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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
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Samantha Preis' Jazzy Journey
Thursday, October 11, 2012

The stereotype of the coffee shop performer is that of a guy with a guitar attempting to do his best John Mayer, Jack Johnson, or Dave Matthews impression. What you don’t expect is to hear someone who is reminiscent of Norah Jones, or Tori Amos. That was the surprise I experienced when Samantha Preis sat down at the piano at Las Vetas, in Fairfield, CT, two weeks ago.

Preis, a singer/pianist originally from Connecticut, but now residing in NYC, says people describe her work as a mix of genres, “they’re saying it’s pop that’s infused with jazz and folk.” Drawing inspiration from everything from the jazz greats she grew up listening to, to her schooling at Berklee College of Music, to her love of Paul McCartney’s songwriting, Preis creates a relaxed vibe similar to that of a jazz lounge. During her performance I couldn’t help but think she’d be perfectly at home on stage at the Blue Note, or a similar venue.

I caught up with Preis a couple days after that performance to find out more about her and her music, and during our conversation she also discussed a run in she had with a group of Disney princesses, how a tour of Egypt affected her, and why there’s a chance you could get a free cookie at any of her shows.

Adam Bernard: I gotta start this off by asking, what were you doing playing in a coffee shop in Fairfield, Connecticut?
Samantha Preis: I grew up in Easton, so I used to play at Las Vetas when I was in high school. I have strong roots (in Connecticut). I go back at least once a month to visit family. I live in New York, so it’s really easy for me to commute in, and Andrew (Servetas, owner of Las Vetas), when I was younger, was very encouraging, and he always booked me. It was nice. I played there all through high school. I think they’ve been open for like nine years, so as soon as they opened I was there all the time performing.

Adam Bernard: For your most recent performance at Vetas you had dessert treats on hand for everyone. Do you always give your audience homemade cookies and brownies?
Samantha Preis: Sometimes. I like to bake. It’s also, you go to a cafe and you hear someone perform, but you’re not really humanizing them, or personalizing that experience in any way, they just happen to be someone that’s performing. I just feel like it’s a great way to bridge the gap between just being a musician and being someone who really loves cookies and sugar {laughs}. Sometimes if there’s a cover it’s a really good incentive to bring something so people will think not only are they gonna come for really great music, but they’ll get free cookies. Most of my friends are also starving artists of some kind, so it’s a nice thing to have at your gig to nibble on and have a sense of home at a place.

Adam Bernard: You graduated from Berklee College of Music. When you entered Berklee did you have the jazzy vibe you have now, or is that something you developed while you were there?
Samantha Preis: I’ve always felt very strongly influenced by jazz. It’s always been a part of my upbringing, I listened to a lot of jazz growing up, so I already had that, but I think Berklee definitely helped develop me in some ways, in terms of giving me more theory, and expanding my mind. Sometimes you need to put yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit to improve your skill, so that was really great.

Adam Bernard: A lot of your lyrical content is very personal. How much do you think people learn about you when they listen to you?
Samantha Preis: Some of the songs are directly correlated to things that have happened in my life. Some of them, I created the story, and it’s usually a story that’s based on real life events, but it’s not necessarily telling a specific story as accurately as I possibly can, as true to life as possible, it’s creating a great experience in a song that has very personal qualities to it.

Adam Bernard: I remember you introducing one song with a story about running into some Disney princesses, including a “gender confused Jasmine.” Where did this happen, and do you know exactly what you walked by?
Samantha Preis: I don’t know what exactly the circumstance was, but it looked like they were doing some kind of a photo shoot in Astoria Park (in NYC). This was maybe a year and a half ago. I used to run in the park, but at the time I was sick and I needed to get out and get some fresh air. I was walking along and I spotted all the Disney princesses, every Disney princess you could possibly imagine. New ones. Old ones. There were all these girls dressed up in princess costumes, and yeah, I thought Jasmine might have been slightly gender confused. It was a good experience. It was strange, but it was also totally awesome because I happen to just love Disney and everything related to Disney and Disney princesses, in general.

