By Martine Ehrenclou
Samantha Fish is one of the most electrifying and inventive artists of our time. An extraordinary guitarist, singer and songwriter, she has won tremendous critical acclaim and multiple awards, too many to list here. Riveting live, Fish owns the stage with grit and sass, blowing minds with her vocals, guitar chops, and compelling songs. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, she is often referred to as a blues artist but Fish’s albums and live shows feature multiple genres, including rock, country, funk and roots music. She flirts with tradition but pushes boundaries to create a sound that’s distinctly her own.
With six solo albums, her most recent being Kill Or Be Kind, (Rounder Records), an edgy roots album that was produced by three-time Grammy winner Scott Billington. Samantha Fish has an upcoming new album to be released sometime late summer. The official announcement will come next month.
A multi-talented artist, Samantha is also a producer and label owner of Wild Heart Records and has produced several artists in the roots/blues genres.
Martine: Tell me about your new, upcoming record. It’s very exciting.
Samantha: It is really exciting. I met my producer, Martin Kierszenbaum and we just started talking and hit it off and I decided I wanted to bring him in to produce the album. He has some really notable names that he’s worked with on the production-side, and he manages Sting and Shaggy and he did the Lady Gaga, The Fame record, which was probably one of my favorites that he’s known for. I was really excited for the opportunity to work with him because it’s different than I’ve done in the past. So, my challenge was working with a very mainstream approach but maintaining the authenticity that I’ve worked hard for but allowing the project to evolve in a way that makes me happy.
Martine: Sounds interesting. Tell me more.
Samantha: I just think it’s (new album) awesome. It kind of rocks, it has bluesy elements to it but it really is a feel-good, moving rock-n-roll record.
Martine: What was your vision for this new album? Is it similar to Kill Or Be Kind, or something different?
Samantha: You know, I definitely think the location in which we record our albums sort of paints the landscape. We recorded Kill Or Be Kind in Memphis at the Royal Studios and that album, the personality, feels like Memphis to me in a lot of ways. This one, we went to L.A., so it’s completely different—I have never done a West Coast record.
I was in a different headspace when I wrote Kill Or Be Kind. When I wrote this new album, it was the first time I’ve ever been off the road because of COVID and had time to write a record. Usually, I’m writing songs between tours or in my hotel room between shows, or when we fly off somewhere and do writing sessions to collaborate.This was completely an isolated experience for me, which was really great some days because I could just channel all of my energy into writing and being creative. Other days it was really frustrating because I was in a house, the same house for a very, very long time. We did a lot of writing over Zoom which was kind of weird at first but once I got the hang of it, like everybody else in the world, it was like, “Okay, I guess I don’t need to get dressed to go to work anymore. I just do it like this.”
Martine: What is the feel of the album?
Samantha: I really wanted to evolve from what I’d done and working with Martin, he has some incredible pop sensibilities when it comes to writing. I definitely was approaching these songs from more of a hook-driven standpoint. I know I was trying to do that with Kill Or Be Kind but I feel like I homed in on it a little bit more, just making these songs really melodically catchy, and hooky, like an earworm.
I wanted to make something that was poppy, that was rock-n-roll, but that still maintains this blues thing that I come to the table with. It’s really guitar-driven, lyrically-driven, vocally-driven. I think it’s the best recording of my voice so far, which I am excited about. I am just proud of the songs. I feel like they are the best songs I’ve written to date.
I thought I was going to write a really sappy record after being inside and dealing with what everybody’s dealt with in 2020 with COVID and a lot of things. I thought I was going to write a dirge of an album but honestly, it’s a very empowering, fun record. The content and the material, it’s sassy and has a sexy thing and it’s about being empowered and taking control, which is probably what I felt a lack of and why I wrote about wanting it.
Martine: I thought there was some empowerment on your last record so I’m not surprised that would surface in this new one.
Samantha: I feel like it was too, but I’m probably in a better place personally right now than when I wrote Kill Or Be Kind because when I listened to some of those songs, there is empowerment but there is also this juxtaposition of empowerment and heartbreak. Whereas, I feel with this one, there is a little more hope.
