It's funny the way the circus of the music business works. In the last decade or so, record labels have been increasingly in financial dismay, with most of them going bankrupt or even vanishing from the face of the earth completely.
On the other end and rather ironically, there has been (and there is still) an impressive amount of new and promising rising stars, displaying so much natural talent that, for some of them, it proves difficult to be contained in just one record.
In that respect, Kansas City's Prodigy guitarist and singer/songwriter Samantha Fish has fully demonstrated, in 2017, through the release of two stunning albums both released last year called Chills & Fever and Belle Of The West, that as long as you have got something of great impact and depth to say and to sing about through your songs, artistry should be never restrained, especially if you have got enough quality material to be released to the fans.
When we meet the winner of the 2017 Bluebird Reviews Award as Best Live Act (ex-aequo with Walter Trout) on a cold evening in the south of the United Kingdom, it's really remarkable to find the young artist, despite the long and challenging year she had so far (although a very gratifying one too, commercially and artistically speaking), so relaxed and in the great form, just few hours before hitting the stage at the historical venue The Brook, in the city of Southampton.
With the great success that came with the album Chills & Fever, not many were expecting that Fish would have released a second album of equal beauty and intensity like Belle Of The West, taking everyone pleasantly by surprise. On that note, Bluebird Reviews was curious to ask the American artist whether releasing a second album was Fish's initial plan all along for 2017 or did she feel purely an artistic urge to release another album of songs that were framing exactly where Samantha Fish and her music are right now. "No, it wasn't a long term plan to release two albums in the same year. When I wrote the songs, I realized that I had enough material for two albums, so I said to myself: "You know what? If we sit on one longer than the other, it's not gonna hit people as much". It felt just like the right time to do it. Chills & Fever was already an album with a strong identity and purpose. With Belle Of The West, we decided to go to Detroit to record the album, with this punk/rock Detroit soul band, with also added some New Orlean's horns. These aspects added new flavors and colors to Belle Of The West, certainly different ones in comparison to the previous album that we did in Mississippi, which we recorded with local musicians as well. To me, releasing two albums in one year was a strong, artistic push and I certainly feel in a very creative mood right now in my life".
For new and old fans of Samantha Fish, Belle Of The West is a fascinating album in many respects. It's an audio encyclopedia of history of American Music of the past and present, finely translated through the heart and soul of an artist in constant growth. Understanding that Fish had lots of material ready to be released, our website is keen to discover whether some of the songs of the Belle Of The West album were written while touring the Chills & Fever album or were they written long before the release of both records. "The songs were probably written, if I am not mistaken, a couple of years ago. Gone For Good, the last song of the BOTW album, that was written years ago. I tried to record it in different studios and I played it live for some time but I couldn't quite get the exact feel, you know, while recording it in the studio. I put that song away for a long time and for Belle Of The West, we brought that song out in a completely different way, re-imagining it and re-dressing it in a totally different style and I preferred the way it came out on the album. So, yes, some of the songs on this album were older, some much newer. I guess that, writing a new album, it is always a kinda of muddy, very murky thing, you know. I think it's like that for everybody. I have yet to talk to a songwriter that has got a very set method, when writing songs. I think, when you open to the art process of writing songs, about being creative and poetic, it becomes a bit like a puzzle. When these creative and poetic pieces come to you, your job is to place them together in a cohesive way. Sometimes, a song just fall out all at once, some other times it takes a lot longer".
One of the many outstanding songs off the Belle Of the West is certainly the one called Daughters, a song that comes across as one of the most personal that Fish has ever written in her career so far. “That song was such a collaborative effort, as far as music goes. The song itself sees me talking, for the very first time, of stories about my family and got a bit more personal than any other song that I have previously written. I generally try and avoid to get personal on my songs. It's weird, as a songwriter, it's something I never had to think about. You know, my favorite songwriters, they always write these personal love songs about family and I am sure that, to them, it doesn't happen like it would happen to me, playing a song like Daughters, with your mama calling you and asking "Hey, is that about me?" (giggles). About that song, when my parents they were young, they got married but her family wasn't really happy about that, because of the age she got married. Daughters is not an exact word for word description of what happened with them, at the time, but it is the story about a young couple and was inspired by my folks”.
