On New EP, Samantha Crain Delivers An Epilogue About Resilience

In 2020, Choctaw singer-songwriter Samantha Crain released A Small Death, a lush, indie folk album about surviving trauma and chronic pain. That album found both critical acclaim and a huge base of fans who fell in love with Crain’s elegant paean to survival. Now, the four-song I Guess We Live Here Now (out April 9, 2021) presents, as she says, an epilogue to that album, a glimpse into how reclaiming her power is shaping her life.

“Coming out of that really hard time that A Small Death catalogued, this was a sigh of relief. These songs really are, more than anything I’ve written before, about the agency and instrumentality we have over ourselves in big decisions and on a daily basis,” Crain says by phone from her Oklahoma home. A Small Death and I Guess We Live Here Now are just the latest releases from Crain, who’s steadily released music since 2007, picking up two Native American Music Awards and touring with the likes of The Mountain Goats, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Josh Ritter along the way.

But after three car accidents in a single month in 2017, Crain was unsure she’d make music again. Losing use of her hands, she was bedridden for a year. During that time, she excavated years of traumas, delving into past relationships and working through wounds, a process that led to A Small Death. That album centers around acoustic guitar and, primarily, Crain’s beguiling voice. Her vocals are the emotional center of the record, a simultaneous rasp and ache conjuring a hard-won vulnerability. After the album was complete, Crain found she had more to say but wasn’t yet ready for a new project.

“The songs on the EP were written afterwards. I wasn’t in the headspace to move on to a completely different record. I didn’t have a new record in me. I just had these additional thoughts, which were my impressions of myself increasingly at peace with uncertainties and having more agency over my own decisions. I found a lot of undiscovered love for others in my heart,” she says of her road to healing and self-empowerment.

“I learned a lot of tools on that journey and cataloged a lot of little tricks, and I’m still learning survival tricks, as most people do. You learn as you go. You get older and find more confidence,” she says. While the songs on I Guess We Live Here Now are built of the same sonic elements as A Small Death, there’s a palpable sense of freedom to the new songs. Crain’s vocals soar higher and the melodies are more playful, even when she sings (on “Malachi, Goodbye”) about ending a toxic relationship.

The EP opens with “Bloomsday,” its title referring to the annual James Joyce-inspired celebrations on June 16. If ever a song evoked a summer day and an open heart, this is it. Choosing this song as the first track sets the tone. “I don’t think you can hear a song like ‘Bloomsday’ and think I didn’t make it through okay. It’s literally the most uplifting, hopeful song I’ve ever written. That speaks for itself,” the singer-songwriter says.

She can’t explain exactly how she found her agency. As she says, “It’s hard to pinpoint. It’s like baking a cake where you know there are a lot of ingredients put in but you’re not sure of the science behind why it makes the cake.” She has drawn a lot of strength from the writings and music of Poet Laureate and Native artist Joy Harjo. “Even though we’re 35 years apart, there are a lot of similarities in our stories. Her work as a poet, playwright, musician – she has made me feel less alone, less defeated in difficult times,” Crain explains.

“I release you, my beautiful and terrible/fear. I released you. You were my beloved/and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you/as myself. I release you, my beautiful and terrible/fear. I release you,” Joy Harjo writes in “I Give You Back.” In lines like these, we see Crain’s kindred connection with the poet, their simpatico ability to be poignantly unflinching in dark times.

While Crain needed to survive those dark times in order to write these songs, I Guess We Live Here Now stands alone as well. From the summer breeze of “Bloomsday” to the gentle sway of “There Is No Mail Today” to the drum-and-flute based “Malachi, Goodbye” to the lilting, plucked strings of “Two Sitting Ducks,” this EP is repeat-ready, whether or not listeners have heard A Small Death. It continues Crain’s story, but the story is far from over.

“Everything I make is an epilogue and a prologue,” the singer-songwriter says. As her favorite poet Joy Harjo puts it in “There Is a Map,”  “Rivers are the old roads, as are songs, to traverse memory./I emerged from the story, dripping with the waters of memory.” On A Small Death, Samantha Crain mined her memory with songs, wounds becoming roads to take her out of her trauma. I Guess We Live Here Now takes listeners a few more miles down the road to find Crain still making melodic, plush folk music centered around her unmistakable voice. Only now, she’s saying, “Give me something, Bloomsday’s coming, open up the doors and have a goddamn beer.”

