Interview with Samantha Fish: A Fresh Voice Leaves Her Distinctive Mark on the Blues

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Shakespeare penned the line “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth” for King Lear’s daughter Cordelia, which set a great tragedy in motion. This is clearly not an affliction about which Samantha Fish has to worry. The young blues chanteuse has little problem vocalizing her sadness, anger, and pain—and doing so in a bewitchingly seraphic timbre. While not possessing the gritty rasp often associated with female blues singers, Fish’s open, clear voice has a lulling effect; while her skillful mordents, turns, and bluesy melodic embellishments evoke an undeniable pull on your heart.

Samantha Fish’s new album Black Wind Howlin’ is a rough-rocking journey through the mind of a road-weathered blues maven, too-oft jilted, forever jaded, and no longer willing to be pushed around. If this description sets in your mind the image of a grizzled, old Mississippi Delta blues songstress equally adept with a straight-edge as a slide, set aside those clichéd blues stereotypes and prepare yourself for the fresh sound of this 22-year-old Kansas City, Missouri native.

Fish’s thick guitar tones, rebellious riffs, and sharp-edged lyrics on Black Wind Howlin’ show off her impressive maturation as a songwriter and musician since her debut album Runaway.

Samantha spoke with Guitar Girl Magazine about her new album, playing style, and equipment, during a brief moment of respite between shows in her busy tour schedule.

Samantha Fish

GGM:  How do you feel you’ve progressed as a songwriter and guitarist since Runaway?  

SF:  I feel like I’ve grown up quite a bit in the last couple of years. With this lifestyle, you pack in a lot of cool and unusual life experiences just through touring and coming into contact with more people. My songwriting has definitely matured. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to various songwriters and I try to get a little more outside of myself than before. I love storytellers, and I’ve tried to adopt a little of that approach. Guitar playing has definitely come along. I’m better at slowing down. I used to try to do so much. I’m finding the beauty in slowing down, leaving space, and actually saying something with the instrument. Still, I have a long way to go.

GGM:  You have a pretty grueling tour schedule, how are you holding up?

SF:  Considering, I’d say pretty well. It can be overwhelming at times, and I miss my routine and my family. I have a great team on the road though. It makes it a lot easier. I’m a tourist at heart, so I’m just excited to go to new places. Sometimes you get to squeeze in some extra fun time, but we mostly get in and get out.

GGM:  Any secrets to maintaining your sanity with such a schedule?

SF:  Taking time and enjoying the moment. I think sometimes people forget to have fun. Really, that’s what this is all about. It’s got to be an adventure. If we see a silly tourist trap, if we have time, we stop and check it out. It’s stupid stuff like that, that actually make a 10 hour drive doable.

GGM:  Can you recall the moment when you decided “this [music] is what I want to do for a living”?

SF:  It was the first time I got thrust onto a stage to play. It happened completely by surprise. I was scared sh*tless, but it changed my life’s direction.

GGM:  Who were your first musical influences?

SF:  Probably my Dad. Not that he wrote or played professionally, but he played with his friends at our house. They threw so much music at me when I was young, and the foundation was laid before I even started to play.

GGM:  Who are you listening to now? 

SF:  Been listening to a lot of John Hiatt and Grace Potter this summer.

GGM:  Do you have any “guilty” musical pleasures, i.e. embarrassing songs/artists on your iPod?

SF:  Who doesn’t? I’m not really embarrassed about anything in particular. We listen to a lot of music in the van, everything from Primus to Billy Joe Shaver to Jay-Z to Sabbath. Boy bands have been outlawed though. Thank God!

Samantha Fish

GGM:  Can you tell us a bit about your Fish-o-Caster guitar?

SF:  It’s a Delaney guitar. Custom made thin line telecaster style guitar with Klein humbuckers. It has a custom f-hole. I know we aren’t the first people to design creative f-holes, but people really seem to love it.

GGM:  Are you still using .011 gauge strings? Do you tune them to standard tuning? Do you find them difficult to bend with?

SF:  I actually just switched back to 10s. I was struggling with some stiffness. It was due to the guitar being a little road worn, but I like to switch it up occasionally because it forces you to work on your accuracy. So far, I’m happy with the 10s.

GGM:  Since you also play slide, how do you set your action? Do you go more for a higher action?

SF:  I wouldn’t say it’s set up really high for slide. My oil can guitar is, but the Delaney has a standard set up. I just have to be careful!

GGM:  What do you look for in a lead guitar tone?

SF:  I like something meaty, but that still has the high end to cut through. The more experiences I have, the more I know what I want in a guitar tone. It’s just not always easy dialing it in, especially when you play a different venue each night. Category 5 makes a great amp, and I am definitely loving what I have.

GGM:  How do you like to mic your amp?

SF:  The Category 5 custom has an extension cab. Each cab has a 10 and a 12 inch speaker. I like to throw two mics on it to get a good blend of the speakers.

GGM:  When playing live, what mic and outboard gear do you use for your vocals?

SF:  I have a Telefunken m80 dynamic microphone. That works in most places. It has more sizzle on the top end than a 58. It’s better for my voice because I have more highs and mids, than lows.

GGM:  You have stated that you prefer a more minimalist approach to guitar rigs, can you tell us what’s currently on your pedalboard?

SF:  Currently I am using an OCD fulltone pedal and a Mike Zito Rook made by Mojohand effects. Both act as sort of a gain boost. They sound like an amp when it’s cranked up and the tubes are fully ready. I am also using a crybaby wah-wah pedal and a boss tuner. 

GGM:  If you could go back in time and visit yourself just before you embarked on your music career, what piece(s) of advice would you give yourself?

SF:  I am really impatient. I think it’s a good and bad quality at the same time. I’d probably tell myself the same things I do today. I tell myself to relax and enjoy the ride. Things change in the blink of an eye.

For more on Samantha Fish, visit her site HERE.

Samantha Fish “Lay It Down” from Mark Bergeron on Vimeo.

Photo credit:   Jerry Moran

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