Samantha Savage Smith’s Fine Lines was one of the best indie rock records of 2013. At least, it was for me — she passed me an early mix of the album for a cover feature I wrote on her at Fast Forward Weekly. Fast forward (had to) to over a year later, and it had still yet to be properly released.
“Yes, it’s been a long time coming,” Smith admits. “Probably more so for myself then the rest of the world.”
The album follows her breakthrough debut Tough Cookie, a collection of confessional folk-pop songs released in 2011 that she’s jokingly referred to as “mom rock” on more than one occasion. “Writing songs at that time for me was just generally on a smaller scope,” she says of Tough Cookie. “I didn’t imagine bands playing them, I didn’t think about arrangements, or compositions for that matter.”
Since then, Smith’s joined Calgary’s busy indie pop institution Lab Coast while recruiting the members of that band as her backing band. She’s also been involved in myriad other projects — including a songwriting exchange program that saw her return to Iceland for a performance earlier this fall. She’s busier than ever, practicing, recording, and touring almost constantly.
“I don’t really think of it as ‘work’ per se, it’s just the kind of stuff I like to fill my days with,” she says of her life as a busy musician. “Some people like to go for hikes, or have pets, or throw yacht parties… and I do this. Admittedly, it can be a bit of a grind sometimes, but there is always some sort of pay off at some points, big or small. Just like having a pet, or throwing a yacht party.”
As a result of her constant guitar playing and immersive musical lifestyle, Smith has emerged as an untouchable singer-songwriter on Fine Lines.
“It takes me longer to write a song, and I labour over them quite a bit more,” Smith says. “I think I’m finding I just have more ear for detail, and really enjoy the subtleties. I have fully embraced having my songs performed and recorded as a full band type thing.”
The album’s full of creative sonic flourishes, timeless harmonies, and brilliant arrangements. And while there’s a lot going on, there’s also a welcome subtlety throughout. Songs like “Til We Are Found” and “Higher Than Above” are breathtaking in their arrangements, all gentle harmonies and soft flourishes. Ultimately, the album’s a modern indie-pop classic.
As is all too common with up and coming musicians, Smith couldn’t find someone to release it. “Labels weren’t banging at my door or anything, so I was intending on self-releasing, and that’s a big undertaking for one person,” she recalls. She got in touch with Fontana North Distribution to see if they’d be interested in distributing the LP, and they put her in touch with Winnipeg imprint Pipe & Hat. “It was a great sense of relief when that happened,” she says. “I’m not in this completely alone anymore.”
Though it’s been gestating for a while, Smith has been careful not to let Fine Lines get stale. “I definitely had a time where I listened to it way way too much; during mastering and mixing and all of that,” she says. “But now that’s all done with, I’m staying away, mainly because I don’t want to get sick of it.
I’m still really fond of this record, and in all honesty, quite proud. I still love playing the songs, and it’s exciting to hear them sound better and better live.”
Finally released proper, Fine Lines can now be one of the best indie rock records of 2015, too.
[magazine month=”December” year=”2014″]