Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Sweet, Sweet Soul: A Conversation with Samantha Crain

Written by Tami Devine
Active Image                  Samantha Crain, a petite songstress raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma, has a voice that rivals The Little Mermaid’s Ariel’s. In addition to singing, she plays guitar, writes songs, and plays with a bunch of dudes whom she found for her band. Her writing, which is often tinged with a melancholic darkness, is delivered with a precocious folky energy. In “Bananafish Revolution,” for example, she sings, "It's a perfect day for dying," and the music seems to rock in the delicate crux of doom and joy.
Photos by Jason Rodgers

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Samantha Crain, a petite songstress raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma, has a voice that rivals The Little Mermaid’s Ariel’s. In addition to singing, she plays guitar, writes songs, and plays with a bunch of dudes whom she found for her band. Her writing, which is often tinged with a melancholic darkness, is delivered with a precocious folky energy. In “Bananafish Revolution,” for example, she sings, "It's a perfect day for dying," and the music seems to rock in the delicate crux of doom and joy.
 
Even when singing her moodiest lyrics, she has an uncanny ability to maintain a sense of hopeful energy that keeps you smiling even when thinking about such atrocities as heartbreak. Her honest voice is one that you want in your ears while staring into a blue, blue sky this summer.

Her newest release, Songs in the Night, came out in May and what initially struck me about the album is how she seems so at ease in her music. She adds colors to her voice and bends the lilting rhythms around just enough to make the music uniquely "hers." She has a clear musical vision; she sings with intimacy and heart, and she is blessed to have a rockin' band behind her. Seeing her live only confirmed my suspicion that she is the real deal. Besides her killer songwriting talent, she has a powerful stage presence and gives the audience all she's got.

Wanting to meet the woman behind the voice, I headed to the Iron Horse Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts and chatted with her about her DIY success as the songwriter and lovely singer of her own band, Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers.

Tami: Is this your first national tour? Is it living up to all your rock and roll fantasies?

Samantha: Definitely not our first national tour. Um, I've been touring for about three years, so I've been coast to coast, many times.

Tami: Have people been generous [with] letting the band crash on their couches?

Samantha: Yes, they have. We've actually been spoiling ourselves and getting really cheap hotel rooms on Priceline.

Tami: Are you excited to be in the Northeast now? You're heading to New York tomorrow. What kind of vibe do you think awaits you?

Samantha: Yeah, I am actually. The drives are much shorter between shows now. I think, as far as the people  who come to the shows, there's definitely still that Midwest feeling; most people are cool who come to the shows. People aren't just standing there with their arms crossed, like too cool to like the music.

Tami: Is there a special feeling of success associated with playing shows in New York?

Samantha: Sometimes. Like, last year when I played at Bowery on the Hotel Cafe Tour, I got really emotional because it was like, a sold-out Bowery Ballroom show, which was kind of crazy for me. But I mean, as far as New York in itself, we always have really good shows, the people are great there, but it really stresses me out—the driving and trying to find parking. It's a crazy city, man, and I really like maybe being there for a day. So it's hard for me; I still have not fallen in love with it. I think most musicians, they go there a couple of times and fall in love with it, and that's not my experience at all.

Tami: When did you start studying music? Any formal training, or [were you] just singing into a hairbrush?

Samantha: Just singing into a toothbrush. No formal training. I taught myself.

Tami: You must have had at least fourth grade music class?

Samantha: Well I mean, music class was required, but it wasn't anything more than like, 'Here's a wooden block. Beat on it.'

Tami: The triangle was my preferred instrument.

Samantha: I mean, I remember playing a recorder too at some point. But I'm not skilled at reading music.

Tami: How did you teach yourself guitar?

Samantha: The Internet, mainly. I know that sounds dumb, but the Internet has printable chord sheets. Just teaching myself on guitar chord Web sites.

Tami: When did you realize that you have a very special voice? Were you inspired to keep singing by teachers or mentors?

Samantha: I think the person who inspired me the most as far as finding my own voice is—there's a musician out of Boston, who’s in a band called Gretel. Her name is Reva Williams; I saw her play for the first time when I was about nineteen, which is when I first started writing songs. And I don't think I was very comfortable with singing quite yet; I was a little bit timid. I think watching her play and hearing her writing was a pretty big inspiration for me.

