The manager of the trendy bistro seemed to know Samantha Crain and didn't mind at all if she taped one of her concert fliers to his front window.
Her youthful face is probably familiar to many here in the Plaza Arts District. The poster advertised her upcoming concert at the Blue Door, celebrating the Tuesday release of her third full-length album, “Kid Face.”
It's a fitting title, considering the Shawnee-born singer-songwriter's smooth, round, dark Choctaw features look closer to 18 — her age when she released her first EP — than 26, which she turned last August.
Already an eight-year veteran of the stage, the road and the studio, the Dale High School graduate says she's reached a point in her life where she's ready to get fearlessly autobiographical with her songwriting, and that's what she's done with the country-driven indie-folk songs on “Kid Face.”
“Yeah, this is actually the first like fully autobiographical album that I've written,” she said, settling down for an interview at a patio table outside the restaurant, where the Friday afternoon air was a bit crisp but the traffic on NW 16 was less noisy than the interior of the eatery.
“I think before, even if I was dabbling in sort of autobiographical stuff, I always felt the need to kind of color things up with a little bit of fiction here or there, mainly just for my own anxieties about being too personal, probably. But I think, like, the older I've gotten, the more comfortable I've become with myself and with my own story, that it's been easier to write more autobiographical stuff.”
She seems to be addressing this new sense of honesty and accountability in the haunting and shadowy acoustic ballad “Taught to Lie,” with its eerily noir, rustic imagery:
“Yeah, late in the night / I've learned to tell the truth sometimes / And if you take Anderson Road, you'll find a box that I have stowed / Behind an old Conoco sign that's shiny silver in the night / And in the box there is a stone and a little red rattail comb / And seven motel keys, and a souvenir penny / Because I don't forget the past, and if that thought leaves your heart cracked / Then I'm gonna move away, I won't lead you on that way ...”
Passing the test
The new album was produced by indie-rock innovator John Vanderslice at his Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco, a facility favored by top alternative acts these days.
“I worked with him on a seven-inch EP, just an A- and B-side seven-inch (“It's Simple” b/w “Cadwell Jungle”) last year,” Crain said. “It was kind of a test run to see if we worked well together, and I enjoyed working with him so much with the seven-inch that we ended up doing the whole album together.”
And she was very impressed with Vanderslice's studio.
“From the outside it doesn't look like much. Kind of like tucked in sort of an industrial area of The Mission in San Francisco. Inside, it's three different studios, and it's an all-analog studio. There's not a computer in the whole building. It's all run through tape. This is actually the first time that I've run completely analog. My first album and my second album, we recorded digitally and then during the mix-down process mixed it onto tape so it still gave it sort of a tape quality.
“But I think to record it all to tape not only affects the sound of it but it affects sort of your approach to recording, because there can't be a lot of tape so you have to be prepared as far as the musicians go, as far as what the arrangements of the songs are going to be, and you also have to be all right with things sounding not quite perfect, you know?
“And I think it's a good approach, so you don't overanalyze the record, or else you just overthink it.”
Stylistically, Crain feels that “Kid Face” leans a little more toward the countrified shadings of her first EP, “The Confiscation” (2007) and her first LP, “Songs in the Night” (2009) with her then-band, the Midnight Shivers, while her last full-length, post-Shivers album “You (Understood)” (2010) took a little harder turn into rock 'n' roll.
Of all her recorded work to date, Crain favors “Kid Face” for its audio quality as much as its lyrical honesty.
“That has a lot to do with John and his efficiency and knowledge at analog recording and his ability as an engineer as well, and then it also has a lot to do with the mastering process of it too,” she said. “I think everything fits really well.”
Lured by travel
Crain herself fits well in the ever-growing Oklahoma singer-songwriter community, although she confesses she first became a traveling troubadour for the travel as much as the tunecraft.
“(Music) wasn't the forefront thing on my mind,” she said. “I'd had a guitar for a while. My dad bought me one at an early age, but I didn't really have much interest in it until I got into college, and then I started kind of teaching myself how to play just out of boredom, kind of.
“But really what started the whole writing and touring thing was I really just wanted to travel, and I naively kind of, my idea was, well, if I write a couple of songs, then I can book some shows and travel around and fund my really low-budget form of traveling through music. And I did, and sort of my love for singing and writing and playing and performing kind of came the more I did it. I started appreciating the art of it, and it became sort of my mode of expression more than just the thing I did just to get from one place to the other.
“So it kind of went about in a strange way but, yeah, it really just all was spurred because I wanted to see something other than Oklahoma.”
Appreciation for home
Since getting serious about music, her albums have earned some seriously favorable notices from such national publications as Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine and The New York Times.
But if her wanderlust is still stirring, she has no desire to move her home base elsewhere.
“My family's all in Oklahoma,” Crain said. “It's a pretty good central location as far as touring. I mean you're in the middle of the country. So you can get to either coast within 24 hours ... I'm already working with the people that I want to be working with as far as my career goes.
“I'm not really trying to meet anybody new as far as moving to L.A. or New York City or something like that. And because the cost of living is cheaper here, even if I'm not touring, if I wanted to go on trips somewhere else just for the experience of it, then I can do that because I save more money living here.
“And I like Oklahoma. There's a lot of good things happening as far as the music scene goes, and (John) Fullbright just got nominated for a Grammy and there's a lot of great bands up in Tulsa and in Norman right now, so I think it's a perfectly good place to be.”
In fact, such homegrown talents as Fullbright, Ali Harter, Sherree Chamberlain and Parker Millsap are all close friends of Crain.
“And there's probably a tight community between the kids that are coming up through the ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) school as far the rock scene is concerned right now,” Crain said.
“So I don't know how broad it is, you know, overarching, but I think there's little pockets of good (musical) communities that are sometimes separated by genre and sometimes not.”