Interview – Samantha Savage Smith
– by Shawn Conner
Samantha Savage Smith is one giggly young lady, at least during our interview.
She’s not quite so freewheeling on her debut Tough Cookie. Admittedly a break-up record, the 2011 album has its share of young woman Cat Power blues, including songs like “Devilman” (“The devil’s in your heart”) and the dark, guitar-drenched “Nobody Loves Me But My Own Kind” (“I’m still the one to hold the gun”).
But at least a few songs – “The Fight”, “The Hats”, “The Score” – hint at a poppier side, and from what Smith says, that’s what we can expect more of from her next album.
That has been recorded with her band, Lab Coast, which includes David Laing, Chris Dadge, Dice Parks, Henry Hsieh and, more recently, Smith on guitar. In fact, Lab Coast is here with Smith for her show Monday Aug. 5 at the Cobalt, playing their own set and backing her up.
I reached Smith at home in Calgary. We talked about living with her band, the drink of choice at the Lab Coast house and which if any of her new songs are about sex.
Shawn Conner: What are you up to?
Samantha Savage Smith: Just chilling out at home.
SC: What do you have over there in Calgary, an apartment, a house, a cat–?
SSS: No cat, no apartment. I live in a house.
SC: Do you have roommates?
SSS: Yeah. Basically my band.
SC: You live with your band? Oh my God.
SSS: Oh no, it’s good. It makes it easy to coordinate jams.
SC: You lived in Vancouver for awhile?
SSS: Yeah, I lived there a few years ago. I moved back to Calgary about four years ago. I lived out there for about three years. I went there for the hell of it. I moved to Victoria first, but it wasn’t really my speed. Vancouver is the next closest city so I went there. And then, I don’t know. Calgary’s my home. My family’s here. I just wanted to go home.
SC: You enjoyed it out here while you were here?
SSS: Yeah. I’m looking forward to coming back. I have lots of friends there still.
SC: Did you do any busking?
SSS: No, no busking. I didn’t really play publicly when I lived in Vancouver.
SC: Did you start playing live after you started recording or before?
SSS: A little bit of both, but mainly after.
SC: You were recording and posting your own demos, and that’s how Tough Cookie producer Lorrie Matheson found you, right?
SSS: Yep,a friend of a friend of a friend said, hey take a listen to this.
SC: Were you able to play Sled Island at all before it was shut down because of the flood?
SSS: I got to play the opening night, a Tuesday. But both my shows were the Friday and Saturday so they didn’t happen.
SC: And you played a benefit, right?
SSS: It was literally the week after Sled. Downtown was evacuated for at least a week. So there were a lot of free days for anyone including myself who works downtown.
SC: You have a real job?
SSS: I have a sort of a real job. If you consider bartending a real job.
SC: Are you a bartender or a mixologist?
SSS: I’d go with bartender. I work at a tavern. It’s a pretty chill atmosphere.
SC: What’s the drink of choice at the house you share with the band?
SSS: I guess PBR, if we’re lucky. Being a bartender/musician, you have to drink on a budget. Henry, my bassist, he drinks a lot of Bailey’s and coffee.
SC: That’s a good sneaky drink. So, one of the standouts for me on the album is “The Fight”, with the line “C’mon let’s break a sweat”. What can you tell me about that one?
SSS: Well it’s about sex.
SC: Makeup sex?
SSS: Uh, no. No. You-shouldn’t-be-doing-it-but-you’re-going-to-do-it-anyway sex.
SC: You have a new song posted, “Kids in the Basement”. My first impressions were that it’s smoother, poppier, more confident than Tough Cookie…
SSS: I would definitely say “poppier.” For me, those songs are quite old. I actually wrote some of them when I was out in Vancouver. I was definitely into jazz and that kind of thing, I kind of naturally incorporated influences without really thinking. I’ve become a little more thoughtful about my approach.
SC: Is there anything on the first album that embarrasses you now?
SSS: I don’t think so. I would say I’ve changed. My songs are quite different from what they used to be.
SC: What’s the reasoning behind this brief tour you’re doing?
SSS: It just kind of worked out. The people who play in my band, they also have this band, Lab Coast, it just kind of worked out last year they needed a guitarist and I filled in and it ended up being a permanent thing. I hadn’t gone out and played some shows for some time now. And they’re just releasing a new album and I’m in the midst of getting mine ready for release. We just wanted to go out and play some shows out of town.
SC: You’ll be playing the Cobalt in Vancouver. It’s probably changed a lot since you lived in here. Did you ever go?
SSS: Yeah. I did go to the Cobalt back then. I’m looking forward to seeing it, the revamped Cobalt. When I was there there was a punk show going on. It was pretty dive-y and crowded but awesome. I thought it was pretty rad.
SC: They have a much better beer selection now.
SSS: Well that’s good.
SC: Uh-huh. PBR.
SSS: PBR! Oh good.
SC: They have some nice Belgian beers.
SSS: That’s good. I can leave my small world of drinking cheap swill.
SC: I thought everyone in Calgary was rich because of the oil.
SSS: Well, if you’re not working for the oil companies, then no. if you’re a musician, it’s like every musician in every city.
SC: What might surprise people the most about the new album?
SSS: Generally the songs are just different. It’s still all my work. It’s gone in a different direction. It’s mostly pretty upbeat. I’m pretty excited about it. I was involved in all the process of recording it. I called the shots. Before I wasn’t really that confident.
SC: No songs about sex on this new album?
SSS: No, no songs about sex on this one.
SC: You got that out of your system.
SSS: Exactly. I was young and ready to go. The first record is pretty much a break-up album. But this one, it doesn’t just touch on romance. It’s more about my life, generally. All sorts of issues.
SC: Any songs inspired by your job at the tavern?
SSS: I would say so. I would say some on the first one are inspired from working in a bar. Lots of things happen when you work in a bar. And you see a lot of things.
SC: Do you work tonight?
SSS: No, I already worked today.
SC: It’s only 6 o’clock over there. What are you going to do this evening?
SSS: We’re actually going to record. In my basement. Just for fun we started making punk songs. We’re going to start a punk band to play locally.
SC: Do you have a name yet?
SSS: Oh no. We’ve only written three songs. We’re going to record one tonight. It’s fun to just scream and yell into a mic. Oh, and I play drums on it, too. That’s new.
Samantha Savage Smith and Lab Coast tour dates:
8/5 Vancouver, BC – The Cobalt
8/6 Victoria, BC – The Copper Owl
8/8 Revelstoke, BC – The Last Drop