The Ames: Making sense

by Adam Bates

If The Ames were a candy bar, they would dip themselves in Cup O’ Noodles. This ragtime-folk three piece may be a bit unusual, but they flawlessly blend existing elements of American roots, bluegrass and more to create a sound that is all their own.

“When I was in high school, I had a strange love of Watchamacallits dipped in a Cup O’ Noodles,” says Sam Carlton. “The Ames are like that.” The vocalist/keyboardist/banjoist says The Ames are unpredictable, unique, and can be difficult to get your friends to try, but are strangely very enjoyable. Just like your favorite candy bar, but dipped in soup.
Comprised of Carlton, drummer Mike Lanz, and bassist Dan Swan, the relatively young band has managed to create a buzz around them in Bellingham and Seattle where they play legendary venues like the Tractor Tavern and Conor Byrne. “The reception to our music has been great,” says Carlton. He describes the enthusiasm for the band’s music to be overwhelming at times, but exciting too.

The band has been playing live since August of 2011, after Carlton and Lanz started The Ames as a side project from their other group, Morton & The Saltines. The duo planned to create a band based around banjo and drums, when Lanz decided to invite their friend Dan Swan to jam on bass. “I thought the songs could use a little more low-end,” says Lanz. The group clicked during their jam session, and where there were two, now there were three. “I basically tricked the two of them into forming a band,” Lanz jokes.
Lanz and Swan are transplants from the greater Seattle area, while Carlton hails from east of the hills. Swan describes being drawn to Bellingham for the culture and incredible local music scene, both of which continue to be a source of inspiration for Swan and the music of The Ames. Friends, family, and the seemingly mundane details of life in general influence much of the material Carlton writes for the band.

“The music I write takes on a life of its own,” says Carlton. “My brain tends to get overloaded with thoughts and emotion and instead of going completely insane, I’m able to put those feelings and thoughts into music.” He adds that the writing process can be a surprising one. While Carlton prides himself on the lyrical content and musical arrangement of The Ames, he finds that sometimes songs end up being finished with no real clue how they got there. Think Will Ferrell a la Old School, when he blacks out during the debate scene near the end.

Some of the thoughts and feelings that become The Ames music revolve around a strange fascination with certain aspects of life that Carlton finds strange; i.e. bleeding, laughing, loving, death and baseball. “(I get) so confused with the world and all its craziness that I feel like music is the only way for me to make sense of any of it,” he adds.

The Ames success at making sense out of some wild and crazy aspects of this life has landed them a spot at this year’s Folklife Festival in Seattle Memorial Day Weekend. “This is our first festival,” says Swan. “And we are pumped to be playing such a notable one.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The band has shows lined up for this spring and summer in Spokane, Seattle, Portland, Bend and even a trek to Alaska, all while preparing for the release of their second EP this June.

And The Ames have a great attitude about their music and the months ahead. “In all sincerity, the goals of this project are to have as much fun as we can, play as much music as we can,” says Carlton. “And realistically, we believe we can make a living with our music.”

Coming up!
Catch The Ames at the semi-final round of the Last Band Standing at the Underground on May 17 and Boundary Bay on June 1. For more information, check out