For Samia Finnerty, Portland Brew is a sacred place.
She’s canonized it, notably, namedropping the shop in the opening line of “As You Are.” When we last spoke, in March 2021 preceding Sham Jam, she had a Portland Brew drink in hand. She mentioned it then, too, and in the wake of that conversation, I noticed that patio pop up on a weekly basis on her Instagram story.
“When I was living in New York, I was frequenting this restaurant called Mud and it really felt like the hub of my group of friends and a watering hole sort of place. and I was sad when I left because it really was sentimental and important to me to have that place,” she told me when I asked about Portland Brew’s significance. “And then when I started dating Briston and was coming to visit him here we would go to Portland Brew, and it felt like it was the kind of place where you would see people you know every day or meet new people every day. And I loved that kind of thing, being surprised by new friendly people and hearing their stories. and that’s such an important part of daily life for me and I was so grateful to find another place like that. It seems like such an important part of community here — I’ve met so many great people there.”
That thread—of sharing stories and connecting with people—serves as a sort of modus operandi for the singer. It came up at every turn throughout our conversation, whether the subject matter was the new record, live shows, Gov Ball, or TikTok.
“A lot of my friends [are on the lineup]!” she said when I asked about Gov Ball. “That’s the coolest thing to me, is just to see people I came up with in New York. My friend Holden [Jaffe, of Del Water Gap] and my friend Blu DeTiger, just kids that we all played in each other’s bands, and we’ve been singing together and writing songs together since we were in college. So it’s just crazy to see that and I feel really proud of our community.”
Samia moved to Nashville a little over a year ago, though you wouldn’t know it by her assuredness in the city. “After being here for a year, it feels like home now. It feels like somewhere I can come and not have to do anything or worry about anything. I don’t deal with a lot of stress here, which is great. […] I feel so inspired by my friends here who play music and the music that’s coming out of Nashville. I feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
Since the 2020 release of her debut The Baby, life has been hectic for Samia. Between two separate headline tours, the release of her Scout EP, filming a Netflix Original, and writing her upcoming sophomore album, you couldn’t accuse her of being unambitious.
There is, though, a refreshing humility with which Samia approaches life, both on and off-stage. Talking to her or watching her perform, you wouldn’t immediately peg her for someone with the trajectory and productivity she has. She’s bubbly, kind, and endlessly earnest—notably, the traits that propelled her to where she is now.
“What are you guys doin’ here?” she asked at the beginning of her headline set at the Basement East in February. “I didn’t know you were comin’!” It was a disarming remark, at odds with much of the larger-than-life crowd work you grow accustomed to when attending shows regularly.
“I search to a fault in just being myself,” she said of her stage banter. “I don’t really know how to do the thing where you pick a personality—not to bash that, I think that’s really cool too! I’m just incapable of saying things that haven’t naturally popped into my brain, for better or for worse. So whatever I’m doing on stage is just out of pure panic.”
Elsewhere in the set, her humor was perfectly deadpan: “this next song’s about when you go to Minnesota,” she said as she introduced The Baby cut “Minnesota.” And because all good things come in threes, this became a recurring bit, with her dubbing “Limbo Bitch” as “about how you can limbo, bitch” and “Show Up” as a song “about how nothing could ever stop [her] ass from showing up.”
Unsurprisingly, this humor translates remarkably to TikTok, an app she’s recently embraced. “I was really scared of it for a long time,” she told me, “and then I saw a lot of my friends do it in a way that felt natural to them and authentic. It didn’t seem like a hassle, it just seemed like another fun way to express myself. And I also follow a lot of really fun TikTok accounts that make, like, breakfast and stuff. So I was like, I might as well just try and make this fun and do stuff I like to do on here and try not to worry about what other people are gonna think about it. Which is hard, and almost impossible. But I’m doing my best!”
Still, there’s a considerable amount of emotional release in Samia’s live show—unsurprising, considering how confessional The Baby is. “Most of the songs on The Baby I wrote in the middle of pain, and like as a therapeutic, cathartic tool to deal with the pain I was directly experiencing in the moment,” she told me. “Like, that was my way of processing what I was going through.”
Album opener “Pool” is particularly special for her: “If I had to pick one song to tell the story of a period of time in my life, that would be the song. Like if I was to use one song to represent the period of the time I wrote The Baby in, that would be it, and I think that’s why it’s first on the record and why we open with it. It’s just a really emotional thing for me. Getting to say “how long” over and over again—I still feel that. It’s still sort of my biggest life question. I get to sort of have this existential moment without taking it out of the personal stories.”
She feels similarly, too, about “Is There Something In the Movies?” “Playing that song has been so cathartic for me, and we were playing that song long before we released it. Same with “Triptych”—those were songs that we really grew a connection to by playing them live, and then I recorded them after we experienced that. So, yeah, it’ll just be super weird one day if we have to take those out.”
