Fish takes blues in new directions
By ANDY GRAY
WARREN — Samantha Fish takes her blues into some different directions on “Faster,” her second album for Rounder Records.
Martin Kierszenbaum, who’s worked with such acts as Lady Gaga, Sting and Sheryl Crow, produced the album and co-wrote eight of its 12 songs. There’s still plenty of electric guitar, but Fish’s vocals are out front in the mix, and there are keyboards and synthesizers carrying the melodic load along with her six string. There’s also a guest appearance by rapper Tech N9ne.
Fish is on the road in support of the album and will return to Warren for a concert Friday at the Robins Theatre. During a break from touring, she took time for a phone interview. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
TICKET: How did your recent run of shows go?
FISH: I think it went really well, all things considered. It felt really strange for me to be out, personally, just because we went though something kind of crazy last year. It still feels a little weird to be out there, but at the same time (it feels) really, really good. Everyone’s really working together. You feel a deep sense of cooperation and collaboration with everybody coming together to try to make it work. If that’s what we got to do to make live music happen, that’s what we’ve got to do.
TICKET: What impact did the pandemic have on the new album?
FISH: Honestly, this was probably right on time. “Kill or Be Kind” came out two years ago. That’s’ generally the same schedule I like to stick with. If anything, it freed me up to write. Generally, I write from a hotel room between shows, collaborate on the road. It’s a lot of stress. It was different for me to remove that aspect of my life and just writing songs for three months.
It’s a double-edged sword. Some days were really productive, some days it was difficult to find inspiration from the same four walls, but I collaborated a lot, I reached out, and I wrote songs on my own.
TICKET: How did the partnership with producer Martin Kierszenbaum come about?
FISH: Martin reached out to me summertime last year. He lives in Los Angeles, but he has Kansas City connections. His wife has family there. He reached out and just wanted to tell me he likes my music. That was nice to hear at a time when things weren’t happening like they normally do. We just sort of picked up a friendship. The more I got to know him, this guy has lot of what I’m looking for in doing the next record. I didn’t know if he’d be game, but he said yes, and we just sort of started from there.
TICKET: At what point did you realize it would be a fruitful collaboration? Was there a song early in the process that made you decide this is a good idea?
FISH: The first two songs we wrote together were “Faster” and “Hypnotic.” Basically, I was like, “What about a riff like this?” and he was like, “Oh, yeah,” and we started bouncing ideas off each other. It was a really productive day to have those two songs sort of fallout of both of us that way.
I knew when I was working on “Hypnotic” that it was different than anything I’d done in the past. I really wanted to utilize my higher register, which I hadn’t done on a recording before, singing in falsetto. I brought in the guitar riff and said, “What about a melody that counteracts it?” and then we started working on the lyrics and came up with this really cool sassy, sexy spooky sort of song. We just had good chemistry. There’s a great enthusiasm about him. He’s excited about music and has a lot of ideas, and that kind of energy is fueling. You get that momentum rolling, and it feels like we could do this all damn day long. It’s fun when you meet somebody like that.
TICKET: When we’ve talked before, you said you like to go into the studio with a lot of songs, and then whittle it down to the best of the best for the album. Did you take the same approach this time?
FISH: The process for this one was a little different than anything I’ve done in the past. We really put a lot of work in on the front end. I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve never not put a lot of work in on the fronts end, but a lot of times I’d send everybody an acoustic demo — “Here’s the idea for the song. Let’s go in the studio and make up the rest of it.” Honestly, I still like that approach for the organic nature of it.
Martin approaches things a little differently. We really built out a lot of the tracks. The bones of the song were complete by time we went in there. We knew where the bridge was going to go. There was no surprise bridge. We knew the lyrics. … We whittled it down before we ever walked in there. It was a little comforting to know, “OK, this is how we’re going to do this.” It kind of opened me up to like have more fun and relax and not be totally stressed out about what today’s going to bring.
Everybody in there was incredibly good and professional. Josh Freese (Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, The Replacements) played the drums, and he’s just a beast. Diego Navaira (The Last Bandoleros), he’s got such an incredible feel on the bass. Martin played all the keys. We had a really great road map, and I’ve never had such a detailed map before. It made me feel more comfortable and confident.
TICKET: Have the new songs changed much live now that they’re being played by your touring band?
FISH: It’s still a little early to tell. The record just came out (in September). I try to start being really true to the album. We spent so much time getting this to sound the way we wanted it to sound, I want to do my best to honor that. As time wears on, you start rethinking things. Maybe it would sound better if the bass line was a little groovier, let’s do an extended outro here or there. It just takes time. It’s going to continue to evolve. By the time I see you, I could be eating my words and doing something entirely different.
TICKET: Has the approach on the new material had an influence on your older songs live?
FISH: I started bringing synth into the band with “Kill or Be Kind” in little tiny doses Now the show is a little more synth heavy. I never thought I’d be a big fan of synthesizer, but I am because you can make these incredible heavy sounds, and that’s what I like to do on the guitar. Now I have this counterpart on stage that can also do it, and we can switch positions. He’s holding down this really nasty, pulsating thing low, and I have the freedom to move up high and do different things as far as the older material. It gives me the opportunity to rethink some of the old songs in the context of the show. What can I put in the show that’s going to complement the new stuff? How can we make a really well- rounded show?
TICKET: I saw in an interview on YouTube that you started out as a drummer. How has that foundation playing drums influenced your songwriting?
FISH: I started in blues, and I still am in the blues world. Some of my favorite regional blues is north Mississippi. To me the guitar holds a groove that is danceable, but it’s all about the drums. It’s about movement. I think I was really drawn to that, something that was danceable and groove-oriented. I try to keep that in the back of my mind when I’m writing. The flashy guitar pyrotechnic playing is great, but you have to be able to establish something melodic and something people can latch onto and something that’s danceable and grooving.
I think the drums kept me grounded that way. It marries you in with the rest of the band. Sometimes as a guitar player, it’s easy to go off the rails and want to pay as fast and ferociously as you can, but at the end of the day it all has to make sense with the band and it has to connect with the audience. I’m always trying to keep all the parts in mind and how they all lock in together.
If you go …
WHO: Samantha Fish and King Solomon Hicks
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Robins Theatre, 60 E. Market St., Warren
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $30 to $39 and are available at the Robins box office and robinstheatre.com.