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Deep thoughts, hypnotic sounds make up music of Samantha Crain

It’s weighty stuff for any singer-songwriter to tackle — themes of good vs. evil, of damnation and redemption — but despite her pixie-ish nature, Samantha Crain addresses them admirably on her new album, “The Confiscation.”

Believe it or not, “The Confiscation” — a five-song EP out in July on North Carolina’s Ramseur Records — is only Crain’s first recording.

“There were five songs that I hadn’t been playing live or anything, and I developed this idea with these songs and how they related to each other,” Crain told The Daily Times this week. “I knew they just needed to be recorded in a certain type of EP connecting them all together. I had written them all in about a week or a week and a half, and there was this theme that had been on my mind that I had injected into these five songs.

“It was a consistent thing — good vs. evil, redemption vs. betrayal, that sort of thing — and I think that’s the main reason I felt like they flowed together and should be recorded together. I sort of just get bursts of obsession when it comes to writers or certain types of literature, and at that point, I can probably assure you I was reading a lot of Southern gothic literature.”

Like most singer-songwriters, Crain finds herself drawn to the power of words. She’s inspired by literature — so much so that she fashioned “The Confiscation” as a “novella,” a sort of lengthy musical short story that comes complete with a bookmark as part of its packaging. Her promotional photos even show her surrounded by stacks of books.

“There’s just a sense of grotesque realism to Southern gothic literature, sort of a almost-so-real-it’s-unreal sort of thing,” she said of the inspiration behind “The Confiscation.” “There’s a very strong theme of redemption coming about in strange and weird ways in a lot of those stories, and I found myself looking at life in a different sort of fashion while I was reading, sort of why things happen and the reasons bad things happen to people.”

Although she’s only 21, Crain’s inquisitive mind has led her down a successful path. Not only has she carved a niche for herself as an artist, she also has a booking agency, several national tours and dozens of self-produced recordings to her credit. She and her band, the Midnight Shivers, are ceaseless in their travels, driven in part by their work ethic and in part by Crain’s desire to see and observe and meet and do.

Next week, she’ll perform two shows in Knoxville, performing material off of “The Confiscation” — an album of aching beauty that’s been described as “Judy Garland singing Neutral Milk Hotel songs.” It has the visceral impact of a musical scar — tender to the touch, set apart from the rest of the skin by raised contours and hidden crevices, evoking a body memory as well as an emotional one upon first listen. Her voice is plaintive and distinct, possessed with an urgency that’s at once girlish and ancient. If anything, “The Confiscation” is a study in dichotomy — a balanced set of scales, just as she originally intended.

That it’s her first effort only makes fans anxious to see what she’ll do next.

“I try to think of things and expand on topics when I start thinking about them,” she said. “I develop weird habits and obsessions, and when I exhaust them, I go on to the next thing. That’s what I was reveling in then; now, I’ve been thinking a lot about the poet John Keats and a theory in his writing called Negative Capability. It’s a way that, when he was writing his poems, how he found himself able to imagine a world without himself in it.

As such, there was no aspect of one person writing his poems, no idea that would lead you to believe that a person was even writing them at all. That’s always been interesting to me — how much people who write songs hear a voice talking. I don’t know of many people who deliberately write a song that doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a voice at all, especially our own voice. We really don’t imagine a world without ourselves in it, especially musicians and artists, because we’re so self-absorbed.

“So now I’m trying to take myself out of that, but it’s really hard becoming sort of inhuman and not a person at all,” she said. “It’s a really strange way of thinking.”

The Daily Times Staff, written by Steve Wildsmith

  • Posted on May 31