Samana have steadily released singles throughout the last, troubled, 12 months – in places tapping into a cosmic Americana – folk and bottleneck blues – a music inspired, offered up, by wide open spaces, and ever changing horizons. From the slow, dark, funk of The Spirit Moving – whose intricate, winding, “snakes pass” playing summons an Ennio Morricone Sergio Leone score – giving Khruangbin a run for their money – to the gospel-influenced The Glory Of Love, and the new piano-led piece, All One Breath.
The last time I spoke to Franklin and Rebecca they’d just returned from a European tour and were about to head to the South Of France to record. Since the life, and landscape, of being on the road seem so integral to the art they make, I was keen to learn how they’d coped during the pandemic and lockdowns.
I hope you`re both safe and well. The last time we spoke, in February 2020, you were returning from a month in Europe, a month on the road touring. Did you go back to your base in rural Wales?
We did yes. We’ve been restoring an old Welsh cottage and building a recording studio – in between the shows and tours – over the past year and a half. It’s been a project we dove into head on, learning everything along the way. In between all the movement, we’ve been learning about traditional heritage building techniques and acquainting ourselves with the rhythm of practices such as lime plastering and pointing to plumbing and insulating. It’s been an incredibly labour intensive year and a half for us, but the fruits of our labour are finally coming into fruition.
You were due to hit the road again in March, heading for forests in France, to write and record. Did that happen? Your last words to me were “Bring on the Spring”.
It did. When taking on the monumental project of renovating the house, it was imperative for us to compartmentalise our time, so we took a month out to travel to the Midi-Pyrenees in France, packing the fundamentals of our studio into our car. One month turned into three as a couple of days after we arrived we were told that France was going into lockdown. We decided to stay and took the opportunity to devote ourselves entirely to the creation of new music which was incredible. To watch the transitioning of spring in that paradise was a blessing. The valley of scrub oak transformed into an expanse of vibrant green, the rose vines that scaled the walls erupted into bloom and the lawn became a constellation of daisies. It was a very restorative time amidst the chaos.
Travel seems to play a big part in your creative process, so how have the current restrictions impacted what you do?
Greatly. Luckily we’ve been very busy with different projects, which have demanded so much from us physically and cognitively, but the lockdown has had a big impact on us creatively. For me it re-illustrates the importance of your immediate environment. As an artist, I have bouts of intense creative outpours and periods of inactivity, where the processes dance and stir in my head, but are cocooned in a state of creative hibernation. For me freedom is everything. The ability to move freely, to absorb ever changing landscapes and cultures allows me to constantly break through boundaries and explore new dimensions of life, so the lockdown has certainly posed numerous artistic challenges to say the least.
Similarly, or maybe conversely, you’ve mentioned that isolation allows you to tap into inner voices. Has the period of pandemic and lock-downs had an effect on the music that you make, the songs that you write?
Yes. This period of time has brought about a sharp reflection. An outline cast before ones-self, as crisp as the silhouette of a tree reflected in a pool of moonlit water; an amalgamation of desires, hopes, an objectivity on the path you are walking, and the ambitions you hold. I think for everyone in some capacity, it has brought to the forefront the relationship we each hold with ourselves.
The current state of isolation obtains an element of entrapment. Here in Wales, the restrictions on travel are very strict, necessitating a real feeling of captivation. During this time however, we have had access to a very beautiful studio in the woods, whilst in the process of building our own – where we have created some very intimate music in response to the current times. The songs were all written lucidly on a beautiful vintage piano – an instrument that marks a new chapter for Samana.
Has this period been productive for you?
Yes. It has been incredibly productive in terms of what we have achieved together. In France we actually recorded the largest body of work to date, and since our return have recorded a further intimate collection of songs. Also, it has been wonderful to see our music repeatedly championed by the likes of Clash and Guy Garvey on BBC Radio 6 Music during this time. He named us his artist and favourite find of the year, which was truly wonderful and touching for the two of us. The eradication of live shows, does make us feel that we are existing in a state of transience, almost as if sitting patiently in a musical waiting room, anticipating the moment the doors are swung open.
Has it been a period of music, painting and photography?
Intermittently yes – there have been new works forged but mostly ideas, I have sketched down so many ideas across all my mediums. I have over thirty films waiting to be developed, piling up. But above all else I’ve found during this time, our need for connection with good friends has been imperative; laughter has certainly been the best medicine for the times
How shielded are you from news of the world outside? In the build up to the US election in particular I found myself bombarded with global internet grief – something I’m sure was done on purpose. Have you been able to ignore the reports of unrest, or have world affairs influenced your art?
