By Anna Furman
To see Sami Stevens perform onstage is to experience a symphonic melding of jazz, funk and soul. Supported by a sultry, resonant voice, her style transcends genre categories and delights with surprises: a saxophone here, a key change there. After studying jazz performance in Paris for the last several months, she just moved stateside and now lives in New York. We caught up with Sami on the heels of her solo EP release and her band The Love Experiment’s Purple EP and listened to her wax poetic on “future-soul” music, to the contents of her bedside table, the merits of garlic and her ideal living situation.
Hometown: East Winthrop, ME
Current Neighborhood: 14th Arrondissement, Paris
College: The New England Conservatory of Music/Tufts University/le CIM
Number of Roommates: 1
So. You sing with several other very talented humans in your band The Love Experiment. You sound fantastic together. Who are they, how did you meet, can we see you guys live anytime soon?
Oh yes! Thank you. The Love Experiment formed a few years back in Boston. It’s led by Charles Burchell, our drummer, and has a horn section and a rhythm section and two lead singers, myself and Kim Mayo. We’re mostly jazz students from NEC (New England Conservatory School), Berklee and Harvard, who all met while we were in school. We are united by our love of sexy music. It’s “future-soul” but that’s a made-up genre. Come to a show! We’re based in NYC now, but I’m in Paris so we’re taking a little break for the fall. We’re in the process of releasing an album in the form of a bunch of EPs. The first one is called the Purple EP so look out for it! It’s coming out soon, it’s just being mixed and mastered. Love Experiment shows are my favorite though, seriously, come and sway. “Haaayyy” to the Love Experiment. I miss you.
You also have an impressive body of solo work. How is working on solo projects different than working with The Love Experiment or Tredici Bacci?
So different. So many decisions. I really love performing, but its harder for me to be in the studio, making a million tiny decisions that all lead up to a final product, which is what I’ve been doing making my Melting EP. Also I am very critical of myself so any project that has my name on it, like this does, I really want a lot out of it. But also it’s very rewarding. I’m learning a lot about the process and a lot about my own ears and my own vision. I have so many different influences that to execute a coherent project that makes sense as a whole, and not just as individual moments. That’s the challenge for me. I’m not really sure what genre it is and therefore every creative decision is kind of an island. The song structures are familiar though, and the songs are short, which I’m into right now. It’s voice, drums, viola, cello and upright bass. It should be coming out in the next couple months. I want to make music videos for it though. We’ll see.
What are you listening to right now, on repeat?
I’m back where I began. Today I’m listening to Sarah Vaughan. I have the complete Sarah Vaughan on Mercury. It’s a treasure trove. She is beyond words.
If you could collaborate with 3 artists, alive or dead, who would they be?
Oh no, this is hard… John Coltrane. Thom Yorke. Bjork.
Talk Tutti to me. What is it, what’s awesome about it, how can downloaders use it?
Tutti is this app that I’m involved with, and I would personally recommend checking it out. It’s this interactive video teaching/entertainment program that was originally designed for people to be able to see their favorite bands playing from every angle, and to be able to manipulate what parts are playing when, either to learn the music or just geek out. But now it’s getting bigger and all these studios are getting opened up for people to make their own tuttis. Cooperative efforts are in the works with a wide array of experts, not just musicians. It hasn’t been officially announced yet but I’m looking forward to releasing more tracks on my small ensemble jazz standards tutti this spring. We just released our version of Body and Soul. Go to tuttiplayer.com if you want to find out more.
If time and production costs were no thang, what would your dream creative project be?
Oh no this question makes me feel like my imagination is impaired. To overcompensate I will say that I would like to invest my unlimited funds to contact alien life and organize a cooperative creative endeavor to be determined by the parties involved. If, as would almost definitely be the case, they don’t have any idea what a “creative endeavor” is, I would put on a series of roaming free basement party/shows all over the world, where I just play with the Love Experiment every night in a different spot, but somehow the sound in the room would always be perfect, even though we’re in a basement. And there is free Jack Daniels coming out of a fountain. And the police don’t bother us. And the basement is magically huge so that no one gets turned away at the door. I’m allowed to use magic for this project, right?
AND AS FOR THE ROOMMATES
What’s been your best shared living experience?
This question is a good exercise for me. I like spending time alone when I’m at home. But also I have had really good roommate fortune. Let’s take a moment to be grateful, I agree. In college, I had two great roommates and they were both named Anna, so I guess my answer is Anna.
And what’s been your worst Shared Living Experience?
I’m not sure I should say… let’s just say there were particularly uncooperative 11 year olds involved…that sounds bad…nevermind.
What’s on your bedside table right now?
Earplugs, because my dad is visiting and he snores. Really nice studio monitor headphones my producer let me borrow that I don’t let leave the apartment (thanks, John!). Deep in a Dream; the Long Night of Chet Baker. It’s the saddest book in the world, and I’m only halfway through. A lamp. A scarf. A giant bottle of water. That’s all. Also I don’t have a table. They’re on the floor. I sleep in a loft.
What are your favorite things to cook and eat at home?
I love to cook. It’s meditative. And I love little life things where I can be a perfectionist in a constructive way. Since I moved to France I’ve been eating a lot of things that I can scoop up with bread, like lentils, cheese, olives, hummus, fried eggs. I don’t really like sweet food. I like garlic. I probably usually smell like garlic… sorry everyone. And I love vegetables. Vegetables at the markets here are so cheap. It makes sense, though. They come out of the ground.
You’re moving to New York soon, yes? What are you looking for in an apartment/neighborhood/roommate?
Cheap. I don’t like my life to center around making money. Somewhere I can make lots of noise at all hours, and have people over, and stay up late. It’s important to me to please my 13-year-old self and to respect her original vision of life priorities. I want roommates that don’t mind my habits and are low on the bad crazy scale. People in touch with reality, but not holding onto it for dear life. No weird vibes, I can’t do it. And do your dishes.
SAMI WHAT DID I NOT ASK YOU THAT YOU WANT TO SAY!?
Thanks for interviewing me. Thanks for putting up with my inability to use full sentences and stick to the topic of conversation! You can check out my projects at samistevensvoice.com. Tweet at @SamiDStevens and say hi.
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