A conversation with Sammy Rae


    We spoke with Sammy Rae about the properties of natural light, the malleability of the mind, earning her downtime and feeling hyper-human.

    What’s the risk of an odd look if it means I get to express myself and brighten up a moment for someone? I like telling the people I love about the minute reasons I love them.

    We asked Samantha to name 17 colors of her choice.


    Morgan Enos

    How do you tend to show gratitude for any kindness you’ve received in your life? Do you try to match positive, considerate actions with your own, or is verbal acknowledgement the better bet? Which holds more weight to you in the day-to-day?

    Samantha Rae Bowers

    I have a hard time receiving affirmation and kindness in the parts of my life that I value too highly. I often find it easier to hear and accept “You have a wonderful laugh,” or “I think you’re a good cook,” than “Your music inspires me,” or “You are a compassionate friend.” It’s like when people actually recognize the things I work hard on, like my career or my personal relationships, I’ve already put so much pressure on those things that I accept them as out of reach.

    I’ve been working against this recently. When someone extends kindness in any area, I try to just hear it without judgment and be grateful. I really hope that the people I love believe me when I show kindness. I would be hurt to know if they were just discrediting it. Lately, I try to fill my life with more considerate actions. If I like somebody’s shirt on the subway, I tell them. What’s the risk of an odd look if it means I get to express myself and brighten up a moment for someone? I like telling the people I love about the minute reasons I love them.

    I’m not a cluttered person, but small, meaningful gifts are valuable to me. I keep them as totems and I revisit them with gratitude. Like a rock from somewhere special or a handmade drawing. Little acts of consideration like that hold more weight to me. But in the day-to-day, quick verbal affirmation is often more convenient and easy to accept.


    When was the last time you saw fog?

    Last night. I was revisiting one of my favorite movies, the animated Coraline by Laika Productions. It was created using stop-motion and 3D animation on figurines and miniature sets. There’s a scene where two characters are hunting giant slugs in a low fog. I figure it was created with dry ice and then slowed down to make sense in that scale. It was just enough, though, and really gorgeous.


    Who was your best friend as a child? Please describe exactly how you’ve either maintained your friendship til now or how the friendship faded into the background with age. Would you like to change how things ended up?

    My dear, dear Lara. We were neighbors from birth until we parted ways for college. She is three months older than me, with our backyards conjoined by a small slope of bushes and rocks. Before we were nine or so, that slope was cleared out and used for sled riding, mud sliding and easier access to each other’s back doors. We lived outdoors with our homes attached to a state park.

    I remember summers before I turned 10. By 9 a.m., one of us had wandered  into the other one’s house. We had breakfast and explored the woods around us until it was time for lunch, and then again dinner. Lara took the environmental science route, eventually working in marine biology and conservation. I found theater and started singing. When we became adults and left home, we pursued our paths fully. “Lost touch” isn’t the right term, but our relationship was never one which needed constant attention to maintain.

    We two grew up in the smallest city in the second smallest state in the country. People get born there, get married there, birth their children and never leave. I moved to New York and missed Lara and our woods more than I thought I could miss something. But simultaneously, my art was becoming my entire world and I loved it more than I thought I would. Lara stayed in our town a few years after college.

    A few months ago, she was hired full-time to work at a phenomenal new aquarium and marine science building in Miami. She called me first, with her fears of leaving our small town and chasing her purpose. I encouraged her until I was crying, and she was crying too. Last month, she moved to Miami. Last week, I bought a flight out to see her new world in August. I look forward to adventuring a new landscape and whatever this new grown-up chapter of our lives with one another brings.

    The human mind is extremely malleable; our entire psyche can get altered by something seemingly insignificant. Fragile, too.


    Have you ever dealt with mental illness in a loved one? How did you process it? Has that fragility and malleability of the human mind ever crossed your consciousness in an intense way?

    I’ve seen certain members of my family deal with trauma or loss in unhealthy ways and sit in unhealthy mindspaces. But on the whole, we’re healthy, and lucky for it. When I got to New York, though, I suddenly met a whole world of individuals with a whole world’s worth of experiences and troubles I had never been confronted with. Several of my friends live with mental illnesses, most of them are artists. I’ll credit that to the way we experience life so vividly and live emotions on such a grand scale. Feeling is our livelihood.

    I live with some generalized anxieties and obsessive compulsions. It’s very difficult for me to fall asleep if there is anything on the floor or countertops, my blinds aren’t even, I don’t have a full glass of water beside me, or my chair isn’t pushed all the way against my keyboard. Those things don’t have to cause such a visceral mind-body reaction in me, but they do. The human mind is extremely malleable; our entire psyche can get altered by something seemingly insignificant. Fragile, too. Sure, that’s hard to accept.


    Do you ever treat your songs as living things? Do some ever feel vulnerable and some strong? How do their personalities vary?

    I saved answering this question for last. I treat my songs very similarly to the ways I treat people. Sometimes this is to my own detriment, in that I get too attached and put too much pressure on myself before a release. People jokingly say that projects like an album are “their babies,” but I feel that tremendously. I spend so much time creating this thing; there comes a point where you just want to release that burden and give it to the world. But letting your kids out to become what they will, whether or not they are received the way you want them to be, is tough.

    A lot of my songs follow characters I’ve invented, which makes it easier to anthropomorphize them. Some of them feel like embodiments of whatever emotions I was experiencing when I wrote them. One of my upcoming songs is called “Flesh & Bone.” It’s about self-discovery through rebellion and experimentation. I think of that song like a hungry, confused teenager, and I wrote it when I felt like one. I often get nervous people will hear that song and be judgmental or unappreciative towards it, the way the personalities in the song feel. That song is tough and defensive.

