In 2020, Samia released a record so heart-wrenching, it was orphic indie pop wrought with dark musings that felt akin to the social landscape it was released onto. In many ways, The Baby spoke to Gen-Z culture perfectly at the apex of COVID, as songs like “Fit N Full,” “Pool” and “Big Wheel” sought to make sense of betrayal, sensuality and relationship dynamics through reflection and diaristic lyricism. The imagery on the record so often tapped into a rich, fluid realism that teetered on the edge of esoteric. On her newest album, Honey, she makes her songwriting more personal than ever before, punctuating her pedigree of delivering frank, beautiful music that gnaws away at the parts of humanity left to be untangled.
Three years ago, Samia was lauded for making music that was profound and personal yet widely accessible. The Baby was beautifully assembled, though she wasn’t the first musician to take her deepest emotions and put them into the world so others can call them their own. But The Baby proved that the way she interacted with her surroundings had an edge to it that separated her from her peers. When that point of view gets taken away, however, where does a songwriter go next? For Samia during lockdown, the answer was clear: “I had to write about old experiences, because nothing was really happening, from this fresh perspective,” she says.
In early 2020, Samia, like the rest of us, found herself sequestered in solitude, unable to make poetry out of the present — which ended up being a blessing in disguise. “I’m a person who’s really afraid of being alone, so I had to face a lot of things,” she says. The Baby was expansive in how it became a home for every listener. Its follow-up, however, would be Samia’s opportunity to give herself the same space. “I had more room to be totally honest because I was sitting with myself more often and getting closer to the bottom of the reasons why I felt the way I did,” she adds. “That allowed me to be hyperspecific in a way that I was scared to do before.”
Flash-forward two years, when Samia decamped to Betty’s, a North Carolina studio owned by Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso, with her friend and collaborator Caleb Wright to make Honey — her burgeoning, mystical, and deeply forthright sophomore record. Honey is sparsely arranged and paired with a powerful story holding many throughlines; more so here than ever before, Samia is cataloging her experiences for us to understand, not adopt. The thesis of the songs being a fragmented relationship is a familiar circumstance, but Samia’s songwriting layers the record with vivid, specific imagery, like a Porches show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, a lover’s mom threatening suicide, and doing anti-porn chants with evangelicals outside an ex’s window.
As other indie artists elect to go bigger and louder on their second albums, Samia approached Honey much differently. It’s heavily populated with soft moments that give way to well-timed dance numbers. At the apex of Honey, the solemn, empty-room piano ballad “Pink Balloon” organically transforms into “Mad At Me,” an evocative, sensory nightclub anthem. The lush retrospect of a withering romance on the former collapses into a paean about not being avoid fallout. It might be easy to compare Samia to other women in indie. Honey flourishes like a Phoebe Bridgers-Dua Lipa hybrid, but a track like “Mad at Me” is a perfect representation of the electronic elasticity of Samia’s creativity.
How Samia was able to make such acute, upbeat changes of direction — like the title track or “Amelia” — work with the aesthetic of the entire album is due in part to her partnership with Wright, whom she considers one of her closest friends and the musician and producer she trusts more than anyone else. “[Wright and I] both really prioritize supporting the sentiment and supporting the song, and, coincidentally, it just happened to be that a lot of the songs needed to be spare and minimal for us to be able to tell the story the way we wanted to,” she says.
Wright and Samia together have grown since 2020. They, along with Nathan Stocker and Jake Luppen, worked together on The Baby and were trying to be smart about their approach. Now it’s a 50-50 collaboration between them and their creative inclinations. “When you have a debut, it feels like a lot of pressure to be the person you want to be,” Samia says. That all changed during the pandemic, when she opted to let go of appealing to the masses by being relentlessly intimate in the face of environmental and sociological finality. “For [Honey], especially coming after COVID-19, [Wright and I] are more interested in being honest,” Samia adds. “If we were to die tomorrow, what would we want to say, and how would we want to say it? And, at the risk of not being totally accessible to everyone, I think it was important for us both to just say what we were feeling and to capture the environment we were in.”
[Photo by Sophia Matinazad]
After two years of reflection, Samia hasn’t hardened. Her arrangements have softened, even when she pierces through the gloom with a song that might enrapture you in a nightclub. “There are these huge moments of relief or release where we get to dance it off,” Samia adds. “That’s what we were aiming for, to really only to and use those moments when it felt like it was absolutely time to step away from the darkness.” An explosive, cathartic song like “Honey,” which Samia wrote in 15 minutes, is what she considers to be the culmination of the entire project, hence it being the title. “That song, just personally, I’m sure, will read differently to people,” she adds. “But that song, to me, represents the whole story that I’m trying to tell with this record.”
