Every once and a while, there's a record that gestates and grows after the initial listen. Without question, Kashena Sampson's Wild Heart was one of the leading examples of such a scenario for myself in 2017. Sitting somewhere between mod, folk, country, and lounge music of the late 60s, early 70s, Wild Heart moves you in ways you wouldn't expect with each subsequent listen. It's been a circuitous route to Nashville for Kashena Sampson, but it's apparent she's come to realize her calling in an entirely realized manner on Wild Heart. A presence of personality, Sampson is an artist you can't help but pay attention to. She plays The OG Basement this Saturday (tomorrow when this is published), and I highly recommend seeing her set to hear the magnificent music of Ms. Sampson.
Now/It's met with Kashena Sampson at Portland Brew East in the Lockeland Springs neighborhood of East Nashville.
Kashena - Hey how are you doing? Good to see you!
N/I - Nice to meet you! I’m well. How’s it going with you?
Kashena - I’m good. It’s so nice to meet you.
N/I - The same to you! I’m glad we got to meet up. I’ve been listening to Wild Heart a lot - and I love that record! It’s super, super great.
Kashena - Thank you so much! Thanks.
N/I - So when did that come out?
Kashena - August 18th. I just self released it. I don’t know if I went about it the best way, but whatever.
N/I - Why is that?
Kashena - I don’t know! I just did it myself. I didn’t have a lot of….
N/I - Like a team?
Kashena - Right. But that’s okay. It’s my first record. I had to put something out.
N/I - You have to prove you exist.
Kashena - Exactly.
N/I - It can be kind of tough to convince people to let you do much of anything without anything to serve as reference. Since you just put it out there, was there much expectation behind it? Or was it just “Let’s see how this goes?”
Kashena - Yeah. I’ve been working for so long to make this record, I was just like, “Alright, let’s put it out and see what happens!” I kind of feel like you put it out there and the universe brings back whatever, hopefully. I finished recording it and I was like, “Well, I guess I’m going to go listen to it in my car now, that’s about it!” I don’t know if anyone’s going to listen to it or what, but you hope that they will.
N/I - Sure. The record kind of reminds me of - do you know who Zephaniah Ohora is?
Kashena - You know, I don’t, but my Spotify says that his fans might like me. I need to check him out.
N/I - The two of you both put out records that, in my mind, are very complementary. Whenever I listen to Wild Heart, I can’t help but think of how nice a bill you two be.
Kashena - Is he local too?
N/I - No. I think he’s in New York.
Kashena - Oh, cool. I’ll check out that record today.
N/I - It’d be worth it! So you’ve been in Nashville for roughly, what? Two years?
Kashena - Two years. In November it was two years.
N/I - So where in that timeline did you start working on Wild Heart?
Kashena - Okay. Well I’ve been writing the songs.
N/I - I’d imagine well before you came to Nashville.
Kashena - And then I moved here to make this record. I got here and I had to figure out how to make money, in order to make the record. People do all those fundings and stuff like that - I didn’t do that. It’s hard to say how it came about…. I met with a few different people about making this record. Some of them didn’t feel right, where they’d talk to me like I didn’t know what I was talking about. So I didn’t like those. I go with the energy of stuff, so if something doesn’t feel like it’s working, then maybe it’s the wrong thing. So I had a friend who wanted me to sing a song for him on demo stuff, and then he gave me free studio time to go demo some of my songs, and I did that and I was like “Whoa!” It sounded way pop country, which was not what I was going for. So then I did start playing shows around town, met some dudes, put together a band, and then I reached out to somebody else said “You should check out The Bomb Shelter.” This was a little less than a year before I recorded it, so I checked out The Bomb Shelter. Andre was awesome, and I was good friends with Charles Kessler from Hans Condor. He worked with Andre a whole lot, and he was like “Andre is so rad! I’m going to text him right now for you!” Andre brought me down to the studio to check it out, and it was great. He was rad, the studio is awesome, and then he said “Send us the songs you have” - I was going to do an EP - “There are a few of us that work here, and we’ll take a listen to figure out who we think you’d work the best with.” That was great, because I needed someone to give it some direction. So he put me with Jon Estes, and I talked to him, and it was just perfect. He totally understood what I was going for. He called me after listening to the songs and he was like “First of all, your music sounds straight out of the late 60s, early 70s,” and I hear this, this, and this. And it was all the things that I heard too! So then he convinced me to do a full record. It is what I wanted to do, I just….
