The first time I saw Samantha Crain perform in Tulsa, it was a sleepy weeknight in the summer of 2008. Matt Fisher was hosting a weekly songwriter's gig (not quite an open mic night) at the Colony and he gave me a heads up that a young lady from Shawnee would be sitting in.
Now, weeknights at The Colony can be a mixed bag. Some evenings, the audience is into the music and on other nights, it's merely background noise while chatting with friends. On this particular night, however, the petite woman playing the acoustic guitar was the center of attention. I picked up a copy of Crain's debut EP, The Confiscation, and was mesmerized by her songwriting and emotional delivery. It wasn't surprising then that Crain got noticed by outsiders and signed to North Carolina's Ramsuer Records in fairly short order.
The following year, Crain's full-length album, Songs in the Night, was released. Recorded with her band, The Midnight Shivers, the songwriting and arrangements made a huge step forward and Crain added a little more rock delivery to her previously more folk-oriented material.
Crain also attracted plenty of media attention and landed on the East Coast leg of the Hotel Café tour as well as showcasing spots at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and both song placement in Paste magazine's monthly sampler and a featured performance on the publication's website.
As can be understood with the critical praise, Crain continued to tour, but the exposure and less frequent stops landed her in venues like Cain's Ballroom or Bob's, playing to larger audiences when she did return to Tulsa.
After lying low for the winter, however, Crain returns to The Colony for a show with her latest band, The Cat Calls, this Thursday night, June 23.
When asked about the new band lineup, Crain said that her band had been in flux and shifting members since the dissolution of The Midnight Shivers. Upon finding a chemistry that worked well, she decided it was time to give the band a name, and the group settling on The Cat Calls. The latest band includes drummer Ann Willis (who has been playing with Crain since last summer) and bassist Penny Hill with Crain playing guitar and singing.
When discussing the evolution of her songs and how her sound has grown over recent years, Crain reflected that part of that development was due to touring with a band and trying to write songs that would fit with the band's instrumentation. The greater influence, however, came from the actual recording experience and growing more comfortable with the process.
"I think the evolution, sonically, came about more from having more confidence in the studio," she said. "I was more comfortable with trying more and different things and not second guessing myself."
I had to ask, then, how the shift to a trio format has affected her sound.
"We're still maintaining the fleshed-out nature of the songs: we make as much sound as we can as a trio," she explained. "I don't think anything has decreased in the rock aspect of the songs, because I've never had a band of over four people anyway."
Now playing electric guitar as well as acoustic, Crain said that her confidence as a guitar player has grown over the last few years as well, allowing her to continue down a more rock-influenced path than strictly folk-oriented songs.
Although touring is easier as a trio, especially in the current economic climate, Crain said that she truly enjoys about performing as a trio is the "rawness" of the sound.
"You're able to hear each instrument, but it doesn't take from anything," she said. "In fact, I think the space allows for more energy within the band."
Currently in the midst of a summer tour, Crain said that she has been writing new material and the band is trying out some of the new songs on the road.
The current plan calls for Crain to go into the studio and begin recording the new songs within the next couple of months. Instead of working toward releasing a full album, however, Crain is hoping to release a series of singles beginning in October. Ideally, the plan is to digitally release a new song each month, with plans to follow up with limited run 7-inch vinyl singles with b-sides for each song as well.
Crain isn't just approach the release on a song-by-song basis, however. She's also approaching the record process the same way. Instead of going in and recording everything at once, she is also looking to record each track at a different studio with different producers. Although Crain couldn't reveal all of her plans as details were being ironed out with few key producers, she did share her plan to record a song with Chad Copelin at Blackwatch Studios and work with Brad Fielder, out of Norman, on a single as well.
In theory, the idea is to record each song at a different studio with different people involved.
"It's not necessarily for getting a different vibe for each song," Crain said. "The point is really just to have a fresh start with each song. If I focus on one song at a time and get one song done at a time, it makes the process a lot less overwhelming for me, instead of thinking of all of the songs as a whole and how they go together.
