Sam Coe and the Long Shadows are swiftly making a name for themselves on the country/Americana festival circuit. Fatea writer Nic Rigby caught up with Sam in her adopted home city of Norwich.
Sam, who’s new album is called Full Moon, says she’s always had music in her life.
“Well, I was raised on country music. My mother and father used to listen to a lot of UK country music, country and western, actually, at the time,” she says.
“I also listened to a lot of classical, but the country music I was listening to at the time was sort of Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and then all of the '90s country as well - Faith Hill, Shania Twain - which my mum used to make me listen to in the car.
“At the time I was like ‘I hate it’, but I didn't really, I loved it and I still love it now. It just wasn't particularly cool. Back then you worry about what's cool and what's not, don't you? The old traditional stuff and what was, at the time, some quite modern stuff, all combined, and I think that's definitely impacted on the kind of music I write now.”
Sam was also inspired by a music teacher Debbie Allen who had a band called the Rocky Mountain Showband.
“Debbie taught me how to play keyboards and it, kind of, stuck with me, country music for a long, long time.”
But before launching into country music, she took a short detour towards pop music.
“I took a gap year after sixth form for university and ended up in a pop band. We went on tour with Take That, which was great fun and I deferred university so that I could do that,” she says.
The girl band called Wild Flowers and for a year the band toured around the country, but failed to get picked up by a record executives – who were starting to face the impact of digital downloads.
“So we did this week of showcases after having just come off the Take That tour - everyone assuming that we were going to sign, everyone assuming that we were going to do really well because we'd just had this incredible kind of last year.
“And we didn't actually get signed. No one would give us what they call a development deal. We didn't get one. So literally in the space of two weeks I'd gone from top of the world to nothingness.”
So she went back to her home in Suffolk and when she started getting back into music, she went back to country music.
“The band started about five years ago in its initial format, we've had a few changes of line ups since then, as you know. Bands are difficult. And our current line up has actually only been in place probably since February.
“It's going really strong, our current line up feels very, very right and very full, and we've got the right people on board, so really excited about the current band line up.”
Sam is a skilled songsmith and can write songs that appeal to the country audience and others with a sharper edge in the new Americana tradition.
“I think the term country music is so misconstrued by a lot of people. Everyone assumes that if they're going to a country gig they have to wear a hat and someone will have a lasso or something and that's not the case at all,” she says.
“I mean, we look at acts like The Shires, that we were lucky enough to support the year before last. That's pop music with just the smallest of country elements, you know.
“It's such a broad genre, I prefer the term, personally, Americana because as we've learnt recently, that's a combination of everything - country, roots, blues, folk - everything combined into one. And a good smattering of pop music in there as well, so I'm much more comfortable with the term Americana. And I kind of joked at the gig, you heard, East Anglia-cana is the thing.”
She adds: “The one thing I'm not comfortable with, and I'm quite vocal about, is English artists, UK artists, singing in a fake American accent, which drives me mad.
“Because country music is all about authenticity, and then all of a sudden you have somebody singing with some bizarre fake twang, I just don't understand that at all.”
Her debut album Full Moon came out last year.
“We signed to a label called Ginger Dog, who are fantastic for us. Small, independent, underground, quirky, happy to let us take the reins on things that we want to but then very supportive when we need them. Just everything you could possibly want in a small label,” she says.
The album has a “definite theme”, she say, with the idea of the cycle of the full moon.
“I think for me I'd been going through a separation at the time, and full moon is actually about that separation and about how I made quite an impulsive decision to lose somebody.
“The song is kind of like, you do daft things in the middle of a full moon, a bit like turning into a werewolf, you know, that's what I always say. There are other songs on there like Whiskey Dreaming, which is all about kind of end of something and reinvention.
“I guess for me, it was quite cathartic writing it and recording it, because it was the end of one cycle, one chapter, ready for the next.”
So what’s next?
“Since Full Moon has come out, the label have asked me to make a solo album as well, which is really cool,” she says.
“So even though there'll be another Long Shadows record, because I'm doing the whole musician thing full time now, I'm making a solo record, which is definitely going to be pushing towards Americana much, much more.
“I want to try and leave the country queen thing behind, even though someone reviewed the gig the other day and called me ‘Sam Coe, local country queen’ which I loved. Absolutely loved it.
“For the solo album, it's definitely going to be more rootsy, probably a little bit more bluesy as well, which I'm quite looking forward to getting involved in.
“It's a bit scary, because all of a sudden I've gone from having this support network of a full band to not having that and just focusing on me.
“But there will be a new Long Shadows record too so that's something else to look forward to.”