I think, like many others, we were addicted to the live reporting of the US election – Franklin stayed up all night following CNN. It was a colossal time, with the balance of so many fundamental principles of existence and welfare depending on its outcome. Also, in a way – the American election was a microcosm of the anarchy of the state of human affairs at present. The world is in a state of fractured turmoil environmentally, politically and economically, and it feels as if there’s rather a lot more to come.
I avoid the news on the whole, I listen to/read the news once a week to receive all the information I need. I think the constant reinforcement of news is unhealthy for our psyche and dangerous for our mental wellbeing as it constantly drills into each of us all of the negative states of affairs, reinforcing fear and unrest. It is so important to maintain a balance.
Yes, elements of world affairs find their way into our work, it is like a state of alchemy; an accumulation of elements that are condensed and crystallised. The Art Of Revolution was a very politically motivated song, speaking entirely of the refugee crisis and of the importance of empathy and compassion in the face of geopolitical conflict. Our next release, All One Breath, is a rumination of our interrelations with nature, and the impressions we carve on the world which surrounds us; it resonates strongly with the array of inflictions we face in the present.
Your LP, Ascension, was designed to document a transition between plains of consciousness. How easy is this to do given the amount of weight around in the world? Is it still easy to “ignore” those influences and tap into those inner voices?
I don’t think we ever ignore those external influences so to speak, for art is an amalgamation of the inner world and the exterior world. Everything experienced, absorbed and encountered feeds into one river that is fed by many streams. I always seek to tune into that ‘inner voice’ as that inner voice contains the wisdom of humankind. At times it is easier to discern than others, but it connects us to the past, the present and the future. This is why poetry is so very important to me, it is that very voice.
The artwork of Ascension refers to a dream you had. Are new dreams influencing the new music?
Always. Visions, dreams, the subconscious, improvisations – they are always influencing the process and output of my creations. They are my guide in the darkness and my ride through the light.
Personally I think the new material is amongst the strongest you’ve made to date, the lyrics perhaps still wide open to interpretation, but less cryptic and more recognisably “universal”. To my mind, you should be “reveling” in the same levels of success as say Khruangbin. Are there any plans to release the new music “physically”? Are you still working with Fatcat?
Thank you! I believe in music and art, there are different realms, different domains we inhabit, as seasonal equilibriums for our internal narrative. With music, I feel the soul weaves itself through these different tiers, channelling the alchemy of that moment, the weight of that emotion and the complexities of the sounds or silences carried forth by the soul. I am predominantly a poet, so my lyrics are often crafted as poetry; a conversation with the subconscious from which, to me, the layers of language present themselves accordingly. My world of words is ever-changing, and the layers of their meaning is often revealed to me with time.
There are definitely plans to release the music physically in the near future, as this is so important to us, to ensure that those who connect to our work are able to have that physical encapsulation of the music in their hands, to forge their own rituals and personal journey with the music. In the meantime we are releasing some exclusive merchandise, which includes a limited run of photography and poetry zines in response to the philosophy and feeling of each E.P.
We’re self-releasing this body of work under our label, The Road Records, which has been a very positive venture, and one which has allowed us to facilitate our means of creation without compromise.
How easy has it been to survive, financially, during the course of the year? How have you made ends meet? Have you done any streamed performances, for example?
Luckily, surviving is something we are well versed with when it comes to living simply and within our means. It has been a very testing and difficult time. Being independent musicians is challenging at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. However, we have infinite gratitude towards our managers for their tenacity and positive morale, to our fans for their continued support and for charities such as ‘Help Musicians’ and ‘The Welsh Arts Council’ who have provided us with financial aid throughout the pandemic, to support our creations, which have provided our art with a real lifeline.
We have been recording live performances but not streaming them. Living rurally as we do, our internet doesn’t have the capacity to live stream, but we have been discussing some ideas of bringing closeness during this time of separation, should this lockdown roll on for a lot longer than predicted.
I know this is very difficult, impossible perhaps, but what are your hopes and plans for the next few months, and the coming year?
The next few months are going to be taken and processed one day at a time. Our next single, All One Breath, is being released with a very intimate live session to accompany it. We’re also experimenting with working remotely with some incredibly talented string players to record some parts for new works. Over these next few months, we are working to finish our recording studio and will begin to bring into fruition some conceptual ideas we`ve been getting very excited about, integrating our different mediums of art. We are both absolutely dying to play live, to communicate our art on a tactile level once again! There’s talk of some exclusive Samana shows happening around the UK later in the year, but we will have to see how things unfold. On the whole, we hope that this year will bring about opportunities and collaborations. We’re staying optimistic.
Samana released their wonderful new single, All One Breath, earlier this week. You can order Franklin and Rebecca’s music directly here. You can follow the duo via their website, and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.