"It's kind of a purist approach to the songs," she said. "Not in the traditional sense, I guess, but more in that it helps me to focus on each song individually, and make each one as strong as possible."
Crain also said that the idea of recording one song at a time was "purely financial" in the beginning.
"I've recorded three albums and you look at it and there's a lot of money that gets spent to record and package and produce a CD, but you come to the end and realize that you barely broke even," she said.
"You want people to hear your music, so you end up selling it for $5 or giving it away," she continued. "The only way artists could afford to record an album was by touring, but now with the cost of gas and the venues and the economy in general, touring doesn't even allow you to break even."
With the state of the industry and the shift in music purchasing, however, it's easier to both record and release music one single at a time -- a practice that Crain recognizes as a throwback to how music was released in the '40s, '50s and even the early '60s.
"It doesn't bother me to try and change," Crain said. "I do think that in order to keep going, it's the only choice I have -- especially if I want to keep touring and making records."
When Samantha Crain & the Cat Calls arrive at The Colony this Thursday night, you can expect to hear at least a couple new songs as well as your favorites from Crain's catalog thus far.
"We have a lot of fun, both on stage and off, and I think it's very apparent that we're having a good time when we're on stage," she said. "That definitely hasn't always been the case in the past, but we've got a good energy and I think that translates well with the audience."
The chance to both hear new material and get an early glimpse of the new band will make for a special night -- especially since Crain hasn't played a venue this intimate for quite some time. Add to it the fact that Jesse Aycock and Paul Benjaman are pairing up to open the show and it only gets better.
"And really, who doesn't want to see three hot girls rock out?" Crain said with a laugh.
It's a win-win-win scenario and a show not to miss.
So you say you can't keep up with all of the shows in town? We can't blame you because even Urban Tulsa Weekly has a hard time keeping up with it all. Fortunately, we've got your weekly cheat-sheet to get you started. If you don't see what you're looking for, though, be sure to check out our comprehensive calendar listing for the week in order to find your favorite bands. Here are the highlights to get you started.
• Thursday, June 23 -- If you don't make it out to The Colony for the aforementioned Samantha Crain & the Cat Calls show, there are still a couple cool shows worth checking out. Joplin, Missouri-based Me Like Bees plays Soundpony for the first time with what promises to be a great show for the indie crowd. Great guitar hooks and introspective lyrics intermingle for what should make an engaging show. Hopefully, this will only be a jumping off point for the band to come through town more often. Of course, if you're at 18th and Boston, you can never go wrong when Moai Broadcast takes the stage at Treehouse.
• Friday, June 24 -- Texas based, Southern hard rock and "what the hell?" band Honky (featuring J.D. Pinkus of Butthole Surfers) plays Downtown Lounge with Bound opening the show for the rock crowd while the older and more pop-minded will likely want to settle in at Blue Rose Café with Admiral Twin. Grasscrack brings the speedgrass vibe to Mercury Lounge and Steve Pryor delivers the blues at Dusty Dog Saloon, but the biggest show of the night (if not the weekend) has to be the one-two punch of Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt holding class on classic songwriting at Brady Theater.
• Saturday, June 25 -- Saturday is a wild card, with a little something for everyone. Colt Ford headlines Cain's Ballroom for the country crowd while Soundpony always delivers for the indie audience and brings in The Low End and Slothpop. If you're looking for some smooth jazz, Grady Nichols sits in a Waterfront Grill in Jenks and if you want to dance, DJ Moody holds court at Treehouse. The teen crowd will all be gathered at Big Splash, however, for KHITS Big Splash Bash with Big Time Rush and The Ready Set.
• Sunday, June 26 -- Soundpony hosts The Driftwood Singers for an evening, but Sundays are generally a good night to settle in with a weekly residency gig. Brandon Clark is always a good bet at Mercury Lounge and usually sees a handful of visitors stop in a take the stage for a song or two. Over at the Colony, however, Pilgrim has gone on hiatus and Paul Benjaman is heading up a weekly gathering that could live up to the jam sessions that made Tom Skinner's Science Project and Dustin & Jesse's higher Education so popular.
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