Interview: Samantha Fish

One of the most exciting and dynamic writers and performers in modern blues rock, Samantha Fish is currently coming off a critically acclaimed, fan-favorite with 2021’s Faster, and touring behind songs on her upcoming collaboration Death Wish Blues with Jesse Dayton, who recently spoke about the album on the Blues Rock Show.

Currently on tour overseas, Fish sat down with Blues Rock Review to talk about her upcoming album, the artistic process, the current state of music, and of course, her plans for the future.

You’ve got a new album coming out in May, Death Wish Blues, recorded with Jesse Dayton. I want to go way back before we get into the album, way, way back. When was the first time you met Jesse Dayton, and what was it like? And what sort clicked and what bond did you guys immediately have?

Well, I met Jesse a long time ago. I’m talking like when I was a teenager in Kansas City, going to Knuckleheads. Some of my first live shows were seeing different artists flying through the region. And so I met Jesse 10-12 years ago. I always kind of admired his style, but with social media, we have the ability now to kind of keep track of each other and see what we’re doing, and I just admired over the years his depth of artistry. He’s kind of known in this outlaw country world, but he also is very versatile. He plays shows with Danzig and The Misfits. He also worked on the Rob Zombie films, and being into film and cinema and all that. I just always admired his ability to be a chameleon with that vibe, and I can appreciate that because I try to explore music through different mediums of art as well.

So, how we reconnected, it was January 2022. He came through New Orleans, and my manager and I had been discussing the side project idea for a few years now. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with another artist and the aesthetic and the sound. And when I saw Jesse play, I told Ruben I was, “hey, if he wants to do this, this is the guy for sure. 100%.” It just kind of clicked like that. But then he and I got together last Spring, and we got into the writers room and we started just trying to work out collaborations and get to know each other better. You know, we knew each other but just not really. That’s when we wrote The Stardust Sessions. So that EP came out in December. We went back into the studio in August up in Woodstock with Jon Spencer, who I’m a big, big fan of. He produced the record. And we wrote 12 songs together. We either co-wrote, or wrote on our own and brought it into the studio. It was a really fun, unique experience, you know, getting to collaborate in that way. It’s a very special project.

Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton will release Deathwish Blues on May 19th

Let’s talk a bit about the recording of this up in Applehead Recording in Woodstock. For those who know of The Band, which I hope that most people do, that’s Rick Danko’s old studio. Samantha, do you think that recording in a place like that brings its own certain vibe or aura that permeates the recordings? Do you find that each studio you recorded in has its own sort of personality? Or really, when you go into recording is it much more about the producer?

It’s a mixture of everything. I mean, if it wasn’t about the location, we’d do it in the same place every time. But the location has a pretty big effect I’d say on what the album sounds like and what it ends up being. You know, my last record that I did, Faster, I went to LA and that was LA in the pandemic. It was kind of a crazy vibe anyway, but that definitely spun things in a certain direction.

The location has the ability to really color everything. We were definitely feeling vibes of The Band. Rick Danko lives in the house right behind the studio. So waking up every day and looking at everything, because just knowing the history of Woodstock, New York, all the important music that’s been created up there. It has a way of really kind of coloring your experience and inspiring you in a different way. We lived in that studio for a straight week. They have quarters there for the artists to stay, so we’re waking up every day, in nature It’s quiet. There’s nothing to do but focus on the art. There’s no other distraction. I definitely think it has a lot to do with the producer too. That’s why we work with different people, because you just get different inspiration. I pushed myself on this record in different ways that I never had before. And I stretched and I learned, again, from experience.

Talking about producers, Jon Spencer. What are a couple of things about his style, about the color and unique method that he brings to the table that you really like and that you really think had a huge influence on this recording?

I’ve always been a fan of Jon Spencer. I first started with him with the RL Burnside collaboration. I’m a big fan of the Fat Possum (record label) roster and all that. I like how he brought punk rock and blues together. I mean, that’s a lot of where my heart lies, and so to be able to work with him…he has a very, I overuse the word Zen, but he’s got a very calm energy in the studio. And we brought these demos in very, very stripped down. They really were like acoustic demos, and we had ideas. Jesse and I would kind of talk over the songs at the beginning of the session, but then we said, “hey, let’s just play the songs for them and see what they come up with.”

Because this is when you create something special, and everybody has the ability to put their voices on a song. It’s funny, because I remember one song in particular, we definitely had an idea of what we thought it would sound like. And I could see John sort of working his way around the room and talking to the keyboard player and talking to the bass player, and I’m talking to the drummer. Just kind of low key. I tell them their parts, you know, and then we start playing. And it would be totally different than what we originally thought, but it was just so much cooler. You know, he has a really cool approach. Nothing’s on the nose. He’s just got a great ear for production and sounds and textures and how to create a vibe that’s consistent throughout the album. It all feels like a very cohesive piece and I love that. It’s like everything feels like one cohesive piece of artwork.

