Senior Offutt expresses himself through music


Courtesy of Sam Offut

After growing up in Nashville, senior Sam Offutt has been surrounded by music his entire life, but he didn’t start playing guitar seriously until his freshman year. Since then, he has continued to pursue music with the band, Mellotrac, and will be attending Berklee College of Music.

Megan Scarano

The strumming of the guitar may be a familiar sound to many, but for senior Sam Offutt it is much more than just a sound. 

Offutt has been enthralled by music since middle school, when he was first mesmerized while living in Nashville. 

“I started getting into music about seventh grade when I started hanging out in a local record shop,” Offutt said. “I was living in Nashville at the time. It was a place called Grimey’s. I started spending all my time down there at a record shop, kind of pestering the people who worked there to learn everything I could about music.” 

The record shop led to more music exposure for Offutt. He watched musicians perform at Grimey’s and wanted to do the same. 

“Grimey’s had a thing called Indie Hour,” Offutt said. “Once a week, for an hour, all these local Nashville bands would get a five-minute set, and I would always see these people playing guitar. And I was like, ‘That’s awesome.’” 

Offutt’s mother, Elise Russell, found that when he first started getting into music, he broadened his taste significantly. 

“Towards the end of eighth grade was when he really started to kind of break off from just the usual things that all of his friends were listening to and branching out into some different genres,” Russell said. “He got really into Motown all of a sudden, which was really different. That kind of morphed into big band music. It was just like one rabbit hole to another.” 

Ike Edlein, who has known Offutt for eight years, has seen his music evolution first hand. 

“When we first became friends, he was strictly listening to Kanye and Kid Cudi,” Edlein said. “He was a little basketball jock. Now, he just listens to everything. As he’s gotten older, I think his taste has expanded along with him.” 

Offutt’s love for the guitar became more than just an interest, he began taking the guitar more seriously when he was a freshman in high school.  

“I started having a heavy interest in guitars in about eighth grade,” Offutt said. “At Grady, during my first year, I got put into a guitar class, and that was when I first started playing for real. It wasn’t the first time I’d ever tried to pick up a guitar, but it was the first time I’d actually made an effort. I remember it was like the beginning of freshman year, and I was listening to music and ‘Voodoo Child’ by Jimi Hendrix came on. That was when the light switch flipped, and it turned my mind onto guitar. That’s when everything in the world just became a guitar.”

Learning to play the guitar came naturally to Offutt. Now when he wants to learn a new song he can do it all by ear. 

“I really did teach myself, and I’m glad I did, but I learned everything pretty much by ear,” Offutt said. “If I really couldn’t figure out something, I’d resort to a cover on YouTube, though YouTube tutorials really aren’t all that good.”

To Offutt, the guitar isn’t like other instruments, there is more to it than just the strings and the body. 

“Guitar’s one of those instruments where it has a soul to it, it’s not like a piano where it’s a fixed thing,” Offutt said. “With the guitar, you can play a note a million different ways, and you can’t really do that on any other instrument. I like to think of guitar as just as much of a voice as like a human singer, there’s just as much dynamic.” 

As his practice turned into performances, Offutt would perform or play whenever he could. His passion for music shows whenever he is playing. 

“It’s exciting because he’s so enthusiastic about it,” Russell said. “Anytime you see your child’s face, just be passionate about something. It’s really fun to watch, and it’s infectious, too. It’s been fun to see him be influenced by different styles and constantly be pushing himself to learn something new.” 

In August 2022, Offutt and a few friends, Keni Green and Kaden Neighbors, had the idea to start the band Mellotrac. While it was just a few friends playing together at first, it quickly became something more. 

“Mellotrac started with us just playing together at lunch,” the band’s bass player,Green, said. “Then Sam said, ‘Do you guys just want to make this a band?’ And me and Kaden were just like ‘cool’.” 

Building the rest of the band came easy. Through mutual and old friends, they were able to get a drummer and a pianist.  

“Then, we needed a drummer,” Offutt said. “So, we ended up looking for my friend from a while ago, and I’ve known him forever. His name is Max Stegelman. He’s probably the best drummer in a 10-mile radius. We had Keni, who plays bass. He knew a piano player, and now it’s Israyl. And Israyl came to jam with us, and he’s incredible and one of the best musicians I’ve ever met. And then Calley tagged on from Israel. So, everything kind of just fell in place in like a two-week span.”

The band became Offutt, Green, Neighbors, Max Stegelman, Calliope DeChant, and Israyl Doby. The name didn’t come as easily as the group did. The group was at a Zaxby’s when it officially decided on a name.  

“We started reading like words on the wall, and mellow was one of them,” Offutt said. “We just started saying words that came after Mellow, and then we just said Mellotrac. I think Keni said it. And just from there, we were just like, ‘Okay, this is just what it’s gonna be.’”  

The band’s sessions are laid back, and the band’s saxophonist, Neighbors, finds hey have a good dynamic. 

“It’s definitely very chill,” Neighbors said. “I mean, we’re not like all best friends, but at the same time, we’re able to hang out together, so we’re just very chill around each other for sure.”

Mellotrac has only had two performances, both at smaller venues. Offutt has been reaching out to get the band other gigs but enjoys the smaller crowd.

Senior Sam Offut performs with his band: Mellotrac at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, for their first official gig. (Emilia Weinrobe)

“We’re still a pretty small band, and it’s kind of fun, you know, like Fat Matts, we barely had room to even stand up,” Offutt said. “We were packing like sardines on that stage, but that’s just how it goes, you know. We’re not expecting to be playing in front of a stadium; we’ve been playing together for like two months. We are trying to get gigs now that are bigger, like at the Variety and the Masquerade and those are gonna be a bit bigger.” 

The band has played at Fat Matt’s, a local rib shack, and at the school for Coffeehouse, a time for students to showcase their talents. However, smaller venues come with challenges.

“The problem with these smaller places is that they don’t have a PA system of any kind,” Offutt said. “So, essentially, all the sound you hear is coming directly from our amplifiers, and that’s really hard to kind of manage on your own without a sound guy and a PA system. That’s kind of where we’re at at the moment, small local stuff.” 

Offutt listens to a variety of music to inspire himself to play a more diverse type of music.

“I see music as the universal language; so, I don’t listen to just American music,” Offutt said. “I listen to a lot of Eastern Indian music, like Oaa is great, and they have different tonal systems;so, they have more notes than we do, and to our ears, it doesn’t really make sense. So, it sounds really different, but I think it sounds awesome.” 

Around school, Offutt is known to have a more unique style. His 60s and 70s inspiration shines through in the way he dresses. 

“That comes from me wanting to be Jimi Hendrix,” Offutt said. “It definitely derived from me just wanting to look like I went to Woodstock. My grandma was a hippie and my dad was, so I look up to my grandma and the members of my dad’s side of the family for that, you know, I respect them a lot for it.”

Offutt plans on continuing to play music throughout college. He will be attending Berklee College of Music in the fall. Russell hopes he continues to have music in his life one way or another. 

“If playing music isn’t ultimately what he ends up doing, he can be sort of adjacent to it at all times if he really wants to,” Russell said. “I think anytime he can combine something that he’s passionate about with a future paycheck, that’s pretty much hitting the jackpot to me.”