N/I - Didn’t think it would happen that quickly?
Kashena - Yeah! I was learning as I go. I didn’t know how people do it. That’s why I moved here. I was like “How do we do this, people? Everyone’s doing it here, so I better learn!”
N/I - So how do you go about meeting all these people? Is it serendipity?
Kashena - I think so. My life is like that. I feel like my life has always been like that.
N/I - How so?
Kashena - I just go with the flow, and whoever - my roommate, Erin Rae - she’s been doing this for a while, and she’s very knowledgeable. I was looking for a place, my place was too expensive, and our mutual friend suggested her, and it was all “Hey girl!” after that. It’s a small town, where everyone knows who you need to talk to. So I’ll just ask people, “This is what I need, who do I need to talk to?” Then they’ll tell me where to go.
N/I - That’s good. So how does that differ from Las Vegas? That’s where you were before Nashville, right?
Kashena - Right.
N/I - Were you as active in pursuing the music thing in Vegas as you are here?
Kashena - I was only in Vegas for a year.
N/I - Oh, okay.
Kashena - Because I was actually living in LA for almost eight years, and then I actually went and performed on cruise ships for three years, so after the ship, I went back to Vegas for a year just to be like “Okay, I have to make this record.” The whole time, I just had to make the record. Even in LA, and then I got the job on the ship, and I figured I’d make the money for the record on the ship, but then that didn’t happen.
N/I - Oh no! Why is that?
Kashena - It’s okay. I learned.
N/I - Why was that? Cruise gigs don’t pay as well as people think?
Kashena - No, I made a lot of money, I just didn’t know what to do.
N/I - I would imagine going to a bunch of different ports of call with a lot of money, being stuck on a boat for eighty percent of the year?
Kashena - Yeah. It was eight month contracts. So then I’d have time off, and then for a month and a half, I was living in New York, which is really expensive.
N/I - That’ll do it.
Kashena - And then I saved up the rest of the money to move out here.
N/I - So it sounds like you keep your wits about you in order to identify these opportunities as they come up. Is that something that you consciously do?
Kashena - I consciously do it. I don’t drink or anything. I don’t do drugs. I’ve been sober for eleven years. With that, I have a spiritual practice. I meditate. So when there’s a choice to be made, instead of going with it, I really sit back and wait for the right answer to come.
N/I - So when you actively meditate, do you have a mantra? Or anything like that?
Kashena - No. It just kind of depends on what’s going on. I just talk to God, or the universe, or whoever you call it.
N/I - Well that’s great. It wounds like you’ve really thrown yourself into hitting up every spot a singer would want to cut their teeth in. Do you feel like Nashville is a little more your speed, in comparison to Los Angeles?
Kashena - In LA - the last couple of years, I decided that I wanted to pursue music, and that’s when I started writing songs. So I wasn’t really actively out there playing music when I was in LA.
N/I - Okay. What was it that you were doing before?
Kashena - I was trying to do acting. And I was getting sober. So that’s really what my focus was. And during that, I realized “Whoa, this is what I want to do.” I sang my whole life, I used to be in a band with my sisters, but I was kind of rebelling against that. I was like “I don’t want to do that, I’m going to LA to be an actress.” And once I got sober and did some soul searching, I realized that I have a voice and I want to sing. That’s what I want to do. So I started pursuing that, and then I got the job on the cruise ship a year after that.
N/I - So what’s the cruise ship like? I’d imagine you’re playing a lot of standards.