I’m lucky enough to get a little advance listen to Death Wish Blues, there’s a lot of different stuff. Blues, soul, punk, funk, you guys touch on a lot of different bases. A couple songs in particular really stick out to me. “Dangerous People” is really catchy, and is perfect for radio. And then there’s also “Superdupabad” which is very funky. I think Samantha fish fans out there might be saying, “wow, this is a very different side of Samantha Fish.” How did it feel to step outside your comfort zone? How were you able to put on that sort of persona and deliver that type of different vibe?

Well, that’s the beautiful part about collaboration. When I do a solo record, I’m constantly checking in with myself, like, “is this 100% me? Is this authentic to what I want to be doing?” The cool thing about collaboration is you can get out of your own way, a little bit, in an artistic sense, because there’s some things maybe I’d be like, “I’m not sure about this.” But when I’m doing it with another person, and we’re doing it together, I’m like, “well, this is intentionally supposed to be something new and different.” I don’t have to be hindered by my own anxiety of stretching out or trying something new, or being worried what people might think because the idea of a collaboration is it’s gonna be unique, right? It’s gonna be something different.

So I don’t know, we wrote “Dangerous People” and “Supadupabad” in the studio. It’s funny, you bring those two up, because we had mostly finished everything. But once we got in the studio, we got super inspired, “hey, let’s work on these three songs.” I think that’s what we thought when we sat down and wrote “Dangerous People” and “Supadupabad,” right there together. I think we did it on the same night. And I wanted to do something with the drum loop, and we went out in the backyard in Woodstock and pulled together all these sound percussion pieces, which I think means, like trash. But we might have had all kinds of different buckets. So I got to play a little percussive loop. And that’s kind of like the foundation of “Dangerous People.” So that was fun for me. The featured half assed percussionist on the record! But I mean, those are those two songs that were different, but they were born out of just inspiration and being in the room together. We cracked up right after “Supadupabad.” It’s such a funny tongue in cheek sort of song. I think that was when we were kind of firing on all cylinders, I was really connected creatively, and, you know, just kind of having fun making the album.

So with songs as diverse as the 12 cuts on this album, how important is the final ordering of the track list? Who made that decision? How did you guys decide, “this is going to be the order?”

Well, I always like to leave it up to the producer, and I have little tricks and things that I think make good production orders. You learn something new from different producers every time you make a record. You know, what songs should be at the end of a vinyl sequence, just because of how vinyl is structured. Like, what’s gonna sound better when the rings are smaller at the end of a side, you know, it’s better for a ballad. I don’t know if that really matters so much, but it’s their little superstitions that I picked up. But the idea is that the album has an even flow, and then it elevates that when you finish it, you want to listen to it again, right?

I think Jesse and I kind of just talked over the sequence, and we talked it over with Jon and again, that’s when you’re collaborating, and you have this many people working together, there’s a lot of checks and balances. I think we all kind of worked on it together. What’s funny is I remember writing a sequence and then Jesse said his sequence, and they were nearly identical. I mean, they were pretty, pretty freakin close to one another. We just kind of worked it out with Jon and we worked it out with the record label. They approved it. It was a team effort.

I want to talk about artists in artistic relationships, thinking about the relationship artistically that you have with Jesse Dayton. He seems like someone you looked up to and were excited when he came to town. You were excited when you got to see him at Knuckleheads What’s it like now, Samantha, knowing that there’s a lot of young players out there that get excited when Samantha Fish comes to town? How’s that? Now that you’ve established yourself, what does that feel like? How do things look through your eyes now that you’ve been around and put out several albums and had success?

It’s hard for me to put myself back in those shoes. I’ve learned a lot. The whole point of this is that this is something that I love to do. So it’s a dream of mine. I think when I was that age, when I was young, I didn’t know the possibilities. I didn’t know what the potential of it could be. I just started putting one foot in front of the other. And then, your expectations and your goals evolve as you realize, “oh, I can do something.”

So for me, it’s the most amazing to see, either kids or young people to show what they can do. Our talks…I’ve talked to several young people who are like, “oh, this has inspired me to pick up the guitar and that really, for me is the coolest thing. We need more players, we need more people playing real authentic instruments and learning how to do stuff and learning how to make music. God bless everybody who’s doing it on a laptop these days, because I know that that’s an artistry and an art form all of itself. But you know, we can’t lose the players. So to see young people come to the show and get inspired, I mean, that’s pretty amazing. I love hearing young women come up and say they want to be a guitar player now, or they want to play an instrument because they saw us do it. It’s a cool thing. I mean, that’s really what it’s all about.

Okay, so you just spoke about young women coming up and being inspired by you. I think everyone knows who’s been around this, that the music business can be brutal, long hours on the road, hard to break in. In addition, are there unique difficulties and hurdles that women musicians have to tackle? And has the landscape for women, rock’n’roll artists, blues artists, has this landscape changed at all since the time you’ve been in the industry? Do you think it’s heading in the right direction? What still needs to change?