Adam Bernard: You didn’t ask what was going on?
Samantha Preis: They were surrounded by people, so I didn’t want to run through them, and I didn’t want to get in the middle of their pictures either. I should have. I should have said “what’s going on?”

Adam Bernard: So you may never find out.
Samantha Preis: I may never know, and they’ll never know that I wrote a song (“Serendipity”) inspired by those actual events.

Adam Bernard: That’s a pretty cool experience. I’m betting you have quite a few more from your travels, which have seen you venture far outside the tri-state area. What have been some of your most interesting, and possibly life changing, experiences abroad?
Samantha Preis: A couple years ago I went on a tour through Egypt. It was with a group, a musical tour in order to raise funds for less fortunate children. This wasn’t something that was organized by the school, we just happened to all go together, with a girl who organized the trip with her family. She’s half American, half Egyptian, and she invited us all to go on this tour. I’d been there before, so I’d seen a lot of the touristy things, but when we went it was great because we got to see it as the locals do, and it really changed my perspective in a lot of ways. We had a couple clinics for young kids, middle school level mostly, and they saw us up on stage. I was actually the only person who wasn’t part of a band, so I was the only solo artist, and I’m female. A lot of the girls there, to see a girl on stage, by herself, singing her own songs to an audience of like 6,000 people, I think maybe some of them said “I didn’t know we could do that.” It’s so different in terms of gender equality in these countries. They had the opportunity to talk to us, interview us, they all want to take your picture, and after I left I got maybe 50 friend invitations on Facebook, and over the years I’ve gotten more and more. I haven’t been able to afford to go back for a tour, but I wonder if I'd actually be able to come with a decent following in Egypt after that experience.

Adam Bernard: Other than gaining an Egyptian fan base, what else changed for you after that experience?
Samantha Preis: When I left I felt like I needed to do something, like I needed to really do more things like that in terms of outreach programs. I work in fundraising for Carnegie Hall right now to raise funds for arts and music education for people around the world of all ages. I felt an obligation after that to do something for other people. It was definitely a life changing experience. It definitely opened my eyes a lot. I had one of the best times of my life there. Coincidentally, a week after we left was when the revolution broke out. There’s obviously no definite correlation, but we would have gotten deported. The tourists, a lot of them were sent home to their countries for safety reasons. It was interesting in terms of the timing of when we went and when we left.

Adam Bernard: And when you do eventually make it back it’s going to be a radically different place.
Samantha Preis: I know. Crazy things are happening right now, hopefully for the better.

Adam Bernard: Moving back to America, and your performance at Vetas, you had at least one song during your set about an ex-boyfriend. Is it possible to date you without ending up in your lyrics, or does every guy have to be aware of that possibility?
Samantha Preis: They need to be aware. The risk you take when you date any sort of artist is that they’re probably going to use you in their material at some point. A lot of people that I've dated have been the subject, or the reason, for me to start writing a song, but it doesn’t necessarily always mean that the song is directly about them. They may have inspired the song based on certain events. A lot of people are inspirations for songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the song is word for word a story about true events.

Adam Bernard: You're not Taylor Swifting people.
Samantha Preis: {laughs} No. No Taylor Swifting going on. There might be some Samantha Preising going on.

Adam Bernard: Finally, are you working an album, or EP?
Samantha Preis: Hopefully in the next couple months I’ll put out a Kickstarter and that will help me along financially. I feel like timing is really key. If you hit people at a bad time nobody has any money. If I could get everyone to give $20, if I could get everyone to pay what it would have cost to buy a CD at FYE ten years ago, that would be ideal. There is a lot of hard work that goes into making an album, so I obviously want to compensate everyone who helps out with it in terms of production and musicians and mastering. Everything that goes into making an album is important and everyone who works on it is equally important and deserves to be compensated. It’s a matter of when I can come up with the funds. The Kickstarter is the first step, and making sure there’s a killer video, killer incentives, and people are as enthusiastic as possible.

To hear more of Samantha Preis’ music check out samanthapreismusic.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:27 AM  
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