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Samantha Fish Gets There 'Faster'

Kevin & King

Musician Samantha Fish breaks down her process and how her new material will make its way into her live shows.

Samantha Fish’s latest album, “Faster,” finds the veteran musician expanding her sound and re-imaging the role of guitar in rock music.

Fish, who grew up in the Kansas City music scene, has released acclaimed albums over the last decade, amassing a fan base that was largely in the blues world.

Having worked early on with producers such as blues great Mike Zito, Fish turned to Martin Kierszenbaum for “Faster.” Kierszenbaum is notable not only for having signed Lady Gaga to a major recording contract but for producing latter-day albums for Sting.

Together, he and Fish have created a record that remains true to her roots influences while making the music accessible to an audience with contemporary rock and pop tastes.

Fish performs at The Cotillion Ballroom on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Interview Highlights

Each of your records is a step in a forward direction. This one, “Faster,” is another step forward. 

Everybody has a different opinion about the records that you make. It takes a little time to know exactly where it sits in comparison to the rest of your catalogue. In 2019, with “Kill or Be Kind,” we started introducing synthesizers, more contemporary drum beats and different effects. That lends itself to bringing the music more into the modern era. “Faster” is even more of an evolution into that while still incorporating guitar work that I feel is rooted in blues and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a very rock ‘n’ roll record. I wanted to make something really high energy. After such a [expletive deleted] year, I wanted to make something that felt good.

There’s that element of blues, of course, but I thought the guitar tones on this record were pretty wild, moving the instrument forward. 

The idea is to put your spin on things and try and creating something new out of something that’s done before, find your own unique voice in it. This is just another iteration of that evolution of my sound. I had a lot of fun making it.

Tell me a little about the rhythm section you used on this album: Josh Freese on drums and Diego Navaira on bass. 

My producer, Martin Kierszenbaum, knew those guys. Josh is a monster [player]. I was trying not to geek out on him too much because I’m a super fan. He’s an incredible player. He’s exciting to play with and knows the right feel. Diego is an adaptable player and his tone is just incredible. We cut the record as a trio and Martin added keyboards. We just rocked out.

Making a record can be an arduous process, and I’ve heard people say that, at the end of it, they often don’t want to hear it anymore. 

I really enjoyed hearing it, when you put it all together, it's a full concept at that point; the sequence is so important, you want to tell a story with the record, wan it to flow and move. So I'm pretty invested in it from the time we write and record to how it sequences and the artwork, and I want it to all feel like the concept together. But then, once it's out, you’re gonna be hard pressed to find me listening to it.

I talked with someone recently who said that they don’ really feel like a record’s done until they hold it in their hands. 

It starts with an idea and a melody in your head. And then here it is, this physical thing that you can share with people. And that's kind of cool. It's a lot of work to get from nothing to something.

Whenever you put out a record, you have to make a decision in the live show about what gets left in and what gets left out. So what's that process been like for you with this tour?

Oh, you have fun with it. You have fun creating the set and creating the show that's dynamic, that will please the longtime fans and also get the new stuff out there so that it can grow on people and become fan favorites as well. The only way that it can become a fan favorite is through that kind of roadwork, honestly. So I definitely tried to make it an even mix of things people come to know and love the new stuff. That's the fun part: getting to put together a show that moves.

I think there's this other element that always interesting, which is that you never really know what's going to resonate with people. And I wonder if you've had times where you're kind of surprised by songs. Obviously, you love them, you wrote and recorded them and put them out there in the world. But now all of a sudden, the fans hear the music. And they might surprise you because they latch on to a song that you weren't expecting them to. 

Always. Sometimes it's the ones that you don’t think are going to do a thing. And then all of a sudden, people are requesting them years later. For whatever reason, they just took off in some way. But that's not for me to decide. It's like once you write it and put it out there, it's for other people to take in and digest and apply to their story. It's not my story after it's out. It's everybody else's. I think it's kind of cool to find out what people really get into, and you try to cater to it a little bit. I want to play and stuff that I like, but I still want to play stuff they like. So I definitely try to listen for what's hitting, you know. Spotify is super helpful for that because it tells you like, who's been playing what, and how much and how often.

I think I read about Metallica a few years ago using Spotify data to figure out setlist. If there was a song that was especially popular in, let’s say Oakland, it might not be popular in Detroit. But the data allowed them to determine that that particular song was going to hit with an Oakland audience. 

We have so much data these days that we can use apply to make our people happy It can be used for evil but it can also be his to make the fans happy, playing the song they really want to hear.

In 2020, a lot of people wound up buying guitars. Some people got their first instruments and others bought things they’d wanted for a while because they were stuck at home. Did you wind up with any new guitars? 

I didn’t. But I hung them up on the walls. For the first time I actually looked at what I had. I have so many guitars at home. I don’t mean that to brag. I didn’t want to take on anything new. I felt like revisiting the ones that I had forgotten about. That was awesome.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.