JBL Emerging Interview: Sam MacPherson on new EP ‘Powerlines’

In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, singer-songwriter and producer Sam MacPherson talks about going viral on TikTok, songwriting and the meaning behind his brand new EP, Powerlines.

New Jersey-born, L.A.-based MacPherson is about to embark on his first-ever headline tour across North America, and he’s nervous.

“Yep. It’s my first ever headline tour,” he says from his hometown of New Jersey. “It's exciting and terrifying – mostly great things,” he laughs.

The tour is in support of his sophomore EP and major label debut Powerlines. Co-produced by MacPherson, Adam Yaron, Tommy English, Jeremy Hatcher and Gabe Simon, the EP’s theme is about longing for love and connection, and combines lush soundscapes and powerful, vivid lyricism that he hopes will have listeners hanging on to every word. 

The title is also meant to be taken literally – a nod to how power lines are able to keep us in touch with the people we love.

Powerlines is about feeling unavoidably connected to experiences I've had, people I've met and people I've come to understand, or am still trying to understand,” he shares. 

“It's about growing up and feeling tethered to those moments and those memories. Also, a little bit of the EP tips a cap to the future and where I am now. So hopefully it's a documentation of some type of radius that I've created in front of me and behind me of what's going on in my life – what has recently happened, and hopefully what the future looks like. It's very much an invitation into how I feel at the moment.”

I’m definitely inspired by Jersey. There’s a certain grittiness to it.

Hailing from Red Bank, MacPherson absorbed the no-nonsense New Jersey spirit from his surroundings, while his songwriter father gave him a love for music. He spun records by the likes of The Beatles, Paul Simon and Rolling Stones, while his mother introduced him to Motown icons like Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder. 

Naturally,, the spirit of Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen crept into his subconscious as well, and later in life he found a kindred songwriting and production spirit in Frank Ocean.

“I grew up 20 minutes from Asbury Park where Bruce is king,” he smiles. “Overall, I’m definitely inspired by Jersey. There’s a certain grittiness to it. Everyone is always on the go – whether it’s 11am or 1am. I’ve taken this attitude and tried to apply it to everything in my life. The people back home are great, despite what New Yorkers will tell you,” he laughs.

While attending university, he discovered his own path as an artist while training as a division 1 football player. Could things have been very different for him had he chosen athletics over music?

“I didn't really do the music thing until later in life,” he acknowledges. “I definitely didn't have to choose between the two though, I just happened to choose music over everything else. I was playing soccer and I was a nursing student at the time – I was devoting a lot of energy to those things, and also a lot of energy to music and songwriting. 

"I decided to throw all of my eggs in one basket and put all that attention that I was subdividing into soccer and nursing into music, because I was really inspired and fired up to see where I could go with it.”

Powerlines is about feeling unavoidably connected to experiences I've had, people I've met and people I've come to understand.

His gamble paid off. Upon graduating from Sacred Heart University, he continued to release songs as an independent artist. Picking up and leaving the East Coast, he settled in L.A. in 2020 and gained traction with his single Routine in 2021. It blew up, generating over 6M streams.

The Songs for Sam EP followed, led by Last Minute which lit up TikTok and surpassed 10M streams. He carried this momentum into 2022 with Crash Course and Rookie, simultaneously emerging as a sought-after collaborator behind-the-scenes for notable musicians on the rise, including RIAA Platinum certified artist Stephen Sanchez.

“It was the first time that people were making videos to my music,” he says of his tracks going viral, “which is a whole ‘nother strange thing because people are soundtracking their videos and their moments in their actual real life with music you make.”

At the moment, his favourite song off the new EP is the song Powerlines.

“Just because I'm really proud of it,” he shares. “I love the story and I think it'll be fun to play live. Objectively speaking, we’re all connected by power lines. However, it’s not the only reason you’re connected to another person, a large group of people, or humanity itself,” he considers. 

“As you get older, you realise we’re more alike than different because we’re connected by things like falling in love.”

if I sit down and say that I really want to write a song today, my brain is generally an empty pit of nothingness.

When it comes to songwriting, MacPherson will delve into the quietest moments of a tense goodbye or a doomed relationship.

“I write from inside of the moment,” he observes. “I put myself back into those memories and think about what I was feeling. I try to bend and push the form of pop music as far as I can with visceral and visual storytelling. I want you to feel like you’re inside of my songs with me.

“Right now, I am looking to cover new ground in terms of my understanding of myself or of the world. I'm looking for any type of depth that I can find in a song or in an experience and following it to see where it goes, although it’s a bit exhausting being open sometimes,” he says, adding that songwriting inspiration can strike at any time for him:

“Probably some of the most potent inspiration and moments of enlightenment is when it's probably not okay to take your phone out and write down what you're thinking about,” he laughs. 

“But that seems to just be how it goes. Whenever I think about songwriting, and if I sit down and say that I really want to write a song today, my brain is generally an empty pit of nothingness. That's just kind of how it works,” he shrugs.

you just want speakers that you can trust, and I happen to trust jbl speakers.

Inspired by Frank Ocean, he taught himself how to play guitar, produce, write songs and record on his own.

“My journey with that is slow going, but I've learned a lot by trial and error,” he says, sharing that he produces most of his demos from his home studio, taking on co-producing duties for some of his recent tracks. 

“In terms of this EP, I really enjoyed putting the sonics of a lot of them in other people's hands and letting them elevate songs that I thought were good.”

After eyeing Powerlines’ co-producer Yaron’s studio monitors for a while, MacPherson recently started using JBL 305P MkII powered studio monitors in his home studio setup.

“What's funny about those is I was thinking about getting them because Adam, who made pretty much this entire EP with me, made most of the songs on those speakers and I've always thought they sounded great. I love how they sound. 

"They're super balanced and super bright. People will be hesitant, myself included, to get new speakers because they've already got used to what theirs sound like, which can be a big part of sound design and how your mix sounds, but because I'm so familiar with Adam’s JBL speakers and because we've made countless amounts of songs on them, it was a relatively easy transition.

“They're great studio monitors,” he adds, “and I'm excited to keep using them now that I have them; they’re definitely going to be my go-to! With speakers, it's all about sound fidelity and actually hearing what is happening in your song. 

"That's really important in terms of arranging, getting a texture of a song or getting a mix, so you just want speakers that you can trust, and I happen to trust those speakers. A lot of people that produce themselves and work on stuff at home could definitely turn to them as a reliable at-home studio monitor.”

The Powerlines tour commences in Washington, D.C. on April 17, making its way through New York, Boston, Nashville and San Francisco, before wrapping in L.A. on May 19 with a special show the Troubadour.

“I definitely have my hands full with rolling out the EP and the tour,” he smiles. “However, there is a small corner of my brain that is constantly thinking about what will follow and the amount of music I have to share. So there'll be no shortage of music or touring for me!

“Having the EP finally released feels like I can loosen my grip on these songs a bit and let them mean something to someone else,” he says. 

“These eight songs are really personal to me and cover a lot of emotional real estate, so I’m excited to see where people find themselves spending the most time on the track list. Then getting to play them live and experience them in the same room as the people listening is something I’ve been looking forward to for forever. I could not be more excited,” he grins.