By Aaron Irons
When it comes to guitar-slinging sorcery with style, Samantha Fish is in a class all her own. The multi-award-winning, Missouri-born performer has made a career out of boldly inhabiting the intersections of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll, and with her 2021 album, Faster, Fish sweetened the deal with bold splashes of pop, funk, and even a killer dose of Kansas City hip-hop.
Always the musical adventurer, Fish recently teamed up with Texas six-string maestro Jesse Dayton on a full-length album of original material titled Death Wish Blues, which arrived on May 19.
Fish and Dayton spent the summer playing shows together, but now Fish is back on the road. She’ll play The Coach House on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
The set figures to feature a good cross section of songs from across what is now a lengthy and successful career.
TMG: You flirted with some of these sounds on the album Kill or Be Kind, but stylistically, you really changed jackets on Faster. Tell us about the shift and working with Martin Kierszenbaum.
SF: It’s funny you bring up that we were flirting with those sounds on Kill or Be Kind, because I think I was definitely inching toward something like that. Those songs had very melodic-based hooks, kind of like blues foundations, but with pop hooks. Martin took that and just elevated it. He’s an incredible pop producer. He’s done some of my favorite pop acts. He produced Lady Gaga’s The Fame, which I think is an amazing album.
It was something I had definitely been flirting with prior to that, but (we were) just taking the blues and seeing if we could collide it with another genre in a way that made for massive hooks and catchy songs that people could feel and dance to.
Comin’ out of the pandemic with a record like that—out of a time that wasn’t really fun at all—coming out with something that was so energetic got me up and going, and that was what I wanted to do for everybody else.
When I was writing Faster, it was kicking off the pandemic, and we were all in the dark, not really knowing how things were going to go or how long it was going to last. Like everybody else, I fell into this depression state, and I was writing a lot of darker stuff. But when I started working with Martin, he had such a positive, enthusiastic energy about him, it was hard to not feel optimistic about the art and what I could do with it.
That was a massive gift that Martin gave to me, which was a boost of positivity at a time when I didn’t really have a lot of that going on.
TMG: With the different experimentation that you’ve done with your past few albums, is being pigeonholed as a blues guitarist a concern for you?
SF: Really, since the Wild Heart record, every record has been a little conceptualized—a different theme sonically.
Chills & Fever, we took it to a different era with brass. We went to Detroit and did a lot of soul songs from the ’50s and ’60s. We remade them in a contemporary way with urgent guitars and this band called the Detroit Cobras, which was a rock band that does a lot of those R&B covers, too.
After that, I did Belle of the West and further on with Kill or Be Kind, so I’ve always felt like an album is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to flip the narrative on its head a little bit.
People get an idea of exactly who you are and exactly what you’re going to be doing next, but as an artist, it feels good to be able to have the freedom to change and go wherever the art pulls you to.
At the end of the day, that’s what’s driving the bus, and I’m just trying to chase it down and write good songs.
TMG: “Loud,” the collaboration with rapper Tech N9ne on Faster … Initially, I would not have thought so, but that really comes across as one of the most organic tracks on the album. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of styles starting with that ’50s, dreamy pop intro, and then you just kick it into high gear with the metal fuzz, and the hip-hop ties it all together. Whose idea was that?
SF: This idea scared me so bad! Me and Martin, we first met up in Kansas City to co-write, and Tech lent us one of his writing spaces. They have a big complex out there with Strange Music, and Martin just flippantly tossed the idea out like, “Hey, what if we get Tech on one of these songs?” I just laughed, like, ‘He would never in a million years! He’s not gonna say yes!’
Martin’s like, ‘I think he will.’ So, he asked him, and Tech was down—I was shocked! I’ve been aware of him since I was a kid. There were massive billboards erected all over Kansas City with Tech on them. He’s a hero and a legend—not just in Kansas City, but around the world. He’s one of the best in the game. It tickled the Kansas City kid in me.
He just killed it, man—he killed his portion of that song! We got to perform it together one time live in Kansas City. That really was my head nod to Kansas City and my people there.
I knew that they would love that, and I think it was a good opportunity to say, “We like to mix these genres. This all belongs together. Music is universal.” We can mix rap and R&B and rock ‘n’ roll and blues and country, and it works!”
TMG: It was a writing session that brought you and Jesse Dayton together, as well. On the EP that preceded the Death Wish Blues album, The Stardust Sessions, you do a cover of Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac.” How did you come to record that particular song?
SF: Initially, I’d seen (Jesse) in January of last year, and we had talked about doing this project together. He came in for a writing session and toward the end of the writing session, my manager called us both and said, “I booked a studio. You guys figure out a couple songs that you want to throw down.”
It was low-pressure. “We just want to see how it goes. Pick out a few songs that you feel like encompass the aesthetic and the vibe and the inspiration of what you’re trying to do.”
We picked Magic Sam’s “Feelin’ Good,” which is this burning blues number. Jesse played me this live version of him doing it in Belgium, and it was just blow-your-hair-back good. I brought in a Townes Van Zandt song (“I’ll Be Here in the Morning”), because Jesse’s an amazing outlaw country musician, and I wanted to really showcase us singing together in a delicate fashion.
“Brand New Cadillac”… We wanted to do something that mixed punk, rock, blues, and all our different styles together for this specific project. We tried to choose songs carefully that would express that. I didn’t know that it would go over so well, but the label loved it and wanted to put it out as an EP, so it’s a cherry on top.
TMG: Did you originally plan to make a full-length original album?
SF: Yeah! The idea was always to make an album. We ended up going early in the fall, late summer, up to Woodstock to work with Jon Spencer from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Hitmakers, Boss Hog. He produced the album. We wrote 12 original songs together, and that was always the intention.
This is a different kind of thing for both of us, because we’re both front people. It’s finding our voice on the guitar that’s sonically separate from one another but also supportive, because you’re cast off into this role of rhythm guitar player at times.
It’s been a fun challenge for both of us to dynamically figure out how to build songs and support them together.
Normally, I’m just trying to get the band to sing backing vocals! Now, I’m the backing vocalist on some of these songs—and it’s hard, man! But it’s been fun. It’s going to be a unique journey together.