Photo courtesy of Sophia Matinazad
New York City-based indie artist Samia just released her latest EP Scout. The four-song collection is the follow-up to her debut album The Baby, which came out in August of 2020. On the day of the EP’s release, Samia sat down with music coordinator Tatum Jenkins. They talked about her process for songwriting, collaborating with Jelani Aryeh, and more.
SO FIRST OF ALL, I JUST WANTED TO SAY CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR EP COMING OUT TODAY. IT’S AMAZING. I’VE ALREADY LISTENED TO IT LIKE AT LEAST FIVE TIMES.
Samia Finnerty: Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you.
OF COURSE! AND MY FIRST QUESTION IS PROBABLY REALLY SIMPLE, BUT I’M STILL CURIOUS. WHY IS THE EP CALLED SCOUT?
SF: Oh, a couple of reasons. My boyfriend calls me Scout for one and I think it feels like a brave word to me. And [the EP] is mostly a reflection of growth and learning. So it felt like, you know, if there’s any word to describe the slightly older sister who is sort of like condescending to the voice of my first album, I think that Scout probably summarizes that feeling best.
YEAH, I LOVE THAT. AND THEN STARTING WITH THE CREATION OF THIS EP. WHAT WAS THE FIRST SONG THAT YOU WROTE FOR IT? AND WHEN YOU WROTE IT, WERE YOU THINKING OF A BIGGER PROJECT?
SF: I knew that we had to do this and I was a little bit stressed about it because I spent three years working on The Baby and I knew exactly what I wanted to say and it just took so long. I spent every second of my life making decisions for that record during that period of time.
This was sort of just the label asking for more songs. And so I sort of had to take my hands off and let it be what it was and accept whatever came, which I think was a great exercise for me ultimately, because it’s just a great skill, I think, to have to be able to accept my natural stream of consciousness. Especially during a time when there wasn’t anything happening.
I generally write about experiences and I write best in transition, so obviously that wasn’t really available to me. I sort of just had to, like, accept in so much of the themes of the record or about accepting which relationships are actually meaningful and which behaviors of my own feel authentic. And yeah, it’s sort of just happened.
YOU DEFINITELY SPEAK FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THAT FINDING CREATIVITY WHEN NOTHING IS HAPPENING IS VERY, VERY DIFFICULT. AND SO WHEN YOU KIND OF DECIDED TO EMBRACE THAT WAS THERE ANY SORT OF MESSAGE OR IDEA THAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO COMMUNICATE?
SF: I think that a theme that sort of showed itself during the process of writing that wasn’t intentional was delusions. I think I had a lot of false beliefs about what my life looked like and what my friendships look like. And I mean I don’t know anyone who didn’t have an epiphany about that during this past year. [It focuses on] what is actually meaningful and sustainable in your life, especially when it comes to your interactions with other people. The relationships that remained after a year of not being able to go to a bar or seeing people regularly. I was evaluating my own behavior a lot and just trying to see what I was actually capable of doing and who I was actually capable of being there for.
THE FIRST SINGLE THAT CAME OUT “SHOW UP,” IS AWESOME AND I THINK IT TOTALLY COMMUNICATES THAT. I DON’T KNOW IF THIS IS A CONSCIOUS THING FOR YOU, BUT WHAT I REALLY LIKE, ESPECIALLY ABOUT THAT SONG, IS THERE ARE SNAPSHOTS OF SPECIFIC MOMENTS AND NAMES. DID THOSE PARTICULAR MOMENTS STICK OUT IN YOUR MIND AS THEY WERE HAPPENING OR WHEN YOU WERE WRITING THE SONG?
SF: Yeah, I think I was just trying to decide how I actually felt about it. I had a really strong rhetoric of missing my friends. And I go, ‘if only we could meet up, then this would all be different.’ And then I just sort of had to come to terms with ‘that may not be true.’ Things are so different now that it’s more about grieving. It’s not just like the world was on pause for a year and then it’s going to go right back to normal. Things are totally shifted. And that song for me, particularly, [was] when I accepted that.
Like I saw my friend who I’d only really ever seen in one context, which was like being in Brooklyn playing shows, showing each other demos and everything felt like it was moving. Then when I saw him again, he had moved to L.A. and we were just driving through Beverly Hills together and everything seemed so subdued. And we both were talking and we both felt so jaded and bitter about everything. It was just so crazy to go home and feel such a visceral nostalgia for the time when we all felt like it’s happening. And obviously, you know, it wasn’t as sad as it felt in that moment because the relationships are so, so crucial. But I think it’s just an acceptance of things changing so drastically.
