Artist Q&A: Samantha Clemons

As she prepares for her first show of 2024 and debut performance at Blue Strawberry on Friday, Jan. 19, St. Louis-based musician, Samantha Clemons, carved out some time to speak with us about where she finds inspiration in a city with such deep musical roots, the importance of experiencing live music, and what’s next for her in the new year. Hot off the heels of a new single, “Colored“, Clemons has some other surprises on deck for eager fans.

Jeff Strowe of the Dallas Observer once said, “… Samantha Clemons sings with pure emotion. Across a sturdily strummed acoustic guitar, Clemons’ voice soars with sincerity and depth as she sings about joys and hardships both personal and universal. Her style rightfully draws comparisons to Lauryn Hill, but her intimate confessionals put her in a category all her own…”

As NPR noted of her song “Bubble Boy” during a Tiny Desk Contest entry, “Clemons’ voice is striking: secured in deep depths in one moment, then bursting like wildfire in the next… the story she tells… is so beautifully imagined.”

Instagram: @littleredfender
Photos (featured and homepage) by Chris Bauer
YouTube video (below): “Colored” performed by Clemons on the Live from the Boom Room series by Blip Blap Video

Q: You have a style that blends multiple genres (folk, soul, blues, etc.) – what are some of your musical influences?
A: Gospel music raised me and I’ve always felt like blues is really just the secular counterpart to gospel’s sacred, so it’s at the root of a lot of the music I make. Artistically, Tracy Chapman and Bill Withers are my north stars. I’ve played guitar since I was nine but it wasn’t until I discovered them in college that I really learned how to integrate the folk elements of the acoustic guitar into my songwriting in a way that felt authentic and true to those early influences but in a modern way. I’m also inspired in many ways by the heavier, darker stuff, though: trap, alt-rock, post-hardcore. My favorite band is MUTEMATH – discovering Paul Meany’s writing really transformed my lyrical approach early on. Their former drummer, Darren King, is from right here in Missouri, too – he’s incredible.

Q: In what ways does St. Louis inspire your music?
A: The rich blues and jazz history of St. Louis is practically palpable, and it’s one of my favorite parts about living here. I have an abiding love and affinity for those styles, so this city is the perfect place for me, creatively speaking. It’s amazing how well St. Louis has been able to preserve that history and how it continues to influence the music coming out of this region. It is challenging, being surrounded by the caliber of musicians that have grown out of that legacy because St. Louis’ musicians and artists really are some of the best. But it’s energizing, too, and I’ve grown so much as an artist in the last 5 years as a result of being a part of the music scene here.

Q: Did you grow up around music and, if so, what memories stand out that have stuck with you?
A: My parents were both music lovers, so I was surrounded by it growing up. My dad took great care in filtering out most of the contemporary music of my childhood, so I grew up listening mostly to traditional gospel, blues and soul music. Every once in a while, when we visited my mom’s family, who was born and raised in Saint Lucia, I’d get to listen to reggae, dancehall, soca and zouk, which was always a treat. But when I finally had a car to drive my junior year in high school, I snuck to Walmart after school (and ended up late to work!) to buy my first secular CD, Kanye’s “College Dropout.” I remember that day vividly – indelibly, even. It was like the world opened up.

Q: What’s your experience being a musician in St. Louis? What are the positives and what are some of the challenges?
A: I relocated to the St. Louis area in 2018 a few weeks after my youngest was born and, to be honest, it took awhile to find my bearings. As big as this metro is, St. Louis can feel somewhat like a small town. There are so many unique neighborhoods and cultural pockets here – exploring and familiarizing yourself with them takes time. I’m an Army brat, so I’m pretty used to navigating new places but being a transplant, especially as an artist, can be tough. It’s been a slow process, but as I’ve had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with people across the region, the support and generosity of this scene has been a real source of encouragement. I’m excited to continue building those connections and contributing where I can.

Q: St. Louis music has a long, impactful, and far-reaching history. From your perspective, where is the St. Louis music scene now and where is it headed?
A: It’s undeniable that St. Louis’ history is responsible for nurturing the vibrant community of musicians and music lovers that we’re privileged to enjoy here. It really is motivating as an artist, and I’ve been pushed in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve experienced so much artistic growth, though, since settling in St. Louis – especially post pandemic. And I’ve seen it in many of the city’s burgeoning artists, too. It’s thrilling to get to witness and share all of the great music and creativity that’s coming out of St. Louis right now. You can feel the excitement from audiences and artists alike, and I think our days as a secondary market are numbered.

Q: With so many online options to keep people at home (streaming services, social media, etc.), as well as perhaps the continuation of habits formed during the Covid-19 pandemic of seeking out recorded shows online, what are people missing out on if they’re not experiencing live music?
A: There is an energy and singularity to the live music experience, and it’s something you really can’t capture in any other format. As a member of the audience, I always get lost in the stage dynamics, the way the performers engage with one another in service to the music and play off of the energy in the building. And from the artist’s perspective, I can tell you that no single performance is the same, no matter how many times you run down the set in rehearsal. There’s a symbiotic relationship that develops between the audience and the musicians on stage, and it’s different every single time. In short, if you’re not in the room where it’s happening and experiencing it firsthand, you’re missing out on some of the magic.

Q: You recently released a new single, “Colored”. This might get a little into your creative process, but do you mind sharing a bit about this song? How did it come to be? Any insight on inspiration and meaning you’re willing to share?
A: That song was such a labor of love. Life has taken me to some far flung places – physically, personally and professionally. I’ve always struggled with feeling like all the parts of me that felt authentic and innate didn’t quite fit somehow. The way the world perceived me was nothing like who I understood myself to be. It was like someone had painted this unauthorized portrait of me, with a palette I hadn’t picked but was forced to live with. Those feelings were brought into sharp relief during an uncomfortable conversation I had with a coworker years ago, and I wrote “Colored” when I got home that night. It sat in my voice memos for years until I was combing through them for a solo acoustic show back in 2019 and decided to play it live for the first time. It really resonated, and I realized that it’s a really common experience. I’m grateful that people have connected with it.

Q: I saw a recent post you made on Instagram where you mentioned, “there’s a spectacle stewing.” I’m intrigued and have to ask – any more hints as to what’s next for you in 2024?
A: Yeah, I’ve been eager to get some new music out there, and I’m excited that things are picking back up. Before my single “Colored” dropped back in November, I hadn’t released anything since my 2018 EP “Burn.” Between running my construction firm, raising two rambunctious boys and shoe-horning in a date night or two with my husband David, finding time to get into the studio to record can be challenging. But for the last year, I’ve been collaborating with some incredibly talented St. Louis musicians. Dan Mehrmann at Midtown Sound House, Chris Turnbaugh from Sawhorse, Jared McFarland, Zack Clark, and Matt Galik have all been essential parts of this project, and I’m really proud of what we’re creating. We’ve got a few more tracks waiting in the wings, and I’ll be releasing another new single “Spectacle” on February 9, 2024. We’ve also got some shows coming up – we’ll be at Blue Strawberry on January 19th, with a few other dates on the calendar through the spring – lots of great stuff on the way!