When Samantha Crain was performing "Get the Fever Out" at the Ramseur Records Showcase at the Visulite Theatre in May, her energy was infectious and her dancing looked like something you're more likely to see during a Native American powwow than at a concert. The singer, after all, has Choctaw heritage, but when asked, it's not something that influences her music.
"Everybody is connected to their heritage, but unless you're living in that community, you aren't really attached to it," Crain says by phone from Chicago where she and her band The Midnight Shivers recently wrapped up a tour with The Avett Brothers. "I go to all of my tribal events, but that still doesn't make me connected or influenced by my heritage. I don't think it would be fair for me to say I'm creating some kind of indigenous art."
Crain and her band occasionally perform at Native American events around the country, but she said it's more about the gig than the venue. "I think the Native American community is looking for more people of that heritage who don't do Native American art," she notes.
Crain has been touring in support of her debut album, Songs in the Night since it was released in February on the Concord-based Ramseur Records. The hard work is paying off as she's getting more and more attention for her indie brand of folk-rock music.
The tour with The Avett Brothers was Crain's first with her former label-mates. "Everyone who goes to an Avett Brothers show is there for the music. They are there to see a good show and it was great for us to play for those people," Crain says.
Crain was getting the attention of a number of record labels, including some big ones, before deciding to go with Ramseur. "It's a matter of what kind of band we can be in that moment, where [label head Dolph Ramseur] is more about the long term and letting things happen naturally to be a career," Crain says. "He really believes in hard work and not taking an easy route. It's the same work ethic that I've always had for myself. It was great to find a group of people that were willing to work as hard as we are toward a common goal."
The label is known for giving artists complete artistic freedom and letting them work at their own pace. Crain says the album turned out exactly as she had hoped, though it took time to go from being a solo performer to working with a band and a little effort to give up the complete control in the studio that she was used to having.
For her debut EP, Crain was on her own and writing songs that would later have instrumentation added around her own singing and acoustic guitar. For the album, Crain had been working with a band and let producer Danny Kadar steer the ship a little more.
"Once the recording process started it was easy to let Danny do what he needed to do and keep the band on task and helping us to see the big picture," she says. "I don't have a problem with it now, but it was hard to let go when we were going into it. I think as long as the producer you're working with knows what you're going for -- as long as everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal, that's all that matters."
Since playing with a band, Crain says her songwriting has changed a bit because she now keeps them in mind while writing. She'll bring a riff to guitarist Stephen Sebastian and let him expand on it, for example. Working with Kadar also gave them bits of knowledge that they hadn't known before, such as recording to a click track.
Most of Crain's hard-work ethic has come from growing up in the small Oklahoma town of Shawnee, though she doesn't think small-town life was much of a hurdle to get past.
"I think I have certain characteristics in myself that are influenced by a small town -- my work ethic and my ability to entertain myself because there wasn't much to do while growing up," she says. "I think the way this country is, anyone can do anything. There are so many resources. I think if anything, it was good to grow up in a small town and have to work hard for things."
Lyrically, Crain doesn't feel her writing has changed too much, though she now has to think about phrasing to include the band instead of pouring out her own thoughts. She's already written half of the songs for the band's next album, which they hope to begin recording next winter. In the meantime, Crain is also writing songs for a follow-up solo EP that she'll begin recording in November.
"I do it for my own creative outlet and to try something different and keep it interesting," Crain says of the reason she is writing for two different albums. "That's pretty much my only reason. With the EP, the writing process has been a lot different. I've been starting with the music first and then writing lyrics to go into the songs. The songs I write for the band -- most of the time the music and lyrics go in at the same time or I write lyrics and then write the music. The solo stuff tends to be a little more experimental or weirder because I write the music first."
As for looking at her her career in the long term, Crain says that even though music is currently her primary focus, it's not the career she has chosen, yet. "I never really decided on this and I still haven't decided," she says with a laugh. "It's just what's happening right now. I just do things and let them evolve on their own. I'm fully prepared to work hard and let this be my livelihood, but ... I'll work hard at whatever I can until it doesn't work out anymore. There are other things I can do in life. I never have really decided on a certain path of where I'm going."
Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers will perform at The Evening Muse on July 15 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.