On her excellent new album Faster, the modern guitar maverick switches up her sound
Samantha Fish was 20-years-old when she first made an impression on the blues scene.
Her self produced debut, Live Bait, got her noticed by Ruf Records and her solo debut for the label, Runaway, got rave reviews. Since then, the Kansas City native has been an unstoppable road warrior. She cuts a record, tours to support it, and then repeats the process. Like most artists, she was forced to stop and re-evaluate her path during the long Covid lockdown.
“All the songs on my new album, Faster, were written during the pandemic,” Fish said. “Martin [Kierszenbaum, my producer] and I co-wrote, sitting in a room in Kansas City, fine tuning them over the course of the lockdown. Later on, he was in France, working with Sting, but we’d get on the phone, or Zoom, and start tweaking lyrics and melodies. It’s part of his production method to be involved in the songwriting. We wrote a bunch of songs during the lockdown. The ones that were a bit stir crazy didn’t fit the vibe we were aiming for. There will be a zillion albums coming out about the shit we just went through, but I wanted to feel better and make everybody feel confident that we’d get through this.”
Fish said that the sound of the new record – more pop, more danceable, more electronic and with a taste of hip-hop – was a natural progression from her last outing, Kill or Be Kind.
“On that record, I was leaping into electronic beats and different genres,” she tells Rock & Roll Globe. “I’ve always been a fan of pop, industrial music, and other things you’d never expect. I cut it in Memphis, so it had a Memphis soul sound to it, but some of the more adventurous arrangements were alluding to where I was going.
“This one was made in Los Angeles. It’s my first West Coast record. We did it at Village Recording Studio. Hundreds of hit albums have been made there by Fleetwood Mac, The Stones, Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga. I wanted to make my mark in that studio. The title track, ‘Faster,’ is an invitation to a lover, if you take it literally, but it’s also an invitation to the listener to dive into the record and take a journey with us. The arrangement, a funky Howlin’ Wolf kind of thing, is exciting and different. It captures the essence of what we’re trying to say with the rest of the album”
True to her word, the tunes on Faster cover a wide range of styles. “All Ice, No Whiskey” combines elements of the Delta blues with an electro backbeat and a killer guitar hook to deliver a putdown of a lover who never delivers on his romantic potential. Fish sings with a mix of humor and irritation that perfectly fits the smirking lyric. The soft pulsation of an electric guitar and a quiet vocal give way to a metallic chorus full of distorted electric guitar chords on “Loud.” Fish amps up the aggression on her vocal to set up the rapid fire, tongue-twisting rap of special guest Tech N9ne. Acoustic piano triplets and a muted bass line give “Better Be Lonely” the feel of a funky 50s rocker, as Fish calls out a lover for his lack of commitment. Funk, rock, blues, pop and electro beats swirl through the arrangements to highlight her aggressive guitar work and exhilarating vocals. She cut the tracks with the rhythm section Kierszenbaum uses for many of his productions – drummer Josh Freese and bass player Diego Navaira.
“We made the album during the pandemic live, in the studio, which is what I usually do. I like to cut alongside the drummer and bass player, but we took precautions. We all were masked and I was tested before I went into the studio. They took my temperature at the door and everything was covered in plastic and sprayed down. We played in a big room, far away from each other. The only time I took off my mask was when I was in the studio room for playback, or when I was singing. All of LA was shut down, so we just got in and out, worked fast and hoped for the best. I gave the guys the songs and told them to play ‘em the way they’d play ‘em. I like to have the personalities of the musicians come through the music. They were both monsters in the studio, so the point is to let them shine.”
Faster is the seventh album Fish has made since she began her professional career. What attracted her to the blues and why is she expanding into other genres? “I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. My first love was the guitar and singing. All the guitarists I admired were heavily into the blues. I wanted to find out what they liked, so I started listening to traditional artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Skip James, Son House. Kansas City has a heavy traditional blues scene, so I went to a lot of clubs, sitting in on blues jams, learning how to sing and play. I’m not moving away from the blues, but I am incorporating other styles of music to express myself. I want to stretch and grow and find my own voice.”
Now that two decades of the 21st century have elapsed, do you still have to deal with the problems that women bandleaders have traditionally faced? Fish laughed. “Every goddamn day, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
VIDEO: Samantha Fish “Faster”