Real Nice - Samantha Savage Smith
Calgary Folk Fest 2022 Interview
There’s something about Samantha Savage Smith. Humour, which is more sophisticated and playful than you might catch at first, self deprecation, and a gravitation towards lightheartedness on the surface…but maintain your gaze for just a moment longer and you will likely find a hint of the depths that have drawn a retinue of exceptional artists into her current band lineup, as well as made such richly layered musical releases possible.
Samantha Savage Smith’s most recent release is the 10 song 2022 album Fake Nice. A kaleidoscopic journey of sound and emotion, worthy of the vibrancy and complexity of the artist, this album defies genres. The listener is left with a shifting experiential colour palette of sounds while lyrics belie varieties of human experience that may not fit into the stereotypical pop typecast that some have labelled Smith’s work with.
A poignant reminder that just because a person doesn’t demand your active listening in an overt way, that is not an indication that it isn’t warranted or won’t be richly rewarded. If the crowd turn out at her shows during Folk Fest 2022 - where my interview with Smith was conducted - is any indication, people are catching on.
Since Fake Nice is being labelled a comeback album of sorts, it is not surprising that the subject matter is thoughtful, though that is not new for Smith: “it's been my MO since I started writing. I almost disguised my songs in an upbeat ways or just hooky tunes that actually are about subject matter that is maybe a little more intense, personal darker issues.”
Though there has been a 7 year gap between this record and the artist’s prior release Fine Lines (2015) it bears taking notice that 2 of those years were taken up by the Covid pandemic. Not to mention Smith’s first record Tough Cookie was released in 2011 so she does tend to ruminate in between releases.
According to Smith, “I wouldn't consider myself the most prolific songwriter. I'm not just cranking out tunes every two seconds, but I get sort of jolts of inspiration with certain things.” She noted that Fake Nice was finished by the time the pandemic begun, and could have had a sooner release date, however, the pandemic left some time to fine tune everything while anticipating the right moment for it to be made publicly available.
An incubation period makes sense considering Smith expressed, “I find playing concerts and live shows is actually what gives me new ideas and stuff. So honestly, [during the pandemic] I just hunkered down and gardened and played with my bunny rabbits, cooked some good food, played a lot of cards.”
Having waited for a release date that now allows shows for promotion of the work was logical for the Calgary Singer/Songwriter, given that, “there's so much time. Time investment, emotional investment, money, so much goes behind making a record.”
Smith expanded, “It's not like, "All right, I wrote songs, recorded it two months ago". You're looking at about a year, at least a year of writing, recording, planning and releasing and everything so it does take some time. So, I'm figuring, being a smaller, more independent artist ... I decided just to do what felt right.”
Taking ownership of decision making is a bit of a theme for Smith with this record. She explained that there was a presence and intention in not only release decisions, but in the creation of the record in general. Smith was able to immerse herself in the process of its making in more exploratory and thorough ways than prior projects, “this record is really, really quite my baby, if you will. I had a lot of agency over it. I was co-producer, and it was just all done in my house. Me and my partner’s, [Chris Dadge’s], basement studio. So, it was just fully hands-on and just fly by the seat of our pants, "This sounds cool".
“But ultimately, it's just being hands on with everything. And then when you're finally like, "Okay, it's done, it's ready". And it's... I think the first time that I haven't really questioned anything because it was my choice. I made the final call, and I wasn't passive, I didn't let people make decisions for me, which I've done in the past in full honesty.”
The artist expressed regrets over allowing herself at times, with former releases, to be influenced or led in decisions, since now having discovered the empowerment of choosing what is right for her. However the chips may fall at the end of the day being able to say, “I made that call” resonates for Smith. And, given the response to the album it seems this approach is paying off in significant ways.
The track credits for Smith on Fake Nice are substantial, being it was mainly her and Dadge recording parts along with ‘a little help from their friends’ here and there. According to the songstress, “We'd have our friends pop by, if someone was an amazing saxophone, or good bass player, maybe far better than I'll ever be at bass or something. Like, "Can you play this part better?". “
Now, making the transition from recording to playing live, her ensemble has been fleshed out for the stage shows, and contains some cream of the crop musicians. When asked about how she feels about being back in front of a crowd with her band surrounding her, Smith was enthusiastic about the rush of performing, “You get a good crew... A good band together, it's just like... It's a level of comfort.” She recalled, “I used to be very stiff and very self-conscious and just so worried all the time on stage. When I started performing live again, I was like, "I'm going to have fun". Smith expressed appreciation in “having your group behind you, backing you, it's like, trust every instinct, every moment. And it's never ever the same…It's always a good time.”
