Ever since her debut EP, The Confiscation**, Samantha Crain has been revered within her genre as an old soul. For most listeners, the smoky vocals and acoustic chords of "If I Had a Dollar" and "For the Miner" are inseparable from the Oklahoma landscape that she calls home. Often compared to greats like Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez, Samantha makes pop and indie ballads that are equally as gripping as her folk and protest songs. On her fifth studio album,You Had Me at Goodbye, set to be released this March, the now-30-year-old performer rejects and restructures the narrative applied to her songs by critics and listeners. "When you're young and you don't know who you are yet, you just grab onto any label that people throw at you," she explains. Samantha describes her new album as a self-portrait comprising dark humor, vulnerability, and earnest humanity.
I spoke with Samantha across two time zones the day before New Year's Eve about the limitations of being pigeonholed, her complicated relationship with Oklahoma, and how her desire to be a better friend led to "Oh Dear Louis."
Dianca Potts: You Had Me at Goodbye is your fifth studio album. When you started working on this project, was there anything new that you wanted to explore stylistically or in terms of theme?
Samantha Crain: With all of the albums that I've made in the past, I've always had something I was going for or some sort of story that I was trying to get at, but on this album I just wanted to have fun. I've spent the majority of my adulthood taking myself pretty seriously and because I've been making music since I was young, people have always called me an old soul. When you're young and you don't know who you are yet, you just grab onto any label that people throw at you, and now that I'm older, I kind of realized that I missed out on a lot of freedom that comes along with making art as a young person, so on this album I really just wanted to paint a portrait of myself.
DP: In the past, critics have focused heavily on how your home state of Oklahoma has shaped your sound. Do you feel like putting so much emphasis on your roots is reductive?
SC: A lot of people, especially people who don't know much about Oklahoma or haven't been there, picture me playing folk music. They picture Oklahoma as being this "cowboys and Indians, wagon trail" sort of thing — and I guess in a way it is — but people have taken the liberty of painting me in that scenery, and it's been a bit of a weird thing to shake. There's a lot of cool things here that people don't know about. There's an underground punk scene, and there's a lot of artists doing really cool things. It's not all just prairies and windmills and bison.
DP: Has making music changed your relationship to home?
SC: I have a very complicated relationship with this place. I've lived other places, but I've always ended up coming back. I've always stuck out like a sore thumb, and I think [that's] the reason why I make music and art, because I had to have some form of expression being from here. I've always kind of been the weirdo — which doesn't take much here — but it's my home, it's where my family and friends are, but it's also really stifling and overly conservative and religious.