In the recording process of Belle Of The West, Samantha Fish has assembled a magnificent group of musicians coming from many different backgrounds, from Blues (Fish’s long-time friend musicians Luther Dickinson and Lightnin' Malcolm, plus Jimbo Mathus and Sharde Thomas) to Americana (Amy LaVere) and Folk (Lily Mae), who brought their own personal sonic background to an album with many layers of sound like Belle Of The West. The challenge of balancing so many different musical backgrounds in the recording process and still to be able to come out with a breathtaking album like this must have been a particular tough one for the American guitarist and singer/songwriter. “In my opinion, the cohesive thread through both Chills & Fever and Belle Of The West it's me, my guitar playing, my voice and, in the case of the Belle Of The West album, my writing too. Everybody else that came to play on the album, they understood perfectly the concept and the vision of the record and they were all on the same page that I was. They are so professional and so talented and they did naturally and brilliantly their own things on the record, because they understood immediately what I wanted to express on the album, something that explains exactly why I brought them in. I wanted Lily to play like Lily, Amy to play like Amy or Jimbo to play like he always plays. That was the whole point for them to come in and play on the album. I like to think that also the way I demoed my songs, was a decisive, contributing factor to the way the musicians played in the marvelous way they did on the album. It's just me, with my acoustic guitar, coming in with very bare-boned melodies on guitar and vocals, so when the other musicians join in, the songs get into their shape and forms very organically. Sometimes it may take, one, or two-three takes but it all happen in a very organic way, something I am really happy with”.
One of the most noticeable peaks on both Fish’s 2017 albums is the extraordinarily high quality of the vocals displayed by the artist from Kansas City, something that Fish seems to have really mastered to perfection on the Chills & Fever and the Belle Of The West records. Bluebird Reviews is keen to discover who were those singers that inspired Fish early in her career and when was the exact moment when Fish realized the potentials in her singing voice. “To be honest with you, I am still try and figure out the potentials in my voice. I am a student, when it comes to my voice. I feel like there is still so much that I have to learn about it and to me, it feels like a muscle that you sometimes need to stretch and work it out, warm it up, in order to make it work as it should. I have done things in the last years with my voice that five years ago I couldn't do and I guess that it got better and better just through years and years of training it, learning how to use it and balance it. It's a fun thing, I love singing and it is obviously one of my passions. I started singing and playing guitar at the same time, when I was 15. I never did it when I was a kid, except when I was in choirs but I didn't think that, at the time, I had a good voice. I probably started finding joy in it later in my life and that's what pushed me to keep improving it. As I said before, I don't think that I had a great voice or anything special, when I was younger. I would say that, at the time, it felt rather tight and constricted. Over the years, I learned to control it and I feel it works much better for me now. My favorite singers were always soul singers. When I started playing, I loved Ray Charles and I was a huge Otis Redding fan too. I wanted to sing with that kind of emotion because it felt real and direct. I was never into that Diva style, like Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, for example, which I like, don't get me wrong. I just felt that, in their voices, there was not quite the same passion and intensity than the soul singers I mentioned before. Then I started mixing my passion for soul singers with country, by listening to country singers, with their voices being so pure, clean and relaxed, just the type of approach to music that I very much enjoy too. I guess I found my voice somewhere in there, by listening to all those different influences, although I feel I am more soothed to Americana, in a way. My voice, its temperature, it's more adapt for that style, I think. I feel that, fundamentally, my voice is an ongoing work in process, like everything else (smiles)”.
