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Separating the stage persona from Samia

Photos by Julia Khoroshilov. Find more of her work here


When sheer natural talent and the Spotify algorithm collided, Samia’s song “Someone Tell the Boys” sky-rocketed by 10,000 streams in a single day. As an unsigned artist, the sudden popularity was unexpected, but not surprising. A folk-rock anthem against the all too familiar rampant misogyny and endemic mansplaining that occurs in the music industry, the song has struck a  chord for now over one million listeners. Since the song’s blowing up, Samia has signed with Grand Jury and is now preparing to go on tour with Hippo Campus this spring. Her success is likely due to the incredible, raw honesty and specificity she embeds in her songwriting. Between killer vocals, emotional maturity beyond her years, and unquestionable sincerity, it seems like this is just the beginning of big things for Samia. We got to sit down and chat before her show at Bowery Ballroom about her somewhat abandoned acting career, dropping out of art school, developing an alter ego, and manifesting Father John Misty into her life.


So I saw you at Elsewhere, Zone One in December opening for Del Water Gap…

Samia: Oh shit! Oh yeah!

I hadn’t heard any of the music before and it was a very cool experience. I like discovering people that way — seeing them live first. But then, seeing you’re going on these big tours now, does it feel like it kind of went zero to 100? 

S: With this project for me, I haven’t really been touring that much. I did my first national tour in fall of last year, so in that way it does feel zero to 100, but I’ve also been in so many bands and iterations of this band and have been playing open mic’s and shit since I was 15, trying to figure out what this project is. So for me it feels like a long time, but this whole thing is very new.

And the double single you just put out, you wrote “Paris” a couple years ago right?

S: Yeah, like four or five years ago.

So now having that piece finally widely distributed after all that time, does that feel weird to revisit that in a way?

S: Yeah! I mean I always feel like I kind of outgrow my songs, which is stupid, I think. I’m trying to not do that anymore (laughs)

In what way do you feel that you outgrow them?

S: I always like each new song I write better than the one before, so it’s just easier for me to feel like it’s more in tune with what I’m doing now and what’s happening in my life now. I know that the songs affect people regardless of when they were written or their potency in my life right now. I’m glad it’s out. Definitely glad.

Was there a defining moment when you were like, “I know I’m going to be an artist” that defined that path for you?

S: I had like… there has to be a better expression than “born-out-a-trunk” upbringing, but I was just encouraged to perform growing up. Both my parents are entertainers so it’s always been inherently really natural for me. It’s my favorite thing to do. I think that part of it [performing] was always going to happen in my life, but I started going to band camps in the summers. Like really shitty, like School of Rock. Like they give you a guitar guitar and say, “learn this AC/DC song and you’re going to sing it for your parents on Friday.” That’s when I think I realized I wanted to play music this way. 

I know you left school. What are your feelings on needing higher education to be an artist?

S: You DON’T! You definitely don’t. Here’s the thing: I think you need education to be a well-rounded human-being, but you don’t need one to be successful in the music industry. I love learning and I regret not being in school because I miss the classroom environment — being able to bounce off of other people’s ideas and having intellectual conversations with people on a daily basis — but I definitely don’t think it’s hindered me in any way in my music career not being in school.

You’re also an actor, yeah?

S: Sort of, I was for a long time and then I prioritized this.

Do you think your experience or education in acting — I feel like it’s very introspective in figuring out your emotions and how to accurately portray those while keeping yourself emotionally healthy — do you think that helps you stay healthy as a musician, emotionally, especially when you’re talking about personal things in your music?

S: Yeah, I think my training in acting does help me separate my stage persona from myself. In a way that does protect me from feeling all that vulnerable. I’m sort of performing my experience instead of exposing myself. I think I’m just now realizing that my acting training helped me with that a lot.

Your acting experience also made me think about the storytelling elements of you songs like “…Josh Tillman” where it’s imaginary elements (him listening to your song) interwoven with truth (how much you admired him as a songwriter)

S: I think any imaginary circumstance that I’m retelling seems real to me because of how often I’ve thought of it. There are instances like the one with Josh Tillman that I didn’t have but I’ve thought about so many times that I could tell you every detail of the experience in sequence. I’m not necessarily good at telling fictional stories with my music, but I think I can tell ones I believe because I’m lying to myself

(Josh Tillman did end up listening to her song and added it to his own Spotify playlist)

 

It seems like you aren’t afraid to go anywhere and share a lot of personal experiences in your music. Is there anything that’s off-limits that you would never write a song about?

S: I’ve written all of it, but I’ve chosen not to perform or release ones that I feel would implicate other people or have a negative effect on someone else. There are stories about other people’s personal lives that I’m aware of that I want to tell but I won’t because it’s not my place, I guess, so it’s always a fine line, whether a story is mine or someone else’s and how vulnerable that makes them without their consent. Although I do say people’s real names, but I only do that when I think I’m telling my story and my experience

Have you had to perform those songs in front of those people before or no?

S: Oh absolutely

Oh really?!

S: Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed those experiences. A lot of time I writings songs with the intention of being able to indirectly tell someone something onstage and the only way I can ever confess this or communicate this to this person is if I’m telling it to a room of people and they’re one of the people

And you think they know for sure it’s about them

S: Yeah, especially if their name’s in it (laughs)

I was looking at other interviews that you’ve done and I loved when you said you’re the most desperate person you know. I think that’s such a cool thing to own about yourself. In what ways do you think that’s true?

S: I think there’s so much shame around desperation, amongst millennials especially, but historically I think some of our most important art has been the most desperate. I think desperation is so relatable and cool. I’ve always responded to desperate songs, desperate artists because I think it is inextricably linked with passion. So I think it’s cool. It’s a cool feeling.

You can catch Samia on tour now. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram



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