Since this interview was taking place in the media tent at July’s Calgary Folk Fest, I had to ask if Smith was experiencing any nostalgia, considering this was not her first CFMF rodeo, so to speak. She recalled her first Folk Fest show in 2010 being fraught but memorable, “Yeah, I was very green, and they threw me on the main stage for a tweener set and I was like, "Just so many people", like, "What?!". It was very nerve-racking, but it was the coolest experience. And it really did boost my career in so many ways.”
Continuing, Smith said, “And since then, I played late 2019 and I'm playing this year, which is very awesome. It was very gracious of them to allow me back so soon, because I do have a record available. So, it's been really nice... Because you get to just see so many more people that wouldn't necessarily go to club shows or anything.”
Calgary Folk Fest is an institution and an experience near and dear to many artists’ hearts and it comes across how valuable and appreciated it is through Smith’s words. In sharing our agreement on this point as well as the mystery of discovering new to you acts along with seeing anticipated favourites, her recommendation for a great Folk Fest experience is, “Just go with the flow and say... You have your go-to’s that you have to see, but it's just... I feel like don't give yourself a set schedule. Just show up and enjoy, enjoy everyone, just enjoy it in the moment.”
Thinking of the festival grounds, an essential tent to visit is the merch tent. We spoke about the importance, in this digital age, of supporting artists in any ways possible. Smith lamented, “it's become an odd oversight with the streaming digital era of things. And [recording artists] get literally fractions of the sales. So, you never see anything from streams. You're like, "Oh wow, this person had a million streams," and they probably got $10 from it. So that's the reality of it.”
She encourages fans, “do your best just to go to the shows, buy their merch. It all makes a difference. I mean yes, we'll get Beyonce records forever. We'll get Drake records forever. They're part of the big machine, but yeah, a lot of these artists are playing folk festival, they work hard, and they do the hustle and they're amazing. And it's just any way you can possibly financially support them, we should do it.”
I had already been on Smith’s website drooling over the beautiful vinyl, with album photography by Jarrett Edmund, so I took my opportunity that weekend to snap up a copy! In noting how the style, mood, and colour palette of the portrait Edmund took of Smith compliments the sound of the album in such a significant way, Smith had a similar sentiment, “Yeah, it's interesting. Because I agree, the photograph in my opinion embodies those colors too, so there's dark colors, and the oranges, and the flares of these purplely, green colors and stuff. And it was... I was like, "Oh yeah, this is perfect".
She noted, “I've always been fairly adamant, just basically being shy and self-conscious so I've never really actually wanted a photo of myself on the front cover of my albums, but this one it was so cool. It was just going to be a press photo. And I was like, "No, this should be an album cover". So yeah, it was my first step, my first step in putting my face on the album.”
It seems in many ways elements have clicked into place with the release of Fake Nice for Smith. Maybe some stars aligned, but I think perhaps sometimes we just come into ourselves as artists through struggle, time, and persevering through doubtful moments. Smith has mentioned in interviews a period of somewhat falling out of love with music, but we can all be grateful that this didn’t last, having an exceptional new album to now enjoy.
Art is hard, and Smith acknowledged in our interview, “It takes a lot to do anything. I think in any creative, artistic format, just to pick up a paint brush and start painting, or whatever the case, get out and actually start producing work. And it's the same thing with music too.”
Because of that energetic cost, you have to be motivated. Smith referenced her struggles, “If you don't love it and you're not fighting… And I was having that issue too. I wasn't finding any enjoyment, so what am I doing this for? And then it took a while and I was like, "Oh, I get it, I love it". Sometimes you just have to step back and think what you're getting out of it for yourself
beyond the commercial financial gains. It doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter if two people come to see your show or 2000, you have to just do it for those two people and yourself.”
All part of this renewal and spirit of ownership and reclaiming, Smith affirmed, “This is what makes me feel good to do this ultimately. I like to play, I like to sing. I like to collaborate, you know? So yeah. And I play for people, so it feels good.”
Thank you to Samantha Savage Smith for being an absolute gracious angel during our interview, through which my post-pandemic social readjustments were experiencing a hiccup. It was a pleasure hearing your insight, jokes, and rabbit stories.
So, get onto your browser and take her advice – support the artists! Head to the links below to reach Samantha Savage Smith’s socials and buy her gorgeous new record: