Article written by: Yuris Kim
I’ve known Sam Ock since high school, before he decided to pursue music, before he started posting YouTube videos of himself singing and rapping, and before he started a group with two other guys and toured from state to state. If one hasn’t heard of AMP, that’s because they’re a Christian hip-hop group, and as everyone knows, that’s a very specific field within the realm of music. Being Asians also, probably sets them up for a narrower path – but maybe that will change. I’m still surprised how big they have become, how big he has become. What hasn’t changed from then and now is that he’s still very blunt, honest, and still like a little boy in some ways. On their website, they explain the name of the group: ” The name AMP stands for ‘amplify,’ and that is what the guys want to do: Enlarge the volume of life, music and the gracious giver of both, Jesus Christ.”
Our interview appointment was set at 4:00pm on a Sunday, and I was already in the room preparing my phone recorder and a notebook. I wanted him to talk to me about his career, his experiences, and his vision as a Christian musician. Because everyone makes career decisions in their lives, and he made a decision to set himself up for this particular genre and be faithful to it.
After about ten minutes, in black head to toe, Sam Ock walked in with a sheepish smile. “Are you ready?”, I ask with a playful smirk. He firmly and simply replies “yes”. And that’s how the whole interview went – candid, to the point, and firm.
In terms of AMP, let’s say you’re representing AMP, how would you describe it in 3 words?
Sam: Christian, Hip-hop, and…personable, I guess.
Going back to you as an individual, what motivated you personally to do music?
Sam: It was a result of a lot of… self reflection and a lot of asking God what to do and a lot of external confirmation that led me to make the choice to do music. It wasn’t really a personal dream of mine, it kind of became a possibility rather than a dream I was chasing. So it was more of a tangible reality. My goal wasn’t to do music, it just fell in my lap.
When did you first notice your talent?
Sam: In high school, I would do musicals where we would do a whole bunch of famous songs… I was featured in the first one my school had sophomore year, and people really liked my performance, and I didn’t realize I could sing or… i didn’t realize I was anything special. And then the next year I did [um], piano man by Billy Joel, and people really, really liked it. Like the older caucasians, you know, parents of students would walk up to me and thank me ’cause it probably reminded them of their past ’cause they listened to Billy Joel. To be able to reignite that feeling for them, it kinda showed me maybe I had something special. That and along with the confirmation from my friends at church. And asking God what i’m supposed to do.
So you’re a Christian musician… what does that mean for you?
Sam: I think it means that [pause], music isn’t as much a personal goal of mine, it’s not an end of mine, but rather trying to worship God in the best way I can. Music is a vehicle to that and to help other people to do that as well, and to point people to what I believe as the point of life.
OK, so that’s where you were when you met the rest of the group in AMP, the two other guys. Tell me where you guys all were in life and how you guys started the group.
Sam: One of the guys is the same age as I am, and music was the last thing on his mind. I think he’s still in communications now [in college]. He didn’t think it was a viable option. It was me who actually discovered his talent. He’s known as J. Han now. He would put up a video as a joke on FaceBook, like, “you guys dance in the back and I’ll rap”, and he did his own original rap, and I thought it was pretty amazing, especially for a Korean guy. So I reached out to him, and then I realized he was a Christian, and then we collaborated on some Christian songs. He wasn’t looking at all to do music so that’s interesting. And the other guy, who is actually like 10 years older than us, his name is CL. He has a full time job, and so music for him was a way to minister to the youth [as a pastor], to use his talents to serve the youth of the church and to give a message about God to the youth. He wasn’t really seeking success in terms of music, because he already had a job. It’s interesting because AMP […] actually turned into a group that has a following and everything.
With AMP, what are your hopes and goals?
Sam: With AMP, I think one of my goals is for AMP to be able to sustain itself as a business, in terms of being able to make enough to live off of it… in terms of music, we are trying to work on a new album, we just released one. I guess the goal of AMP is to make the best album yet.
That leads us into struggles. What kind of struggles have you had in this career?
Sam: The biggest struggle I have is… people don’t understand what it takes to make music. in terms of the amount of money and time you invest into it. You invest thousands of dollars into equipment, and into production, you spend hundreds of hours writing, recording, producing, and mixing… and then you ask your friend “hey would you like to buy this CD, it’s only 10 dollars.” and they say “no..” Or, I think what’s even harder is that a lot of my friends, they’re not interested enough in who I am, enough to care about what I do. I really only have a handful of people who ask me regularly, how my music is doing. It might be too much to ask, [when] i put out a new song on the internet, to ask people to watch it. But if you did care about what I’m doing, you would try and find that out, ’cause I don’t make it a hidden thing, I don’t think I do. The hardest time we’ve had financially and with getting attendance to show has been in Maryland, which is our home town. Everywhere else, attendance is pretty much no problem, but whenever we perform in our home town, support is very small.
What was the biggest surprise in your career?
Sam: The biggest surprise is that I’m still doing this. I mean, I really didn’t expect people to care enough to come out to our shows and invite us out to places and buy our merchandise, I’m really thankful for everything because I didn’t expect any of this. Even now when I put out a new CD, I’m surprised that people buy it. I guess I’m my biggest critic and when I listen to it I’m like, man, would anyone really wanna buy this, you know? But people do, and that’s always a surprise for me. I think the biggest surprise is though…that people… that music really speaks to people, in a way that they can really connect with us, and connect with God. And I don’t think that’s entirely my actions, but a… divine work, I would say.
Do you have any fears or concerns for the future?
Sam: I mean the biggest fear for the future is that… I wouldn’t really call it a fear, like it’s not something I dread. It’s a fear because the future is uncertain, but it’s not something I dread, which is not being able to make a living doing music. I’ve come to a point where I’ve invested a lot of cards in my hand into doing music. Another big fear of mine is, I guess, doing Christian hip-hop especially… people hold you at a higher standard, it shouldn’t be that way, you know, musicians are normal people. But since it’s music and music touches people at a deeper level than the surface… people expect a lot more from you in terms of your character. And I’m always afraid my character flaws will stumble people in what they view about God or what they view about, you know, [our] music. Musicians are…usually the face of the representation of a generation…a mindset, or a way of thinking. Even a secular artist, like John Mayer, he represents a mindset of a lot of people in his music, because people hold him to that standard, like is he reflecting what he says in his music. I think it’s the same thing for me with Christian music.
“Thanks for you time” I say to Sam again with the smirk. “No problem!” he says with a big smile, as he always does when someone thanks him for anything. He’s quite a pleasant and jolly little man, just about my height but stockier. At the age of 22, he’s achieved quite a lot already, having been to at least half the states and Japan. The future is uncertain, Sam said, but it’s not something he dreads. I believe that slight excitement and peace are rooted in the act of pursuing his belief, embracing his decision on which path to take.