Blues, Soul & Big Bands with Singer-Songwriter Samantha Fish

Nikole TowerSeptember 21, 2017
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Fish first carved a niche for herself in this music scene as a blues guitarist and vocalist in 2011. She’s performed mainly as part of a trio, but 2017 has been the year of big bands for Fish. “Chills & Fever” featured a variety of instruments from the punk blues group Detroit Cobras.

Fish and the Detroit Cobras have been touring “Chills & Fever” around the country since April. Before her show in the Valley this weekend, PHOENIX caught up with Fish to talk about her next album, touring in Europe and being a woman in a male-dominated music genre.*

Catch Fish and her band at the Musical Instrument Museum this Saturday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m.

You came out with “Chills & Fever” in March and you have another album coming out in November, “Belle of the West.” You don’t see a lot of people releasing two albums in one year. How did that happen?
I know it sounds ambitious but I recorded “Belle of the West” with Luther Dickinson [of North Mississippi Allstars] last year. I actually recorded “Belle of the West” before we did “Chills & Fever” and by the time we were fired up to put it out, it just wasn’t the right time. I wanted to put something out with a bigger band. Luckily I got the team and the label behind me that will allow me to make a record and put it out at the right time. We followed up my “Wild Heart” record with “Chills & Fever” where we went to Detroit and recorded it. It’s kind of like this rock and roll soul record with horns and keys and this blues punk rock band called the Detroit Cobras. We had this kind of different edge to that record and then I wanted to follow it up with my Americana, roots singer-songwriter record.

What’s this current tour like?
The show I’m bringing to Phoenix is very “Chills & Fever” heavy. I got this whole six-piece band with me on the road. I’m really excited about that because people will be able to see this big dynamic show that we’ve been working on. We sprinkle in some stuff from “Wild Heart” and a couple of older songs, it just depends on the night.

I was looking at where you’re heading next and I saw that you’ll be in Europe when “Belle of the West” comes out. How is it playing this kind of music overseas?
Oh man, they love it. It’s an import, you know? I know when we go over to Europe in November I’m also going to be sprinkling in stuff from “Belle of the West.” The only thing that I know is really different is most people in most places that I’ve gone is the language. The English is pretty spot on as far as being able to communicate with the audience. My German and my French are just atrocious so I’m terrible when I go over there. The communication sometimes is an issue. The challenge I can see for songwriters is focusing so much on these beautifully written lyrical masterpieces and then you go over there and the language barrier can kind of kill that. I really try to focus on performance and dynamics and keeping the storytellings a little shorter, the dialogue a little down. I talk really fast even in America and then I go over there, it can be kind of a challenge.

You’re coming from Kansas City which is very Midwest, small town vibes. Now, you’re playing big cities like Berlin and name another. What’s that like?
When I was a little kid I never thought in a million years that this is what I would be doing. Growing up in the Midwest, my mom’s family were a bunch of farmers. They have a practical mentality and that was in my home. So never in a million years did I think I would be playing music in a foreign country. It’s kind of cool when you think of it like that.

You mentioned that “Belle of the West” has this more Americana sound and “Chills & Fevers” was made in Detroit which is the home of motown. What influences the sound of a record? Is it based on where you are or who’s producing it or where you are at that moment in life?
With “Chills & Fever,” I’ve had so many rock and roll guitar records before. Then I really wanted to start a trio. My vocals have always been driven toward this rock-blues sort of genre but when I played with a band, I was like okay now I can really start expanding my interests. At the time I was really interested in soul singers, but to me I always felt that whenever you’re listening to Otis Redding or Donny Hathaway, they have these big beautiful arrangements and I didn’t want to water that down by making it into a trio. I was excited to grow the band and put on this more dynamic vocal performance. For me this was really my goal behind “Chills & Fever” and to explore the soul side of my music personality.

Then with “Belle of the West” I’ve always considered myself a songwriter. What really gets me the most excited is when I can write songs. Americana is such a broad term. I love country music. I love old country music. I love old country vocals. Sometimes I feel that my voice is more suited for that than the blues stuff that I’ve been doing for years and years and years. Everyone’s got their own opinions. It’s just another outlet to express that and really focus on the songwriting and telling stories.

There aren’t a lot of women in the realm of Americana as you describe it, right? How have you been able to make your way through that? What kind of obstacles do you have to face and go through?
Honestly, no one will ever tell you no to your face, they’ll say it later when you don’t get the call back, you don’t get the festival booking because they already have their [one] girl for that year… I’m going to have to deal with this for the rest of my career probably, and it’s a double edged sword. At the same time that it’s been a hindrance and an annoyance and disheartening, people become intrigued when they see a female playing guitar. For some reason it’s like, I hate to say, it’s like a freak show quality but they get that it’s different… The best way I’ve gotten through it is just bull-headedly. You just keep plowing through until someone says yes. I’ve been really lucky. I think luck plays a part in it for me. I’ve worked really, really hard. I work everyday at it, but I know a lot of people work hard and they never get to this point. I don’t get disheartened enough that I quit, I just keep going. If you don’t get the gig because you’re a female then screw it, there’s better ones down the road.

*Answers have been edited for length and clarity.