201 E Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832


201 E Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832


201 E Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832



Senior Sam Neal channels emotion through music
FUHS Senior Sam Neal has composed about 50 songs in their room, some with guitar and others with piano.


Junior Mia Kanchanapoomi invited Sam Neal over to her house last December, and after a quick tour of her room, Sam spotted a guitar. Sam asked if they could use it, and started to play Mia’s neglected Squier Stratocaster with an absent E string, showing her a song they had just written called “what’s left of me.”

“When Sam was over at my house playing guitar, I felt like their music was really raw,” Mia said. “It had a lot of emotion that many artists don’t have because I feel like just anyone releases anything these days.”


Sam’s first instrument was the clarinet, which they played for three years in elementary school. Once in high school, they decided to take photography for their art elective instead of band. Sam says they have the urge to pick up the clarinet again, as well as other jazz-oriented instruments such as the saxophone.

After dropping the clarinet, Sam started messing around with the piano their freshman year.

“I didn’t really know how to play piano, but I just kept messing around and I kept humming and making little songs,” Sam said. “I didn’t really know much about songwriting then and the structure of it.” 

Sam then transitioned to acoustic guitar last May, using techniques they gathered from the piano. They tried to pluck the strings their freshman year but quickly gave up after some frustration. 

“It would hurt my fingers so much, I would just give up and ask myself, ‘What am I doing?’ But now I’m like, okay, that’s how everybody feels when they first start playing something,” Sam said. 

Luckily, this time it stuck. “Since I picked up the piano, guitar has been easier to do because you kind of multitask with your two hands,” they said. 

After picking up the guitar and practicing basic chords, picking styles and strumming patterns, Sam decided to steer towards a specific direction with their music. Sam started to focus on creating music that fit into the folk pop and rock genre.

And since then, they haven’t turned back. 

“That’s the one thing that I’m kind of proud of,” Sam said. “It’s consistent, and I’ve been doing it every day for hours. Whenever I come home from school, I literally go straight to the guitar and I just play and sing. When I create music, I’m releasing this energy, and something I’ve kept in for way too long.”

Sam is currently in FUHS guitar class with teacher Troy Trimble, where they learn more about reading music notes, tempo and rhythm. (Photo by Angelique De La Cruz)

Although Sam quickly learned the instrument on their own, this year they enrolled in the guitar class FUHS offers with teacher Troy Trimble as a way to challenge themself and expand their music knowledge. 

“I’ve learned how to read notes, learned what rhythm is and how to keep up with tempo and it’s all just to improve my playing ability,” Sam said.

While the piano and guitar are fairly new, their talent for singing isn’t, and with no surprise, also self-taught.

“I watched a lot of musicals, and I loved music when I was younger,” Sam said. “I also used to sing karaoke and I would harmonize with my sister, since I have a deeper voice.”

Sam’s alto range allows them to sing male lines in musical duos with their soprano-singing sister, Angelina Neal. They practiced with songs from musicals such as Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, Rent, and the hit Broadway comedy-drama, Waitress, which includes one of their favorite musical songs to sing, “Bad Idea”. It’s even become a regular hobby between the two.


Sam’s father introduced them to variations of bands early on, ranging from Michael Jackson’s The Wall to the Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, artists that started Sam’s love for music.

Sam’s current favorite artists and musical inspirations include Lomelda, Kevin Atwater, Angel Olsen, Nick Drake, and the great rock-folk legend, Jeff Buckley. 

Known for his impressive vocal strength and iconic cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Buckley left a significant mark on the music industry after his sudden death at age 30. He also had a massive impact on Sam through his lyrics and melodies, especially after Sam’s first listen to Buckley’s album, Grace

Sam even chose Buckley for their senior quote: “Grace is what matters, in anything, especially life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death. It’s about people, that’s what matters.”

Similar to Buckley, Sam uses hidden meanings in their music.

“With songwriting you can be literal or you can be vague, but nobody really knows the meaning of songs until you ask the actual person who wrote it,” they said. “It’s open for interpretation, like for any art form.”

Sam quoted Buckley who spoke about this lyrical concept in an old press release in 1994: “When a person sings, their body, their mouth, their eyes, their words, their voice says all these unspeakable things that you can’t explain but that mean something anyway […] I feel I’ve told everybody all my secrets.”

Sam enjoys shopping for music at Half Off Books and Records. Their taste ranges from feminist punk bands like Bikini Kill to Jazz singers like Nina Simone. They even enjoy hip hop. (Photos by Angelique De La Cruz)

More artists that made an impact on Sam’s innovation to play come from a trio of musicians Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, who form the indie group Boygenius. Sam mentioned the experience of seeing them live back in June. 

“That was the first concert I went to and I thought, ‘this is what I want to do,’” Sam said. “I was watching different artists play and I was hearing the music and I thought, ‘I love this, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.’”

Music-making Process

Sam recently recorded and released a song called “what’s left of me,” which is a beautifully crafted three minute acoustic demo and their first single as the musician dearsam.

The track welcomes you into a story about regret, death and childhood experiences, supported by an emotional chorus built out of anticipating instrumental and vocal crescendos, and harmonies that might remind you of artists such as Phoebe Bridgers and Elliott Smith, a couple of Sam’s musical inspirations.

Sitting cross-legged on their bed with a Macbook, a mini microphone plugged into their Sony headphones and their sister’s acoustic guitar in hand, the track was completed in just three takes, and impressively in less than an hour. After shushing their sister sitting in the same room and their mom in the next, Sam worked with the space they had and divided up separate recordings to create their song. 

