Samantha James Interview
Samantha James: Rise
By Norman Mayers
Om Records’ recording artist Samantha James wraps her music in an easy spirituality that never seems forced or contrived. On the Los Angeles native’s debut album Rise she effortlessly conveys a message of universal peace and love. The sound is gorgeous, combining elements of downtempo electronica, world rhythms, and house grooves with her sultry voice and compelling lyrics. The result lies at the crossroads between electronica and soul, meshing the two genres into a tasty treat. Plenty of others seem to agree as Samantha’s first single, the uplifting title track “Rise”, went to number one on the Billboard dance charts.
Nu-Soul: How did you first become involved with Om Records?
Samantha James: There is a gentleman named Dave Curtain who presented the Greenskeepers to Om and got them signed. He was a friend of my producer and when we were trying to find a good place for my music Om came up in discussion since it was somewhat electronic and we had some house tracks. We contacted Dave Curtain and sent two of my songs, “Rise” and “Angel Love”, to the president of the label. I guess he was in Ibiza over the summer and he was listening to the songs. When he came back he contacted us and we first ended up signing a singles deal for “Rise” and then a singles deal for “Angel Love” and it was only natural that the next step was to sign a deal for a full length album.
Nu-Soul: Who are some of the artists that have inspired you?
Samantha James: I’m heavily influenced by Carly Simon. There is an amazing jazz group named Pat Metheny that I grew up listening to. As I got into the early 80s I fell in love with Madonna. I loved Deee-Lite. Lady Miss Kier was my idol. I was exposed to the rave scene when I was 15 and I got turned on to Tracy Thorne and Everything But the Girl, Morcheeba, Portishead, Bjork. And I also like a lot of R&B and jazzy music. I like Incognito, The Brand New Heavies, Amel Larrieux. And I love Thievery Corporation, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Mark Farina.
Nu-Soul: How would you describe your sound?
Samantha James: Well the first thing that comes to mind is electronic soul. When we went into writing these songs our intention was to write true songs, formatted like true songs, with the hook, the chorus. We wanted to make sure that these songs had the capability of crossing over into a different market. We were hoping they would appeal to all different listeners.
Nu-Soul: What was the inspiration for the song “Rise”?
Samantha James: My mom passed away when I was 13 and once I was 19 and over partying I decided it was time for me to grow spiritually. I felt this desire to connect with my mom’s spirit again. I went on a journey to connect with my mom and along that process after working on my music for 8 years I crossed paths with my producer Sebastian Arocha Morton. When I met Sebastian it was totally undeniable that my mom has put us together to make music. That first song “Rise” is about us rising together with my mom’s spirit right alongside us. It’s about people rising together when they believe in tomorrow. And even if you die your spirit lives on. “Rise” has so many different meanings to me. But I have discovered that we created a song that was really needed in the world right now.
Nu-Soul: The track reached number one on the Billboard dance charts. What was that experience like and how do you think that has helped you as a new artist?
Samantha James: When the song went to number one I was shocked. I don’t think that you can really envision yourself hitting number one. I was totally humbled by the experience. As far as how it has helped me, I think it’s huge. For anybody to release a song, the first song they have ever released, and for it to go number one on any chart is amazing. It’s a blessing. It’s a gift. I don’t think any of it will really settle in until I am on the road and singing in front of huge groups of people who know my lyrics, you know?
Nu-Soul: Who are some of the artists you are interested in working with?
Samantha James: In the dance community I am looking forward to working with Kaskade in the future. I definitely want to work with Ben Watt. I think that would be amazing. I want to work with Pat Metheny. That question is limitless. I could go on and on.
Nu-Soul: How do you approach you live performances and what can people expect to see at one of your shows?
Samantha James: Well as of right now I am currently putting a live electronic band together. We consist of a keyboardist, my DJ, and a percussionist. We are currently rehearsing a few days a week to get this band together, since ultimately that’s what I see myself doing. I want a live show opposed to just a vocalist and the DJ. And that’s something I also discussed with my producer from Day 1. There are so many amazing vocalists in the scene. You have Lisa Shaw, Clara Hill, Aya. All of these divas. I really don’t see myself as a diva. I think I’m more of a storyteller. I want it to be an experience when people come to see me. Not to say that I won’t be doing shows with my DJ. I will. I have a huge calling in the dance music scene so I will be doing those shows. But ultimately I am putting the band together. We want to set ourselves aside from what most female vocalists have been doing.
Nu-Soul: So when can we expect to see a full-blown tour in support of your album?
Samantha James: Well I fly to San Francisco to do my record release party tomorrow and then I have a show in LA.
Nu-Soul: What else do you have in store?
Samantha James: I am definitely going to be collaborating with some artists. We have some remixes by some big DJs that will be coming out. I am planning on traveling and touring. I think in this early stage, it really depends on the reaction of the album. Then I will know how busy my tour schedule will be.