The American artist has often been considered, by the music press, as a highly talented guitarist and a singer but Bluebird Reviews felt that Fish’s songwriting style too took an extraordinary leap up, on Belle Of The West. With few studio albums already on her belt, our website is wondering whether, as the years go by, Samantha Fish is finding the process of writing lyrics for songs an increasingly easier and more natural process for her to fulfill. “Not at all. Songwriting is tough. It's one of those things that if you don't do for a while, it's hard then to get it back. I remember that a while ago, I had these lyrics recorded and then I broke my phone and I lost years of sketches of songs, just because I am the kind of person that doesn't back things up, so I had to start from scratch all over again. For songwriting, you really need to be ready for inspiration at any time, pick up your head and look around for that creative moment to come. But as far as lyrics are going, it helps me to read, whenever I have the chance. It gets your diction going, the rhythm, the way you think about words, what fits together. The storytelling, that is, to me, the primary thing when you write songs. It's by telling a cohesive story that people can relate to that really matters. The ability to paint pictures of America, to write songs about your hometown, the place and the people that you grew with, all those social aspects that people can connect to through a song are key factors to the process of writing songs".
Samantha Fish has always had a strong musical bond with the blues genre, something that emerges strongly in the second part of the Belle Of the West album, where the raw feeling and immediacy of a true old fashion classic Blues record can be easily spotted. We ask to the very talented Miss Fish whether Belle Of The West has been, in her opinion and as it feels like through the songs of the album, the record that she enjoyed the most in terms of writing and recording process. “Honestly, the last two records I did, Chills and this one, they were really fun to record. Even Wild Heart (her 2015’s album) was a blast, I remember we went from studio to studio to studio to make that album. Belle Of The West was kind of the step up to Wild Heart, in a way, just because we recorded in Luther Dickinson father's studio once again, a splendid place out in the wood, a place that represents for me the perfect environment where to work and to make a record and also a place that it's full of history, so legendary. It's a very confined space, with all the musicians playing in the same room, so you feel the energy flying everywhere in the room, the sound, the vibes... It's such an earthy feeling for me, I feel really connected to that place. I had a great time making this record, a record that translated well, in my opinion, the great artistic connection between me and all the musicians that were playing in studio”.
Photo by Greg Logan
The guitarist and singer/songwriter displays her respect for the masters of blues music by paying homage to one of the greatest. R.L. Burnside, by covering one of his tunes called Poor Black Mattie in her latest record. Given Fish’s admiration for Burnside’s music, we ask the artist whether she has ever considered recording some Mississippi Hill Country material, one day, perhaps, with Burnside's grandson and celebrated multi-instrumentalist Cedric. “I love Cedric. I have known him for a long time, as long as I have known Malcolm (Lightnin'). I would always try and incorporate that sound into my music, because it was the first blues music that, I feel, really inspired me. Back many years ago, I loved rock and roll a lot. I started with rock and roll, then, when I started getting into blues, I realized that some of that rock s**t was a little bit too clean for me, it was very slick and when you go to Mississippi, you hear this groove and the drums and all this raw-jagged guitar and you just fall in love with it”.
Since she started her career back in 2009, Samantha Fish has established herself as one of the most loved and respected live performers worldwide and our website cannot avoid asking to this huge talented artist what is her secret in being able to connect so well and so deeply, on an emotional level, with different crowds in different countries, night after night. “Something that I feel I have picked up through all these years spent On The Road is that you don't necessarily need to speak the same language of the people living in the country where you are playing live. The music does that job and I know that because I felt in the same way when I was going to watch artists playing live too. Every time I went to see an artist performing, it didn't matter what period of my life I was going through, either a good or a bad one, because I know that the music was there for me, whenever I needed it and made me feel good. Artists and fans are there for the same reasons, to connect with one another with the music and through the music”.
Before we part company with this beautiful and hugely talented artist, we ask Samantha Fish whether there is a word, just one word, that she feels that the music press has correctly used to describe the phenomenal musicianship throughout her career. “Oh, gosh, that's too hard to answer! If I really need to think about a word, I would say Innovative, something that I feel I have achieved, especially in these last two records. That's what everybody wants to achieve, I guess, as an artist. To create something new and fresh and to have a style and a sound of your own. Hey, this question was really tough! (chuckles)”.