A Conversation With Samantha Crain
PHOTOGRAPHY: SAM LAMB/COURTESY HERFITZ PR
The Oklahoma singer-songwriter with Choctaw roots chats about the creative process and her new album Kid Face.
Cowboys & Indians: When people ask you what your life was like growing up in Shawnee, Oklahoma, how do you usually describe it to them?
Samantha Crain: It’s just a small Oklahoma town. There’s a lot of playing in the woods. It’s close to the experience of anyone who grew up in a small town in the middle of the country. It’s pretty much the same as it’s always been. [Laughs.] I live on the outskirts of town, so it’s quiet and I can work on music and art. Not much has changed.
C&I: How did you make your own fun as a kid?
Crain: A couple of kids who lived in the area and I would get into trouble; there was a dirt pile that we had hours and hours of fun with. We’d make tunnels and little cities. Also, my mom would give me blank hardback books, and I’d write stories. A lot of them would have pictures on the front for decorative purposes, and sometimes the stories I’d end up writing were based off those pictures. ... There was a Tudor-era portrait of a girl on the front of one. I would just kind of look at the picture of this redheaded girl, and I ended up writing her entire life story. [Laughs.] It’s boring to read now — I would never read those books I wrote. But it was good exercise for writing.
C&I: The writing bug obviously stayed with you. What are some other parts of your childhood that you’ve held on to?
Crain: I think I’ve actually changed a lot. When I was a kid it was about imagination, making things up. Even when I started writing songs and touring, it was more about inserting fiction into songs. More recently, I’ve tried to grab ahold of the autobiographical story. Things I’m creating now are more based off reality.
C&I: What’s an event or experience that inspired lyrics on your new record, Kid Face (out now on Ramseur Records)?
Crain: Most of the songs on this record were written when I was in Europe on a six-week tour last year. It was the first time I’d ever toured and traveled completely by myself, without a band or a traveling partner. I was on the train every day, so I had a lot of time to write and reflect. There’s a song called “Paint” on the new album. It was the end of the tour and I had been in my own company for a while, probably going a little nuts as far as what I was allowing to take over my thought process. But the song is literally written about this peeling paint on a post at a train station that I was scraping off. My very introspective mind at that point started thinking about me being this expendable entity. I was putting myself in the place of the paint chip. ... It’s one of those things where there’s not anything new to write about, so the only thing you can do is put your own spin on it. Whatever inspires that, you have to grab, even if it’s about a paint chip.
C&I: Your perspective as someone with Choctaw heritage is unique in the American pop-music landscape. How do you think that plays into what you do?
Crain: I’ve thought about this a lot, because I do a lot of concerts in the world of Indian music. Unfortunately, because I grew up with a mainstream environment, I only have the stories of my grandma or my dad to go off of, or the rare trip that we would take to a powwow or drumming event. But because of the breaking down of the traditional Native American lifestyle in the country, I haven’t been as big in taking part in my ancestors’ culture as I would’ve liked. ... But even if I don’t really adopt anything traditional to Native culture into my lyrics, one thing I do like to do is access the rawness of the singing. There’s something very primal about the way that a lot of Native artists sing or play instruments. I’ve picked up on that and tried to convey that in my singer-songwriter experience.
Find out more about Samantha Crain and Kid Face at www.samanthacrain.com.