DO WRITING THOSE MOMENTS HELP GROUND THEM FOR YOU OR CLARIFY THINGS AT ALL, OR IS WRITING A PROCESS OF UNDERSTANDING?
SF: I think writing is my process of understanding. It’s the most cathartic way for me to find hindsight. I don’t fully understand what I feel about the situation until I try to write a song about it.
AND THEN SPEAKING OF FRIENDSHIPS, I WAS SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU HAD A SONG WITH JELANI ARYEH. I’M A HUGE FAN AND I’M JUST CURIOUS HOW THAT COLLABORATION CAME ABOUT. HOW DID YOU GUYS MEET? DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE GOING TO WRITE A SONG TOGETHER?
SF: I was a super fan of his also, and I was just listening to his music a ton. And I knew I wanted to do a cover and I wanted to do a feature on the cover because I just thought that was such a cool way to see another artist’s interpretation of the song. I just went out on a limb and I think I DMed him and he just happened to be down. And it was a real quarantine thing of like sending vocals back and forth. And then we finally got to meet last month. We made a little music video on a camcorder for the song, but we had finished the song by the time we met for the first time. So that was cool. That felt very like, you know, a 2020 story that I’ll tell my kids someday.
WITH THAT SONG, I NOTICED IT’S MUSICALLY A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT FROM THE REST. DID HE PUSH YOU IN DIFFERENT WAYS THAT YOU DIDN’T EXPECT MUSICALLY?
SF: So I made that whole track with my friend Boone, who produced most of the rest of the EP. He’s a new friend that I’ve made in Nashville who’s so talented. But we made the whole thing in his house because we didn’t know, it was still like pre-vaccine. And so I was considering doing the piano ballad approach with this one just to make it its own thing, but we thought it would be really funny to try to replicate the original as accurately as possible. We were just like, ‘we can, we should just commit as hard as we can to this.’ And then Jelani just sent vocals over, and it was so cool to hear his raw vocals before we threw it on there.
THAT’S AWESOME. AND I THINK THAT THIS EP IS LIKE VERY MUCH YOU MOVING FORWARD AS AN ARTIST AND DISCOVERING NEW THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF. WAS THERE ANYTHING GOING INTO THIS THAT YOU WERE LIKE, I WANT TO EXPERIMENT WITH THIS OR TRY SOMETHING NEW?
SF: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think earnesty is the big new thing here. I try to cushion it generally in my songwriting with levity and humor and self deprecation, but I think I did the least of that here that I’ve ever done in songwriting, which is scary. It’s scarier to release earnest and sincere music because I think it’s a little bit more vulnerable. And there’s like a little bit less self-awareness, of course. I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again, but I sort of had no choice this past year because everything around us just felt so serious and it didn’t feel like the time to be analyzing myself. There’s just so much chaos and it felt like the only thing I could do that would actually contribute to what was going on in a positive way was to be super honest.
YEAH, DEFINITELY. THAT SORT OF HONESTY IS SOMETHING THAT I ALMOST FEEL LIKE CAN ONLY HAPPEN NOW. LIKE I FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE BEING VULNERABLE NOW THAN I EVER HAVE MAYBE BECAUSE THERE’S LIKE A SCREEN AND TECHNOLOGY ELEMENT.
IS THERE ANYTHING, AS YOU WERE PREPARING TO PUT THIS OUT, THAT YOU WERE SPECIFICALLY NERVOUS ABOUT? ANY REACTION YOU WERE WAITING FOR?
SF: I mean, always. I just write very literally and use a lot of specific details that are true from my life. And I have had to learn… exploiting someone else’s experience is not the same as telling your story. I didn’t know that when I first started writing songs. I sort of thought it’s all fair game if it happened to me. But sometimes it happens to you and it’s also simultaneously happening to someone else and you can’t tell their story for them. So I’ve tried to be really careful about only talking about my feelings and how the situation made me feel and not trying to make some big grand statement about what the situation was.
There’s a song called “Elephant” on [the EP] that definitely is super vulnerable. It’s my perception of a situation and how it made me feel and I always hope that is cool to talk about.
AND ONE THING THAT I’VE NOTICED IS THAT YOUR FAMILY IS REALLY INVOLVED IN YOUR MUSIC. I’M CURIOUS, HAVE THEY LISTENED TO THE EP? DO THEY HAVE ANY FAVORITES?