Kashena - We had a lot of different shows that they wanted us to do. I got to do my own show where I could do whatever I wanted, so it was just a solo acoustic show, and I did 60s and 70s folk music and my own music. I started incorporating my own songs into that. So I did that every cruise, then we had a Beatles show, an opera show.
N/I - So can you sing opera as well?
Kashena - Well I was trained. What else did we have? ABBA [laughs]. A MoTown show. We did a standards show. We would just create shows sometimes, like “We need a show for this cruise, create something.” So we’d create something.
N/I - So it kind of gets you in the habit of thinking about what accommodates your own voice best, which probably lends itself to a full length record. But with Jon as producer, do things change? Do you tell him what you want things to sound like?
Kashena - Well, the whole structure of the songs were already there. So we did it together. I’d say “This is what I want. This is the sound I want,” and he’d say “Okay, I get it.” So we’d have Jon Radford come in on drums, and Jeremy Fetzer on guitar, and Jon Estes plays bass. So we’d just track all the songs in two days. Basically, most of them were one or two takes. Mostly because that’s all their vibe. My vibe is kind of their vibe. So it was a good fit.
N/I - A lot of feel instead of coverage.
Kashena - And a style. They knew what style would be a good fit. So I had to trust them with that. And then after, me and Jon sat together and did all the overdubs. We’d decide that it’d be cool to have strings on a song - and Jon’s amazing - he can play like every instrument there is. So we’d decide that, and then he’d write out a string arrangement.
N/I - That’s incredible. That’s wild.
Kashena - It is incredible! We’d try organ. And then sometimes, we’d try things and decide we didn’t want to do that. I think that was a day or two of doing the overdubs together, and then I had Erin Rae come in and do the backgrounds, and then we mixed it. The first two days were full band, and then the next four days were me and him figuring out what else would sound cool on it.
N/I - I’d imagine you’ve had other recording experiences - does that stand out?
Kashena - Well not with my own music, I’ve been in a recording studio before, doing background stuff. When I was eleven, I made a record with my sisters, but I was eleven. I just sang my part. So this was really my first time going in there and recording my own music.
N/I - And you’re pleased with it, I’d imagine.
Kashena - Yeah. I’m very happy. I was over the moon about it.
N/I - So what how much runway do you see with the current record? Do you want to move on to the next project? Do you want to keep pushing?
Kashena - Well I’m trying to keep talking about this one and keep promoting it, but you also learn about the music business where people tell you that you need to put out something new all the time. It’s kind of weird.
N/I - So are you going to a lot more of those types of get togethers? Or meetings?
Kashena - No. I don’t go to anything like that. For example, I wanted to go on tour with this record, you come to find out that I need money to do that, because who's going to go on tour with a whole band and who's going to pay for a tour manager, to pay the players. If you have someone else on board, it makes it all a bit easier. So I do want to keep pushing this record, and keep talking about it as much as I can. I feel like it just came out.
N/I - It’s still within the year. Especially within a promotional cycle. It’s usually what? A year and a half? Two years?
Kashena - That’s what I think.
N/I - It’s interesting. I’m always very curious to find out what artists’ views are in terms of releasing new material. In your case, you have this great record that you’re trying to see how far it goes on its own.
Kashena - Well, I also have a thought of there are so many ways that people go about it. I want to keep people talking about this one, but I also wrote some new demos, and I’m getting ready to demo a new single. My plan is to record another full length record in the Spring of 2018, and then maybe try and get distribution behind it and everything like that behind it. Because then people will know more about me and my music, and then they can go back to that record, because that’s always going to be there. The business side is heavy.
N/I - So are you picking everybody’s brains that will let you?
Kashena - Yeah. And I just irritate people for answers [laughs].
N/I - You learn all sorts of new things almost every day, it seems.
Kashena - Right. I’m learning, but now I know, and I’ve made relationships and connections with people. And they’ve all been so kind and helpful. The universe has been good to me this far.