INTERVIEW: Samantha Crain, A Renaissance

Every artist is once in a lifetime. Each artist, no matter their Spotify streams, brings something new to the table. Never discount somebodies’ artistry.

Although finding an artist that speaks straight to your soul individually, that’s a rare occurrence. Samantha Crain is one of those artists.

There is something about artists from the southern/midwest. Authenticity and truth seem to run deep in their blood. Everything in their music is pure. From absolute joy to utter heartbreak, these artists respect everything life brings their way. Crain’s is of Choctaw descent. Words cannot describe how this element affects her music. It’s there. It’s extraordinary.

I was introduced to Crain’s music through her fourth album, Under Branch and Thorn and Tree. The song “Elk City” immediately spoke to me, as it takes place in Oklahoma, my home. As the album continued, song after song, I found an emotional connection to the entire album, especially with “Killer,” “When You Comeback,” and “Moving Day.”

Through various circumstances, Crain and I connected, and she agreed to an interview with Vinyl Culture. Her raw truth and authenticity show in her answers and I couldn’t be happier she took the time.


1. You draw inspiration from your Oklahoma roots especially in songs like “Elk City.” What inspires you about Oklahoma?

Honestly, I think Elk City might be the only song I’ve ever written that actually took place in Oklahoma. I mean I obviously have an attachment to Oklahoma, as I’m from here and currently live here, but I’m largely inspired by leaving Oklahoma and traveling and seeing things outside of my roots. I personally don’t see the “Oklahoma roots” in my music but that’s what’s great about art, everyone can see something different in the same thing!

2. Your Choctaw lineage plays a large part in both your music (“Red Sky, Blue Mountain”) and activism. Where do you find the most inspiration in your heritage?

I think it is really important to understand when asking about how Indigenous artists implement their heritage into their art that people understand, for most tribes, their heritage was completely stripped from them by way of land theft, breaking of treaties, federally implemented assimilation boarding schools, genocide, abuse and marginalization from missionaries, colonization, disease, forced impoverishment, shame, etc. Most Indigenous artists are relying on holding on to the little bits that have managed to be passed down to them and keeping modern Indigenous art alive by creating new traditions and learning their languages again. Every note I make is Choctaw music because I am Choctaw.

3. You are not supposed to have favorite children, but out of all your albums, which one is your most favorite and most personal?

Sorry, can’t pick a favorite child.

4. In the end, what do you want people to walk away with after they listen to a Samantha Crain record?

To be honest, I make records to express myself. I don’t make records for a listener. I love that people connect to what I’m doing and I love to hear those stories, but I do not make music or records with anything in mind as far as what I want people to experience within them.

5. How does it feel to receive recognition from others with similar Native American roots as a Nammie Award winner and to be nominated for an Indigenous Music Award this year?

Good, I guess? I think the battle to be won though is to get to a societal point where Indigenous artists are actually included in the major awards like the Grammys and the Juno awards, and we don’t have to have our own award shows, and categories within the award shows.

And then just a few for fun…

1. What are you currently listening too?

Nilufer Yanya, The Japanese House, Sam Amidon, Jorja Smith, Justine Skye, William Tyler, This Is the Kit, Cocteau Twins, King Krule

2. It’s a lovely, slightly hot, weekend afternoon in Oklahoma. Where are you?

Probably just in my backyard honestly. I travel so much that I’m more or less a major homebody when I’m home.

3. Do you collect anything while on the road?

I collect music boxes, wall thermometers, and thimbles.

4. Where is your favorite place to perform?

Every show I’ve ever had in Washington DC and Glasgow have been excellent, so I guess the people in those cities just get me.


Currently, Crain is working on new music and about to embark on a tour of Europe. She has five albums out, and each brings a new contortion of emotion, authenticity, lyricism, and musicianship. They all have their own identity, yet they all flow together seamlessly.

Crain is one of those artists you cannot un-hear. From her multifaceted lyrics, pure, yet raw voice, and steady guitar, her music is a renaissance not only in folk music, but music created by those with indigenous heritage.

Samantha Crain is simply a must listen. Now that you are done reading this interview, head on over to her official site and check out everything that is Samantha Crain and buy a vinyl and maybe a t-shirt.


   

INTERVIEW: Griffin Anthony, Finding Refuge

It is not often you find voices that change the way you listen to music.

When I first heard Griffin Anthony, I had just moved to New York from Oklahoma. I had completely new surroundings and didn’t know a soul, yet music was my pillar. Throughout my whole life, music has been a constant comforter and protector. This became very apparent when I dove into collecting vinyl, a hobby that kept me busy in my first lonely months here. Music became my refuge in a new world.

Music also took a new place in my life when I began to proactively write and blog about my favorite choices and artists. My writings have brought me into contact with some amazing musicians. That’s exactly how I got word of Griffin Anthony’s music.

Griffin’s voice is authentic. I believe it ranks with some of the greatest modernand classic country artists, from Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson to Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. Griffin’s unique vocal interpretations mixed with his ingenious songwriting makes for a prolific adventure in song. He has created a new standard in how I consume music.

Refuge, Griffin Anthony’s latest album, follows this same tradition. The album picks up where he left off with 2015’s The Making of a ManRefuge shows the raw beauty and nuance of maturing both artistically and as a human being. I caught up with Anthony recently to gain his thoughts on the new album and to explore what he has accomplished with this new volume of songs.


What does the album title Refuge mean? How does it relate to the songs?