Martine: Did you write all the songs yourself on the new record or co-writes with Martin, or other people?
Samantha: I wrote some by myself, I co-wrote some songs with Martin Kierszenbaum, the producer, and then my regular writing partner is Jim McCormick–he is my favorite person to sit with whether it would be a real-life room or virtual room. We just have a really great chemistry when it comes to writing and we get good results. I wrote several songs with him. I also teamed back up with Kate Pearlman on a co-write.
We do have a super awesome guest feature and he is a co-writer on the record. I don’t know if I can say it yet, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. It’s going to be kind of surprising but I will say that my fans and friends in Kansas City are going to be tickled because it’s like a hometown hero kind-of-a-thing and I think at least the people of Kansas and Missouri will get it.
Martine: Sounds very intriguing but I won’t ask you anything more about it. You were talking about your writing sessions. Tell me about that process. Everybody became so accustomed to Zoom during COVID. Tell me how the songwriting went.
Samantha: Honestly, I think it is going to change the game in a way for collaborations because every time I’ve done a writing session, I’d fly to Nashville for three days, we did that for Kill Or Be Kind, and wrote songs with a different songwriter every day or maybe I had two sessions a day. Then I flew to L.A. and did the same thing. There’s more pressure to yield results when you do it that way.
You get somebody in a room and they are spending their time, they have travelled there, I have travelled there, and sometimes you force things to happen. I’ve always felt good about my co-writes but there are times where it feels like if it doesn’t work out, nobody’s lost any time (if done virtually.) I think that is going to change the game in a way for writing sessions and collaborations because I feel like people are going to be more open to trying things because you’re not spending a bunch of time, effort, and money.
Martine: Maybe writing virtually allows for more creativity without the time pressure, as in, “We have to get this done” or “We have to be great right now”.
Samantha: It is more organic in some ways because it takes that pressure off but less organic in others because you are not actually in a room with each other feeling each other’s vibe. I think in some ways, there is room for greater successes but there’s also great challenges that you face with it.
Martine: Tell me about the challenges.
Samantha: Sometimes that pressure can be a good thing because every album I’ve ever done has been under pressure and sometimes pressure makes you rise to the occasion. I could see low pressure situations not always yielding a ton of results and the thing is, any time you go into a writing session, whether it’s just by yourself or with other people, you’re going to have days where you fail, regardless of the circumstances, whether it’s virtual or in person. The magic of creativity is that it’s not always there, you can’t force it to happen and that’s why it is special.
Other than not being in the room and feeling each other’s energy, I hate technology. (laughter) I realized I am just such a curmudgeon when it comes to learning new things. I completely zone out when someone is trying to explain a computer program to me. I get frustrated. I just glaze over. That part of my brain does not want to work. (laughter)
Martine: (laughter) I know what you mean. When is your new album going to be released?
Samantha: I don’t know if they have set an official release date. I know It’s late summer or early fall. I have heard whispers of August but I’ve also heard whispers of September.
Martine: You’ll be touring to support the album and you’ve been touring.
Samantha: Florida and Texas have kind of kept us alive through COVID. Once I got my vaccine, we started rolling this stuff out. We just finished a three-and-a-half-week tour and we’re still doing our safety, social distancing measures. It’s has been really great to get back out there but we have really strict rules that we have to follow. Everybody’s safety is the most important thing but it’s been interesting trying to pull this off in such a weird time. We were selling limited capacity shows, so some places were doing like 25 percent and some will double-up. We’ll play a show, then they’ll clear the room and then they’ll fill it back up with new people and we play another show. As far as a personal stamina standpoint, it is a little exhausting sometimes.
Martine: Yeah, I can imagine.
Samantha: We don’t do that everywhere but we try and play outside, we tried to enforce the masking thing. It’s interesting because every state has a different rule and it’s up to the venues to interpret the rules of their state. When we went to play Texas last time, we booked these shows that were socially distant, masked shows and then two weeks before the tour, they lifted the mask mandate and opened up everything up to a hundred percent capacity. We were like, “What does that mean for us and our agreement?”
