Most people know Sami Chohfi as the guitarist/frontman of Blue Helix, the hard-hitting, supercharged, melodic rock band from the Pacific Northwest. But he’s a multifaceted individual who has a softer, more vulnerable side, as demonstrated on his new music video, “It’s Just Me.”
“It’s Just Me” is beyond time in the sense that emotion is beyond mathematics, genuine, visceral and, most significantly, human. There’s an intimacy to the song, a warm innocence baring the luxury of emotional commitment.
According to Chohfi, “’It’s Just Me’ is about being proud of who you are, and accepting that even though fitting in can be easy, being unique and yourself is extraordinary.”
The accompanying video, directed by Jon Meyer, depicts Chohfi finding a message in a bottle, a small delightful spark of life adrift in the ocean’s vastness. As the gentle images roll by, Chohfi sits on a pier playing his guitar, singing words both relevant and inspiring.
“They say that being lost is a great place to start / I think that being lost is the way to find your heart / I used to be so young / And now I’m so far gone / I don’t remember why I tried / To not be me.”
I sat down with Sami Chohfi to discover more about his background, influences, and the elegant simplicity of his acoustic music.
How would you describe your approach to music?
Every song has its own energy. I like to first channel what I am feeling and what I want to express before I write a song. I always start with a guitar melody, which if I’m lucky the vocal melody and cadence will follow quickly after. I like to make sure that I am constantly challenging myself as a songwriter. I use different keys, chord progressions, and tunings to achieve that. I think it is important for every song to sound fresh and different from the other songs on a record or release. If you look at my musical catalog you will find that I have been successful on making sure none of my songs sound the same, or have the same feeling. This is how I can connect with many different types of people.
What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
I have never been much of a trouble-maker, but sometimes bad things do happen to me. I think the most recent event was when I thought I was going to die on a flight. Imagine the worst turbulence you could possibly experience, then amplify that by three. This horrible flight back from a gig is what inspired my songs “Despair” and “This Tragedy.” It is hard to forget the moment when your life flashes before your eyes, and the thoughts of never seeing the ones you love enter your mind. Obviously happy ending and I got out of that one alive with two great songs to show for it.
What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
In the shower, I like to sing the intro to “Immigrant Song” by Led Zepplin, and in the car “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden.
Who is your all-time favorite band or artist?
My all-time favorite band is Radiohead and my all-time favorite artist is Chris Cornell. Both these artists have greatly influenced me as a songwriter and performer.
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
I had a rough childhood like so many, an abusive alcoholic father, and kids were mean to me. So I was bullied at home and a lot in school. I turned to rock music as a productive and healthy escape from it all. The artists I started to fall in love with felt the way I was feeling, and I was able to relate to their pain, and sadness. I asked my mom to buy me a guitar after I saw the Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video on MTV. I so badly wanted to learn how to play that song. I started playing at the same time as my best friend Brian who passed away that same year. I continued playing in his memory. I spent hours a day teaching myself how to play guitar, which it turns out, stayed with me my entire life. I think Brian would be proud of me knowing I stuck to it all these years.
What musicians influenced you the most growing up?
So many great songwriters and artists have helped me become the musician I am today. The Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead taught me how to arrange a song and write lyrics that mean something. Tool taught me how to be dynamic, and play with intensity and passion. The Goo Goo Dolls and Oasis made me want to pick up an acoustic guitar. Nirvana and Green Day got me started in the genre of Rock and Roll. The Stone Temple Pilots made me want to be a performer. My biggest influence, Chris Cornell, taught me to not be one dimensional as an artist. To express yourself in multiple genres if you can. Because of Cornell I am a singer. Because of Chris I fell in love with the singer-songwriter acoustic genre. Euphoria Morning is one of my favorite albums of all time.
Has the ‘Seattle sound’ had an impact on your music? If so, how?
Yes, absolutely. Fifty percent of the music I love is from Seattle Artists. Without Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Temple of the Dog I would have not even moved to Seattle after graduating high school. I looked up to those guys so much that it is the reason why I started a band here in the Pacific Northwest.
Your new music video, “It’s Just Me,” presents a whole new side of you — extremely vulnerable. What inspired you to go in this ‘new’ direction?
I have always wanted to write songs like “It’s Just Me.” This song is the just the beginning to so many more acoustic genre music that I will be releasing this year. I have written songs on my acoustic guitar all my life, I just had the tendency to convert them to rock songs, with rock arrangements. I have been hinting towards it in previous Blue Helix albums, with songs like “Final Breath,” “Carry Me,” “Aliens” and “Wolves.” They all started as acoustic songs that I ended up “Rocking Up.” All my songs translate well in both genres, mainly because my inspiration is usually sparked with an acoustic guitar in hand.
Does “It’s Just Me” represent a side project or are you embarking on a solo career?
I have never considered what I am doing now as a side project. I look at my acoustic work the same as my rock work, as another artistic offering that I am fortunate enough to give to the world. I will be putting far more focus into this genre now, yes. I will continue to perform as a solo artist, as well as perform with my rock band Blue Helix. They go hand in hand for me because it keeps me busy. I just have not put the same time and energy into my solo career until now. I have made the decision to expand on it and see where the river goes.
Can you walk me through your song writing process?
The one thing that remains a constant is I always write my ideas with my favorite acoustic guitar named Eliana. My ideas for my songs sometimes come while I’m sleeping. Although the settings and environments in my music dreams are always different, the moment I start writing or performing something musical I tend to immediately wake up and start humming the idea. I will search for my phone as quick as possible to record the melody before it escapes me for good. Everything I write starts with an acoustic guitar, and I decide later if I am going to keep it an acoustic-based song or turn it into a Blue Helix rock song.
What’s next for you musically?
I will continue to record my new songs I’ve written for my singer/songwriter catalog. I am planning to actively perform and write in both genres, acoustic and rock. Blue Helix is my rock gateway, and allows me to become another entity on stage. I am able to unleash all my energy and frustration into that medium. As far as my acoustic work, I get to be more intimate and personal in my performances. I want to start performing acoustic/singer-songwriter type festivals and venues this year. I want to do a full-on US and South America tour with this new material.
Will you be touring? If so, what’s the plan?
Yes. I will be returning for my second tour of Brazil in August. I will be playing shows with Blue Helix as well as playing some of my singer/songwriter acoustic songs during the set. I will also be setting up a couple of all acoustic shows highlighting my solo work while I am there. I am very excited for the future and for people to hear the new songs I am about to release. Keep an ear out for these songs “Dreams of Yesterday,” “Dirty Your Soul,” “This Majesty,” “All Over Again,” and my personal favorite “Tidal Wave.”