In 2006, Samantha James scored a #1 Billboard hit with her debut single Rise. Four years later, the sensational vocalist has emerged with her follow-up album, Subsconscious – a deeply introspective journey bridging soul and electronic music, pop and house.
You appeared out of nowhere in early 2006, when “Rise” dominated the Winter Music Conference. I’ve interviewed way too many people to know that overnight success usually means years of work. Before “Rise” became a #1 hit, what were you doing?
Is that how it happened? I sometimes forget how quickly it all happened. Yeah that was a trip! Although it was something I had been wanting to happen for years…
The fully mature and confident right out of the gate part… well I would have to differ. I was definitely not fully confident and mature in terms of performing. I always knew in the back of my mind that I would one day be a singer, but to me writing in the studio was an intimate, comfortable feeling. Performing was a completely different animal that I actually had not in any way, shape or form really prepared myself for. I almost feel like when I performed that first year at the WMC – it was like I had literally been thrown out onto a stage with really no preparation. That was not a great feeling.
From the time I was 17 years old I had been working with different producers just messing around with different types of music. If it for some reason didn’t work out with one producer I always somehow, someway had another one waiting on the side. After going through, I don’t know, maybe nine different producers, I finally found Sebastian [Arocha Morton, aka ROCAsound]. He really helped me to develop my sound that you now hear today. We were both completely on the same page in terms of different types of music that we both loved. I at that point knew exactly what I wanted to do…
So you could say that I spent those two years prior to the release of “Rise” fusing those sounds together and turning them into I guess what you would call an electronic soulful sound, mixed with many other tasty ingredients.
Rise (the album) had a sort of happy, West Coast sound to it, and this collection of songs (particularly the last five) on Subconscious are deeply introspective. Did you set out to make a record that sounded so different from your debut?
As a matter of fact no I didn’t. The name Subconscious was chosen strictly based on the fact that at the time I was creating these new songs I had been going through a lot. I really wasn’t feeling up to writing when I began the writing process and again felt somewhat forced. I was grieving the loss of my father, etc. I remember calling Sebastian and telling him that I only wanted very melancholic sounding songs to write to. I was not living in LA at the time so going into the studio wasn’t an option.
After a few months of writing these very melancholy songs I decided to go back to LA. Upon my arrival Sebastian had been working on so many other projects that I was on a search to find someone else to collaborate with… To my surprise this was not at all difficult. I ended up reuniting with a friend of mine from middle school that I literally hadn’t seen since I was 11 years old. He told me that he was a producer! I think it was a week later that I was writing songs with Shane [Drasin]… It was a really interesting experience to say the least. I believe we wrote our first song the first day that we saw each other. He really helped me/inspired me to start writing more uplifting songs.
I was very happy that I was able to get back into that headspace after not being in it for so long. What you hear on Subconscious are literally two songwriters – Shane and I – coming together to create songs when we had never worked together before. And the other half of the record I wrote with Sebastian. Though there were a few songs that we all ended up collaborating on together.
What is the song “Free” about? It’s probably the most personal song I’ve heard from you.
The song “Free” encompasses everything that I was going through during and following the passing of my father. The song is about relationships not working out, loss and all of the side effects that I was experiencing while going through all of the pain I was feeling. It’s about this journey that I took to escape the pain which didn’t necessarily help me to escape – just helped to temporally numb the pain. But I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. I knew that I couldn’t just write this tune and express the way I was feeling and not let some sort of positivity shine through at some point in the lyrics. I am, or at least I try to be, a very optimistic person. Through the suffering I have experienced in my life the one thing that has always pulled me out of it is the fact that I truly believe that there is something good out of every negative situation. My songwriting gives me the ability to see the light even when things may still be somewhat dark.
I was listening to Subconscious when it came out in June, and a friend asked me if it was the new Sade album. It seems to me that all of these songs could be performed with a piano. Do you feel that there’s a struggle with releasing a piano ballad on what’s going to be filed in the “dance/pop” section?
You know it’s funny that you ask this question. I am currently in the process of putting a live band together, of course with electronic elements.
I never wanted to be known as a dance artist. I am a singer/songwriter and would much prefer performing at festivals and doing live shows then being on a stage alone with a DJ. This has never been a satisfying experience for me. It’s actually been quite the opposite. Aside from traveling to amazing places and meeting wonderful people who love my music… mentally, physically and emotionally, I dread singing on a stage by myself with a DJ somewhere off to the side of me or behind me. There is no feeling in my opinion more lonesome and cold. I so badly want to be on a stage full of other musicians I can interact with. Or even one!
Although I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to create a fanbase in the dance music scene which has been very humbling and beautiful… There are a million people in the world who have yet to discover who I am or know that I exist. They may hear my songs in every department store, airlines, boutiques, TV and internet or satellite radio but are still clueless as to who I am or where to find me or my music.
This also has to do with marketing and PR… or the lack thereof. When I first signed with my label I never envisioned myself traveling around the world just performing my remixes in clubs. I now know that when you sign with a dance music label, you are automatically going to be pigeonholed into that dance category. Some people even thought I was a DJ and I assume still probably do. I have spent many years of my life involved in the dance music scene but never really felt the desire to learn how to DJ myself.
As I am now in the process of putting this band together, I am realizing how difficult it truly is. With the economy being what it is, most musicians have three other bands that they are playing with and a day job. I am struggling myself right now as an artist just to survive because I refused to tour this record with a DJ. It’s sad but again I believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And please thank your sweet friend for me! That’s a very nice compliment.
We’re a House Music magazine, and obviously we all listen to stuff outside of our cozy genre, but a lot of people are going to be introduced to your music via the singles and remixes. What do you think they’re missing by not checking out the entire body of work?
I think that they are missing who I truly am as an artist and person. I am not a dance diva. I’m just an artist trying to spread a message of hope and light to the world. I know that God is much bigger then me and has already mapped out his plans for me. I am glad that he took me to the dance music scene… I am thankful and honored to have the fans that I do. They along with what I believe is my calling are the constant that keeps me motivated to want to continue being a part of the music business. It’s not always a pleasant place to dwell… Yet again, life is what you make it and thats why I have decided it’s time to put my foot down if I ever plan on making an impact not just in the dance music scene but in “the World”. I must admit though, it’s been quite amazing to see the way that my message is still being relayed through the remixes.