“Since successfully unleashing her debut album on the world aged just 19, Oklahoma-born Samantha Crain has always been known for her timeless tones and astute lyricism. Now, on fifth album You Had Me At Goodbye, Samantha packs even more of a punch with an uplifting modern pop surprise.
Written over 4 months at the back end of winter whilst at home in Norman, Oklahoma, You Had Me At Goodbye was penned whilst Samantha was working shifts at a pizza place to save up money for touring, recording, paying bills, and as a self-confessed ‘film nerd,’ binge watching movies. “Oklahoma is beautiful but my relationship with it is complicated. There are mountains, plains, prairies, rolling hills, high deserts and plateaus, with an amazing creative community of people making beautiful visual art, interesting films and loud music. But it’s extremely Christian, conservative, and whilst people say it’s ‘friendly,’ really, people are only friendly if you’re white and aren’t dressed unconventionally. I feel welcome and alienated all at once.”
Where many songwriters will drown their sorrows at the bar, Samantha’s music provides instant relief. A playful and lively balance of sweet balladry and taught experimental art-punk spirit, You Had Me at Goodbye talks from the head and heart whilst punching from the gut. Ever the storyteller (her first EP was created from tales she had concocted in her journal), Samantha wrote ‘Betty’s Eulogy’ from the perspective of the wife of legendary Cherokee-Indian cowboy and vaudeville performer, Will Rogers whilst ‘Smile When You Call’ is an ode to the imagined lover in Jimmy Webb’s ‘Wichita Lineman’. “Usually I have a theme in mind when I start writing for an album but for this record, I just started writing. Turning 30, aging in general, has helped tremendously in freeing myself in the creative process,” she says.
Samantha’s true strength, lies in her self-awareness and retaining a sense of responsibility towards the listener. From adjusting her writing techniques, purposely blurring the lines for interpretation to prevail, to the squelchy jazz tropes of ‘Smile When’, ‘Wise One’ or the freewheeling ‘Antiseptic Greeting’ about the phenomenon of "resting bitch face," each song is astute but full of fun. “I just wanted to have some goddamn fun and make an album that was searching and whole, confident and paralyzed, happy and sad,” she reveals.
You Had Me At Goodbye also features a new traditional song, ‘Red Sky, Blue Mountain,’ which Samantha wrote in her native Choctaw language. Gliding along like clouds floating above the land, she turned to her long-time friend Dora Wickson to assist with its translation and pronunciation, capturing both the sound of the Choctaw people, and through Samantha’s seductive vocal delivery, the signature of an artist proud of her roots.
“The song is very important to me. I wanted to communicate the importance of caring for the earth,” Samantha reveals. “We used to be so connected to it and so intuitive to its changes but now we are so disregarding and out of touch with it. I wanted to keep the song simple enough for others to learn it and approachable enough to encourage other indigenous people to learn and interact with their culture to create new culture.”
Bolstered by the visionary production of John Vanderslice (Spoon, the Mountain Goats, Strand of Oaks), mixed and engineered by Jacob Winik (The Magnetic Fields, Hot Buttered Rum), Samantha returned to the Bay Area in California to, once again, record the album in analog at Tiny Telephone Studio (this time, at the newly opened Tiny Telephone Oakland annex studio). But her music finds equal influence through those kindred spirits who have shared her struggle to be heard – whether it’s good friend Dora, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper or many, many others as Samantha explains;
“This album is dedicated to and inspired by the independent, strong, focused women who somehow continue to explode through the dark clouds of the weirdly oppressive art/music world. Every woman with a vision who didn’t veer from it amongst dissension. Every woman who was vulgar and loud and smart and ugly, in addition to the other aspects of their person - everything in opposition of what was expected of them.”