Had you pulled up a bar stool at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads club in the noughties, you couldn’t have missed Samantha Fish. Patently underage, but with an old-soul guitar touch steeped in the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan, the loitering blonde quickly segued from chancer to crowd favourite, then from local legend to the pride of Ruf Records’ blues roster.
At the age of 32, Fish has released her seventh album, Faster, which still bears the thumbprint of those first influences, while also throwing pop, electronica and even a guest rapper at the wall. “The trick for me,” she says, “is making something modern, but also timeless.”
Faster isn’t your average dreary pandemic album.
No. I was surprised by that myself. I credit a lot of that positivity to meeting Martin Kierszenbaum, the producer. Before that I was writing some really sad, angry, angsty music. But he came in with such good energy, I started writing from a point of where I wanted to be, rather than where I was. Empowered. Confident. Sexy. Powerful. We recorded in The Village in LA, where Fleetwood Mac made Tusk. The Stones recorded there. Bob Dylan. Nine Inch Nails. So just to be in that historic arena, I was pretty stoked about that.
You’ve said this album is about “taking charge”.
Yeah. It’s a very ‘feminine energy’ kind of album. Y’know, it’s about flipping the roles of power and taking control of your situation. As a woman in the industry, you feel powerless sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s songs that are more vulnerable, but I think this album has a really ballsy front. I love the album sleeve, with me licking my guitar. It’s got some strong ‘I don’t give a fuck’ energy, right?
In early days of performing you had sexist hecklers at your gigs. Have you got rid of them?
I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of the sexist men. But there’s less guys who come up and say: “You’re good for a girl” or “I came for your legs”. And, honestly, my tolerance is so much lower now. I used to be polite about it, but I’m not afraid to tell somebody to kick fucking rocks. By and large, things have gotten slightly better. But if you look on the internet you still see a lot of crap. It’s there. But I’m not going to let that mess with my head. Because we’ve got better shit to do, y’know? We’re making music.
Could you tell us about a few key songs on the new album?
The title track is kinda bold and brash, but that felt like a perfect opener for the record. Sorta like: “Buckle up, this is what you’re in for’. All Ice No Whiskey, that’s about meeting somebody of substance, and whoever I’m talking to in the song, they aren’t it. Twisted Ambition feels like an anthem for the entire album. We made a video where I got to smash up cinder blocks with a sledgehammer. After a year of being cooped up, filming that was pretty frickin’ awesome. They already had the take, but I kept asking if I could smash one more block.
Maybe you’d enjoy smashing up your gear, too?
We did that once as a joke. We had a Halloween show in Kansas City where we dressed up like a hair-metal band and played Van Halen covers all night. We came in with little bags of flour, and Jack Daniel’s bottles full of iced tea. For our last song of the night I smashed up one of those First Act guitars that you can buy in Walmart for thirty dollars. They don’t smash that easy, I will say.
What influences were you tapping into when you were writing and recording the album?
I’m always inspired by the things I grew up on, like the Stones. I listened to a lot of George Harrison and Tom Petty over the pandemic. I’m huge into north Mississippi music, so with my guitar playing I’m always trying to channel something in the vein of Junior Kimbrough. I like repeating motifs. I wanted guitar tones that were out-there and big. Like, Jack White has a tone that’s so raw, almost abrasive. And I was super-jazzed getting to know Martin [Kierszenbaum]. I’m a huge fan of the work he’s done with Lady Gaga. I was trying to bring pop hooks with a dark, industrial feel. Something moody and vibey.
The track Hypnotic starts out as electronica, then kicks into a monster guitar solo.
I was trying to channel the master, Prince, on that one. He had such a way with a dynamic shift. So you’ve got this kind of quirky, spooky, almost whispered, sexy song, then you have this juxtaposition of a really brash solo. If you can take someone from nought to sixty, I’m always trying to do that.
What were the best and worst moments of your pandemic?
In a way, it was positive for me creatively, because I could wake up and say, ‘Today, I’m just going to write a song’. But I had a few moments when I thought it might be all over. We got called back from our Europe run, and once it had sunk in, I got pretty depressed a few times. You look around and realise you’ve dedicated your life to music. You question your choices.
What’s the strangest headline you’ve read about yourself?
I did an interview with this Norwegian magazine years ago, and sarcasm doesn’t always work when you’re dealing with different languages. They asked me: “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I was just being silly, and told them: “Well, I’d love to say I’m the next Mick Jagger.” But you shouldn’t make jokes. Next thing, I read the headline and it was: ‘Samantha Fish: I Am The Next Mick Jagger’!
If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Oh god. That’s hard, because you’d have to really love the song, but know full well you’re going to end up hating it. I guess [Tom Petty’s] American Girl. I’ve heard that on the radio a zillion times and I’m still not sick of it. I still turn it up.