It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what needs to change. The pay gap exists. I know this from experience. There’s definitely discrepancies in wages and what you get paid, versus male artists. So I think that needs to be fixed. Obviously, that’s a very glaring error. But also, I know that there were a lot of artists that came before me that put up with a lot, a lot of bullshit, just so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it or that it would get better. Right now, I feel like by just going out and doing this, and trying to even think that we’re doing the same thing for the next generation, you know, trying to just fix some of the imbalances between male and female performers.

I don’t know, man, there’s a lot of questions because there’s so much there’s a lot that needs to be fixed. I think just how people view women…how many times a female guitar player as part of the descriptor is their gender. Male guitar players, their gender is never discussed, they’re just guitar players or they’re just musicians, but we feel a need to catalog women as though it’s like some sort of gimmick or schtick or novelty, and I don’t feel like a gender can be that. You’re just born the way you are, you are who you are. And you know until people stop viewing it in that way we’re going to have the issues that we have now.

That was a good answer. I asked about four questions in one. I’m cognizant of that.

I’m coming back to the thought that there have been artists that have come before me, women in the industry who put up with a lot worse. And I think, just by going out and doing it, we’re trying to right some of these wrongs, so the next generation doesn’t have to put up with some of the shit that we put up with. And hopefully, it all just gets better. But you just gotta keep going and doing it, fighting for it. And being vocal about what needs to be fixed, what needs to be changed.

You speak about going out and doing it…right back to the present. Right now you’re on tour, and I’m looking at these tour dates. You have four nights in a row coming up, and then you’re across the pond to Australia, and then again, across the pond to Europe. Does touring and travel ever wear on you? What do you do to take care of yourself? How do you unwind and get some rest?

So that’s a good question, because I’m still trying to figure out balance. But you know, I’m realizing more and more, I’ve gone so many years on a deficit, of just not prioritizing sleep. Like, “oh, I’ll sleep when I’m dead” kind of thing. But it’s so necessary for your voice to recover, for you just to be thinking clearly, to be able to perform to the level you want to. Nothing is harder than trying to go on stage, fully exhausted, like, you just can’t think. It’s hard to be loose and creative when you’re exhausted.

For me, it’s just making sure everybody prioritizes rest for the band. And sometimes that can be hard, because we do what we do, grueling schedules. We’ve done tours, where people are like, “how are you guys doing this?” I’m not 100% sure, either. But, you just got to make sure everybody’s on the same page. We can do it, but we just have to make sure that it’s reasonable, that we’re not out here killing ourselves. You know, there’s always time. We might not necessarily need to do a red eye both ways, just to make sure it gets done. Sometimes you have to do that. But you just got to figure out a way to realign the balance and get rest. And I try to take care of myself. If I can go to a gym, that helps a lot. I feel like I’m just telling you the most basic stuff, like “drink water.”

It sounds to me like there’s so much going on that if you’re not careful, you can forget to sleep.

Your body will tell you. Your body is very effective at communicating what it needs and what it’s not getting. So the older I get, I’ve gotten used to listening to my body. But you know, the schedule is set, we have to make it work. So you just kind of work within the parameters that you’re given.

Death Wish Blues comes out in May. You’re on tour right now, what are some of your plans for the near future? Are you planning on getting right back into the studio to record more? Will you maybe do another album with Jesse Dayton or another collaboration with someone else? Are you thinking about going back to a straight Samantha Fish album?

Well, we’ve got so many irons on the fire right now. We’ve actually been talking a lot about what comes next. I know there’s been a lot of chatter about possibly tossing around the idea of a live record. We’ve had so many requests for that, and that’d be kind of nice in the interim, while I consider what I want to do next, whether it’s another collaboration or if it’s a solo album. A lot of this is just letting life happen, so that you can be inspired to do the next thing. I’m just not the type of artist that has everything preordained and written out like, “oh, my next 10 albums are going to be exactly like this.” I kind of have to let life happen to me in order to feel inspired and to feel like I’ve got something to say. But I’ve already started writing, I just don’t know what it’s for. And you never know if it’s gonna fit. Whenever, whatever your next exciting concept is. I definitely think they’re talking about a live record, which I think makes some of our hardcore fans super happy. You know, just the next inspiration, the next inspiring thing.

So we’ll get you out with this last question, Samantha Fish. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom for people here reading this, fans of yours on Blues Rock Review?

We were talking about where I started and where I’m at now and how much stuff has grown. I just like encouraging young people to go pick up guitars, go pick up a drum stick, go pick up a keyboard, and make some music. Follow what inspires you, and just go create. I don’t know, I’m happy when I’m creating, and it’s been such an outlet for me. As a young person, and then growing into my adulthood, that’s been like, my best friend…this creativity. So I just always try to encourage people to maybe try, try creating. It can get you through things. It can help you, you know? Also it’s wise to pay your taxes. And eat your vegetables, they’re good for you. Drink water…(laughs)

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