The past decade has been an incredible ride for inventive singer-songwriter-guitarist Samantha Fish. From her 2009 debut Live Bait to Kill Or Be Kind released late last year, the blues-based artist has blazed her own unique trail. Along the way, she's gained a wide swath of fans-including the legendary Buddy Guy.
Now she travels the world and operates the Wild Heart Records label with a roster that includes occasional tour-mates Jonathon Long, Nicholas David, and Charlie Wooton. The like-minded musicians blend traditional blues, soul, and rock influences into their own unique sound-defying mere categorization while deftly avoiding the overloaded Americana label.
Atlanta-based writer Lee Valentine Smith recently spoke with Fish as she prepped for a lengthy tour that brings her back to New Orleans this month to headline the Cigar Box Guitar Festival.
LVS: You released Kill Or Be Kind on your own label last September. It's a little different from your previous work. How's the reaction so far?
SF: I'm proud of it, and, so far, people generally seem to like it. You're right-it's a little different. I haven't talked to any really negative critics yet, but they're probably lurking around.
LVS: Your bio says it's mostly messages from the heart, and listening from that point of view, it totally makes sense. It seems like snapshots of moments rather than a concept album.
SF: I kinda stuck with the root of it-not getting too crazy heavy with the content. There's a lot of love songs, a lot of heartbreak songs, and a lot of just personal growth on it. So, in many ways, it is a snapshot. It's what you might expect from somebody at a certain point in their life. Really, I think that's how all my albums have come out so far. As far as writing goes, it's really just where I was at when I was writing it.
LVS: You've enjoyed a full decade of exposure now. Even though the albums reveal where y'at any given moment, do you feel your writing has changed over time?
SF: I feel the content has certainly become more mature. I mean the writing itself. The song structures are still blues, but now there are other leanings in there as well. Some songs on this album have definite pop roots in them, but I put the blues in there because that's just how I play-that's my thing. So stylistically, I think I've evolved. It's just about writing good songs and playing good shows. It's really stuff I've always listened to, but now it's just the feeling that it will or won't be accepted by the blues crowds or by my own fan base, but it's not apologetic.
LVS: There are purists in every genre, and blues, jazz, and country fans are probably the most vocal.
SF: For sure, but I always say there are artists who are doing it for those crowds. They're doing it from their heart, too. All you can expect from any musician is honesty.
LVS: You recorded Kill Or Be Kind in Memphis, and there's a definite vibe of the city in the tracks.
SF: You can definitely tell we did it in Memphis. It's all over the record; it's in the sounds we got from the studio itself. We recorded it at Willie Mitchell's place, Royal Studios-which is where Al Green recorded so many hits, and Ann Peebles, too. It's got Memphis soul just seeping out of the walls. You can't help but be affected in some way.
LVS: It's almost too limiting to call this a blues record because it's all over the place stylistically.
SF: Yeah, it doesn't fit into traditional blues, but the roots are definitely there. We live in this kinda weird time period where everything has to be so heavily classified. If it doesn't fit neatly in a box, then it's almost discarded because they don't know where to put it. But I'm just trying to make music that is honest and true to me. Maybe I'm making a new sound. I know it's evolving-taking old sounds into new sounds and mixing some things together. That's how we're gonna get more people interested in the blues and the great traditional music.
LVS: If people can't quite figure out what to call it, they'll just throw it into the good ol' Americana bin.
SF: Americana has become a big absorption place. It gets to be a little bit lazy after a while because such a broad range of music is put into that category now. Even that genre has purists who protect what is truly Americana. But Kill Or Be Kind doesn't really fall into it because there's soul involved, there's pop involved, there's horns. It's a bit broad, but I think people are starting to expect those elements now instead of rebelling against it all.
LVS: Some people say pop like it's a dirty word, but there's no reason to dismiss it because it's popular music.
SF: Hey, the Rolling Stones were pop when they first came out. Pop is popular. You don't have to like what's going on now in it, but like with all of my influences, I tend to think of what it has been over the course of decades. That's how you find and make good music. That's all I'm trying to do.
LVS: The Samantha Fish Cigar Box Guitar Festival runs January 15-18, with performances at Chickie Wah-Wah and The Howlin' Wolf. For more information, schedules, and tickets, visit neworleanscbg.com.