(Left) Sam uses a mini Kikkerland karaoke microphone which costs about $10. (Right) They edit tracks using Garageband on a Mac Pro laptop. (Photos by Angelique De La Cruz )

Sam uses the free built-in studio inside their Macbook called Garageband. Working with open air and controls from the website, Sam’s song captures that DIY-demo sound while still achieving clear vocals. 

In three separate takes, Sam recorded the guitar, vocals and harmonies and put together the finished song. With help from controls like reverb, ambience and echo, Sam’s vocals embellish a dreamy feeling. 

Ambiance expands the sound of the song, and without it the recording sounds more confined. When merged with an echo, the official recording sounds like you’re in a large, empty and very quiet room with Sam while they play “what’s left of me”.

The repeated lines “I was just a kid” in the outro emphasizes the intense emotion in the song. Sam’s voice sounds like it’s breaking and as if they’re on the verge of tears singing the lyrics. The song then goes from soft to slightly aggressive in order to create a powerful sound. 

“I don’t know how I wanted this to sound like, but I wanted the song to express pain,” Sam said. 

Click here to listen to Sam’s single “what’s left of me”

Click here to listen to Sam’s demo

Sam’s journal (above) includes lyrics for a song they wrote called “What’s Left of Me”. The lyrics are both personal and universal. Listeners are able to connect Sam’s emotion to their own experiences even though Sam’s story is not explicitly specific. (Sam Neal)
Sam, pictured with their uncle’s electric squire stratocaster guitar, draws inspiration from indie songwriter Lomelda when writing a song. (Photo courtesy of Sam Neal)


Sam has three journals that hold more than 50 unfinished songs. When these journals are not accessible, Sam writes down song ideas in their notes app in case they get a hit of inspiration while out and about.  

Sam even started a daily challenge called One Lyric a Day, a task inspired by one of their favorite artists and Boygenius band member, Lucy Dacus.

“I write about death and losing people, and I write about myself, experiences and memories,” Sam said. “Or sometimes I make up things in my head, like a fictional thing, and I’m thinking of situations that aren’t real, but maybe something other people have experienced.” 

Sam wants their songs to have a purpose, not only for them but also for anyone listening, a beautiful and selfless way to write. 

“I want to make music, and obviously, I want to do it until I die,” they said. “I want to make music for people that can relate to or find comfort in it.”

Sam admits that when they started songwriting, they mistakenly thought there was only one way to write a song. 

“I made songs a long time ago, and I didn’t know if they were right. But honestly, you can make little songs without the correct format,” Sam said. “There is no right or wrong way you can write. I was never really taught that, so I thought I had to figure out how to do that in order to write.”

Sam Neal has three lyric journals. They have been jotting down poems and songs for three years. (Angelique De La Cruz)

Beyond the Music

Sam’s talent and dedication has also inspired their friends.

 Mia gives credit to Sam for the effort she’s recently been putting into the guitar class they share.

Sam usually paints familiar faces, including their own. They often play with acrylic colors and abstract styles on paper and take inspiration from artists such as Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Photos courtesy of Sam Neal)

“Sam has inspired me to try and be better at guitar because when we first started the class I wasn’t too serious about it, but I’ve seen how serious and dedicated they are, and I want to be good like them,” Mia said. “Sam’s just a really inspiring person.” 

Sophomore Paisley Polder looks up to Sam as a musical inspiration and even asked for a guitar for her 15th birthday after hearing some of Sam’s work. 

“Whenever I hear or see Sam do anything, I’m just endlessly inspired,” Paisley said. “Sam is actually one of the main reasons why I started playing guitar.”

Paisley has goals and dreams similar to Sam’s, and she wants to start making music after more improvement on guitar.

“Being close to Sam really changed the game for me, and them being so willing to answer all my questions and teaching me things has helped a lot,” Paisley said.

Sam isn’t just talented in music.

Sam uses their sister, FUHS graduate Angelina Neal, as a model for photo projects. Both photos were shown at a gallery show in December of 2022 for the topic “Summation of Force”, a project on movement. Sam’s submission was titled “Euphoric Fury”, and their idea was to capture a feeling of rage through blur and motion. (Photos courtesy of Sam Neal)

“Any art form for me is a requisite for expressing myself,” they said. “Usually the things I want to say, or the way I feel, sometimes cannot be put into words, so that’s where visual arts comes in.”

Sam has been in photography classes since their freshman year, but their love for taking photos traces back to childhood memories and following in their late grandfather’s steps, who was also a photographer. 

Sam started sketching during their elementary school years. During their junior year Sam got heavily into oil painting after taking drawing and painting with teacher Scott Hudson. This year they are a part of Hudson’s AP art class. 

Sam has been an avid participant in the school’s art programs with photographs and art pieces that have been shown almost at every FUHS gallery show since 2021. Sam has also attended field trips to places like the LACMA museum in Los Angeles with their advanced photography class. 


When it comes to Sam’s big goals and dreams, music is the center of attention. Working towards a career based on a love for art is known to be a leap of faith but that doesn’t seem to frighten them.

 “I want to go to school for music, and I know that it’s kind of risky to do something you love. But I’d rather be doing that than anything else.” Sam said.

School is not the only future plan Sam has in mind for their music. They also warm up to the idea of being involved in the music scene and collaborating with artists who share a similar passion. 

“I want to go to shows to play, perform and meet people. I want to put out more songs, make albums and just make music with other artists.”

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