Some venues wanted to just lift the flood gate and go crazy but it’s like, “Well hey, we kind of made this agreement with these ticket buyers, they might not be comfortable.” They bought a ticket to see us with a 40 percent capacity show, masked. We just kept our shows as we ticketed them. Everybody’s got a different relationship with this thing.
Everything is changing so fast. We’re just trying to keep up and keep people happy and healthy. You go some places and it’s like COVID is not even happening there. It sort of blows my mind because I have been living in a really sheltered existence for the last year and staying home, scrubbing my Dorito bags. (laughter)
Martine: (laughter) And now we find out we didn’t have to.
Samantha: We did what we had to do and it was really scary, I mean for everybody. I am glad that we’re coming around to the end, hopefully the end of it. It makes me feel better that people are vaccinating and we can just get back to doing what we love to do and getting back to life.
Martine: Absolutely, it’s such a relief that things are starting to open up again.
Samantha: Yeah, it is. I also think people are just tired, you know? It’s been emotionally draining and people are just tired of it. I still wear my mask and I do my best just out of respect for people. At this point, I don’t want to have any more political discussions, I just want everybody to get the vaccine and be done with it.
Martine: I agree. I wanted to ask you about your record label, Wild Heart Records. I am curious about why you started a label, what you love about producing and how you choose artists.
Samantha: I told my manager at one point that I really wanted to start producing and he had been working with Jonathan Long.
Martine: He is fantastic.
Samantha: He is incredible. He is so freaking good. He brought me in to produce Jonathan’s record and I was really excited about it. I wanted to produce because I feel like the producer’s job is so important. The producer’s job has always been incredibly important for me for a lot of different reasons. I think part of my role is sussing out what they (the artists) need from me and then figuring out the vision that they are trying to execute and then I just help them do that. Keep everybody on task, on time, on budget, and also help guide the process creatively. I like doing jobs that I can be objective with because I am not that when I am doing my thing. When I’m making an album, I’m probably a nightmare for some poor producer. (laughter)
Martine: (laughter) It’s very difficult to be objective about your own project. What’s happening next with your artists on Wild Heart?
Samantha: We’re putting out an album for Jonathan Long, his sophomore release from Wild Heart and then I want to focus on building the stable of artists. The dream for Wild Heart started with Rueben, my manager. He already started a label with another artist that he works with, Tab Benoit. Rueben is my partner. For me, a lot of my success in life has come from having a good team and I noticed that things didn’t really take off for me as an artist until I had a team. To be able to provide that kind of support and structure to help somebody with their vision, their art, and have a team to help them get it out there and help them build up a career, is crucial.
Martine: How do you choose artists that you want to produce and have and record on Wild Heart?
Samantha: With Nick David, Nick used to play in Devon Allman’s band, Allman Betts Band. I met him when I was brought to play the Allman Betts Revivals, the Allman Family Revival in San Francisco once a year. I met Nicholas and he really loved the song that I wrote and wanted to perform it with me. We had a friendship and I really liked his voice and his spirit in artistry. It’s about liking somebody and feeling like they have the potential. It’s just, “Who do you want to be saddled with?” or “Who do you want to be next to?” I try to surround myself with people who are good people and great artists.
Martine: It’s amazing that you produce other people’s albums, and you release your own albums, and you tour, and you write all your own music, I mean, you do a lot.
Samantha: Thanks, I appreciate it. I have a really good team. I talk about trying to be a team for other artists but I also have a really good team. I’ve got a great record label, I have a great booking agency. It really does take a village in a lot of ways.
Martine: Well, I just wanted to catch up with you a little bit and hear about your new album. I really appreciate you making the time to talk with me.
Samantha: I really appreciate it and thank you. It was nice to catch up with you too.
Samantha Fish is currently on tour in the U.S. and worldwide. See tour dates here.
For more information about Samantha Fish