Sam I am

Photo: Keisha Register

They say home is where the heart is. For musicians, however, the grind of touring often can be a blessing — an escape from personal demons or the perils of comfort and complacency.

But if you’re anything like Samantha Crain, life on the road is just a desire coming to fruition.

Crain was born and raised in Shawnee, a town known more for agriculture than artistry, yet music was instilled in her at an early age, thanks to days spent exploring her father’s record collection. From the narrative folk of Bob Dylan and the earthy eclecticism of Grateful Dead, to the impassioned melancholia of Neil Young, she became captivated by the inner workings of timeless musicianship.

Her experience with these records would lay the groundwork for a fresh faced millennial to pen songs from another place in time.

“Because that was the first time that I could relate to music, it became the blueprint from which I started building my own stuff,” Crain said. “It turned music into this idea that wasn’t something that just came out on the radio — it was something that people did.”

Musical disposition in tow, she enrolled at Oklahoma Baptist University, where she studied creative writing and steadily refined her songcraft. The more she played, the more she saw an opportunity to not only make music for a living, but see the world while doing it.

“I realized that I could turn these things that I had already written — these short stories and poems and things — into songs,” she said. “And then I thought, ‘What if I could take these songs and play them around the country?’ I had grown up and been [in Oklahoma] for so long; I really wanted to travel. I felt like I needed something else going on.”

Crain’s aspirations seemed irrational to many at the time. Her friends and family were understandably wary of an adolescent, whose life was rooted firmly in her hometown, undertaking such a life change.

But she remained steadfast in her pursuit, and her hard work and disarmingly unique vocal prowess blossomed into ever-increasing exposure.


Photo: Todd Roeth

Kid stuff
With two full-length albums already under her belt, her fan base now spans the globe, and her work has garnered acclaim from establishments as revered as Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

Her ascension recently caught the attention of prolific musician and producer John Vanderslice (Spoon, The Mountain Goats), with whom Crain collaborated on her new album, Kid Face, out Tuesday.

“John’s really good at reining an artist back,” she said. “By the time you go into a recording studio with songs, you’ve thought about them so much that sometimes, it’s hard for you to really separate yourself and get a fresh perspective on it. And John’s really good at making you feel like you can try new things.”

Crain’s new tracks retain
the essential elements of her music: acoustic-driven Americana and
luxuriant orchestral flourishes are found in abundance.

But lyrically, Kid Face is
a drastic departure from her more observational, narrative-driven early
work. It’s an unmistakably introspective record, rife with candor and
personal expression, marking an evolution that came naturally.

“I
feel more comfortable being honest in my lyrics,” Crain said. “That’s
something that’s taken me a little bit to work up to. I think with this
record, I left all of the smoke and mirrors behind and just wrote what I
know, which is myself and my own experiences.”

Life
on the road has resulted in mountains of experience, which she believes
has allowed her to reflect on life events in a way that wasn’t possible
before. Whereas many artists grow tired of touring’s daily rigors,
Crain has harnessed it to cultivate personal and compositional maturity.

“It’s
a growing process: The longer I do it, the more people realize that
it’s my way of life now,” she said. “I’m pretty ready to get back on the
road and play the new album. That’s the hope.”

Given her affinity for the road less traveled, where it leads is anyone’s guess.

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