synth-soaked pop to full-blown modern jazz.” “Cola” showcases that range. Listen to the track below and check out an accompanying video here.
Upstairs Headroom is out August 28. You can pre-order it here.