Standing In The Light: Samantha Urbani Interviewed

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Samantha Urbani is a somewhat of a mythic figure in music.

Coming onto the scene as the frontwoman of short-lived NYC band Friends, her solo trajectory has been a long, winding one resisting the industry standard. Today, she affirms her standing as a pop provocateur with the release of debut album ‘Showing Up’, which incorporates a wide range of styles and genres, comprehensively conveying the breadth of Urbani’s mental and emotional journey producing a labour of love.

The accompanying visual for the album’s hit single ‘One Day At A Time’ provides an intriguing exploration of the album’s key themes, captured in an eccentric, stop-motion style film, the creation of which has always been a dream of Urbani’s. In her own words, “putting out music is a super important component of who I am, how I identify, and how I like to engage with the world”, and it’s clear the singer has channelled this unbridled energy into a release that presents Urbani, arguably for the first time, in widescreen detail.

In this exclusive interview with Clash, Urbani spoke on the co-creation process making ‘Showing Up’, overcoming grief, trauma, defying age-old issues of ageism and misogyny in music, and why pouring into nascent artists is an integral part of her career today.

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How are you feeling about the upcoming release?

I’m so excited. This feels like a long time coming. I’m so proud of the music and I’m so proud of how the vinyl looks! Putting out music is a super important component of who I am, how I identify and how I like to engage with the world. With regards to the time that I haven’t been putting out music…I’ve been incubating and healing. But it’s always been a piece missing from my life. I’m so proud of everybody I collaborated with on the record. I just hope that it lands because I have no illusions about how this stuff works: I hope it serves as an opening door to years of expanding creatively, being able to tour and play shows, and putting out more music.

Are you getting a sense of anticipation and excitement from fans on social media? Can you feel that palpable feedback?

I feel like people will believe it when they see it, in a way. I’ve had a lot of starts and stops; I put out a single amongst other things eight years ago. I haven’t been steadily putting stuff out. I think it’s really going to feel real once it’s actually happening. It’s been this full circle thing. Since I put out the old stuff with Friends, all the kids who were in high school ten years ago are now amazing artists in their mid-20s doing really cool shit that I’m a fan of. I hit up an animator I’ve seen on Instagram to ask if she would work on a video that I was making, and she was like, “I just have to get this out of the way, I would go see your band in high school!” There’s this time travel element where the solo album doesn’t come right after the band. That allows for the fans from that time to grow through their own lives and creativity, and all these years later we can reconnect.

I have to compliment you on the music video for ‘One Day At A Time’. What was that like to film?

It was crazy because we had a really tight timeline. Usually videos like that take months to make and we made that in about two weeks. I had edited the music video for ‘More Than A Feeling’ with my friend Leon Knight – please check out his stuff and shout him out! This dude is a genius. He makes amazing music and he plays and produces everything himself. I asked him to help me edit something and then I saw all the VFX animation stuff he had been working on, and I thought maybe this is my opportunity to make this video.

There’s a video by Michael Jackson called ‘Leave Me Alone’, that’s always been a huge inspiration. As has ‘Sledgehammer’ by Peter Gabriel, and all of the Terry Gilliam Monty Python animation that was all stop motion. I’m a fan of Wallace and Gromit, Gumby and the stop motion animation that nobody does anymore because there’s new technology. Can we use new technology to create something that feels tactile and old school? I reached out to an animator Corrinne James who does a lot of hand-drawn stop motion animation. I saw something she’d done with AI that looked like this vibe that I wanted and I hit her up. Leon shot footage of me but all the shots of the cameos I filmed myself; I literally went on Craigslist and bought $100 of pop up green screen. I hit up probably twenty friends asking if they wanted to cameo. It’s so much work. The fact that we got it done in two weeks is miraculous.

What was your favourite part of the album-making process?

There’s a few favourite parts. Anytime I have an idea that gets stuck in my head I’ll write or sing voice memos; it’s like a collage in my mind. Some of these songs I wrote a long time ago and put on the back burner. When you’re in the flow in the studio, and ideas from different years, times and experiences start feeling cohesive – that is an amazing feeling! It feels like you can start filling in the blanks. Like once everything coexists together, you can have all this fun finding ways to colour in all the work so that it feels like one unit.

I was in a studio with Nick Weiss, who is my very dear friend, and if it wasn’t for him this thing wouldn’t have got finished. He’s a really special person, super talented and so fun to work with. He became the official co-pilot, and gave me the freedom to be creative with curating who I wanted to come in and play on each song. I’ve only wanted to make an album with that kind of energy around it. It doesn’t matter to me if it took this long to get there. The journey it represents is so much more than just the music for me; this journey represents finding community, persevering and being a survivalist. Those are the best parts, as well as playing it for my mom!

This album explores a journey of healing. You’ve experienced grief and had it impact your mental health; you’ve faced sexism and misogyny. How did you steer your ship and overcome all of this?

Honestly, I feel didn’t have foundation to continue a career. There were situations – opportunities – but it didn’t feel right in the moment because I didn’t feel seen. I didn’t feel trusted or respected. I just wanted to wait and do it right, rather than compromising my integrity. I didn’t want it to be about money. There’s been times in my life where I thought nobody gives a fuck about what I’m doing, but in the long run it paid off. I was patient and I trusted my time would come. I was pushing back against ageism, and this idea that it can only ever happen in your twenties. If that is the standard, if you think my life ends when I turn thirty, that’s a problem with you, not with me. I’m absolutely not going to abide by that.

I never want to feel I’m villainizing anybody but the fallout after Blood Orange was…this was the biggest heartbreak of my life. On all levels. I can look at it more objectively now but I feel so protective of my younger self. I also feel protective of other younger artists. It’s for that reason I’ve started working with people ten years younger than me as a mentor at NYU. Again, I’m not pointing fingers at why things happened the way that they did, but it made me feel protective of young people.

I started to find my footing when I worked with Sam Mehran. A year after my EP ‘Policies Of Power’ came out he died of suicide. I had a really close relationship with. We had a lot in common; we both had older siblings who had passed away when we were younger, and we had the same name. We had really similar arcs being in buzz bands we didn’t think we’re going to take off. We would both talk about mental health, depression or whatever. His death was something that hit really close to home. It took a year to even feel functional again. I took time off from listening to music in general, I took time off from even thinking I ever wanted to put out music again. I just felt disassociated. It was a crazy setback where it didn’t even feel like a setback; it felt like a dimension shift. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but all of it led to an unexpected healing process, which meant there were at least twice as many demos for the album as what ended up on the album.

There are so many highlights on this album that feel universal and empowering. What is the song you’re looking forward to listeners connecting with?

There’s a really cool part that goes between the last two songs on the first side of the vinyl. The sequencing was very intentional but ‘Guiding Star’ melds very seamlessly into ‘Isolation’ and to me that’s where the energy really peaks. I have a recording of my late grandmother at the end of ‘Isolation’, so it’s all supposed to feel intense and insane. When you flip the vinyl after ‘Guiding Star’, an opportunity starts like a breath of fresh air…

What’s next?

I’m booking all my release shows right now! In LA, New York and hopefully London. I’m rehearsing with my band right now. As long as people like the record I can play shows!

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Words: Alex Berry

Photo Credit: Catherine LoMedico