A discussion with Sam Clark on the band’s influences and balancing academics with music

Sheepishly Yours describes themselves as a “Toronto Based Indie-Folk group.” Formed by Victoria College students, Sam Clark, Aaron Phillip-Muller, Noah Phillip-Muller, and Yasmine Shelton, the band has quickly garnered much success both in and out of the Vic community. The Strand sat down with Sam Clark to discuss the formation and influences of the band and the intersections of his experience as a student and artist.

The Strand: Tell us the origin of Sheepishly Yours. How were you and the other band members able to connect?

Sam Clark: Aaron and I were roommates in first year—so we’ve been playing music together since we started university. Another friend of ours brought Aaron, Noah, and I together to work on some songs last summer. After that, Aaron, Noah, and I decided we wanted to start a more serious project together. Our other friend couldn’t commit to anything as serious as what we wanted, but I had met Yasmine a month before and asked her if she would be interested. 

The first time I heard Yasmine sing was in her frosh week open mic, where I was a frosh leader. I was completely floored. I was super excited about how enthusiastic she was about the band. We started with three covers, particularly a song called “Canary Gaslight,” that has turned into our signature. From there, we branched out and started using compositions of band members, and more challenging music.

One thing that stands out is your cohesive and distinct style, how did the band develop that? Who are some musical influences?

We all kind of have a nerdy, weird energy and it gels together really well. It’s cool because we’re a band and play music together, but we’re also friends and have a lot of fun. I think the style of music we play reflects the fun we have and the way our personalities intersect. We’re all classically trained so we have that as influence too.

Noah is especially strong classically, so his lines on the cello tend to have strong technical and classical influence. Aaron writes a lot of our music, and has a very upbeat, light, and humorous slant to his songs. Yas has a really bluesy voice. We work with Maya Killtron, who’s an established musician in the city. She taught at the school where Yas took singing lessons, and always talks about how standout a student Yas was. She has incredible command and uniqueness in her voice. Her individuality shines. I love Anais Mitchell, Bon Iver, and the slower, more pensive versions of folk music. The songs that I write tend to be slower pace. What really unites us all is our love of folk.

How are you able to balance the commitments of such a large artistic endeavour and academic commitments? How do your identities as a student and musician intersect?

When I came to Vic, I didn’t really think that I could be a musician and not be at music school. Recently, I’ve learned through research that many artists come from academic backgrounds. I think it isn’t unusual for people to start off their music careers while studying something else. It’s a matter of priorities. You can’t do everything at the highest level, so I have to pick and choose what I focus on. Aaron and Noah work in labs, Yas works, plays quidditch, and writes. For me, it was a matter of realizing that this is a serious endeavour. I would like to pursue music in the future, so I take a bit of the energy I would apply towards other things and apply it here. My university experience isn’t just about class, it’s about learning and growing holistically.

Staying accountable to the band is a big thing, because we all need to make it a priority to be as successful as we want to be. That’s probably one of our biggest challenges. Having a gig puts pressure on you in a similar way as having an exam. You never want to walk away from a set feeling like you under-performed, so that’s another motivating factor.

Do you have any suggestions for young musicians coming to Vic on being musically engaged in the Vic and, more broadly, Toronto artistic scene?

Having lived in Toronto for 16 years, I wish I had known earlier about the small arts scene in here. There’s stuff going on all the time, all over the place. It has a kind of life to it that you don’t get from places like the Air Canada Centre. The small concert experience is amazing, and we’re so lucky to live in Toronto where so many artists come to our city. There are so many incredible bands that nobody knows about, and you can pay five or ten dollars to go see them at a bar.

If I were to give advice, the biggest thing would be to go out and be a part of that. Meet people, and talk to them after shows. Vic is chock-full of artists, and there are so many people just sitting around with incredible talents that they pull out occasionally at a Cat’s Eye open mic. It’s very easy to meet musicians at Vic, and there are so many people who want to be engaged. You just have to look and you’ll find opportunities. I’m thankful to go to a school that gives me so many opportunities to do what I love.