Davis graduate talks female powerhouse musicians, literature, the blues
Samantha Sipin’s sound can be deconstructed by the threads of her influence: a strand from Amy Winehouse, another from Carole King — each one interwoven by the needle of blues and soul.
For the singer-songwriter, music is never “new.” It can only be understood in the light of the musical pioneers and composers and lyricists who came before her.
“Really nothing is original. I can’t stress that enough,” said Sipin, a recent UC Davis graduate. “And so whenever I write something, or something sounds like something [else], I am very deliberately trying to show my appreciation for the people who have written like that before.”
But Sipin’s humility extends beyond her speech. Eager and well-spoken, she can immediately identify the musicians who contributed to the cultivation of her soulful sound. When she speaks of such musicians, she is thoughtful and gleamy-eyed, slow and deliberate in her descriptions.
“After watching [Amy Winehouse’s] biopic, it was especially enlightening to me how much her divide was due to people putting pressure on her and people having this idea of her because she might have been sloppy a couple of times — and that image was just perpetuated,” Sipin said. “And then she just fell into it. But underneath all of that, she really was depressed, and she had her own demons, and she was working through things, and you could see that in her music.”
In fact, the sincerity of Sipin’s admiration was enough for her to write and compose “A.W.,” a song dedicated to Winehouse.
“I think her lyrics offer some real poetic talent, and I don’t think of myself as anywhere near the songwriter she is because her lyrics are so strong,” Sipin said. “But also vocally, it’s effortless for her. She’s never trying too hard, she knows exactly what’s she doing, and she never sings a song exactly same way twice […] And that requires an incredible amount of musical knowledge and comfortability and confidence that I don’t think people really understood while she was alive.”
But Winehouse isn’t Sipin’s only pool of wisdom.
“In terms of songwriting, I really love Carole King. She’s an extremely prolific songwriter, and I don’t know if the masses understand how far-reaching her music is,” Sipin said. “She’s been covered by a number of girl groups from that era, and then her songs have been popularized by other artists. But in terms of songwriting, she’s the big inspiration.”
Lyrically, Sipin thrives. And with powerhouse vocalists like King and Winehouse as her idols, it’s no surprise. Sipin admits her music follows a theme of unrequited love, but acknowledges this wasn’t intentional. It’s simply what she’s feeling.
“It’s not necessarily something that I love talking about, but it’s on my mind enough, and it resonates with people,” Sipin said.
This theme becomes apparent in her track “You Smile,” and the melancholic lyrics are well-accompanied by her swinging falsetto and bluesy guitar strumming: “I love the way you smile at me / But you smile all the time […] I can take a hint / I know who I am / I realize it may take a while to start this all again.”
As an English major, Sipin’s appreciation for lyricism makes perfect sense. She attributes her understanding of writing mechanics and rhythm to her English and literature studies.
“I think the most helpful thing that English has done is the study of meter and poetry, and the way that words have stressed syllables and unstressed syllables, and finding how they fit in with a melodic line that you’ve written,” Sipin said.
She adds, modestly, that her own skilled lyricism has been acknowledged before.
“I was telling a friend (she was asking about me) that I was an English major, and she said, ‘No wonder you write songs really well,’” Sipin said. “And I took that as a big compliment because when you look up to people like Carole King and Amy Winehouse, you don’t think much of yourself.”
Reading, too, has been a creative catalyst for Sipin. Angela Davis’ book Blues Legacies and Black Feminism altered her perspective on blues, and Sipin explicitly takes note of the way blues songs are constructed.
In this way, Sipin is also a historian. Mentally cataloguing the work of earlier musicians, she recognizes that every sound she makes can be attributed to that of another. It is for this reason that she cannot put her music on a pedestal.
“Since then, I’ve been thinking more critically about the form of songs that I’m using, because not until I read that book did I really realize the historic origins of blues music and how it was mainly a vehicle for people from emancipation,” Sipin said. “I try very much to pay homage to the artists that have written in the same styles.”
Looking forward, Sipin anticipates opportunities to expand her skillset and knowledge of music. Having only graduated in the spring of 2016, she is exploring different career options as well as the future of her music.
“Right now I’m broke and I need to work, but eventually I am going to sit down and pay attention to myself and work on my musicianship, and do all the planning that it takes — and all the boring stuff that it takes — to be really good,” Sipin said. “Right now, it’s just been ‘fresh out of college,’ and not having all the time that I could to dedicate to music.”
On a more technical level, she hopes to expand her music into something more robust. Take a listen to her SoundCloud and its collection of solo acoustics, and this becomes apparent. Her soulful melodies beg for the companionship of a full ensemble.
“At the moment, I am starting to try and reach out and kind of networking for people to play with, people to bounce ideas off of,” Sipin said. “But ultimately, for people to grow a band with […] I think to play music like The Alabama Shakes would be really good.”
Honing in on her sound is a modest goal in comparison to her others. As a queer woman of color, Sipin aspires to establish and maintain confidence in her identity and her sound.
“I want to make sure that I represent myself in such a way that’s strong and confident and proud of my identity. Because the other option is not being open,” Sipin said. “I think that it’s a way for me to kill two birds with one stone — expressing myself through my music and creating music. That hopefully appeals to people, while also confirming my own identity.”
Behind this humility, however, there lies a confidence in Sipin — a confidence in music, in its history and in its stability. It is this appreciation of the past that will sustain her in the future.
Written by: Ally Overbay — email@example.com