Killin' It
Samantha Fish Blends Blues, Pop and Soul on Her Latest Album

By Lee Valentine Smith

The past decade has been an incredible ride for inventive singer-songwriter-guitarist Samantha Fish. From her 2009 debut Live Bait to Kill Or Be Kind released this fall, the blues-based artist has blazed her own unique trail. Along the way, she's gained a wide swath of fans including the legendary Buddy Guy.

Now she tours the world and operates her own Wild Heart label that includes her current tourmate Nicholas David. The two musicians blend traditional blues, soul and rock influences into their own unique sound. It defies mere categorization and avoids the overcrowded Americana label.

INsite spoke with Fish as she prepped for the tour that brings her back to town this month at Terminal West.

You released Kill Or Be Kind on your own label in September. How's it going so far?

I'm proud of it and so far people generally seem to like it. It's a little different. But I haven't talked to any really negative critics yet but they're probably lurking around.

Your bio says it's mostly messages from the heart and listening from that point of view, it totally makes sense. It seems like a snapshot of a moment rather than a full statement or a concept album.

Yeah, I kinda stuck with the root of it, not getting too crazy heavy with the content. So there's a lot of love songs, a lot of heartbreak songs and a lot of just personal growth. It is a snapshot, it's what you might expect from somebody at a certain point in their life. Really that's how all my albums have come out. As far as writing goes, it's really just a snapshot of a time. It's where I was at when I was writing it and now here I am.

Even though your albums reveal where you are at any given moment, how do you feel your writing has changed over time? You've enjoyed a full decade of exposure now.

I feel the content has certainly become more mature. I mean the writing itself. The song structures are still blues but there are other leanings in there as well. Some songs on this album, I feel have some definite pop roots or origins in them, but I put the blues in them because that's just how I play, that's my thing. So stylistically, I think I've evolved. But it's really stuff I've always listened to, now it's just about the feeling that it will or won't be accepted by the blues crowds or by my own fanbase. But it's not apologetic, this album. It's where I was when I wrote it and so far the reaction has been great.

But there are purists in every genre, and blues, jazz and country are probably the most vocal.

For sure, but I always say there are always artists who are doing it for those crowds. They're doing it from their heart, too. That's really all you can expect from musicians is honesty.

You recorded Kill Or Be Kind in Memphis and there's a definite vibe of the city in the tracks.

Oh you can definitely tell. I think it's all over the record. It's in the sounds we got from the studio itself. We recorded it at Willie Mitchell's place, Royal Studios - which is where Al Green recorded so many hits and Ann Peebles, too. It's got Memphis soul just seeping out of the walls. I feel that you can't help but be affected by that in some way. And with the horns, that really gives it a Memphis feel to it, too.

It's almost too limiting to call this a blues record because it's all over the place stylistically.

We live in this kinda weird time period where everything has to be so heavily classified. If it doesn't fit neatly in a box, then it's almost discarded because they don't know where to put it. But I'm just trying to make music that is honest and true to me. Maybe I'm making a new sound, it's evolving. Taking old sounds into new sounds and mixing some things together. That's how we're gonna get more people interested in the blues and the great traditional music. You're right, it doesn't fit into traditional blues but the roots are definitely there.

And if people can't quite figure out what to call it, they'll just throw it into the Americana bin.

Yeah, Americana has become a big absorption place. That gets to be a little bit lazy after a while because such a broad range of music is put into that category now. Even that genre has purists who protect what is truly Americana. But Kill Or Be Kind doesn't really fall into it because there's soul involved, there's pop involved. It's a bit broad but I think people are starting to expect those elements now, instead of rebelling against it.

Some people say pop like it's a dirty word, but it's nothing to dismiss just because it's popular.

Hey, the Rolling Stones were pop when they first came out. Pop is popular. You don't have to like what's going on now in it, but like with all of my influences, I tend to think of what it has been over the course of decades. That's how you find and make good music. That's all I'm trying to do.

Samantha Fish plays at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, December 11 at Terminal West. Nicholas David opens. For more information, please visit terminalwestatl.com.

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