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Encore: A posthumous album captures the humor — and heartache — of Sam Mehran

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Underground musician Sam Mehran, who was known to many as Outer Limits Recordings, died four years ago today, but his music continues to be published. It was on this day last July that his father and friends released the posthumous album "Cold Brew." And now his friend, Katie Rush, has put out his entire found body of work on YouTube.

KATIE RUSH: As such a lover of his music and someone who loved him more than anyone in the world, I knew that there would be others who would want to find everything he had ever made.

SUMMERS: NPR's Jonaki Mehta has this story of how "Cold Brew" came together.

JONAKI MEHTA, BYLINE: When Sam Mehran was 3 or 4 years old, he would spring out of bed in the morning at the sound of his sister playing the piano.

ABBAS MEHRAN: Marsha was practicing Beethoven's "Fur Elise." (Vocalizing). So...

(SOUNDBITE OF EVA SUKOVA PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "BAGATELLE IN A MINOR, WOO 59, 'FUR ELISE'")

MEHTA: Mehran's father, Abbas Mehran, remembers Sam listened intently. Then some days later, when their family was out getting ice cream, Sam heard a familiar tune coming from the truck.

MEHRAN: And Sam said suddenly, dad, mom, Beethoven is selling ice cream.

MEHTA: He says it was one of the earliest signs of his son's keen intelligence for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "STEELSIE")

MEHTA: And music is what Sam Mehran left behind when he died by suicide on this day three years ago.

NICK WEISS: In the year before Sam passed, he mentioned this body of work to me multiple times, actually.

KATIE WAGNER: In June, before he passed, he'd played, I think, two tracks of the album for me.

MEHTA: That's Nick Weiss and Katie Wagner. They were friends and collaborators of Mehran's. And after his death, they worked together to assemble the album "Cold Brew."

WEISS: Sam's father was kind of the one that really started the process.

MEHRAN: And I said, this is my decision. I would like that you go through the disk and see what you can do and produce an album for him.

MEHTA: Sam's label agreed to put out the album, so Weiss and Wagner went to work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "COLD BREW")

WEISS: There were definitely hundreds of tracks and definitely thousands of files that we were looking through.

MEHTA: Sam's friends and collaborators knew him to be somewhat disorganized with his files. He'd even go so far as to delete some of his own music if he was unhappy with it. But with the tracks that ended up on "Cold Brew"...

WEISS: There was something strange. When I looked at the files, I was amazed at how organized it all was. And a part of me wondered if Sam did that on purpose. I don't - I mean, whether or not this was on purpose, it just felt like it was meant to be that this would be released.

MEHTA: It was difficult for Weiss and Wagner to choose which songs to include on the album, but they consulted Mehran's other friends and loved ones. And they looked for the music that felt most finished.

WAGNER: You know, Nick, Abbas and I and the label - we just did everything in our power to make sure that every aspect of the album was true to who Sam was to the best of our ability.

WEISS: There was one point where I thought I was going to try to mix the album and then realized that I could definitely not beat Sam's mixing. It's like, if it sounds good, just let it be how he left it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "LOUNGY")

MEHTA: Both Wagner and Weiss say Mehran's sense of humor was at the heart of his personality and the way he saw the world. So naturally, it shows up in his music, too.

WEISS: One of his golden gifts was his guitar playing. It felt so effortless. He would just be kind of laughing and giggling and just start playing these riffs and at first make it seem like a joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "SHRED")

WEISS: But then once you started playing it, every time it was just beautiful and perfect.

MEHTA: Wagner, Weiss and Abbas Mehran all agree - this album is quintessential Sam.

WAGNER: He was like - he was an alien.

WEISS: Everything about this planet and this world was kind of funny to him.

MEHRAN: He always laughed, smiled.

WEISS: He'd had this rock star energy, not in an egoistic way.

WAGNER: But he was a big contradiction. He was both the most confident and the most insecure.

MEHRAN: Sam was so beautiful. But at the same times, he suffered. He suffered depression.

WEISS: But also just an extremely lovable person.

WAGNER: I think a lot of people were in love with Sam Mehran. There was just - he was magic.

MEHTA: And there's one track that stands out for all of them.

WAGNER: I have to say, my favorite is "Loungy."

WEISS: I think "Loungy," if you were going to choose one.

MEHRAN: "Loungy."

WAGNER: When it comes in with that (vocalizing). It's so catchy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "LOUNGY")

MEHTA: This album isn't just a tribute to what Wagner calls Sam Mehran's musical genius. It's a way to immortalize Mehran, a way to let him speak for himself.

MEHRAN: This album is the essence of Sam's struggle for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "LOUNGY")

MEHTA: Sam Mehran was 32 years old when he died. The last of his music has now been published online. Jonaki Mehta, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "LOUNGY")

SUMMERS: If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAM MEHRAN'S "LOUNGY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonaki Mehta
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.