Picking out a career
HAVING seasoned musicians, including your dad, perform in the backyard when you were a young kid may have had a little bit to do with Sam Cashman's musical direction. But it was no family singalong around the barbecue - it was a virtual festival, set up for live bands to perform.
"We would have about 300 people turn up at home sometimes," Sam recalls.
The personable 15-year-old started playing guitar as an eight-year-old St Joseph's student but it wasn't until he reached high school that he was introduced to another like-minded, nimble-fingered soul with a penchant for the string instrument.
Fourteen-year-old Nick Jansen had only been playing guitar since he was a 12-year-old student at Harwood Island. Neither student knew the other, despite living within close proximity on the Lower Clarence.
But that all changed when they arrived at Maclean High School.
"We met for the first time in Year 7. We were both in the same class," Nick says.
It didn't take long for these fans of the electric guitar and heavy rock influences like Rage Against the Machine to team up musically and socially, but it wasn't this style we most associate with teenage boys that was going to be at the heart of their future performances. The acoustic guitar beckoned, even if that too was a matter of chance and good timing.
Sam met his future mentor courtesy of his neighbours: their son-in-law just happened to be internationally-trained guitarist Ryan Enns.
"It was a bit of a fluke. He just popped up," Sam says.
A Canadian now living in Yamba, Ryan is an acclaimed classical guitarist who teaches privately and at the Clarence Valley Conservatorium and has been a major influence on the boys since introducing them to acoustic guitar and the classical and Spanish genres.
"Sam converted me to Ryan when I got to high school. Now we have joint lessons and are fully acoustic (performers)," Nick says. "I'm definitely going to go down the classical path now."
But don't think getting there was easy for the boys. They had to learn to read music (they've just passed their Grade 4 exams) and did the hard slog in their respective bedrooms to get up to speed well before they started to pop up in the public arena last year.
"I practised for hours every day for six months straight - during holidays, weekends, every day," Nick says. "Same thing for me," Sam adds.
While Sam admits he still loves electric guitar, they have definitely found their niche in the more flamboyant acoustic performance.
"It's what people like to hear us play," Sam says.
This includes the few thousand ears that witnessed the boys' mind-blowing performance at this year's Bluesfest; one which saw them take out the coveted buskers' competition.
"We didn't really know we were going to go, but when we made the finals, we had to do some fast learning," Nick says.
The boys had to perform three original pieces, which was a big ask considering they were used to their diet of Metallica and Led Zeppelin and had never written anything themselves.
"We had three weeks to do it. Ryan helped us but it really pressured us into writing our own music."
The results of those brainstorming sessions were two originals: flamenco-style Primero (Spanish for first) and a heavier piece called Aries. "Then we just winged it with a medley of cover pieces for the third piece," Sam says.
The intense songwriting exercise paid off when Nick and Sam were announced as the winners of the "grommet" section of the Bluesfest Busking Competition.
Since they claimed that title in March, the boys say the exposure has led to a series of opportunities to showcase their award-winning style.
"We have made heaps of contacts since Bluesfest and have a few shows coming up," Sam says.
This includes a performance at the upcoming Dolphin Awards on September 3 and a billing at the GrottoFest at Marburg in Queensland in November.
"We also have our first opportunity to record as part of our Bluesfest prize later this year."
Of course it's no ordinary production house they are heading to. Studio 301 in Byron Bay is operated by American record producer and Byron local Nick DiDia, who also happens to have worked with the boys' idols Rage Against the Machine, as well as Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Incubus, Stone Temple Pilots and Australia's Powderfinger. Not bad company to keep for a duo whose first musical gong was last year's Jacaranda Busking Competition.
And while Sam and Nick's flamenco- style performances are popular with audiences, they are slowly finding their own style and won't be appearing on any "crappy" reality show.
They are also on the lookout for a new name.
"At the moment we just go by Nick and Sam, but when we started to put our originals on YouTube we found there's also another act with the same name. There's a couple of girls in the States that play guitar and banjo that go by Nik and Sam, so we really need to find something else."
What they play?
Nick uses a Yamaha classical guitar while Sam prefers a steel string Maton.