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Staying Power: Why Sam Means from the Format decided to stay in Phoenix

Last year, The Show profiled Phoenicians who had made their mark on this city and then left in our series Exit Interview.

We asked: What is it about Phoenix that never seems to live up to its potential? 

Now we’re back with some answers. And this time, we’re talking to people who stayed in a new series called Staying Power. We began with someone who’s music you might recognize. 

The Format is one of the biggest bands to make it out of Phoenix in the last several decades. The duo behind it was Nate Ruess and Sam Means, both of whom grew up in the Valley — and one of whom is still here.

Sam Means remembers the Phoenix of his childhood as a sprawling wasteland of sorts, if a little emptier than it is today. 

He met Nate Ruess when he was still in high school and even at 16, they were serious about making it in music. The Phoenix music scene at the time was accessible, he said “it was the kind of place a couple of kids could play — and maybe make it big.”

For The Format in the early 2000s, the Phoenix music scene launched them into the big time pretty quickly. They got signed by a major label right out of the gate. 

Means told The Show they knew it was a bad deal but they signed it anyway and actually felt relieved when they were dropped from their label a few years later. 

They released their album on their own label, toured extensively, and, when their song “Dog Problems” was leaked early on the internet, they released the whole album digitally. Their fanbase — especially in Phoenix — grew. 

And a project they started in that DIY mode he mentioned has become the center point of his career today. Hello Merch is a merchandise company aimed at giving artists a way to make money on their own. 

Hello Merch — along with Hello Records, Hello Screen Printing and his podcast project WASTOIDS are all at home — right here in Phoenix. 

In 2019, Means bought a warehouse downtown and created a space for musicians and creatives here to thrive. 

The Show spoke with him more about his work and his complicated relationship with Phoenix, even though he stayed. 

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.