Drawing from her own experiences, an intuitive singer/songwriter goes face to face with her own Kid Face.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
By the time she was a mere 22, Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain could already claim an impressive resume, one spurred on by the critical kudos accorded by an EP called Confiscation and its striking follow-ups, Songs in the Night and You (Understand) And while it may be tempting to focus solely on her heartland roots and think of her solely as simply another wistful troubadour, Crain is way too savvy to be typecast so easily. For starters, she possesses a voice of unusual dexterity, one that can shift and soar as circumstances dictate. For another, her songs possess an urgency and emotion that veer from the cryptic and to the compelling.
Kid Face, Crain’s latest offering and her third full-length effort to date, released this week on respected NC indie Ramseur, finds her in an autobiographical vein, accompanied by a sound that stirs her template and adds a new edge and intensity in the process. According to Crain, she experienced a certain catharsis as a result of writing and recording the material. “I think most of my songs, from the very beginning, even the fictional story ones, have an anxious and rattled sound to the vocal and lyrical content,” she affirms. “That is plausibly because I, like many other songwriters, poets, and painters, use art as an outlet and for therapy, a method to delineate their emotions and thoughts. With ‘Taught to Lie’ (a track off the new album), that song took only an hour or so to write, but the ideas, the theory, the inklings behind those words, were the result of two or three years of self reflection and examination.”
Nevertheless, Crain wasn’t alone when it came to capturing the sounds she heard in her head. Anne Lillis, a member of Crain’s touring band for the past two years, was invited to assist with the writing and also played drums and percussion. Daniel Foulks added the string parts, Kyle Reid supplied the various guitars, John Calvin Abney played keyboard and synth, while Brine Webb contributed bass. John Vanderslice, an accomplished solo artist in his own right, produced the set.
While she took her time in rumination, Crain also claims that there was a certain amount of spontaneity applied to the creative process. “I can’t say that I ever find myself preparing for an album,” she suggests. “I make the album when I have the songs and the conviction to record them. The biggest difference in the actual recording process was that I didn’t make demos. Most producers want demos before you come into the studio, but John didn’t want any. He preferred that we went into the studio without any partisan pictures of the outfits the songs would wear.”
Crain’s decision to record an album of an autobiographical nature did require some special consideration however. It’s telling that her bio finds her confessing to being “too normal” to inspire anything that might result in something special. And while it might be argued that most truly creative artists can never really be considered “too normal,” Crain stands by her assertion.
“It depends on what kind of artist you are I guess,” she suggests. “I feel like everyone has the capacity to make art, and there are more artists walking among us then we may think, so in that respect, I do think I’m pretty normal. I mean, I wait tables for half the year when I’m not touring. The touring and making records part might not be normal, but the struggle to pay bills, the family troubles, the bouts of despondency… all that is normal. I think I just thought I always had to be doing something new for people to start paying any attention. And maybe that’s so, but I’m not an innovator, I’m not in the vanguard. I’m a remixer — someone who takes pictures and thoughts and sounds and words, throws them into the blender of my brain, and out pours songs that I think are somewhat familiar. And I’m alright with that.”
Crain says she takes her time when it comes to formulating her material. So while her songs may have come quickly early on in her career, these days, they’re the product of careful consideration.
“I’m a magpie of sorts,” she insists. “I have hours of hummed and plucked out melodies, and stacks of journals and folders with pictures, clippings out of magazines, pages ripped out of newspapers, scrawled out thoughts and ideas. The longer I do this and the busier I become, the more I have to make sure I capture the inspiration when it comes, and then I have plenty to work with when I can finally sit down and piece it all together. It isn’t as simple as just sitting down with a guitar and waiting for the hand of God to reach down, although my early songs sometimes felt like that was the process… like I could just sit down and write a whole song in 30 minutes. Although it probably was the whiskey, not the hand of God.”
Ultimately, Crain’s goal is simple. “I just hope people can relate to the songs,” she muses. “I know with making an autobiographical album, there is the chance that the universal element can be lost, so I just hope that I was able to connect.”