SF: Yeah, I played it for them. They definitely liked the one where their voicemail is featured. But they’re really sweet. My mom always tells me that I need to turn the vocals up with every song I’ve ever put out. But she’s so supportive and sent me a really sweet text about it and so did my dad. And they’ve been really, really, really cool about everything I’ve released.
AND DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT THE SORT OF HONESTY YOU HAVE IN THIS EP?
SF: Yeah. I think it was hard for me because I’m so hard on myself about being clever and being funny. My favorite songwriter is Father John Misty. Those are some big shoes to fill. And this is really the first time that I didn’t nitpick my style of songwriting and my word choices. It just felt like if I was going to release something during a time when people’s lives are really awful and tumultuous and confusing, I only really felt comfortable sharing stuff that felt like it had to be shared from my perspective.
AND DO YOU THINK BEING IN LESS OF A STUDIO ENVIRONMENT OR A PRODUCED SPACE HELPED YOU FEEL LESS SELF-AWARE?
SF: Yeah! I also think I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people who are very sincere and have prioritized quality of life and mental health and happiness. And I’m not used to that. I’ve had so many amazing friends in my life. But I think this is the first time I’ve been around people whose intention is to be happy and to feel good. So that’s sort of like the social space I’ve been in that definitely contributed to this, too.
DO YOU SEE THE ENVIRONMENT OF THIS PROJECT BEING HEALTHIER THAN YOUR ALBUM OR DO YOU SEE THEM AS JUST LIKE DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS, AND HOW?
SF: I think they’re just so different. I’ve started writing another record and that one is definitely more like The Baby than this one – I think I’ll probably end up back where I started. But I’m glad that this one exists because it is like a snapshot of a really honest period of my life, and I would never want to be inauthentic about that.
THIS QUESTION IS LESS ABOUT CONTENT AND MORE ABOUT AESTHETICS, BUT THE COVER OF SCOUT IS SO COOL, LIKE I LOVE THE COLORS OF IT. WAS IT PLANNED? DID YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF SPECIFIC VISION?
SF: Thank you! First of all, it was my friend Sophia, who is like an incredible photographer, visual director, and stylist who I met here, and it’s all her. I mean I just showed up for that. And she was like, “I think there should be a knife.” And I was like, “yeah, sure, absolutely. Whatever you say.” I trust her with anything. She just has such an amazing eye. And she’s really capable of communicating something visually that I could only communicate musically, so it’s really nice to have people like that in my life. I feel the same way about Joey Brodnax, who did all the videos for this. I’m so lucky to be around people like that.
WELL, IT LOOKS GREAT. AND I WAS VERY CURIOUS ABOUT THE KNIFE, ACTUALLY. I WAS LIKE, “OKAY, THAT’S KIND OF COOL. I DON’T GET IT, BUT IT’S COOL.”
SF: I honestly don’t get it either. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. But I love it because – it wasn’t my idea – but it makes me think of like the Girl Scout thing. I think definitely it feels like that, especially because it’s the tiniest little knife.
I WAS A GIRL SCOUT FOR SO LONG AND I REMEMBER WE HAD TO USE THESE REALLY SMALL KNIVES AND WE DID SOAP WHITTLING. I DON’T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS FOR. BUT THAT ODDLY WAS MY FIRST THOUGHT WHEN I SAW IT. THE KNIFE ON THE COVER UNLOCKED THIS VERY INTERESTING MEMORY FOR ME, SO I JUST HAD TO ASK ABOUT THIS.
SF: Totally! That’s totally what it is. I feel like the girl who sang this EP is doing it while she whittles soap with a tiny knife.
MY LAST QUESTION IS KIND OF A FUN ONE. I KNOW YOU’RE COMING TO BOSTON – ARE YOU EXCITED? IS THERE ANYTHING IN BOSTON THAT YOU’RE EXCITED TO SEE? ANY TOURISTY THINGS YOU WANT TO DO?
SF: I think I’ve done a lot of touristy things in Boston. I’m just really excited to be there, I love playing shows in Boston. And I’ve like weirdly played a lot of times there – I think we’ve hit Boston on every tour we’ve been on – and it’s just such a great crowd and everyone is so smart and nice and accepting of new music. And I’m just excited to be there.
Check out Samia’s latest EP Scout, out now!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.