Tonight’s Sham Jam headliner Samia Finnerty is on the rise. Her 2020 debut record The Baby brought her considerable buzz for her remarkably vulnerable songwriting and fresh take on the singer-songwriter genre (RIYL: Julia Jacklin, Caroline Polachek, Soccer Mommy). With a recent move to Nashville and a fresh record The Baby Reimagined featuring covers & remixes of the original record’s tracks, Samia only looks to be going up.
As the child of actors Dan Finnerty (Old School, The Hangover) and Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus, Sister Act), Samia was already fed up with the entertainment industry at a young age. It wasn’t until making friends in the New York DIY scene that she realized she might have a place in that world after all. Through releasing a string of singles between 2017-2019, she gained her footing artistically, leading to writing songs that would ultimately become The Baby. And since then, she’s showed no signs of stopping.
Music Director Emma Johnson and I got to sit down with the indie darling ahead of her Sham Jam performance, discussing everything from Nashville coffee shops to Dolly Parton.
Taylor Lomax: You are a recent Nashville transplant, right?
TL: So we wanted to ask you how that’s going, what favorite spots you have… just how’s your experience been?
S: I love it here. I’ve been wanting to move out of New York pretty much since I got there. I love it, but it’s really… I get overstimulated there pretty easily, so I’ve been looking to find a place like this for a long time. I came here, and I’m just like—it’s the perfect blend of nature and people for me. I go to Portland Brew! I haven’t really been able to explore very much because of COVID, but hopefully soon.
TL: Portland Brew is awesome! So are you, like, 12 South—is that your area?
S: I’m pretty close! I’m in Green Hills, I still don’t really understand the geography of the place. But yeah, I think my favorite thing about Nashville so far has been—I grew up in LA and then was in New York for ten years, and there’s such an emphasis on everything being a means to an end and career and success, and I think here people really value quality of life, and that’s what I’m into.
Emma Johnson: I completely understand. I’m from LA, so it’s very fast-paced, and it was really nice coming here for a bit of a change.
S: Yes, yeah, totally!
EJ: We also wanted to ask you—I guess this relates to the whole “move during a pandemic” situation—but we’re guessing you probably didn’t expect to release your debut album during these…conditions that we’re going through right now! So we’re wondering how that experience impacted you and if you have any takeaways from the process of releasing this album.
S: It was my first time releasing an album at all, so the whole thing was new to me. Which maybe, with hindsight, was a blessing because I got to do this really exciting thing during a time when there wasn’t much going on. So although I wish so much that we could have been touring, I’m just really grateful that I got to do something and have an avenue for connecting with people during a time when I wasn’t seeing anybody.
TL: And obviously it’s gone really well for you: you’ve had a pretty big year, and you just dropped the Reimagined project, which is awesome. Who was your favorite collaborator on Reimagined?
S: Oh man, that’s so hard! I couldn’t believe that anybody said yes to that. They’re truly some of my favorite musicians and songwriters in the world on that project. My boyfriend [Briston Maroney] did one, and I love him, so that was probably the most special for me. I’m also just a fan of his music and his interpretation of that song [“Is There Something In The Movies?”] was really, obviously, meaningful. And then Bartees Strange turned my song “Pool” into a completely different song, and I was blown away at his vision with that. I would’ve never expected it.
EJ: Kind of relating to Reimagined and the original The Baby, we were wondering if you have a favorite moment from the creation of either The Baby or Reimagined which sticks out to you as being really special.
S: From the making of either one?
S: Oh, wow. Oh! I have one story from when we were tracking The Baby. I do this scream at the end of “Pool,” which is the opening track, and I was just so nervous—I have a really fragile voice and a really unreliable voice, so I was really scared to scream, and my friend Jake, who’s one of the best singers I know, he produced it. He had me, like, go in and scream, and they turned all the lights off and shut all the doors so I’d be alone, and they were just really yelling at me, giving me no room for comfort or laziness. And then I screamed the hardest I’ve ever screamed, and I immediately came out and started sobbing uncontrollably because it felt like this crazy release of something I didn’t know was in me. And then he put a straw in my mouth and had me lay on the ground ’cause I guess that’s how you repair your vocal cords when you do something like that? But it was the funniest visual ever, me just sobbing laying on the ground in the studio, breathing through a straw. That was my favorite memory for sure.
EJ: Amazing story.
TL: I assume you’re gonna do that when you eventually get to tour? That’s gonna be how “Pool” goes for you—you’re gonna have the straw and everything?
S: I have to now, yeah! I can’t sing without it.
TL: And that’s valid! On the subject of touring, do you have any venue or city that you’re most excited to play, or like a dream venue, or anything like that, once touring becomes a reality again?
S: We’ve always wanted to play Bowery Ballroom just because I’ve lived in New York. I sort of came up in the music scene in New York, and that’s like the dream spot. And we’ve opened there a couple times, but we had plans to play there for The Baby Tour. That obviously couldn’t happen, but hopefully when this is over we can do that. That’ll definitely be a milestone for me, I love that place.
EJ: That’d be huge! Kinda relating to New York, LA, Nashville, the whole “growing up around entertainment” thing and having parents who are involved in it, how did that influence you finding your sound and who you wanted to be as an artist?
