Summer wouldn’t feel like summer without a defining indie record. But this, of course, hasn’t been a typical one. As August draws to a close, New Yorker Samia’s debut album ‘The Baby’ feels like an ideal accompaniment to these strange, discombobulating times. Over eleven sonically diverse and emotionally complex songs, the 23-year-old’s music goes beyond fleeting indie-pop and speaks directly to the soul.
Landing somewhere between country story-telling and grunge, Samia’s unique sound comes from an eclectic range of influences. On video-call with NME from New York, she says her teenage musical obsessions centred around “musical theatre, The National and Father John Misty”. Samia even penned a tribute to the latter on ‘The Night Josh Tillman Listened To My Song’. “He put it on a playlist, but I think he’s probably a bit scared of me at this point”, she laughs.
‘The Baby’ is a nod to the singer’s nickname amongst her friends and family, and it kicks off with a recording of her Lebanese grandmother singing affectionately to Samia. “That’s probably my favourite moment on the record. I definitely think that the Arabic music my grandmother used to play has influenced my vocal style, like when I just randomly go up an octave on a note”.
The drama and striking lyricism of Samia’s work have been turning music industry heads on both sides of the pond. When performing live, she brings an electric riot-grrrl energy, alternating between pelvic thrusts and occasionally humping amplifiers. Her break-through, rock n’roll anthem ‘Someone Tell The Boys’ landed her on the cover of Spotify’s ‘Badass Women’ playlist, and earned a devout fan-base, who label her as “Lana Del Rey, but with more angst”.
“I’m just flattered to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Lana to be honest”, she humbly sighs. “It’s funny because no part of me feels badass, ever. I don’t really feel sexual on stage – it’s just me having a joke really. People describe my songs as empowering and feminist, but they also come from me exploring pretty vulnerable situations”.
That sense of conflict and emotional catharsis looms large on ‘The Baby’. “The album is me writing about what I couldn’t communicate to people in real life. I basically spent a year putting what I wanted to say into poems, spending hours on Thesaurus finding the perfect word for a feeling, and that became the basis for my songs”.
“Thematically, it’s about learning to be OK with relying on other people, leaning on community and ultimately letting go of my fear of being alone. It came together over two years, bringing together my experience of being on tour and finally finding the right group of people to make music with”.
Samia’s dream-team included two members of Minnesota indie-rock group Hippo Campus, and friend Caleb Hinz from the band The Happy Children. “I opened for Hippo Campus and Soccer Mommy on tour. I’ve been a fan of both of them forever – it’s the coolest thing to admire someone from afar and then be able to learn with them in that space”.
On ‘The Baby’, the upbeat melodies of her collaborators have brought a new edge to Samia’s angsty anthems. Opener ‘The Pool’ delves into an ambient, dreamy soundscape, whilst ‘Triptych’ plays with electronic production. “I think I was scared of electronic music for a while, but Caleb and the Hippo Campus guys introduced me to a side of indie-rock that was influenced by electro-elements. Creatively, it was the most positive collaborative environment I’ve ever been in”.
For all its modern indie polish, ‘The Baby’ is the sort of album that’s made for a road-trip along the wide, open highways of the United States. On the Americana guitar solos of ‘Minnesota’ and the nostalgic ‘Waverly’, you’re right there, driving a vintage Chevrolet with the wind in your hair. Samia may have honed her craft on the DIY Brooklyn music scene, but her distinctive drawl and knack for painting a picture are unmistakably rooted in folk and country.
“I always joke with my friends that it’s my secret dream to one day make a pure country album. My favourite shows have always been in the Mid-West and the South, people are so receptive there. I love leaning into that folk-LA singer-songwriter scene – like Phoebe Bridgers on the boygenius EP, trying to make straightforward country story-telling super accessible”.
Softly spoken, tender moments are something that Samia can easily pull off, her voice rising and falling à la Joni Mitchell on acoustic number ‘Does Not Heal’. But her charm as an artist lies in her ability to tap into the dark and the deep, maintaining a certain tension and element of surprise for the listener. “You made me medium tall / I’ll make you feel good again”, she sings on bittersweet love song ‘Stellate’, before building to a haunting wail over Nirvana-esque chords. On closing track, ‘Is There Something In The Movies?’, she poetically confides “I only write songs about things that I’m scared of / so here, now you’re deathless in art” – a reflection on her disillusionment with the “image based” LA movie industry, where she was raised by her actor-parents.
Releasing a debut album during a pandemic is something the “tech-shy” Samia’s still getting her head around. On the surreal video for new single, ‘Big Wheel’, she performs a TikTok-ready routine alongside some slightly creepy virtual backing dancers. It’s a fairly apt-depiction of how our URL and IRL worlds are increasingly colliding in the Covid-era. “I miss touring so much right now. There’s nothing like it for connecting with people, and weirdly I get really anxious about doing a live-stream for my fans”.
Other than holding out for a vaccine, Samia’s hoping to “keep exploring musically and find ways to connect online”. “As a writer, I’m going to keep being as honest as possible and not limit my sound. Ultimately, I want my songs to be the musical equivalent of a restorative, late-night conversation”.
Samia’s debut album ‘The Baby’ is out now via Grand Jury