Samia‘s recent single ‘Pink Balloon’ is filled with visceral couplets. Over light yet hesitant piano notes, she paints a vibrant picture of shared memories that have begun to fade like an old photograph yet still conjure lingering, messy emotions. From its powerful opening line (“Your mum keeps threatening suicide on holidays“) to such gut-wrenching admissions as “sometimes when you sing to me, I still believe I know you”, Samia quickly weaves a sentimental tale in the manner of a country music great.
“When you get that close with someone and then you start getting angry with each other, it’s like you have these two voices in your head,” the 26-year-old explains to NME from Nashville about the track’s narrative. “There’s the voice of me who’s frustrated, and then the voice of this person I love: I know their whole backstory [and] I know why they’re doing the things they’re doing. I want to be there for them holding their hand through it, but I also want to be defending myself.”
These knotty and complex feelings permeate Samia’s second album ‘Honey’. Never shying away from gritty realism, the result is a gorgeous collection of indie tracks that are stuffed with impossibly specific details. “The thesis [of ‘Honey’] is that, to me, nothing really matters except how you feel about it,” she says. “I was trying to prove that argument through a bunch of little vignettes about interpersonal relationships [and] conflicts, and then trying to zoom out and see how they factored into the big picture of what I’ve experienced of life so far.”
The process of writing and recording ‘Honey’ marked a departure for the LA-born, New York-raised artist. After releasing her debut ‘The Baby’ in August 2020 – a record that was written over the course of a decade – work on ‘Honey’ really began in earnest between November 2021 and summer 2022. While she was intent on introducing herself with ‘The Baby’ by “trying to write in a style that would contribute in some way to what I wanted my identity to be,” on ‘Honey’ she honed in on being “as honest as possible”.
The results are astonishing: take ‘Mad At Me’, a crystalline pop song co-written by founding Vampire Weekend member Rostam (“I was so intimidated because I’m a big fan,” Samia recounts of their collaboration) that features the painfully relatable line: “Are you still mad at me?” Then there’s the cathartic, Phoebe Bridgers-evoking ‘Dream Song’, which boasts cinematic lines like: “When I finally forgive myself, I’ll be tired and sunburnt / Tripping over Spanish moss again.”
By playing gnarly and contrasting emotions off one another while still giving them individual space to breathe, Samia has been able to broaden her narrative horizons like never before. She tells NME about how moving to Nashville, bonding with Sylvan Esso and embracing honesty have all had a significant bearing on the creation of her new record.
NME: You’ve described ‘Honey’ as being a “community” record. Who is in this community?
“It’s my favourite part of this story. Our first tour after the pandemic was with Sylvan Esso: they were so kind to us and it was just the best possible way to get back into doing this, they really functioned like a family. They have this studio [Betty’s] in North Carolina where we went to record ‘Honey’, and it was the most supportive environment to do something so vulnerable. Everyone who is a part of that ecosystem was coming in and out and helping: there was one day where all of the women in that whole camp came in, and we sat around and tried to write a song from scratch. It was really special.”
How much did this change in approach affect your writing and recording sessions?
“I think Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have really fostered an environment that feels safe for everyone, and I know they’ve put a lot of intention into that. You feel it the minute you get there: there’s two women who run the place, and they greet you at the door. It makes you feel safe to dig into yourself and to create something that feels honest. Caleb [Wright, who produced ‘Honey’] and I, that’s our whole ethos. That was our plan going into this, to really dig into each other and ourselves. It was an incredibly emotional and spiritual process for the two of us.”
Do you think certain songs on ‘Honey’ wouldn’t have been written had it not been for the environment at Betty’s?
“Absolutely. ‘Amelia’, the last song we wrote for the record at Betty’s, is about Amelia Meath. It came at probably 11pm on the last night we were there, and we stayed up all night finishing it. We thought, ‘We won’t ever do anything with this,’ [but] then we ended up liking it. That song is fully about that space and a reflection of those people.”
In your last NME interview, you joked about one day making a country album. Is it actually an ambition of yours?
“After being [in Nashville] for so long and seeing people do it masterfully, I would have to grow and learn a lot to be able to make a really good country record. I might retract my statement about [that]… it seems sort of cocky to me to be like: ‘Yeah, next I’ll try my hand at one of the most incredible [genres]’. I think I would have to go study with someone for a while before I [did it]. Good country songwriting is fucking amazing.”
How much has living in Nashville influenced you as a songwriter?
“There’s so many amazing songwriters here who write differently than I do, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve heard a lot more music [here] than I would’ve done if I’d stayed in New York: there, I was around people [who were] doing a lot of the same weird shit, which is great and why I have the musical identity that I have, and [I’m] so grateful for that. But by getting a bigger perspective, I feel like I got out of my bubble. I’ve met songwriters [here] who do a lot of different things, as well as people who write more traditional, straightforward folk music, [which has] really influenced me on this record. Being in Nashville has taught me how to say more using fewer words.”
Who were some of the key influences on ‘Honey’?
“I was listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey when I was writing this record, as well as Dijon’s ‘Absolutely’ and Christian Lee Hutson’s ‘Quitters’. Joan Shelley is a big hero of mine, she’s a great example of someone who says more using less words. She’s unparalleled to me. In terms of the people I’ve met in Nashville, my friend Savannah Conley is great and has taught me so much, while I think Venus & The Flytraps are gonna be the biggest band in the world. I go to all of their shows and scream-cry in the front row. Being part of a new community here was really, really refreshing to me.”
What do you think you’ve learned about yourself from making ‘Honey’?
“I learned what I thought was embarrassing about myself. I’ve really had to grapple with the ways that I find myself embarrassing – and I’m still doing that – but this record has been the most liberating process in accepting myself as I am. On my first record, I leaned a lot on production [because] I wanted to make something that sounded cool and was appealing to a lot of people. But with ‘Honey’, we just didn’t do that – we tried to support the songs as best as we could. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without Caleb, he’s one of the people who you meet and you just know you’re supposed to know. He’s been able to pull something out of me, which is mostly self-acceptance, that no one else ever really has.”
Samia’s new album ‘Honey’ is out now