Tami: What kind of music really got you first excited about music? What bands made an imprint on the teenaged Samantha Crain?

Samantha: Radiohead was like the big band when I was in high school. Like, the "big" band to listen to if you {multithumb popup_type=normal thumb_width=400 thumb_proportions=bestfit resize=1 full_width=600 image_proportions=bestfit}
{mosimage width=400}wanted to listen to cool music. OK Computer was just coming out when I was...wait. Well, Kid A came out in 2001, and then I went and listened to OK Computer. Yeah, I found out about Radiohead from Kid A, which came out when I was in high school.

In junior high, I did try to rush home from school and watch TRL all the time. I could only catch the tail end of it, since I was in central time zone.

Tami: What was it like growing up in Oklahoma? I hear Tulsa is kind of fun.

Samantha: Tulsa's cool. Cool art scene, cool downtown area. If you want the true spirit of Oklahoma, like the devastated dust bowl-type thing, then Central Oklahoma is the place to be, like Oklahoma City and the towns around it.

Tami: You were recording music as "Samantha Crain" prior to having the current roster of bandmates. How did you meet them? Now is the songwriting more collaborative or are you still the primary writer?

Samantha: I met them after I started touring. I used to play shows at the college where Jacob went, and that's where I met him. I met everybody else through him. Jacob and Andy are from Missouri, and Steve lives in Nashville. I met Steve on Martha's Vineyard.
 
I still write all the songs.

Tami: When I was assigned this interview, I looked y'all up on Last.fm, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, [and] the list goes on. How do you think the Internet has served young bands? Do you think there is a downside to it?

Samantha: It helps with music promotion. I hate there being so much information just on us, as people, on the Internet. It creeps me out a little. It's definitely got its upside, like the DIY aspect of it, to be able to release music without anybody else butting in. With that also comes the weird, alternative universe, where all this information about you is out there floating around. Everybody can find out anything about you.

Tami: You should change your name.

Samantha: Yeah, I'm thinking about it.

Tami: On your blog you posted some comments that your mom's elementary school students had about your music. I love when one of them said that "Calm Down" sounds like you are calming someone down. They seemed so cute and starstruck by you. Do you think that SCTMS will have any relationship with youth in the future? Like, you guys could do assemblies at elementary schools.

Samantha: I never even thought about that! But I do get comments sometimes from parents saying that their kids pick up on our songs really easily, which I think is really great. We have a friend, Becky, who has got two kids, and they pick up the songs really easily, and we've had kids in our audience before, and they dance around. So, yeah, I think there is an aspect of our music that must be accessible to kids. I would totally be into the idea of playing assemblies.

Tami: Some of your lyrics have a certain biblical ring to them. I wonder if any relationship to religion has informed your music-making?

Samantha: I mean I grew up in the Bible Belt. So I think there's a lot of that imagery that's kind of soaked into my writing, I'm sure, just because I grew up around it. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, and a lot of that imagery used in that denomination is really pretty violent, like "fire and brimstone" sort of imagery. So, even without the religious aspect I just find that imagery very powerful, so I like to bring that across sometimes.

Tami: People hearing your music have noticed your voice seems to express wisdom beyond your twenty-two years. How do you respond to critics who may label you an "old soul"? Do you think that musicians are ageless?

Samantha: I don't really know what that whole "old soul" thing is about. I've tried to figure it out. I feel like my voice sounds like my age, like my singing voice, I don't think it sounds younger or older per se. I think maybe what they mean, is confidence, which makes more sense to me, like confidence in my voice. Maybe that confidence comes with age. I do see myself as a confident musician. As far as aging goes, I don't really think about aging very much.

Tami: What's next for SCTMS? Once the tour is over, what direction will the band take? Will you deliver pizzas for Papa John's again?

Samantha: Hopefully not. This tour doesn't really end. Even after it ends, we are on the road for the majority of this year, and then we'll be making our new record.

Tami: What’s home for you?

Samantha: I'll be going back to Oklahoma for maybe like three months. But the majority of that will be spent resting and writing. Hopefully I won't have to work at Papa John's. If I do have to get a job again, I think I'm gonna work at a tollbooth because they pay pretty well.

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