The speed with which the pandemic shut down the whole world took many people by surprise. But on tour in Europe last spring, blues rocker Samantha Fish and her band acutely felt its pursuit.
“We were in England, and then once we left England, COVID was in England. I felt like we were getting chased.” says Fish. “We were playing Paris and people were wearing masks. Then we got to Belgium and things were getting funky. The crowd vibe was off, and you could tell everyone was worried.”
Fish was in Belgium when then-President Donald Trump made a speech saying that if U.S. citizens weren’t in the country by the end of the week, they wouldn’t be allowed home for 30 days, and she started to panic. The chase was over; COVID had caught up. Fish and her travel agent frantically searched for flights.
“Eventually we found a flight that would fly us to Amsterdam to Russia, and sit there for four hours, and then fly from Russia to New York, and then fly home. All in all we were in the airport for over 40 hours. It was a really scary time, but we got home and everyone was OK, but it took a long time to realize that this would be the thing for a while,” says Fish.
Back in the U.S., suddenly with ample free time, Fish was able to work on her seventh album Faster, which was released on Sept. 10. The album was produced by Martin Kierszenbaum (Lady Gaga, Sting).
“Martin reached out to me during the summertime of the pandemic,” says Fish. “He has ties to Kansas City, and I’m originally from there. He reached out to me at a crucial time during the pandemic when I had a ‘what am I doing with my life’ feeling, and he called me to tell me that he loved what I was doing and that I was on the right path.”
The two talked over the next couple of months, and Fish found that Kierszenbaum checked off all the boxes that she was looking for in a producer. The recording process for Faster was a different one for Fish, but one that she ultimately enjoyed.
“The experience of recording Faster was different than anything that I ever experienced before because we did all this shit during COVID,” says Fish. “I’ve never written music over Zoom before, but you better believe it’s part of my repertoire now.
“We did a lot of pre production on Faster,” Fish continues. “Really arranging the fuck out of these songs before we stepped into the studio. I’ve always been wary of that, and I wanted to leave this open because I didn’t want to get rid of the organic feeling of falling into it at the studio, but I had this realization after working with Martin that just because you’re prepared and extra doesn’t mean it’s not organic, it means that you’re not stressed out leading up to recording or on you’re way to a nervous breakdown. It felt fun, and I felt confident going into recording, and led me to being more creative.”
Also with Faster, Fish was able to write with a clearer mind. “I never had an opportunity to write an album when I wasn’t touring,” says Fish. “Everything I have written before was done in hotel rooms or in between shows; we have a full touring schedule and it never stops. I would never ask for all this free time again, but it was nice to slow down and focus on the album.”
And it shows with Faster in terms of the music and lyrics, especially in “Twisted Ambition,” one of the songs on the album.
“I wanted to bring a guitar style that I’m obsessed with to the song,” says Fish. “Like bass notes with your thumb, and playing melodic with your other fingers.”
Lyrically the song is about being in control, says Fish. “Maybe I was feeling really angsty when I wrote that song, but I was feeling at odds with a person or the world. It’s a song about demanding control, and taking the reins.”
Also, Fish got to do a song with fellow Kansas City native Tech N9ne. “I was obsessed because I grew up seeing Tech N9ne get big in Kansas City, and all over the world. I just remember that this guy was so cool, and I would love to do a song on one of his records one day.”
The wish came to fruition: “I remember writing in the studio and Martin was like, ‘Maybe we should get Tech N9ne to be on a song.’ I just sort of laughed it off and people say shit all the time. Then he actually went and called him up, and I was blown away.
The song that Tech N9ne and Fish did was called “Loud.” “I really like what we did with it, and the way I wrote the song was personal. It was like a song I wrote to a lover. You’re talking about a relationship that is falling apart, and when you get to the 1970s rock and roll chorus you’re like nah I’m going to take that, even if you’re truth is ugly and you to tell it loud. It’s a song about wanting to find resolution and wanting it to work. When Tech takes over, he offers a different perspective, and he screams his truth. It was kind of a different perspective, and it came out really cool.”
Fish’s Kansas City roots are evident in her work. The city, after all, is where she discovered blues and worked her way to becoming a musician. She started playing the guitar at 15, and she became interested in blues rock from her parents.
“Growing up in Kansas City, there’s a strong tradition of jazz and blues,” says Fish. “When I started going out and cutting my teeth and fitting in with people, it was like, ‘Why don’t you go to this blues sit-in and work out some songs?’ The city propelled it from there, and it helped me draw a style.”
When Fish was just starting out in blues music, she would cold call places in order to play. She would look up establishments in the White Pages and ask them to play, filling the dates in her calendar book, with the ultimate goal of starting a band.
“It’s a rollercoaster,” says Fish about her experience of cold calling. ”You get shattered and frustrated, and then you get that one call to give you enough gas to keep calling.”
Playing those shows and getting paid for it was enough gas to propel Fish’s career. And what a leap she’s made: Fish started out playing shows while delivering pizza on the side, and now she has been playing shows with blues icon Buddy Guy. While Fish abides by the saying “never meet your heroes,” she says Guy has been an exception.
“We were on the road with him a couple summer ago, and we played a few dates with him,” says Fish. “It was the last date of the tour and Buddy’s guitar player came up to me and said, ‘Buddy wants to know why you haven’t gone up and said hello.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, really I just wanted to leave him [alone] because I feel like someone like Buddy Guy is a person that everyone wants to talk to, and I didn’t want to be that person.’ I wanted to be respectful and give space. I went back and we chatted about life on the road, and our experiences. We got to play music together, and it was one of my favorite experiences. I wasn’t as nervous, and free to have this conversational experience with him on the guitar. “
Fish brings her musical experiences to Asbury Park at the Stone Pony on Nov. 13. While she’s looking forward to going to Wawa while in Jersey, she’s also looking forward to playing Asbury Park.
“Before we ever played NYC, we would play the outskirts of Jersey like Parsipanny, Whippany and Morristown,” says Fish. “I’ve been all over Jersey, and in places where people don’t expect Jersey to be, which is a lot of countryside. Jersey’s a cool place and I dig it; it’s different than what you would expect.”
Samantha Fish plays the Stone Pony on Nov. 13 with River Kitten. Ticket information can be found here.