“The album’s title suggests a destination where safe-haven (or happiness) exists. And the tunes trace narratives of men and women on their quest to find that destination; together or alone, through failures and celebrations. The word ‘refuge’ also drums up a ‘rustic’ and ‘natural’ connotation- which ties into some of the lyrical themes, the style of production, and album artwork.”

What message or messages would you like listeners to take away from this album? Is there a central theme?

“I really tried to somehow capture the feeling of Hope with each tune. Jon Estes and I spoke at length about that during our pre-production pow-wows and tracking. From a songwriting perspective, no matter how much uncertainty the main character is dealing with, he or she still maintains that better days are ahead. There are tunes on celebrate oxytocin-drenched romance, the joys of parenting, and the beauty of nature- where the personal and the pastoral converge… On the other hand, the album wades into some murkier waters of escapism, separation, isolation, the construct of religion, and the horrors of war.”

This album was made purely analog. Why did you choose to go this route?

“Well, most of the music that moves me was recorded that way. ‘Refuge’ is intended to be a refreshing departure from the sterilized sounds of the digital age. It’s human. There’s nothing to hide behind and I think that translates through the music. Elements of the performances I may have once regarded as ‘mistakes’ become ‘moments”… There are more rough-ends on this project and I love that about it. With the convenience of digital recording, it’s way too easy to clean shit up and quite often, it results in white-washing all the emotion… Everything just becomes antiseptic and colorless. Plus, I don’t want to sound like a robot, ya know?”

Pick one song. What is the story behind the song and what is the inspiration?

” ‘1954’ is probably my favorite tune on the album for a couple reasons; one, because I feel the understated musical arrangement best supports the lyric, and two, because of what the song represents as a storyteller… On the ten-year anniversary of D-day, the subject reflects on his past and tries to cope with the meaning of war; balancing pride and ambition with humility and loss. During a time in US history that’s often celebrated for it’s economic prosperity and baby-boom, PTSD wasn’t ever discussed… The glory associated with that era overshadows what my grandfathers and hundreds of thousands of young men had to endure.”

How does this album pair with your previous album, The Making of A Man?

” ‘The Making of a Man’ has more overall melody and hooks for sure. And aside from the completely different production approaches of two very different producers and session bands, I wrote ‘The Making of a Man’ on the piano- whereas ‘Refuge’ was written predominantly on the acoustic. ‘Refuge’ has a greater focus on lyrics-first song construction and capturing a live performance. Plus, I’m five years older from when I wrote “The Making of a Man.” I’ve experienced some life-defining highs and lows in that period- I’d like to think that contributes to a sharper pen.”


 

“Refuge” listens like planks of an old oak tree. Each piece is distinctively different, but they all fit together. Anthony has woven an intricate placement of work that possesses universal truths in tandem with nature. This album serves as a vanguard to musical authenticity in a world of manufactured melodies.

As Griffin Anthony alluded in the answers above, this album suggests a destination in the proverbial journey of life, mixed with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This album accomplishes its mission by providing a safe harbor, a refuge, for all those seeking a glimpse of truth with a glimmer of hope.

PURCHASE Refugee ON ITUNES HERE

ALBUM REVIEW: Beck, Morning Phase – Album of The Year

The Grammys are always exciting for me. I have not always watched the shows in full, but this year I had planned to camp out in front of the TV for its 3+ hour run. I always find it interesting to see if I can pick the winners based off of my knowledge and 80% of the time I am pretty accurate (not to toot my own horn…..).

Although, this year I completely missed Album of The Year. I didn’t find there to be any strong contenders, but I was leaning towards Sam Smith to take the honor. Ed Sheeran always seems to almost make it but will come up short in the end. Beyonce’s record was overproduced and overhyped. I didn’t think lyrically Pharrell would be a strong argument. Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a fan of each nominee, but this is how I see them against each other.

I didn’t even see Beck being a dot on the radar. I will preface this in saying that I had never listened to a Beck album fully and couldn’t name a single tune he sang. I did know he was a very talented musician and writer, but that is where my knowledge ended.

So after work on Tuesday, I had to make a stop at the record store and buy Beck’s Morning Phase.  The album had thrown me into a conundrum and I had to find my way out.

After the first listen I found nothing special about it. During the second listen it was just background noise. It wasn’t until the third listen that it turned to genius.

Beck, as a musician, almost solely won this award. He wrote every song on the album, produced it, and played the majority of instruments. This wasn’t about singing through lyrics, it was about the whole structure of the songs that turned into an album. And like Prince said, albums do matter. They were rewarding a full-fledged, multi-instrumental artist.

This album listens lyrically in a way I can’t exactly explain. I would be curious if Beck himself could. Every song makes since yet every song throws you for a loop. These songs are universal touching topics such as relationship breakup, rebellion to societal norms, and even suicide.

The album is about all those things that aren’t necessarily depressing, but what have adverse effects on us as a growing person. It’s a coming of age album no matter what age you are. After really digging into the lyrics I took away that I needed to focus more on being who I am and forget what others think or say. I need to embrace my individuality. I found this message in songs such as “Heart is a Drum,” “Unforgiven,” “Wave,” “Turn Away,” and “Waking Light.”

I also discovered how love can be like a little trinket that means the world to you, but you don’t know why or even where it came from (“Blackbird Chain”). I discovered that home is where the heart is, but once you leave and declare your independence it’s never the same (“Country Down”). Lastly, I saw where I can wake up in the morning and decide my fate, but it may take a few do-overs (“Morning”).

Beck proved with this album you don’t need fancy production or a god-like image to create a masterpiece in today’s musical realm. It is a breath of fresh air. I applaud the Grammys on this choice. They got it right.

And he didn’t even need a surfboard to get there.