As much as a Samia show captures the moment of The Baby, she also makes it a point to look both to the past and the future. “21” and “Ode to Artifice,” singles from 2018 and 2019 respectively, both sat on her setlist. “I think I still play those songs because they’re still important to some of the people who come to the shows, and I want to honor that experience and honor their connection to those songs,” she said on their inclusion. “You know, I feel far from those songs, but I will always feel so grateful for what those songs taught me and what writing those songs taught me and how they got me to the next step in my songwriting. I just want to make sure everyone is getting at least a piece of what they came for, and there are some people who still even resonate more with those songs than they do with the new stuff.”
As for the new stuff, unreleased Christian Lee Hutson-co-write “Pour Some Sugar” provided an enticing taste of what the future holds for Samia. An Eagles-reminiscent summery track, “Pour Some Sugar” is potentially the most rock-influenced song we’ve heard yet from the singer, with its bright, harmony-heavy chorus standing out amidst the moodier soundscapes of much of her discography.
“I’m writing a lot with Christian for the new record,” she told me, “and he’s one of my biggest songwriting inspirations separate from being my friend. But, you know, it’s rare that you sit down with someone to write a song and have a magical moment of being just so on the same page and communication flowing so easily, and I just trust him so much and I trust his instinct so much. So that song just kind of poured out of us. and it’s been so much fun playing it because it is different from a lot of my other songs, and it’s even different from a lot of the other songs that’ll be on this new record. but it feels so representative of that friendship and this time in my life. And in his life, I think! So it’s a cool little snapshot.”
The rock influence is something she’s been heading toward for a long time, too: “I grew up on grunge bands and 90s stuff. I was super into Nirvana and the whole “meet me in the bathroom” crew of The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O is a huge inspiration for me. I have a lot of Kurt Cobain lyrical influence in my songwriting, but I haven’t really—I guess on my earlier stuff, the singles before The Baby, there’s more of an obvious influence there. But it’s always lingering, and it comes out one way or another, whether it’s in the lyrics or sonically.”
As for the new record, there’s a lot still in the works, but she was able to shed a bit of light, saying “there are some super emotional moments and super raw moments but there’s a lot of reflection. The Baby was so immediate, and I think my EP that I put out after The Baby, Scout, was a little more removed just because there was nothing going on in anybody’s life other than things happening on a larger scale. And so I think this one for me, a lot of it I wrote in the middle of chaos, and a lot of it I wrote far away from it looking back at it with hindsight sort of as a songwriting tool, and so it’s gonna be interesting to see what the combination of those things looks like ultimately.
“I feel like it sort of zooms in and out a lot. there are a lot of philosophical moments and a lot of really dramatic personal autobiographical moments, and it just sort of goes back and forth between those two things so far in the songwriting, and I’m excited to see how that translates sonically. […] I’ve had moments of pain recently that I’ve been trying to write about, but I don’t do it the same way anymore, and I think there’s a lot less angst and a lot more reflection—which was hard for me at first because, you know, I really identified with angst. Because that’s the music I grew up on! And also, a lot of the music I like is super angsty. But I have a little bit less of that now, which is something I’ve had to come to terms with. There’s just more color and nuance now, for better or for worse. I don’t know how that’s gonna show itself on the record, but I’m excited to see.”
Outside of a new album on the horizon, fans can expect to see Samia in the Netflix film Along for the Ride, dropping on May 6. “I always loved music the most, but acting was another really fun outlet creatively for me! I was in this play for two years called The Wolves, and basically through that I got this movie that was super fun. And I got to meet a lot of cool people. I still think I’m a really bad actor, and I don’t know ever what I’m doing, but I got to be in the company of really funny, sweet people, and I’m really proud of them all, and I’m really proud of everyone who worked on the movie. I think it’s so sweet and so cute and fun. I love teen rom coms so much, and I’m really honored to get to be a part of it.”
Outside of her own film, she talked about some of the stuff she’s watching, mentioning The Dropout (“it’s so good”) as well as Everything Everywhere All at Once, which she dubbed “the greatest movie [she’s] ever seen, hands down.” (Having seen it myself this weekend, I’m inclined to agree here.) “It touched on all the things I care about and that are important to me to talk about creatively, and I was just so inspired by it. I want to see it a thousand times. I think everyone should see that movie, especially people who make art.”
And in the realm of music, she continued shouting out her peers: “The new Bartees Strange is so good. Leith Ross just released a song called ‘We’ll Never Have Sex,’ and they’re incredible, and the song is so powerful and cool. There’s a new Cassandra Jenkins song, too, called ‘Pygmalion’ that I think is so good.” I asked about the new MUNA track “Anything But Me,” which was met with a knowing “oh, duh! I mean that goes without saying. They never have said anything that didn’t blow my mind.”
I’m sure many people could say the same about her.
You can stream Samia’s music below: