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Samantha Savage Smith Is Definitely Not Faking It

The indie chanteuse returns more confident and in control on Fake Nice.

by Sebastian Buzzalino

Photo by Heather Saitz

It’s no secret that Samantha Savage Smith is one of Calgary’s crown jewels in the music community. Her dulcet tones and nonchalant wit find her sparkling at the boundaries of dreamy indie pop. Since her 2009 debut, Tough Cookie, she has been a reliable fixture in the Calgary scene, playing alongside some of the city’s best.

Now, with the release of Fake Nice, her first full-length since 2015, Smith returns more confident and in control than ever. The 10-track slab of wax floats and shimmers between poppy grooves, while the songwriting explores her mental health challenges, only to see her emerging on the other side stronger and funnier than ever. 

We connected with Smith to chat about taking more control, working with Calgary drag queen Valerie Hunt, and what it’s been like getting back into the rhythm of touring and playing live again.

Congratulations on your new album! You’ve said that “Fake Nice,” is an ode to several mental health challenges you’re working through. How did conceptualizing and writing an album during the pandemic inform the final product? 

The writing of the songs actually started before the pandemic hit; it was something I was grappling with for sometime beforehand. Honestly, it was kind of weird timing, as I think the pandemic really did shine a light on people’s mental and emotional struggles, and maybe it was the isolation, or us all collectively knowing we are going to hell in a handbasket that led to people seeming to start speaking up more about it. Despite the very real negatives of the last couple years, I actually found personal growth and a deepened perspective through all of it. It gave me time and space to take a deep breath and to really assess what I want out of my life — and what I truly love about making and performing music. I was living for the hustle before, and now I know it’s really not a healthy thing for me. I have better boundaries and I now know when I have to say to myself, “Okay: timeout, Samantha.” 

What did you learn about yourself as an artist during the process of writing and recording this album?

That I’ve progressed a lot as a musician and as a producer. I was so intensely hands-on during the making of the album and, as a result of that, it feels truly my own. I think it’s the most agency I’ve had in any of my work. I became better at knowing how to translate what I wanted in my mind, and actually find the results in the studio and the production aspect of it.

How would you characterize your progression as an artist from Tough Cookie, more than a decade ago, to Fake Nice

I’ve grown up! My taste in music has evolved, my skill sets are stronger. Though my records have come out with quite a bit of time between them, they are all ultimately recorded documents of where I am in my life. I think, with this album, I really stopped caring about making bad choices, and just went for it. I let my sense of humour make an appearance in the music, finally. I just let it be me and what I like to hear, and to allow myself to put things on tracks that made me laugh. No risk, no reward… ya know?

What was it like working with Queen Valerie Hunt on the video for “Fake Nice”? In your opinion, what does the intersection of drag and indie pop bring to the song that might have otherwise not been there?

Amazing! Valerie is a force to be reckoned with. It was truly an honour to collaborate with her. I’ve had this idea for quite some time and have been keeping it in my back pocket for when the timing was right. I knew it had to be her and only her. It just seemed like the perfect visual metaphor for the song’s meaning. I think, more than ever, it’s important to intersect different styles of art forms: they do not need to be mutually exclusive. And also, just chatting with Val, we both found a lot of parallels between the slog of being a touring indie musician and a touring drag artist. It’s hard work! And it’s not all as glamorous as people like to think it is. But, we both put on our game face, get up on stage and give the audience a show, even if we actually feel like dirt, sleep-deprived, and haven’t had a decent meal in days. It’s a labour of love. 

I also just really loved chilling in the background. I wish I could just get Val with me on tour and she can just do the whole set and I’ll just play and sing from the side stage, haha. 

Looking back at the album as a whole, what are you most proud of?

That’s tough to say! There are so many things I could list that I’m quite chuffed about. But, I think, ultimately, it was really making bolder choices in production. I can hear it turned out exactly as I imagined it — sometimes even better. I’ve let things slide in the past and haven’t always spoken up about my gut instincts on songs in the studio. This time I was very bossy — in a good way!

You’re headed to Focus Wales in May and then a quick UK tour. What are you feeling in the weeks leading up to tour? 

Excited and stressed (laughs). But, I am really looking forward to just getting back out there again, and I really love playing this album live with my band. I think it translates well in a live setting and we’ve all worked really hard to bring it to life. The pandemic forced us all to take a live concert hiatus and proved that we truly don’t always know what we have ‘til it’s gone. I missed it all so much and I truly find so much joy in performing and attending. It’s nice that we can all start trying to do this again.