Sam Wartenbee has always been DIY. “I self-published a book in elementary school,” the rapper, musician, podcast host and author who grew up in Eugene says. “My school library kept it on file for years and years. I have younger friends say, ‘I saw a book you wrote in the school library!’ I was thinking big at a young age.”
Wartenbee and I are talking on the occasion of his new, self-published memoir, How to Ruin Your Life: The Daily Grind of a DIY Tour. It’s Wartenbee’s second music memoir. The first, Famous Last Words, came out in 2015, and with the release of his new book, Wartenbee, who performs as Sammy Warm Hands, has also announced his retirement from touring.
Wartenbee has worked tirelessly, releasing scores of albums both as a solo artist and with hip-hop groups like The ILLusionists, as well as hardcore punk bands like Dead Fucking Serious. In muscular and conversational prose, How to Ruin Your Life tells the ups and downs of Wartenbee’s DIY tours, beginning with his first national outing in 2011.
Wartenbee sat down to talk with Eugene Weekly about his new book, sick cats and how life as a musician can burden a marriage.
EW: Tell us more about your decision to retire from touring.
Wartenbee: I’ve been careful to meditate on that before I said anything. The pandemic really only reaffirmed my feelings. I was already feeling I had put in all this work, and tours were not growing; they were getting worse and worse. I was working harder and getting diminished returns.
When the pandemic happened, I was watching all my friends say, ‘I miss playing shows,’ and I just don’t. I put in my time, got my 10,000 hours and my 100,000 miles.
What’s the timeframe of the story?
In 2011, I sold my car, I quit my job, we bought a van and we did it. It seemed like an upward trajectory, but it got to a point where the grind became more of a focus than the shows — enduring it, rather than enjoying it.
What is a crowning achievement in the book, and what is a lowest low?
Just accomplishing the I Quit My Job for This Tour [in 2011] is one of the biggest accomplishments, by a long shot. We did 40 days, no agent, no help, no nothing. We played 19 states — states, not cities. It was very much like boot camp for the road, and I learned a lot.
In terms of lows, there’s a number of them. One that comes to mind, my cat was very sick when I was leaving for the tour. He got worse and worse. I had to fly home to put him down. I would leave with maybe $100 in pocket, eating one meal a day. That tour, I have all this baggage at home, but no one was turning out. I had to have a GoFundMe to get plane tickets to fly home.
I did that, I put down my cat, and my wife’s grandpa died the next day. Because I’m so fixed on honoring my commitments, I flew back anyway and finished the tour. When we got there we were double-booked and we didn’t even get to play our set.
I’m there, while my wife is alone in an empty house, suffering. And I’m going, “What am I doing this for?”
What do you hope a “Sam” that’s 10 or 15 years behind you, but who aspires to do what you’ve done, might take away from the book?
I would say, go for it. Absolutely. Manage your expectations. Come prepared. Protect yourself. This is not some rock star fantasy. This is sleeping in Walmart parking lots and eating one meal a day. If you do it, be ready to work.
So you’re done with touring but you’re not done with music?
Absolutely not. I’m not done, as far as I’m concerned, I’m on top of my game. I’m creatively better than ever.
With a foreword from acclaimed independent hip-hop musician and CrushKill recording artist Carnage the Executioner, How to Ruin Your Life: The Daily Grind of a DIY Tour by Sammy Warm Hands is out March 30. It is now available for pre-order at Take92.com.