YouTube sensation Sam Tsui is back with an amazing new album that fans of DNCE, Nick Jonas and Carly Rae Jepsen will be obsessed with! He breaks it down for us here.
TRUST is Sam Tsui‘s darkest, sexiest album yet, and it’s proof that the YouTube star is truly finding his voice as an original artist. “For the first time, this album is full written by me, and I’ve produced most of it and co-produced the rest,” Sam tells us. “It’s exactly what I wanted it to be — and it feels great.” Stream TRUST below, and check out the rest of our Q&A with Sam.
Coming from the YouTube world, was it seamless for you to step into a producer role with TRUST?
The fact that I got my start on YouTube and put up so much content on that platform is the reason why I’m able to produce. You have to learn to do everything when you’re making your own content. In this day and age, you have to know how to write, mix, produce, edit, shoot a video, color it. So when it comes to making an original album like TRUST, I’m grateful that I’ve learned all of that!
You wear so many hats, as you’ve just pointed out. If you had to have a job title, could you pick one?
The thing I love about what YouTubers are called is “creators.” I’m doing music, I’m on Bones, I’m working on other projects — you’re allowed to put your work in many baskets if you’re a creator. I like that as a term, because that’s what we’re doing at the end of the day!
This album gave me definite Nick Jonas vibes, but who inspired you as you were making it?
Totally! I love the Nick Jonas album. I like the Carly Rae Jepsen album. We’re at a point in the pop music cycle where we’re looking back at the ’80s and ’90s for production tricks and vibes, like ’80s synthy-throwback. Phil Collins, Whitney Houston. St. Lucia and Great Good Fine Ok. You know, bands that are cooler than me. [Laughs] But I incorporated some of those cool production elements with my pop-y singer/songwriter style.
Do you have a favorite track?
They’re all my babies! The lead single “Trust” was one of my favorites from the start. But the most meaningful song on the album to me is “Carousel.” I love a ballad, as anyone who watches my YouTube channel knows! And fans have been digging it.
What will be your next original music video?
“Clumsy,” which is one of the ballads. I’m excited because we got an incredible choreographer to do a 4-minute dance concept piece. It’s a lot for me, because I’m one of the dancers in it! The song is about self-sabotage in your own relationship, how you mess things up when things start to go right. Even though I’m not a dancer-dancer, it’s so fun to challenge yourself.
You just covered Taylor Swift’s “Delicate.” How’d you end up choosing that one?
Whenever I’m picking a song, I’m thinking about a few things: “Can I do my spin on this? Can I bring something different or interesting to it?” It’s one of my favorite songs off the album, and it just made sense. We’re friends with this amazing creator Vidya Vox, and I called her and was like, “I know it’s last minute, but do you want to come over and record something today?” The video is one take!
I love that there are cars going by in the background! Do you usually record out on the lawn like that?
It happens a fair amount! The neighbors are like, “Why are these people singing in their front yard?” But in LA, everyone’s doing their creative project. Between our front yard, backyard and the roof, we’ve used every square foot of our house to record videos.
wild ragers, or is it really chill? What are the secret YouTube activities you get up to?
YouTubers run the gamut! Some, if you go out with them, yes, it’s wild. [My husband] Casey [Breves] and I are the biggest nerds about hosting and cooking. We love a dinner party. We’ll have people over and cook something elaborate and have wine and hang out by the fire pit. We’ll have a little jam session sometimes.
The fun thing is that there are so many different verticals on YouTube! There are makeup vloggers, fitness, cooking…it’s so fun to get this group together, where everyone’s doing their own amazing thing. There are entire corners of YouTube that you don’t know exist, like slime or unboxing.
You’ve been at it for so long. Do you feel like a parent of YouTube or whatever?
My first album was called Make It Upfor that reason! There was no precedent. We were like, what the hell are we doing? When we started, YouTube was known for cat videos or ripping things from TV. Not that many people were making content for the platform. So we were testing things out. That’s how we became friends with other YouTubers, because they were resources for best practices.
Switching gears a bit, you went to Yale University but studied Greek…?
Yes. How did that happen? I was growing up and I was not just a music nerd, but a nerd-nerd, too. I always loved history and mythology. When I got into Yale, I did do a capella, where I met my husband. It’s a whole scene. But they had a great Classics program and all of these great resources for it. It was a really small program — I think three other people graduated my year with that exact major.
So there were four of you. How many of them became YouTube sensations?
[Laughs] I would wager only one. But I’m so grateful I studied something else, to get a foundation in these timeless, classical ideas. You’re reading poetry and drama and it’s informative as an artist.
What are your opinions about pizza in New Haven?
I’m going to go off the beaten path and say neither Pepe’s nor Sally’s, but BAR pizza!
I like BAR, though I think sometimes it can be a little soggy. Now, let’s go back to a vital thing you mentioned before: YOU WERE ON BONES. That show was my first TV obsession.
It was a cool experience! Casey was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, so the fact that I got to have a scene with David Boreanaz in Bones was a big deal. I got to work with the guys from Pentatonix. They’re awesome. It was super surreal. It was also modeled off the world of collegiate a capella, so it brought me back in that sense! Except no one died in my real a capella group.
Can we expect any live dates or a tour this year?
We’re planning some East Coast shows in the spring and are looking to do Boston, Philly and New York. Later in the summer, we’ll try to do some more international stuff. But I’m chomping at the bit to hit the road, because the music is really fun to play.
How will your shows be different this time around?
Now that I’ve traveled around the world performing, when I went to write this album, I definitely was keeping in mind what would make great live songs, what would make songs that feel just super bumpin’, funky.
That’s the pull quote.
Yeah, nice. Headline: “Sam Tsui: Bumpin’ And Funky.”
What’s the difference between performing a live show and performing for a video?
It’s a different skill set, because there’s no audience with videos. I come from musical theatre and a capella, which are about being present in the space, and creating music live, so I’m always excited to have a show with people there! No shade to doing videos. But there’s something more rewarding about singing to people live.
Who do you want to tour with?
I’d love to tour with DNCE again. My dream is Celine Dion. I’ve got to put that out there in the universe.
Have you had a memorable gesture from a fan recently?
We had a live date in San Francisco, and these two fans brought us dim sum before the show! We were really hungry. So that hit the spot.
What’s the wildest DM you’ve ever received?
Oh, my goodness. It was maybe pre-DMs, but a fan got a tattoo of my face and name and I got a message with a picture of that, and I spent a while being like, “Is that real?” And I think it was.
I’m a painter as well, and I post on Facebook and Instagram when I finish a painting. One time, a fan posted a picture of a framed version of one of my paintings. I looked over and the painting was still in my house, so I was like, “They didn’t steal the painting!” But they had a canvas-sized print of it made. I guess they recreated it from the Instagram! It’s honestly humbling, because I’m not a professional or anything.
Finally, what’s your advice to humanity?
Not to be cheesy, but everyone realizing that we all have the capacity to create and have a voice is important and relevant. People don’t always believe in their own voice or others’. One of the great things about the digital age is how connected we can all be, and that everyone has the ability to engage in conversation with everyone else and have their voice be heard. Respecting and using that voice will hopefully make humanity a little better!