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Posted January 24, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Samantha Fish, Naturally

Samantha Fish
Samantha Fish

With her third studio album, Wild Heart, singer-guitarist Samantha Fish emphasizes roots rock over the blues rock for which she is known. She wrote five of the album’s songs herself and teamed up with songwriter Jim McCormick on five others. Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars fame produced the album and played the various stringed instruments (guitar, bass, mandolin, lap steel) on it, recording the album at Royal Studios and Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, at Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, Mississippi, and at Blade Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana. Fish phoned us from her Kansas City home to discuss the album.

I feel like the new album is a huge step forward for you. Do you think of it the same way?
I think so. For me, it was the third studio solo release. It was the first time I was like, “I’m not going to worry if this fits within what we’ve been doing and what everybody thinks we should be doing.” It came out really naturally. We didn’t mind the genres so much. It was more personal. Any time you do something that’s more personal and it’s received well, that’s a success.

Talk about how the songs first started to come together.
I write all the time. I love writing songs. They come in waves. Sometimes, I’m really heavy into songwriting. Sometimes, I don’t write one for a few months. When this album came about, I had several songs that were mostly finished or half finished. My manager wanted me to try co-writing and see how I liked it. I took a few song ideas, maybe a song or chorus. I connected with Jim McCormick in Nashville. He’s written some huge contemporary country hits. He’s a word doctor and a lyricist. We just really clicked. Getting another perspective with somebody who just focuses and works on that alone, I learned a lot. We came up with some good stories. The ideas were there and we developed the stories. I grew up on guys like Tom Waits. I like imagery more than storytelling, but I think a good story connects with people. I went to Nashville for a few days. We met up a few times and worked in person. That was cool. He has an office on Music Row. Getting to go out there and write in that historic place was pretty cool in and of itself.

Do the songs center on breakups?
I think that’s a common theme for everybody. I wouldn’t say they’re all heartbreak songs because they’re not. It’s a lot about family and growth and change. I wouldn’t say it’s selfish but it’s about change within yourself and dealing with that. Some of them are heartbreak songs but I leave it loose for the listener so they can put their own meaning on it. And if they can adopt a song and it fits their life, that’s great.

Forget what a particular song means to me. It’s about what it means to you.

What inspired “Go Home”?
That’s a song about watching a few friends go through some bad stuff. Overall, it’s a song about being a hypocrite and not practicing what you preach. It’s about not having all the answers and not following through. I think we can all relate to being a bit of a hypocrite.

What inspired “Road Runner”? Is it based on a particular individual?
That’s based on a couple of different people to be honest. I try not to incriminate anyone. Nobody tells you the hardships of being a songwriter. I’ve got my dad taking things personally. My mom is pissed. It’s rough. My fiancé is pissed at me all the time. He thinks I write horrible songs about him. They’re not about him. They’re just stories.

How’d you end up working with Luther Dickinson?
I’ve been a fan of Luther’s for a long time. When me and my manager were talking about producers, we ran through a gamut of who we could get to do the album. I don’t remember how it came about. I was a fan of North Mississippi Allstars’ World Boogie is Coming album and then I found out that they produced it themselves. I thought it sounded so good. The quality of the recording was great. It had all the great tonal qualities I would want in an album. It sounded so full. I’ve been a fan of his guitar playing. He’s such a big figure in our industry. He works with all these people and puts out so many great albums. I threw his name out there. A few weeks later, they reached out and he was interested. It was a shot in the dark. I thought that was pretty cool.

You recorded at a few different studios. How’d that happen?
Luther had set that up. It turned out really cool. It was like a pilgrimage. We’re so lucky it came together the way it did. Everyone gelled well. It could have gone really wrong. It could have gone really badly if we didn’t work with one guy. But Luther put together a great team of people. When we went to Memphis and worked with the Norman Sisters. He just picked the right people for the project. He just knew who would be a good fit. We recorded the bulk in Shreveport and that studio sounded so great. We did an acoustic session at his studio, Zebra Ranch. That had its own vibe but if fit perfectly. All the extra stuff we added later with the girls. It was a nice marriage of people and moments.

You initially played drums but switched to guitar. What inspired the switch?
I always loved playing drums and I still play a little bit. This desire to sing and play and be a front person was there even though I was a shy kid. I would have never in a million years picked this for me, even though there was a part of me that always wanted that. I started on drums because I thought drums were really cool, but I really connected with the guitar and singing. It helped me come out of my shell when I was younger. Playing music helped me bridge that gap and become a little more outgoing. It let me become me.

The Kansas City blues club Knuckleheads gave you a chance to perform with blues acts when they came through town.
Well, yeah. I live in the Midwest. I’m not trying to put it down at all, but we don’t live in California or New York. It’s a very practical place and you take a practical approach. When I told my parents and everybody that I wanted to become a musician, it scared the hell out of them. They always said I should go to school. Seeing people at Knuckleheads inspired me. Popa Chubby was the first show I ever saw. I was blown away. He’s a rock star and making a living touring. It’s not such a shot in the dark. For me, I woke up and realized it’s something you have to work for. It’s not impossible. Growing up, you always think it’s impossible.

The popularity of the blues seems to come in spurts. What do you think of the current state of things?
I think it’s in a good place. It depends on the fans and the industry letting it grow and evolve. For me, I felt like I had to fit within a certain category or box to be accepted. I feel like you have to get away from that a little bit. There has to be some exploration and making it your own and that’s what has to happen for it to take off and for young people to get involved.

Do you have plans for your next album?
I already recorded it. It’s an acoustic album. We went down to Mississippi about four weeks ago. It’s going to come out this summer. It’s more like a side project but I turned out really well. I’m just expanding the genre. It’s more Americana roots than blues and we’ll have to see how people interpret it. I think they’ll like the songs and the performances. It’s all about the hook, right? I don’t feel like I’m prolific at all. I get excited about playing music and writing. Right now, we have a little bit of attention so it’s a good time to put something out to share with people while we have people’s attention. Who knows? We might not have their attention tomorrow.

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Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.