    Another one, called “Talk It Up”, is about a few characters struggling to thrive in the high-stakes environment of dream chasing. One of those characters is a 20-year-old man living on 10th Street and working a night shift. He sticks out the most to me, I want him to break through and find success as badly as a parent would. So while I’m excited for that release, I also worry about the possibility of it never measuring up to anything.

    I have a new ballad called “Afterglow.” It’s about sad memories, and the anxiety that comes with knowing that you can’t forget them. Or remember good things that never happened. I’m not ready to release that song, and I’m not sure when I will be. It’s indulgent and sitting in its sadness and it feels safe there. So for now, I’ll let it stay.


    What’s your impression of the ocean floor? Do you ever relate to being silent, dark, inhuman and under intense physical pressure?

    That’s scary. I don’t like the dark; I don’t like physical pressure. I don’t like floating in water because I can’t fully be aware of all of my surroundings. Something predatory could be coming from any angle, and I’ve felt this way even in swimming pools since my childhood.

    Silent, dark. Those I can relate to. I’m not as bad with feelings of self-loathing as I was in young adulthood, but I’ve been there.

    Inhuman, I can’t really get my head around. If anything, I have moments of feeling hyper-human. I feel certain things when I realize I’ve let someone down or I can’t escape a stressor which is outside my control, no matter what I do. Those things distinguish humans from other animals, so when I feel them hard, I feel very human.

    Physical pressure is a tough one also. I certainly operate under a lot of deadlines and live my life alongside a lot of people I’m responsible to and for. That pressure is sometimes crippling. I’ve never thought about that as a physical pressure before. I will though, that’s a good exercise.

    I’m sitting in the corner of my bedroom with a wall to my back and my right. There’s also a window to my right which is filling the room with natural light.


    Would you be an early photograph or an ultra-HD modern image? Why?

    An early photograph. I’d rather see a one-of-a-kind, low-fidelity image with a great color palette than a picture so high quality that it’s like looking through glass onto real life. I’d rather see an interesting face or good natural light coming in on some great furniture than every leaf in a picture of a tree.

    I have a Polaroid camera I really love. I try to take no more than 3 pictures a month, but I’ve consistently done it the last few years. I think out their composition first, and value them highly. I title and date them. One of my favorites is of my best friend in a T-shirt and underwear within three minutes of her waking up on her 21st birthday. It was the middle of a scorching summer in the uncomfortable apartment we were staying in together. She was in the thick of her first real internship and studying for law school at the same time.

    In the photo, she has this really exhausted but genuine smile. The film is just clean enough that you can see the natural light coming in and a little bit of the room in the background. You can tell it was extremely hot. And you can tell we had been celebrating quite a bit the night before. We can’t recreate that morning, and so I’m happy it won’t live forever on the Internet or get amplified onto some big screen. It’s just a physical photo in my hand, and for that reason, it’s much more vivid of a memory.


    Do you wear a watch or absorb yourself with time in other ways? Would you rather exist outside of the temporal bounds of schedules and deadlines?

    I don’t wear a watch. I probably should, and I’ve thought about that. I operate on a tight schedule just about always. Deadlines are important to me. They keep me on track. I need to check the time very often to keep myself organized and motivated. I don’t know that I could or would want to exist outside of those bounds right now, they serve me and help me accomplish what I’m trying to do.

    I admit my relationship to time isn’t always the healthiest, and I find myself constantly unlocking my phone to check the time, which is an unhealthy behavior all of it’s own. I’ve been examining my work ethic and why I feel like I always need to earn my downtime. My partner wears a watch, and reaching over to pick up his wrist for the time often eliminates me getting sucked into my phone. I find myself more productive and relaxed when I can do that. Wow, I think I should get a watch this week.


    Does performing music tie you to the real world or provide a thoroughline or speedier route through it? Can you give me an example?

    Maybe a little of both? Music provides a speedier route through the parts of life which are more difficult to navigate. I can be anxious or in pain, and communicate that with more than just words by writing a song. I can revisit that song the next time I need affirmation that things always get better, or when it feels like the quickest way to feel better is to indulge and throw myself back into it. But on the whole, music ties me to the real world.

    A friend of mine once said he communicated more effectively with music than he could speaking, and I suddenly saw a lot of that in myself. I feel like what I often lack the vocabulary to express, I can express more efficiently using melody, or a device like a rhyme scheme. Usually when I’m onstage between songs I get overwhelmed and unsure of how to preface the next tune, so I sing-improvise some intro. It just feels safer. I notice some of my other favorite songwriters have done that live as well, like Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison.


    Finally, please tell me about the nearest corner of the room that you are presently in. What’s in it, or not in it?

    I’m sitting in the corner of my bedroom with a wall to my back and my right. There’s also a window to my right which is filling the room with natural light. There is a beige, maroon and black tapestry behind me which I bought in Maine a few years ago. My keyboard is across the room in front of me. There are four houseplants in a hanging planter above my head.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 195
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: June 6, 2018
    Total questions: 11
    Word count: 2209
    Reading time: Eight minutes
    Hyperlinks: 1
    Imagery: 17


    Maroon: Accessed
    Stressor: Reversed
    Clutter: Null
    Risk: Reversed
    Palette: Expanded


    About the subject

    Sammy Rae is a singer, songwriter and pianist. She resides in Brooklyn, New York.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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