Talk about bad timing. A few months before the pandemic shut everything down, singer-guitarist Samantha Fish released Kill or Be Kind. Frustratingly, Fish, who usually spends the majority of the year on the road, couldn’t tour as much as she would’ve liked in support on the album.
As soon as things started to open back up, however, she was got back in the van and played some gigs in Texas and even made it to Northeast Ohio in spring of 2021.
“It was really strange,” she says via phone from her Kansas City home when asked about returning to the road. Samantha Fish performs on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Kent Stage. Jesse Dayton and his band open the show. “The first tour we did. Every state had different rules, and every venue had different rules. We had our rules and would be met with agreement or horrible disagreement. It was very complicated. It was tough touring during those times. I think as much as the audience was excited to be back out, it was still kind of spooky. I think everyone wanted to see music, but they didn’t necessarily want to see other people. It was tough, but it slowly started to return to normal. Now, I feel like it’s back to normal. We’re still making up shows from that time period. On the business side of things, we still feel the residual effects. We just got done with 14 shows in the UK, Belgium and Finland, and they packed them in like sardines, and they were rocking.”
Fish, who set out to become a drummer but shifted gears to become a singer and guitarist instead, managed to record new music during the pandemic with some help from producer Martin Kierszenbaum. The resulting album, Faster, came out last year.
“The songs for Faster started happening because I had nothing else going on,” she says. “I met Martin, and we chatted during the pandemic. He had a Kansas City connection that linked us together. I appreciated his perspective. His energy was really, really good. I usually don’t care about that, but Martin, in that time period, had this positivity about him.”
Fish went to the Village in L.A. to record during COVID, an experience that bordered on surreal.
“The whole studio was covered in plastic,” she says. “We recorded the record with masks on. The only time I could take it off was in the vocal box. L.A. was totally shut down. I was on the I-405, and there was nobody on it but me. That was my experience. It was very odd, but that’s what I did with my COVID vacation.”
The saucy album cover features Fish licking her Firebird guitar in a provocative pose.
“When we did that photo shoot, I was just goofing around,” she says. “We looked through all the shots and Martin found that one and said, ‘This one has attitude. It’s what the whole record is about.’ I looked at it funny at first and then it grew on me. It’s got this kind of I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. It kind of sums it all up. I don’t think it’s sexist. It’s literally just me licking a guitar. Whatever the person looking at it envisions, that’s on them.”
The title track that kicks off the album features gritty ZZ Top-like guitars as Fish croons, "I wanna make your heart beat faster."
“I wrote that with Martin in Kansas City,” she says of the track. “I had this riff in my mind. Martin asked what I wanted to do with it. I wanted to sum up that feeling of wanting something urgently, and you’re tired of beating around the bush. It’s like how I felt during the pandemic. You just want to rip the bandaid off. It’s about urgency and being aggressive and getting what you want. Of course, it ends up being about the relationship dynamic. It’s like you’re calling someone over from the bar. You tell them to be stop being coy. It’s what that song is about. I want to make your heart beat faster. It’s what I want to do on stage, and it’s about life.”
Much less urgent than the title track, the funky “Hypnotic” finds Fish adopting a falsetto. The song slowly builds and breaks from the blues mold.
“I had been working on this riff and wanted to do a song in my falsetto,” she says of the track. “It’s not something I had put on tape before. There’s a disjointedness to that song. I wanted it go from soft to loud and surprising, and we shifted keys and played the solo down. It’s a surprise rock ’n’ roll moment and you go back into this spooky melody. It’s about putting a spell on somebody.”
The album also features an unexpected collaboration with hip-hop icon TECH N9NE.
“I grew up in Kansas City and he’s the city’s hero," Fish says. "He’s the most respected and beloved member of the Kansas City community. I grew up listening to his records. I never in a million years thought he would do a verse on my album. We had worked in one of his writing spaces in Kansas City, and he was totally into it. He’s not afraid of anything. If you listen to his catalog, he has his touch on so many different genres. He’s not scared of anything. He said, ‘You want me to do a verse on this light R&B song that then goes to ‘70s rock? I have something that will work perfectly.’ That song is a nod to Kansas City. I got so many calls from people back home who were so excited by it.”
For the current tour, Fish will headline, and outlaw country singer-songwriter Jesse Dayton will open. Next year, Fish and Dayton will release an album they recorded together.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]