A version of this story appears in Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
Explaining “You (Understood)”
State singer-songwriter takes close-up snapshots on new album
As a child growing up in Shawnee, Samantha Crain played a game in which she examined a collection of close-up photographs, trying to guess the bigger picture as each detail shot was revealed. Once assembled, the images might form a cross-section of a lamp or a study of an opening blossom.
The singer-songwriter admits that listeners might face a similar puzzle in discerning the bigger picture behind the songs on her forthcoming album “You (Understood).”
“After I had written the songs I realized what they had in common, that they weren’t like story-songs really. They were just these like little flashes of life that I had experienced over the past year. And most of them were me and another person or me and two other people … and our interactions with each other,” and our exchanges with each other,” Crain said in a phone interview from the road in Cincinnati.
“It was just like zooming in on the littlest details of those situations. So a lot of the songs probably without a context aren’t making a whole lot of sense because they’re just kind of like snapshots … they’re kind of close-up details of one instance.”
Due out June 8, “You (Understood)” attempts to preserve moments Crain, 23, experienced with 16 different people in her life. While she hopes people interpret the songs in their own way, she plans to eventually supply the stories behind the snapshots on her website, www.samanthacrain.com.
“Most of them are people that I spent a lot of time with in the past year, that directly influenced me in a really sort of hard-hitting, like life-changing kind of way,” she said.
“I don’t know if people can relate to them. “I wasn’t really trying to make songs that people could relate to. … This was more of just like a therapy sort of session for me. I just had a bunch of stuff that I wanted to get out on paper, a bunch of words and feelings.”
The past year has been pivotal for the Dale High School graduate, who released her full-length debut album, “Songs in the Night,” less than 14 months ago on Ramseur Records. The album and her live show earned favorable reviews from Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine and the New York Times.
After nine months of incessant touring, she decided to take off the winter to recharge. Around that time, her band, the Midnight Shivers, split up.
“I was automatically like put in a position where it was all up to me to like take hold of the next album creatively. So I kind of ditched most of the songs that we had originally planned on recording on the new album and kind of just wrote something that I knew wasn’t really in the direction that I would have been going with with the band. It was just not a country album at all, which is kind of what we had planned on doing,” she said.
“So I just wanted to get it out really quickly, more for like a therapy thing for myself. I was really upset about the band kind of parting ways and I was kind of performing it as an exorcism, I guess, just getting all the demons out of my system and like wanting to get these songs out, put on the record and like get on with this new season of my life.”
For instance, the off-kilter album closer “Toothpicks” offers a tightly zoomed musical snapshot of her driving down the road with her band members asleep in the car.
While she is carrying on with a new lineup, she turned to many of her musical pals in making “You (Understood).” Eric Nauni, drummer for Oklahoma City band Student Film, laid down the bold rhythms she imagined. The folksy “Santa Fe” features vocals and banjo from Michigan folk-rockers Frontier Ruckus, while Stillwater singer Sherree Chamberlain provided background harmonies on the ballad “We Are the Same.” Joey Lemon of Midwestern avant-garde band Berry produced the album, — he also produced her 2008 EP “The Confiscation” — which they recorded in just a week in his studio near Wichita, Kan.
She is gathering her buddies this weekend for a pair of CD release shows in her home state. On Friday, she will play Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa with the Turnpike Troubadours, Ali Harter and Zeb Dewar & the Fed. Her Saturday show at Norman’s The Opolis will feature Student Film and Brine Webb.
“I’m not really looking for anything too stable as far as the people that I’m playing with. I’m kind of just going out and seeing like who’s around, who’s available at the time … and making it more of like a fun collaboration with people instead of this thing that’s gotta be like a really strict band,” she said. Letting the music change with the people I’m playing with, I like the idea of doing that better,” she said.
“I think I’m just getting more comfortable with like trying different things. I always said that I didn’t want to get like in a niche. I didn’t want to make one record and then feel like I had to make the same sort of record over and over. … I’m sure the next record’ll be something a little different.”
Samantha Crain CD release shows
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N Main, Tulsa.
With: Turnpike Troubadours, Ali Harter and Zeb Dewar & the Fed.
Information: (918) 584-2306 or www.cainsballroom.com.
When: 9 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Opolis, 113 N Crawford, Norman.
With: Zeb Dewar & the Fed, Student Film and Brine Webb.