photo by John Hancock
Fiery blues guitar player/singer/songwriter Samantha Fish is back with her first new album in two years, Kill or Be Kind. It’s her initial release after signing with Rounder Records, and it features an enhanced focus on songwriting. This road warrior of a musician took time to speak with Americana Highways about the new record, the increased importance of playing live, and why she enjoys interacting with fans at her shows.
Americana Highways: This is your first album with Rounder Records. How’s that relationship going so far?
Samantha Fish: Really good! We’ve actually just released the album, so all the lead-up and work, it’s been about a year or more, our relationship leading up to this album. Things are going great!
AH: You’ve recently relocated to New Orleans. How has that affected you musically?
SF: I’ve been there about two and a half years or so. Honestly, I moved down there to be a little closer to my work, and I put a bigger band together, mostly people living in New Orleans or close to. But as a songwriter, it’s just an inspiring place. There’s so much music, there’s so much culture. It’s just a really interesting, vibrant city. It’s got such a personality. And I’m originally from Kansas City, and that’s another place with an interesting personality. I just came to a time in my life personally where I just wanted a change. I wanted to do something different and go somewhere new, and New Orleans was a good place to move to. It was a soul move, for sure. And I’ve been enjoying it. There are a lot of places I’d like to go. I think, right now though, I’m really liking where I’m at.
AH: New Orleans and Kansas City are both known as great music cities. How do they differ for what you do?
SF: To be honest, I don’t know if the music that I play is the typical sound of either of those cities. Kansas City, people don’t realize what a music town it is. But it’s got a long history of jazz and blues tradition. It dates way, way back. It’s one of the main cities where blues and jazz became what it is now, and it does have a sound. New Orleans, obviously, has its own musical personality and sound. I can’t say that you can hear a lot of that in the new record. I really feel like, with this new album, you probably hear where we recorded it more so that either of the two cities that I live in now. Everything shapes you, but we recorded in Memphis at Royal Studios, and I feel like you can kind of hear this Memphis soul sound a little bit more on the new album. It’s funny how the place that you go to record…it’s the same with Chills & Fever (Fish’s 2017 album). I felt like Chills & Fever had this Detroit rock ‘n’ roll sound, and, go figure, we recorded in Detroit. Belle of the West (also 2017) had this Mississippi-meets-Nashville sound, and we recorded it in north Mississippi. It’s funny how the place leaves its personality on the recording itself.
AH: I live in Colorado, in Denver, so I’ve been up to Louisville the last two times you’ve played there. You seem to have a long-standing, positive relationship with the town and the Street Faire. What do you like about playing that event?
SF: We’ve been playing that event for, gosh, this was maybe our sixth year? What I like about it is, the crowd has always been really enthusiastic and primed. And they’ve brought us back most every year – we might’ve missed one. I just think they really are there for the music. It’s just kinda fun. And now they know us a little better. We just have a really good relationship with the people out there. Colorado music fans are truly, I think they’re some of the best.
AH: I agree! I go to so many shows out here. I’m from back east, but people are more immersed in it here, and they enjoy every part of it. They’re not off goofing off, half paying attention. They’re really into it.
SF: Exactly. We do a lot of events in Colorado. We played the Denver Day of Rock last year. Telluride is a festival we continue to come back to. I know that festival in particular probably draws people from all over the country and the world, but there’s a lot of Colorado locals who come and enjoy that one. Like you said, everybody is up at the stage, and they’re engaged in the music. They’re not there just for the hang, they’re there for what we’re there for, which is performances and the music.
AH: Listening to “Bulletproof,” that’s my favorite track off the new album. I like the vocal effects, the distortion – it helps the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic on it. What brought that sound, or that idea, about?
SF: I really play with textures on this album, not just on my voice, but on my guitar. Even with the horns, let’s put horns here, but let’s “effect” them in a way to where it sounds not quite like a horn, but like some other kind of texture. Really, it’s just another way to make the song more dynamic. I have a bullet mic that I use in the show, so it’s kind of a tried-and-true effect hat I’ve been using for years.
AH: You’ve definitely emphasized songwriting, even more so than usual on the album, including some songwriting collaborations. Is that something you enjoy a lot?
SF: I really do. I think earlier in my career, I was a little more nervous about collaboration, because there is a bit of, “oh man, what if I don’t like what’s come up? What if I feel like this isn’t my song anymore, or it feels too far away from me?” Once you start doing it, you realize the positives way outweigh the negatives. Because I’ve had moments where…there’s sometimes where you finish a song, you’re like, “that’s a slam dunk.” And then there’s other times where you get half an idea together, and you sit on it forever, and you’re, “No, it’s gonna come to me.” And when you bring another person into the room, it just broadens the perspective. It makes it so that the story can really relate to others. Sometimes you get kind of stuck on something, thinking “I’ve got to tell it this one specific way.” And when you bring somebody else, it gives you the opportunity to really pull the best out of each other. Somebody else who walks in has different strengths than you, and you can really work with each other and get the best out of each other, and, honestly, that’s the best thing you can do in some cases for the song.
AH: So, you play guitar, sing, songwrite. They’re all hard work, they all involve practice and craft and getting good at it. But what do you feel comes most naturally to you of the three?
SF: Gosh…you know, I don’t know, because all three really are different. That’s a tough question! I really feel like songwriting is the thing I try to work…I feel like I probably have the least amount of time to work on it, but I feel like it’s the most important thing. Because we play so much, I get to sing and play guitar almost every damn day. But songwriting is one of those things, I really feel like that’s what people connect to the most, the song and the lyrics and the story that you’re telling. And then the guitar playing and the singing are really the framework, and your personality put into that, as well. So I really try to focus on the writing aspect of it, and then I’ll sing and play guitar in service to the song. So in regards to what’s the most important thing to me is that, but if you’re asking me what I’m most comfortable doing, it’s kind of a toss-up, man. It depends on the day.
AH: That makes sense. That’s like anybody else, pretty much.
SF: I mean, some days I’m a better singer than I am a guitar player. Some days I’m a better guitar player than I am a singer. It kinda depends on the day.
AH: As far as people you listen to, or people you like, who else should Americana Highways readers be listening to? Who do you think doesn’t get enough listens?
SF: I love North Mississippi-style blues music, Delta blues. These aren’t contemporary artists by means means, but I always feel like, if you talk to somebody who’s not a fan of blues music, and you tell them, “This is bad-ass.” Maybe they kind of have the wrong impression of it, because they think blues is one specific type of way. But I always feel like guys like Junior Kimbrough, the Fat Possum roster, R.L. Burnside, then my friends like North Mississippi [Allstars], Jimbo Mathus – they deserve some of these listens. Americana-wise…I know a lot of great local artists from Kansas City that are just amazing. I love this girl named Katy Guillen, and she has this band called the Girls They’re phenomenal. I think they’re all doing solo projects. What did I listen to yesterday? This gal named Lera Lynn is pretty awesome.
AH: Is there anything else you want to say about the album, or what you really want to get out there about it and tell people about it?
SF: I feel like it’s my most mature release to date. I feel like it’s kind of the most diverse record, it expands over a few different genres. Though it’s rooted in blues, it’s feels like, to me, it’s R&B, it’s got rock ‘n’ roll, it’s got pop, it’s got Americana. There’s a lot of textures to it. So I feel like, if you’re not into the genre, you’ve got to open your mind a little bit and listen to what that genre really, truly is. And I’m excited about it! We’ve been playing these live shows, we just released it a week ago, and we’ve been playing these songs live for the first time. I’d love for people to come out to the shows. We tour non-stop, you know?
AH: From my eyes, I’ve seen that change. Do you see more that you’re just live more and more and more than you used to, say, eight to 10 years ago?
SF: To be honest, I think I started playing music after the recession hit. When I started playing in Kansas City, I had all these older guy guy musicians, and they’d be, “You know, back in the day, it was so much better!” I didn’t really know. I don’t know how much better it was, because I only came up after the fact. I started playing music right when album sales started yielding to streaming and downloads. I’ve heard that things have changed, I know things have changed. Touring is the only way that you can really survive. You have to take this to the road. I think that’s why you’re seeing more of these festivals pop up that are more like experiences rather than the full-on music festival. People are trying to sell experiences now. And that’s why I do a lot of these meet-and-greets in the shows. You build this relationship with the fans. It is a little bit different. You’re not just going there to sell an album. Furthermore, you can’t just sit at home while the album sells itself. You’ve got to really push it if you want to move it. And, honestly, it’s just a vehicle for a live show anymore. It’s just an excuse to make new songs and go out and change a show. We play all the time. We are literally a road band, which is great, because I love to play. That’s why I do this, because I love to play. I get to tour, I get to go around, like today I’m in Arizona, that’s pretty awesome.
AH: The saying used to be, “You tour to promote the album.” Now, like you say, you’re touring to tour, because that’s what you do, and the album just provides more to play.
SF: The album promotes the tour? [laughing]
AH: Almost, yeah!
SF: We’re not touring to promote the album, we’re putting the albums out to promote the tour, to give us something new to do at the show! But, what I love about an album, and I know people are…I just saw a news article the other day about Sheryl Crow – she’s not doing albums anymore, she’s just doing singles, right? And that’s a good idea, because you can feed the audience faster. I think we live in a day and an age where, with social media, everything is a little bit more fast-paced. You kind of are expected to feed people more often. Everybody moves on quicker now. So what I love about the album, I’m kinda old school in that I love that you can tell a story, you can change within an album. I don’t know how much you can change within a single, but I feel like, with an album, you can tell a story, and you can completely redesign the show. You can start over if you want, in a lot of ways, and reinvent yourself.
AH: What do you think about those meet-and-greets, and that now being part of the business? I know some musicians like it better than others do.
SF: It’s just something that I’ve always done. I think, because the way I came up, I used to go and see shows. And when I was 18 or 19 years old, and I first started going to see live music, I really always held onto the fact that you go see a show, and really probably the thing that I remember more than the show was, if you met that person afterward, and how they treated you, it left a positive or negative impression on you. That leaves a bigger positive more or a scar, so to speak, than sometimes even the show itself. Sometimes, a good interaction with an artist that you just saw, it made the show even better. Because you had this experience. And I think I just always took that away, and it just naturally became a thing that I did. Honestly, we’re to a point now where I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to continue that every single night, at least in the capacity that I’ve been doing it. There’s been some “interesting” things that can happen when you’re in that situation every single night. But I still hope there’s a way that I can possibly interact with the fans, because, like I said, in this day and age, sometimes it’s more about the experience as a whole. You’re putting on an experience, not a show – it’s a whole entire thing. For now, I feel like it’s been a good thing that I do those meet-and greets, and honestly, it’s nice to meet the fans and kind of get a personal relationship with them. It kind of feels like we’re all in this together, right?
AH: Yeah, I can say, from my perspective, it’s always nice…there’s always going to be a couple of creepers, absolutely, but for the most part, people really just enjoy meeting someone that they like their music. It’s usually that simple.
SF: Exactly, exactly, And until the bad starts to outweigh the good, I intend to keep it the way it’s been, because I think it’s a positive thing.
To purchase Kill or Be Kind, go here: http://samanthafish.limitedrun.com/
To check out Samantha Fish live, find dates here: https://www.samanthafish.com/tour/