The surface-level story that Honey tells, lyrically, begins with “Kill Her Freak Out,” where Samia reckons with the anger that stems from feeling unloved. She taunts her ex, proclaiming she’ll kill whoever he marries and then recalls memories of worship songs, losing her state ID and having dreams of being pregnant. By the album’s end, on “Dream Song,” Samia is in a different place, singing of forgiveness. It’s not just a collection of tracks about sadness and breakups. No, Honey aims to track the personal trauma of two lovers parting ways, told from the point of view of somebody who has no choice but to scale back every layer and piece together some kind of understanding.
That songwriting greatly informs the musical story of Honey, which poignantly details the ecological foundation that a relationship creates. Bonds break, people move and the world keeps turning, but the roots retain strength. Samia understands that now and clings to the imagery of Pando, a grove of 80,000-year-old Aspen trees in Utah that are really a single organism comprising 40,000 individual trees. The arboraceous metaphor captures Samia’s approach to record-making altogether, as all 11 tracks on Honey are connective tissue forming into one entity of catharsis aglow with oncoming hope.
Perspective is everything to Samia, which she generously emphasizes on “Sea Lions,” a piano ballad that swells into an electronic breakdown merging an automated voice with her octave-surfing harmonies. Though it’s subtle, Honey deals with how musical fame can affect a relationship or catalyze its dissolution, and Samia comes to the conclusion that it’s not reconciliation she seeks. She wants to cross paths with the people of her past and continue knowing them. It’s a theme directly addressed on “Sea Lions.” “You said when I come on the radio it makes you wanna die/Well if I shut up, can I come inside?” Samia sings. “I don’t wanna talk/I don’t ever wanna work it out/We’re too far gone/I just wanna see your house.”
Samia calls Honey a “community record” and likens her listeners, friends and songs to an “ecosystem.” On the album, she culls a habitat-like sense of wonder for the people around her and the music she makes, something she purposely looked for during the pandemic. “Curating community is a big passion of mine,” she says. “That was a big priority with this record, just trying to choose the people I was working with with intention and give them the space to be fully collaborative.” You can hear that influence on Honey, as collaborators like Christian Lee Huston, Rostam and Briston Maroney have their fingerprints everywhere. It changed the alchemy of the project altogether, most importantly because of how malleable and impressionable Samia is as a musician — even though she wasn’t always copacetic about listeners hearing the ticks and tricks of other artists in her music. Beyond that, however, she has always worked in close quarters with other artists, letting her own talents flourish by witnessing her peers play.
“To have [Huston and Rostam] work so closely on [Honey], you can really hear them, and you can really hear their influence on me, which I used to be wary of or nervous about,” she adds. “Now I think it’s just the coolest thing. I hate doing anything alone, especially curating art. It’s always been natural to me to reach out for help and collaboration, and I feel so lucky that those particular people were willing to work on my stuff. I was really not expecting that.”
In recent years, few debut records as mystifying as The Baby have been followed up with a project as deftly inspiring as Honey. Samia is no longer attacking her own work with lyricism that everyone can latch onto. Instead, she’s using personal growth to make amends with retrospect, tackling old memories in new ways. “I had 10 years to write the songs on [The Baby], and I had barely two to write [Honey],” she says. “At the beginning of the process, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna do this. Not that much has happened since I wrote [The Baby].’ But I landed on something that really felt right.” Samia attributes much of that decision to Wright, who accompanied her during their handful of week-long studio sessions. “There are very few people in the world who I feel comfortable being totally honest with, and he’s one of them,” she adds.
For the first time, Samia wanted to simplify everything and just let herself have feelings. That decision is what makes Honey the brightest record of 2023 so far, teeming with confessionals and transparency. “I’m writing songs to communicate things to people that I’m too scared to say in conversation because I hate confrontation,” she says. “I also am pathologically trying to hold myself accountable all the time. I have a really hard time just feeling my feelings without picturing them in the context of a court of law and seeing if my argument would hold up, objectively.”
Half of Honey is zoomed out, as Samia attempts to understand how her feelings comprise the bigger picture. The other half is, as she puts it, her “wallowing in it,” but with a flair of wisdom. “If I’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, it’s that it’s just as important to get to the other side as it is trying to be objective and trying to be mature,” she says. Much of the record deals with alcohol being consumed as a method of escape. Few club songs build an honest portrayal of how grief can manifest itself through dancing; the transitions into slowed-down parts mimic the lull of isolation. In an era where drinking to feel less is romanticized, Samia has devised a record that plainly illustrates how destructive the last few years have been. What a gift to watch her unfurl her own past with such attentiveness and veracity. Even more so, Honey sets a benchmark for more accountability in indie rock to come.