KASHENA SAMPSON MOVED TO NASHVILLE WITH A PLAN, AND SPENT THE PAST TWO YEARS SAVING HER MONEY BARTENDING AT THE BASEMENT EAST TO RECORD AND RELEASE HER DEBUT RECORD, WILD HEART. SHE PAID FOR THE STUDIO AND THE BAND IN CASH, WRAPPED IN PAPER THANK YOU NOTES FOR HER RECORDING SESSION AT THE ALL-ANALOG BOMB SHELTER IN EAST NASHVILLE. SHE PLANNED TO MAKE AN EP, BUT STUDIO OWNER AND PRODUCER JOHN ESTES CONVINCED HER TO RECORD 10 TRACKS, ALMOST ALL THE SONGS SHE’D WRITTEN SO FAR. SAMPSON TOLD US WRITING CAN BE A STRUGGLE FOR HER BUT SHE KNOWS WHEN SHE'S ON TO SOMETHING GOOD.
"Usually when I’m writing a song and I start crying, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is probably it. I can feel this!”
I’m writing in the hopes that you’ll relate, that someone will relate, like, “Yes, I felt that too.” Cause when we relate to each other it kind of takes the weight off of things. Like, “Oh wow, you’ve been through that too?” I mean, that’s what I’ve always used music for, you know? When I’m listening to it, I’m just like relating, like, “Yeah, I hear ya. I’ve been there. I know what that feels like,” and that’s really what I’m doing when I write a song."
So how long have you been in Nashville?
I moved to Nashville two years ago in November to do music, to make this record. It seemed to me that this is where everything was happening, where all the musicians were. I kinda have always been told, if you want to be a musician you gotta go hang out with musicians, see what’s going on, and learn...as much as I can. So that’s why I moved out here. I moved here from Las Vegas, I went to high school in Vegas, my family is still there. I grew up in a lot of places. I was born in South Korea, I lived in Hong Kong until third grade and the my family moved to Connecticut and right before high school we moved to Vegas. I come from a real musical family. I have two sisters and we all sang together, a three part harmony, and they’ve always written songs, since I can remember. I kinda started my songwriting a little later than them, when I was probably around 23/24, I started writing songs. So this is my first record that I just put out.
Do your sisters still do music?
My older sister plays in Vegas around town - she does a lot of cover stuff in the casinos and stuff like that. My middle sister is married and she has two kids but she does a lot of writing. She’s written a couple musicals in the past few years which is super cool.
Were your parents military - moving around so much?
My dad was in the garment business, so clothing. He would oversee all the manufacturing and bringing them to retailers, doing all the selling and all that stuff. They’re both from California, my parents.
You’ve lived in so many different kinds of places!
I know, and then I lived in L.A. for seven years.
So how does Nashville compare to all of those?
It’s smaller. And everyone says it’s a city but to me it feels like a town. There’s not a day that I leave the house that I don’t run into somebody. Which I like, because I like community, but it’s also crazy! I’m not used to that! Living in the South is different compared to the West Coast for sure.
Can you tell us about the record you just put out?
It’s called Wild Heart and I recorded it over at the Bomb Shelter with John Estes producing it. John Estes also played on it, he played bass, and Jeremy Fetzer on guitar, and Jon Radford on drums, and Elizabeth Estes played strings - violin and John played cello. We recorded it in six days, analog to tape. So the first two days was laying down the tracks so we did five songs each day. Then we took a day to do the overdubs, me and John. Then the background vocals and the mixing, and that was that. I payed for it all in cash with my bartending money from the Basement East. I just had to make this record, that’s what I moved out here to do and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I couldn’t even pay my rent, like the first year that I lived here. Every month I was selling something to pay my rent and I just started saving money and picking up as many shifts as possible working. And I would put it in my little box over here - well, I shouldn’t say where I hide my money. I paid everybody in cash. I was like, “Oh here’s your money in cash.” I wrapped it in a piece of paper with a thank you note and that was that…It didn’t really help with my taxes after. I probably should have gotten like a receipt. It was like old school. I was like her you go! It was a great experience. I had been working on this record for so long and talking with different people about working with them to make it and nothing was really feeling write. And when I went over to the Bomb Shelter and met with Andrea, and he introduced me to John. He said we’d be good working together, and it just felt right. I could also afford it. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like, “Oh well hey, it’s gonna be like 20 grand to record.” I can’t afford that. I can’t even pay my rent. It was a really great experience. I love being in the studio.
I think a lot of cool people have recorded there too, right? Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff…
Yeah! Very raw sounding. That’s what I like. I didn’t want it to be overproduced. I wanted it to be real. I wanted people to feel the emotion in the music because that’s what music is to me. It’s to tap into those emotions. It’s like therapy kinda. And John just...I really trusted him. It just felt great. I wanna do my next record there too. Everyone’s like, “Oh you could go here or go here,” and I’m like, “No, man;” I’m a creature of habit I guess.
So this is the first music you’ve put out. How did you decide what songs to put on it?
I didn’t have many more [songs] than that. I really didn’t. I just started writing a couple years ago. First I went in to make just an EP and John talked me into doing a full record. And there was maybe one or two to choose between. Songwriting’s not really a thing that I just sit down every day and write a song, you know? It comes from an experience or something I’ve gone through. I guess you’re going through stuff every day. I don’t force myself to really write songs. It’s not the easiest thing...Songwriting doesn’t come easy to me.
But maybe when you do write something it’s more meaningful?
I like to really take my time on a song...to really look at the lyric and what I’m saying and what’s the best way to say it and how I feel when I’m writing it. Usually when I’m writing a song and I start crying, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is probably it. I can feel this!” But now I’m starting to write. I’ve got a few more songs. Write now I have seven or so songs that I’m half done and still working on.
Do you think that’s maybe a more old school thing? To write more slowly?
I think so. I think everyone’s different in how they approach their songwriting. The only person I’ve ever co-written with is my sister. And a lot of people are like, “Oh, let’s write a song!” And I’m always just like, I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean, it’s not bad. But for me, I have not done a lot of co-writing. I guess it is an old school way of doing it, I’m not sure.
I feel like in Nashville, that can easily become seeing how many hits you can get out…
Yeah, just a hit, instead of like this is the emotion that I’m talking about it and I’m writing in the hopes that you’ll relate, that someone will relate, like, “Yes, I felt that too.” Cause when we relate to each other it kind of takes the weight off of things. Like, “Oh wow, you’ve been through that too?” I mean, that’s what I’ve always used music for, you know? When I’m listening to it, I’m just like relating, like, “Yeah, I hear ya. I’ve been there. I know what that feels like,” and that’s really what I’m doing when I write a song. Instead of being like, “This is going to be a hit! What do I need to do to make it on the radio…” I don’t know.