Commanding and impeccably versed in six-string heroism, Samantha Fish has been a study in fluid artistic evolution. The Missouri native has maintained an appetite for new sounds across seven solo albums, a champion rocketing the blues ever onward while carving hunks out of the boys club dynamic and enthralling admirers with take-no-shit rock n’ roll roadshows.
“Really, since the Wild Heart record, every record has been a little conceptualized, a different theme sonically,” said Fish during a recent phone call. “I’ve always felt like an album is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to flip the narrative on its head a little bit. People get an idea of exactly who you are and exactly what you’re gonna be doing next, but as an artist, it feels good to be able to have the freedom to change and go wherever the art pulls you to. At the end of the day, that’s what’s drivin’ the bus and I’m just tryin’ chase it down and write good songs.”
For her last full-length, 2021’s Faster, Samantha teamed up with producer Martin Kierszenbaum (Madonna, Sting, Lady Gaga) in her hometown of Kansas City to shake off the pandemic and challenge herself with fresh material and a new direction.
“Martin’s an incredible pop producer. He’s done some of my favorite pop acts. He produced Lady Gaga’s The Fame, which I think is an amazing album! It was something I had definitely been flirting with prior to that– taking the blues and seeing if we could collide it with another genre in a way that made for really massive hooks, catchy songs that people could feel and dance to,” said Fish. “Coming out of the pandemic with a record like that– out of a time that wasn’t really fun at all– comin’ out with somethin’ that was so energetic, it got me up and going! That was what I wanted to do for everybody else.”
Samantha had indeed felt the hopelessness of 2020– the canceled tours and personal as well as global uncertainty– creeping into her songs, but rather than giving way to the darkness, she focused on who and what she wanted to be.
“When I started working with Martin, he had such a positive, enthusiastic energy about him, it was hard to not feel optimistic about the art and what I could do with it. I think that was really a massive gift that Martin gave to me,” said Fish. “We started writing songs from the perspective of how I wanted to feel and I how I wanted to make other people feel.”
Fish and Kierszenbaum used the opportunity to write songs steeped in attitude and motion, tracing ley lines to find inspiration from the realms of blues, pop, and even Minneapolis funk.
“I find Prince to be this chameleon and this amazing guitar hero that brought the guitar into so many different genres. He’s definitely somebody I look up to,” said Fish.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Faster was the guest appearance by Kansas City rap icon Tech N9ne on the track “Loud”, a surprisingly organic collaboration and an album highlight.
“This idea scared me so bad,” revealed Fish. “When we first met up in Kansas City to cowrite, Tech lent us one of his writing spaces. They have a big complex out there with Strange Music, and Martin just flippantly tossed the idea out like, ‘Hey, what if we get Tech on one of these songs?’ I just laughed like, ‘He would never in million years! He’s not gonna say yes!’ Martin’s like, ‘I think he will!’ So he asked him and Tech was down– I was shocked! I’ve been aware of him since I was a kid. There were massive billboards erected all over Kansas City with Tech on ’em! He’s a hero and a legend– not just in Kansas City but around the world. He’s one of the best in the game! It tickled the Kansas City kid in me!”
Just in time for the New Year, Fish released her latest super team-up, this time with fellow guitarslinger Jesse Dayton. The two converged in New Orleans to write songs for an upcoming full-length titled Death Wish Blues but capitalized on the occasion with a trio of cover tunes dubbed The Stardust Sessions.
Initially, I’d seen [Jesse] in January of last year,” said Fish. “We had talked about doing this project together. He came in for a writing session and towards the end of the writing session, my manager called us both and said, “I booked a studio. You guys figure out a couple songs that you wanna throw down.” It was low-pressure. ‘We just want to see how it goes. Pick out a few songs that you feel like encompass the aesthetic and the vibe and the inspiration of what you’re trying to do.'”
Low pressure– but high octane as “Brand New Cadillac”, a cannon of a tune originally cut by Vince Taylor and the Playboys turns knockdown-drag-out in the hands of Fish and Dayton.
“We wanted to do somethin’ that mixed punk rock, blues, and all these different styles together for this specific project. We tried to choose songs carefully that would express that. I didn’t know that it would go over so well, but the label loved it and wanted to put it out as an EP, so it’s a cherry on top!”
In addition, Fish selected Townes Van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”— a longtime live favorite– for a gorgeous juxtaposition of acoustic guitar and harmony, and Dayton offered up his take on Magic Sam’s “Feelin’ Good”.
“The idea was always to make an album,” Fish said. “We ended up going early in the fall, late summer up to Woodstock to work with John Spencer from John Spencer Blues Explosion, The Hitmakers, Boss Hog. He produced the album. We wrote twelve original songs together and that was always the intention. This is a different kind of thing for both of us because we’re both front people. It’s finding our voice on the guitar that’s sonically separate from one another but also supportive ’cause you’re cast off into this role of rhythm guitar player at times. It’s been a fun challenge for both of us to dynamically figure out how to build songs and support ’em together.”
Death Wish Blues is slated for late spring 2023.
“Normally,” laughs Fish, “I’m just tryin’ to get the band to sing backing vocals! Now, I’m the backing vocalist on some o’ these songs– and it’s hard, man! But it’s been fun! It’s gonna be a unique journey together!”