S: I’ve had so much support creatively. My parents never told me not to make art, you know, and I definitely was encouraged to do what I love to do and I definitely had the resources to do it. And so I’m incredibly grateful for that. But I also grew up with resentment toward the industry. And particularly the acting world—I have sort of a bitterness about, I think it’s just really image-based. And finding music, particularly the indie DIY music community in New York, was such an asylum for me because you were encouraged to be an individual, and you were praised for being an individual and being honest about who you are. I think, yeah, if I hadn’t found that I may not have ended up making art or in the entertainment industry in any way because I definitely saw a dark side of that growing up a little bit.
TL: What media is giving you hope right now? Like what’s making you feel like things aren’t all bad, kind of like you were talking about with the indie scene in New York—what’s doing that for you now?
S: Any media in general?
TL: Yeah, you can talk about whatever!
S: Such a good question! There’s honestly… I don’t know if this is an acceptable answer, but there’s this guy on YouTube that nobody knows about—or, not nobody—he has less YouTube views and subscribers than he deserves objectively because he’s the funniest person on the planet. His name is Nick Grunerud, and he posts like 20-second long YouTube videos almost every day that are just totally inexplicable, and you have to watch them. He deserves the world, he’s so fucking funny!
TL: Now I know what I’m gonna do with my afternoon/
S: We’ve been watching that show 60 Days In, too—have you guys seen that?
TL: What is it called again?
S: 60 Days In, it’s like an A&E show where people volunteer to spend sixty days in county jail, and then they film it, and it’s wild. It’s really dark and sad about the prison system… it’s a good watch! Good documentary.
EJ: Kind of on the topic of… maybe less the 60 Days In and more the Nick Grunerud— [laughs]
S: I guess that’s not like a positive, you asked me for something that would bring light— [laughs]
EJ: [laughing] No, it’s fine!
TL: [laughing] You don’t want to talk about the prison industrial complex right now, Emma? God!
EJ: I took Prison Life last semester, I’m very passionate about it! But that’s a dark hole to go down.
S: That is a dark one, yeah. [laughs]
EJ: Another time! But I was kind of wondering: your “Is There Something In The Movies?” music video stood out to me so much. I thought it was amazing. We were wondering how you came up with that concept—if it was something you’d been thinking about for a while or if it just came to you.
S: I wanted to keep it in line with what the song is about, and I knew I wanted to use actors—my friends who are actors in it. And my friend Maya helped me a lot. She’s an actor and she loves acting, but I think all my friends who are involved in it hopefully feel similar to the way that I feel about it—that it’s just a really complicated situation to be in. Self-perception becomes really complicated, and that’s so much of what that song is about to me: watching people become beguiled by that world that I had preexisting resentments about and sort of just wanting to stop them and then realizing that’s not my place and not my call to make but still having those frustrations.
TL: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process in general? I feel like you were getting at it a little bit there, but just kind of how you go about especially your songwriting.
S: I write full-on transcripts of conversations. Everything is autobiographical, and it’s all like diary entry stuff. I’m really trying to get into co-writing for other people and writing from prompts and writing fictional stories, but it’s a lot harder for me to feel passionate about. ‘Cause it’s always just been a cathartic outlet for me, so I’m trying to exercise my brain a little bit and write in different styles. But it’s just completely like a purge of feelings, always. The songs I end up sharing, at least, are.
TL: That totally makes sense, having heard the album.
EJ: This is kind of a broad question, but relating to writing style and the way you create music, is there an area of music you most want to explore going forward, whether that be new genre influences or different ways of writing like the prompts you talked about?
S: I have always wanted to make a country album! I don’t think now’s the time for me, but I think I have to really earn it, you know. I’ve been in Nashville for two months. So maybe someday, that’s the ultimate goal is to, like, beg Dolly Parton to mentor me and produce my country album.
EJ: I think everyone in Nashville would be really freakin’ excited about that.
S: I sure hope so!
TL: I love how Dolly is like the great equalizer—I don’t know anyone that dislikes her.
S: Oh, no, how could you?!
TL: Well, I will be first in line to stream the Samia country record, so you have a listener there. You brought up Dolly, so that might answer this question, but do you have a dream collaboration? Something like, “if I could collaborate with this person, I could die the next day and it’d be good.”
S: Father John Misty is my songwriting hero. Father John Misty and Angel Olsen are the ones that I can trace back to the origins of my songwriting. I would just love to even have a conversation with either of those people, in any context.
TL: Angel was my first concert casualty of COVID! I was supposed to see her in April.
S: I got to see that show maybe three years ago, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I love her so much.
TL: I mean, same.
EJ: I don’t know if this is something I should know already, but was there a reason behind the name The Baby for your album?
S: [gets up] Sorry, let me go close my door right now, it keeps eerily opening itself. So—my parents used to say “swear on the baby” to prove that they were telling the truth, and I was the baby in that context. So there was that. I was gonna call the album Swear on the Baby! And then when my friends leave a party, I get really upset. I don’t like for the party to end, I don’t like for hanging out to be over, I don’t ever want anyone to leave or go from any space ever, so I would say “who’s gonna watch the baby?” And I was also the baby in that context. So there were just too many baby things.
TL: Very “I’m baby,” very that.
S: I didn’t even know about “I’m baby!” Somehow I missed that cultural moment. But I’m glad I know now.
TL: Well, now you’re on the record as being baby.
EJ: Literally on the record.
TL: Pressed on vinyl!
EJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and perform for WRVU, we’re so excited!
S: Oh yeah, for sure, thanks for having me!
Tune in TONIGHT, March 18th at 8 pm to hear Samia perform. Get your e-tickets here and check out some highlights from Samia and the rest of the lineup in this playlist: