One of the artists that I’ve been really excited about over the past year or so is Samantha Crain and her band The Midnight . In 2008, the band released a very, very good EP, “The River.” This got the buzz going for them and they made a lot of year-end best of lists. This April they released “Songs In The Night.” This truly excellent album has been getting a huge amount of play on my iPod. And fortunately for us, Samantha Crain and her band played the GrassRoots festival on Sunday at 4 PM. Led by Singer and songwriter, Samantha Crain, this is a band that’s taking their time and building a fan base. They play an infectious, melody driven blend of folk, alt-country, and rock all built around the songs and voice of Samantha Crain. Keep an eye on them because they seemed to be heading for great things. Tompkins Weekly was fortunate and got the chance to talk with Samantha Crain a few weeks before the GrassRoots festival took place.
Tompkins Weekly: You’re from Oklahoma. Did you grow up rural or urban?
Samantha Crain: Laughs. I don’t think there’s any part of Oklahoma that is urban. I grew up in a town; I didn’t grow up in the middle of nowhere. But it’s a small town.
TW: Do you think that had any influence on your music?
SC: Probably. I think more than anything it just influenced me to kind of have more of an imagination. There’s not a whole lot to do around where I grew up, so you’re sort of forced to entertain yourself. And so I think that’s where I started writing little stories and stuff like that. Even as a precursor to songwriting, I was just writing stories a lot.
TW: Yeah, you can see that story sense in songs like “The River.” They’re really story based. Was it a musical family?
SC: No, I got into music later. I was more into sports and stuff growing up. And I got into music when I got into college. And it was really self-motivated. I had to play guitar and decided out of boredom that I was going to teach myself how to play guitar and write songs.
TW: The band is really great. How did you guys meet?
SC: I did a couple of semesters of college and then I kind of quit college and went out to a musicians colony in Martha’s Vineyard and met Steve [Sebastian] who’s our electric guitar player out there. And he was also in that particular program. Jacob [Edwards] who is our drummer was Steve’s roommate in college. And Andy [Tanz who plays bass] was Jacob’s friend from back home. So it was each person who knew somebody who happened to play the instrument that we needed to form this band.
TW: Where did the name The Midnight Shivers come from? It seems really fitting when I think about a song like “ The River.” And I think shiver is even in the lyrics.
SC: Jacob came up with it. He used to sit around and think up band names . . . and I think that was just one of the many and we liked it and just went with it.
TW: It seems like you guys are pretty hot and getting a lot of notice. Does it feel like that to you? And how’s your career tracking?
SC: We are getting a lot of good press. But I don’t know if it has quite translated into show attendance. It’s kind of hard for me to tell because we’ve been opening for bands for the past couple tours. So it’s been a lot of their own fan base. So its kind of hard for me to gauge what our fan base looks like right now. But I don’t expect it to be huge or anything. I mean we’ve only been doing this for like two years. So I figure we still have our dues to pay before any success comes to us—which I’m completely fine with. I don’t want anything easy to come to us because I think we’d just kind of throw it away.
TW: You’re coming to Ithaca to play the GrassRoots Festival and it’s an afternoon set. How do these festival gigs differ from your club gigs?
SC: The main difference with festival gigs that I’ve still not gotten used to is the fact that you can see everybody that you’re playing to. ’Cause club gigs, the lights are usually shining in your face and you know there’s an audience there, but it’s a little less nerve wracking because you can’t see everyone’s eyes and expressions. But at the festival gigs you can see everybody. And there’s also that it’s a completely different atmosphere. You grow really accustomed to playing in a dark sort of place. And you go to these festivals and its like daylight and its windy outside or the stage is wobbly. There’s always something that you have to kind of overcome to play festival gigs. There a lot of fun but it’s just completely different.
TW: Who are you influences?
SC: I, right now, I’m really influenced by a musician named . He sort of has this mystique about him the same way that used to be for me. He used to be this really mysterious character and I read all these books and watched all these documentaries and then he sort of lost that god-like quality. And Cass McCombs sort of has that for me right now just because there’s not a lot of information out there about him. He’s just got these amazing records that you can listen to. He doesn’t do interviews with people, so there’s not anything you can read about him. He’s got this mysterious sort of quality that I haven’t been able to find in a long time. Plus his songs are really great.
TW: Was there a difference in the way you approached your two discs? Because the EP was sort of billed as a novel or novella. Did you approach the writing and recording of those differently?
SC: The EP was very deliberate and thought out. I’d been thinking about it . . . that I’d been wanting to do this for a long time. And it was very just planned out and kind of nit-picked over and probably too much time was spent on it. For what it was, it probably had the right amount of attention put to it. “Songs In the Night” was very just off the cuff. We recorded it all live in a room together. The songs weren’t written to be on this album together. They were just songs that I had that I wanted to record and they just happened to fit really well on a record together. There was nothing deliberate or contrived about “Songs In The Night.” It was very much just like we wanted to make a record that sounds like we sound live. And we want to do it in five days. So that’s the biggest difference that the first EP was really planned out and the second one was really just off the cuff and just happened to kind of make itself. We didn’t really have anything to go with . . . I don’t know. It really just created itself, which is something I think is really cool about it. Because there wasn’t a lot of labor put into it. It was just kind of this thing that happened really easily and organically.
TW: Yeah, a lot of the records I’ve liked recently have all been recorded live—and a lot of them in cabins. The Low Anthem and Delta Spirit . . . I mean those bands all recorded live and it just makes a better record I think. There’s some kind of freshness and it does translate through the digital file or whatever.
SC: It just depends on the band. If you’re a vibe-based band like we are, and probably like those bands are, then you have to capture that in the tape or you’ve kind of lost the part of that band. I mean there are some bands that do amazing things just single-tracking stuff. So it just really depends on the band. We just happen to be one of those bands that we have to catch sort of that vibe that’s going on.
TW: Great. So what’s next for you guys?
SC: A lot of touring. That’s pretty much all we’re doing these days.
TW: All right. Thank you very much for taking the time.
SC: No problem.