When Sam Tru (Sam Trulock) first started taking jazz lessons in 2012 as a junior at Pacific University in Oregon, she would travel an hour each way, taking the light rail and walking five blocks to her instructor’s apartment.
The Sandpoint local grew up with music, she said, listening to Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. Her grandmother was a singer, and Tru developed a love for singing in her middle school choir.
When her university disbanded the jazz choir in her junior year, Tru was in need of a teacher. A professor connected her with jazz artist Jeff Baker, who had recently moved to the area, and Tru began traveling every week for lessons, rain or shine.
“At least in the winter, it would be pitch black by the time I would leave,” she said. “It was an adventure, for sure.”
Baker, now Tru’s producer for her debut album, “Cycle,” describes Tru as a gifted artist dedicated to her craft.
“I mean, as a vocalist she’s one of the best singers I’ve ever worked with, ever walked into my studio, ever had as a student. I mean, she’s extraordinary.”
Tru’s music might be described as a mix of “blue-eyed soul, Motown and jazz,” Baker said. Her sound has been described as reminiscent of Amy Winehouse — or more specifically, an “Amy Winehouse-sounding mournfulness that overlays the eight tunes,” as reviewer Michele Simms-Burton wrote in DownBeat magazine.
“Cycle,” which released late last year, was the product of six years of work developing her skills as a singer, songwriter and lyricist. Many of the songs on the album are written by Tru, or a collaboration between Baker and Tru. Encouragement from Baker, Tru said, is also a big part of why she started songwriting in the first place.
Stepping into the songwriting world can be a drastic change, Baker said, particularly for performers who grew up listening to jazz, Motown and soul.
“[We’re] kind of taking the existing song and making it our own. Songwriting isn’t the most natural next step. There’s always a little bit of a block there or a little bit of a delay as any artist moves from being an interpreter to a creator,” he said. “Sam has done that really effectively and pretty quickly. She’s a really soulful individual.”
Despite Tru’s relative newness to the music scene, and debuting on an independent label, “Cycle” made it onto the nominating list for several Grammy awards including Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Baker said. It also managed to claim a top 100 spot on Amazon music, even reaching No. 1 for a day.
Tru is still continuing to develop her skills as a musician, she said, and is currently learning piano in addition to developing her songwriting skills.
Listening to her album now, Tru said, she knows she’s still developing as an artist. Despite an urge to nitpick her own work, she’s also proud of her accomplishment.
Her favorite song on the album, “Not Enough Liquor” is also the first song she wrote for it in 2016.
“It was the first song that I wrote that I felt was good enough to share. Which is always, I mean, I still struggle with that now,” she said. “Like, I’ll write a song and I’ll be like, ‘Well, I just don’t know if people will like it.’ And it’s scary to show it to someone, even one person.,” she said.
The song holds a lot of personal meaning, she said, and encapsulates a time in her life when she was feeling better after figuring out what she wanted to do.
“I had just left a pretty toxic work environment, and so the song represents that, but I was able to write that song really quickly,” she said. “It just seemed to flow a lot easier. And it was a moment in my life where I was really happy. Which I think is kind of funny, because it’s not a very happy song. But I was in a moment, a place in my life where I was like, finally feeling better about what I wanted to do.
Another song on the album, “Let Me Down Easy,” is a song written by Baker for Tru. He knew her vocal performance would elevate it beyond what he could, he said.
“I felt like it was amazing. And I knew I shouldn’t sing it,” he said with a laugh. “When she’d learned it we sang it through. And I mean, I’m not kidding. My goosebumps had their own set of goosebumps. It was just like, she was totally meant to sing that song.”
In the coming months she’ll also be releasing video performances of her songs outdoor venues slowly begin to open up. Tru is hoping to get another album out, she said, hopefully in a shorter timeframe now that she knows the process.
Most of all, Tru said, she’s grateful for the people who have supported her in her career.
“I am very fortunate to be in a really supportive environment, which is not always the case,” she said. “When it comes to choosing a career, you know, [and] an unstable career, they are a really big part of why I am able to do what I do.”
Rachel Sun can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RachelDailyBee.