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Shivers Me Timbers: Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers breathes new life into rock & roll 

Who would have guessed that Samantha Crain, the 22-year-old Shawnee, Oklahoma, native previously known only for the lovely and bookish (literally) EP The Confiscation — A Musical Novella, would wind up an indie-rock force? On her new record, Songs in the Night (produced by Danny Kadar, who has worked with My Morning Jacket and Grizzly Bear), the diminutive Crain stakes a claim on the bluesy exorcisms of PJ Harvey, leaving the folksy strum-and-confess approach behind for the spirited rhythms and stick-to-the-soul choruses of rock & roll. (Even when they're played on an acoustic guitar, and even when they immerse the listener in her darkest dreams.) The call to arms, "Get the Fever Out," shows her to be a natural leader, with a mature, unbridled voice that can match the speedy swerving of her band, the Midnight Shivers. B-Sides caught Crain on the road during her tour with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, a spring trek that finds her and the Shivers landing at Off Broadway.

B-Sides: I like the new record. In fact, I'm prepared to say you're the second-greatest rock band from Oklahoma.

Samantha Crain: Really. I want to know who the first one is. I don't know if I'd be so bold as to make that statement.

Flaming Lips aside, am I forgetting anyone?

There's this band called Student Films that I really like. And, of course, the Starlight Mints.

Will you settle for third best? According to your MySpace, you have a Perryville, Missouri, connection.

Two of the guys in the band are from there.

So, you've got a lock on Perryville.

I don't think there's much competition.

I'm surprised at how different you sound on this record.

When I wrote the songs on the EP, I was touring and writing songs by myself. When we recorded this album, we'd been playing as a band for a while, and I'd been writing with the band in mind. That's the main reason the songs sound so different. It's just the natural evolution of playing with the people I'm playing with now.

There's also a sense of wanting to make a record with more hooks, a more accessible album.

That wasn't contrived. It just happened that way. It probably has to do with the music I was listening to at the time. I really didn't have an idea of what I wanted the songs to sound like.

How did you meet Danny Kadar?

We met him through our label, Ramseur. He'd worked with the Avett Brothers on their Gleam record. And we started talking to him.

I'm pleased he didn't try to turn you into My Morning Jacket.

Yeah, if you think about a lot of the bands he's worked with in the past, they have this echo-chamber vocal sound. That's a preference of those bands. It's not his signature sound, and he never pushed that on us.

Had you done a formal recording before this album?

It's the most structured. When I did the EP, it was all single-track. The new album was done in five days, and we did it all live, in a live room, the majority of it, in a proper studio, whereas the EP was recorded in a friend's basement. It was a lot to take in.

You spent some time in a musician's colony in Martha's Vineyard, which is not known as ground zero for rock.

It's not. But it helped me. That's really where I started writing songs. There was free reign for you to do what you wanted.

So it was a workshop where you'd write songs and then maybe Leonard Cohen would give you feedback?

Much lesser names, but it was kind of like that. Peter Case and Reva Williams were there. So it was a bit like a writer's workshop, but less structured than an artist's colony. It was more self-motivated.

Is there an artist, musical or otherwise, without whom you wouldn't be doing what you're doing?

Reva Williams, who is in a band called Gretel in Boston. She was connected to that whole group at the songwriting colony. She was very inspiring. She made me take the next step to working on songwriting more and developing a more personal sound.

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September 9, 2020

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