Samantha Fish says she’s scared and excited. The 32-year old blues guitarist is about to release her seventh solo album, Faster, produced by super producer, Martin Kierszenbaum (Lady Gaga, Sting) and featuring legendary drummer Josh Freese (Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, The Replacements) and bassist Diego Navaira of The Last Bandoleros.
“I’m excited, but I’m also sort of freaked out just because it’s a thing you’ve been working on for a really long time. And now it’s coming to a point where everybody gets to hear it,” she tells me. “I mean, I’ve been working on this for gosh, over a year, you know? So it’s like, there’s just a lot of question marks. How are people gonna react? I know I love it, but it’s just kind of up to the world now? I think it’s just the suspense is killing me. I want it to get out.”
Fish has been a road warrior since she was just 15 years old and learning to play the guitar. She would seek out gigs by opening up the phone book and cold-calling countless local Kansas City bars. And since then, she hasn’t looked back – most of her critically acclaimed albums were written between hotels and shows and life on the road. That was until this past year, when instead, Samantha was able to take the opportunity to sit in one place and pour everything she had into her songs.
“I think when this whole thing started, you know, when the pandemic really kicked off last March, I went through, like everybody, serious ups and downs. I don’t even feel like I was completely accepting of our circumstances all the way until about, you know, the early summer when I realized, oh, damn, all these dates, all these shows, our entire life is going to change. It’s not just a month. It’s not just a couple of weeks. This is like a significant change. So my headspace, my mood was kind of fluctuating a lot. I remember feeling some days just really frustrated and angry and I thought the album was going to take that tone. You know, when I started writing, I really thought a lot of what was coming out was really just frustration and, you know, stress, anger, sadness.”
But then something changed.
“It was sometime around mid-summer. I met Martin (Kierszenbaum) and we started this journey working together and I kind of credit him a lot too, you know, this kind of shift in my mood because he’s such a positive, upbeat person and really enthusiastic and excited about music and life. And you can’t help but be sort of infected by that positivity. But I guess when I started working on these songs it was nice to have somebody who really believes in you, you know, because it just reminds you to believe in yourself. And that was kind of his place in this for me. And so when I started writing, it was like, I guess I was writing from the perspective of how I wanted to feel and where I wanted to be, personally. And so we get this positive sort of upbeat, exciting, empowering, energetic thing. And it’s like, yeah, that’s exactly the record I wanted to make from this. I didn’t want to do a dirge. I wanted it to feel good. I wanted to make people feel good with it.”
Fish is talking from Birmingham, Alabama and is preparing to play some shows with ZZ Top, but she’s already been back out on the road and has noticed a change in her audience’s mood since concerts returned after the pandemic.
“I feel like people are really receptive right now and the energy at shows, it’s like we’ve all been kind of starved of this interaction and this connection and live music I feel is such a cathartic release. At least it is for me. When I would go to shows, that’s kind of what it would do for me. It just takes my troubles away. I’m feeling a real palpable energy from the crowd. Like we just played in Colorado the other night and there were kids moshing and crowd surfing. And I’m like, what is going on? It was super fun, but just the energy is different. I feel like people are just ramped up, ready to go. There’s been an outpouring of love and support.”
So what makes a perfect Samantha Fish show?
“I like it when the audience is engaged. That really helps a lot. Cause we give 110% when we go up on stage. I mean, I’m exhausted. If it’s a good show, I’m exhausted,” she says. And so when the audience is giving that back, that’s like a really kind of a special, special moment, you know? It’s awesome to play to an audience that sings along and knows the songs. That’s so cool. I never, as a kid would have imagined being able to do that, but you know, for me, if I don’t break a string, if I don’t break a shoe, if the amps continue to work, if nothing breaks, it feels like a win, you know? I’m always happy when stuff doesn’t go wrong and you know, when the band locks in together and we’re doing cool stuff, that’s special too.”
Faster includes contributions from some high-profile players, such as Josh Freese, who has previously played with Guns n Roses and Nine Inch Nails, amongst others.
“Josh Freese sounds like a million bucks,” says Samantha. “He just sounds so good. And we were in there working on these songs and I mean, he comes in completely professional and prepared, but just the way he hits and the way he plays the drum kit, it’s just got so much excitement and energy and just brings a whole other level of experience and professionalism. And, you know, I’m a big fan of Nine Inch Nails too. Like one of my favourite bands. And it was so hard for me not to geek out and ask him all kinds of silly questions, like is Trent Reznor nice. He’s just a rock and roll bad-ass really. He just nails it, simple as that.”
But the most surprising name associated with the new record is rapper and record producer Tech N9ne (who, like Fish and Kierszenbaum, hails from Kansas City). The song he features on, Loud, drifts from doo-wop reverie to guitar-fueled frenzy. I ask Samantha how that unusual collaboration came about.
“When I was working on these songs, Martin and I met in person in Kansas City and we used one of the writing rooms at Strange Music to collaborate together. They were nice enough to let us just use this room. And Strange Music is Tech N9ne‘s label, a production company, like his whole company. They do so much stuff, but it’s really this giant complex out in Kansas City. And, you know, he’s a big icon, not just in Kansas City, but around the world. He’s just been at it and killing it for years. And I always thought like, oh, it’d be so cool if I could do a verse on a Tech N9ne song. And so him guesting on mine is kind of like mind-blowing for me as a Kansas City native and someone who kind of came up listening to him. Martin is the one who hooked that up. He said, wouldn’t it be cool if Tech N9ne did a feature on this album? And I just kind of laughed. I’m like, yeah, yeah, sure. Right. Like, he’ll do that. You know? And then he did. I was kind of shocked. And, and it’s so cool, you know, cause I think it’s a unique collaboration. There’s a juxtaposition of these musical styles coming together, but it works. I think it’s cool.”
Faster is out September 10.
Interview by Steve Gerrard.
Steve is a photographer based in Montreal photographing bands, portraits and weddings.