Follow Samantha Crain on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

#IndigenousWomenRock: 5+ Contemporary Artists You Should Know

How many Native women have you supported today?

If the answer is none, think about why that might be. Do you interact with Indigenous populations? Are you spending time and energy learning about Native organizations and movements?

If Indigenous women aren’t popping up in your timeline or on your street, it isn’t because they don’t exist; rather, the lives of Native Americans, particularly Native American women, are specifically overlooked by institutions of power, including media outlets, health organizations, universities, and more. But whether we are looking or not, Native Women are living and creating in the current day. Contemporary Indigenous art is filled with innovative women making work worth watching, reading, and listening to.

Whether you are spending today with family or friends, take some time to invest in the lives of Indigenous women by viewing, sharing, and paying for their art. Aren’t sure where to start? Check out our list of five contemporary Native American artists to watch below.

Raye Zaragoza

Zaragoza released her debut album in June of this year, but she’s been playing and writing music since childhood. Fight For You is a breezy eight-track collection, brilliantly highlighted by Zaragoza’s clear, relaxed voice. The album’s content is deeply impacted by Zaragoza’s multi-ethnic and national background, as well as the Native Peoples’ fight for clean water and against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Of the album, Zaragoza says: “My goal with this album is to inspire people to fight for what they believe in. Our voices can be heard – we just have to choose to use them!” A portion of the album’s proceeds will be donated to Indigenous rights organizations.

Miracle Dolls

Twin sisters Dani and Dezy are based in Southern California, but they regularly tour the country to mentor youth through the Native American Youth Music Program, which they founded. The two strive to bring guitars to every Native American reservation, alleviating the pressures of historical trauma on Native youth by providing a creative outlet. Their recent video “Sweet Grass / Water is Life,” influenced by the impacts of oil pipelines on their Hidatsa Waterbuster Clan community, was screened at the 42nd American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.

Princess Nokia

Destiny Frasqueri, known as Princess Nokia, recently went viral when she was filmed throwing soup at an aggressive man shouting slurs in a New York subway car. But Frasqueri’s advocacy work goes far beyond subway intervention. Outside of her work in the studio, Frasqueri heads “Smart Girl Club,” a collective which seeks to provide safe space for and encourage collaboration between women of color, through the lens of “urban feminism.” Her first studio album, 1992 Deluxe, reflects this message of informed and inclusive feminism: tracks like “Brujas” highlight Frasqueri’s connection with her Afro-Indigenous family and their traditions, while breakout hit “Tomboy” centers her experiences as a New York youth. 1992 Deluxe, which was released in September of this year, is already making year-end lists, and for good reason.

Samantha Crain

Crain’s 2017 album, You Had Me At Goodbye, is decadently instrumental: confessional and emotionally compromising music which devastates at the same time that it uplifts. Next time you feel like treating yourself to a good cry without, you know, having to listen to Sufjan Stevens, take a trip through Crain’s oeuvre. Crain is barely 30, but You Had Me At Goodbye is her fifth full-length album; after recording music for more than ten years, her album notes state that she “wanted to have some fun.” Though You Had Me At Goodbye isn’t exactly dance music, there’s a noticeable level of play within the artist’s enigmatic lyrics and sound choices.

Laura Ortman

An accomplished composer of independent film scores, Ortman’s own music is visceral and compelling, drawing on her skill as a classical musician as well as a love of experimental sound composition. She’s a prolific artist, with 22 releases on bandcamp alone, as well as a number of prestigious awards under her belt, but manages to make each release pleasantly surprising. Her latest album, My Soul Remainer, was released in June of this year.

And because the “Americas” extend north of the border as well, here are a few Canadian artists I can’t stop listening to.

Tanya Tagaq

Tagaq has been making waves since winning the Polaris Prize with her 2014 album, Animism. Her latest, Retribution, is breathtaking. It’s the type of album you listen to once, and then send to everyone else you know.

Sonia Eidse

Eidse’s bandcamp describes her music as “mellow alt-pop,” but frankly, I don’t find anything about her voice to be mellow. Her self-titled EP, released in 2016, is dreamy; with each note stretched as far as possible, Eidse’s vocal performance lands like a silk parachute, or a slow-rolling fog.


On The Fight Within, released earlier this month, Iskwé pairs modulating vocals with lush, electronic beats. Dissect it or dance to it–Iskwé’s music is moving, both in its content and message, and in the music’s heavy, visceral sway.