‘A joyous feeling’: Sampology on making a film with his grandfather – decades after he died

With arms outstretched and legs kicking, a grandfather and grandson glide over office towers and city blocks, their flight powered by imagination, a rudimentary green screen and a VHS camera. The scene is part of a cache of footage shot by Brisbane musician Sam Poggioli’s grandfather, Merv, who passed away in 2003 when Poggioli was a teenager.

The green screen flying experiment now appears in the video for his single Memories in Flight, released under Poggioli’s Sampology moniker. Finishing recutting the family footage for the single’s video, he says, “was a joyous feeling that also made me want to cry”. He was only eight years old, but precisely remembers looking back at his grandfather behind the camera, while they filmed in Merv’s shed.

“It’s like the smell of a place that you haven’t been to since you were a little kid, it just triggers something in you – and I think the footage did the same thing.”

Under lockdown, Poggioli digitised and recut Merv’s hours of holiday and family footage into three music videos supporting his new album, Regrowth. The bulk of Merv’s video is rendered in the nostalgic hues of Super 8 film, shot in the late 70s on trips to New Zealand, China and Norfolk Island. He predominantly points his camera at natural scenes: alpine ranges, schools of fish, birds in flight and waterfalls.

Building on two solo EPs, 2016’s Natural Selections and 2018’s Mt Glorious – and the collaborative 2018 EP Middle Name Dance Tracks, Vol 1, with Sam Stosuur and Megan Christensen – Regrowth is a lush arrangement of orchestral strings, downbeat house music, jazz and soul. It’s connected both in spirit and association to the Melbourne neosoul scene championed by beloved UK DJ Gilles Peterson, with guest spots from that scene’s mainstays – Laneous, Allysha Joy and Silent Jay. Since 2019, Poggioli has hosted a monthly online radio show on Peterson’s Worldwide FM.

On Regrowth you can still hear Poggioli’s early influence, the Avalanches’ first album, Since I Left You. But where the Melburnians plundered thousands of samples from dusty records, Poggioli employs just two: the voice of Uruguayan musician Mariana Ingold on the opening track Peace Lily; and a vocal line by 70s Memphis soul singer Darryl Carter, rerecorded by Silent Jay, on All Nice & Kind. Despite his own thousands-strong record collection, Poggioli instead applies the cut-and-paste techniques of sample-based music to his original recordings of live instrumentation.

But it is in Regrowth’s videos, more so than in its music, that Poggioli’s interest in recontextualising found materials shows itself most clearly.

“A lot of this footage, [my grandfather] hadn’t actually finished editing. I kind of collaborated with [Merv] in this weird way,” he says.

Other family members contributed to Regrowth too. Poggioli’s father plays double bass on several tracks, including Memories in Flight, and his aunt plays viola in the album’s orchestral sections. His mother Sue created Memories in Flight’s animations on an old, disintegrating, chipboard lightbox made by her father Merv, an electrical engineer. Sue created the cover art for Poggioli’s previous EPs, and the imagery in his live audiovisual shows, too.

“I feel like it’s the right thing to do, to use whatever’s around you, whether it be your family members, community, friends,” says Poggioli.

“If you’re using all of that stuff and then pushing it out through whatever project you’re working on … usually the end result will be authentic.”

Regrowth’s audio was given its thematic thread during the catastrophic 2019-2020 bushfires. Some recordings were already in the bag, but seeing the devastated landscape and the need for regeneration gave Poggioli the album’s title and a framework to piece the material together. Orchestral movements recorded over two sessions were cut up and woven through the album, referencing the cyclical nature of growth. He wanted the album to have a healing quality, which he knew the land needed too.

Poggioli’s newfound connection with nature, developed over the last five or so years, has been a balm for his own mental health. And through editing Merv’s footage, he discovered things they had in common, like a shared interest in American literature, particularly Ralph Waldo Theroux’s 1836 essay Nature, which suggests divinity can be found in the natural world.

“I feel like the older you get, everyone usually realises the value of being around nature. And from that you’re gonna care about it not getting messed up,” says Poggioli. He has committed to planting 100 trees, through ReForest Now, for every 500 copies of vinyl pressed.

Looking back at Merv’s footage, one can’t help but feel envious of his generation’s innocent experience of the natural world. With aeroplanes grounded and ecosystems collapsing, Regrowth and its videos feel bittersweet. Sonically the album is hopeful, lush and regenerative; but looking through Merv’s lens feels like witnessing a dream for his grandson’s future, one full of hope and adventure – one that feels like it’s slipping away.

There’s also hope here. We can’t change what’s in the past, but we can learn from and build on what loved ones leave behind.

“Memories in Flight kind of goes up, it goes off … I wanted it to feel like you’re flying,” says Poggioli. “[Merv’s] been gone for 20 years but using his footage to kind of create that healing elevation … it’s like we’re flying together.”

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