5 Questions: Jazz Vocalist Samantha Sidley

Samantha Sidley as photographed by Kat Mills Martin.

Samantha Sidley is a jazz vocalist, born-and-raised in Los Angeles, celebrating the recent release of her debut album, Interior Person. Sidley talks with Esthetic Lens and shares an inside peek at her life.

1. What’s been keeping you up at night?

I just lost my dog, my baby, to lymphoma, so that has literally been keeping me up at night.  Falling asleep at 8 PM and waking up all hours of the morning. DM me! I’ll take funny memes to cure depression any day.

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?

I saw the comedy clown show Nate on Netflix the Natalie Palamides one woman (or man) show and bravo for infinity. I completely lost track of time – which I don’t do because 6 PM is wine time and I don’t forget that – but by the time the show finished and I had cried with laughter the entire way through I realized it was 8 PM. All I can say is it took me far and far away to places I’ve never been but always longed for. Also, I trained in clown at one time so I know somewhat what it takes to find your clown. I can’t say more. Natalie Palamides is my hero. 

3. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?

My next record in my new home studio! Well, my wife’s studio. I barely know what button or cord I’m looking at but I’ll tell you, Barb’s got style and the studio is fly AF.

4. If you could add anyone, alive or dead to your team, who would it be?

Edith Head for costumes. Tennessee Williams to write my one woman play. 

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?

What’s Wrong With Me. 

Listen to Samantha Sidley- A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes: “I’ve always had a fascination with Disney. Especially the older classics. The animation is so beautiful – how you can make a rat the most lovable sympathetic creature is beyond me and I just have so much appreciation for that art form. Also, the music is so so powerful. I think the Peter Pan soundtrack is one of the best scores of all time and some of the best choral work I’ve ever heard. Having said all that – ‘Cinderella’ has always been my favorite. I love the music, I love the characters – villains and all – and frankly, I love a happy ending! The music always rescued me from sadness. I was a sad kid. The music makes you feel alive because it is so alive with hope and wonder. I arranged the song so it would feel trippy and retro – like an atomic aged dream. It’s one of my favorite songs to sing.”

Samantha Sidley | Photo Credit: ©Kat Mills Martin

Samantha Sidley is a jazz vocalist, born-and-raised in Los Angeles, and she likes girls.

The words “I like girls” are the first thing you’ll hear when Sidley’s debut album Interior Person (Sept. 13th, Release Me Records) opens. The song is an unassuming anthem, a future standard for an evolving culture. It’s also a fun and funny ice-breaker that you’ll sing along with.

“I Like Girls” is a peek into what plays out as a meticulously crafted debut album featuring Sidley’s beautifully trained voice taking confident ownership of songs written for her to sing by some of the most important women in her life.

These other “girls” include fellow musicians Inara George, Alex Lilly, and Sidley’s “Top One” favorite musician of all-time, her wife, Barbara Gruska.

“Inara and Alex and Barbara wrote songs that are all very personal to my story – they literally are my story – and from my lesbian perspective, which I appreciate so much,” Sidley says. In addition to co-writing many of the songs here, and playing drums (masterfully) on many of the tracks, Gruska also produced Interior Person in a studio constructed in Sidley’s childhood bedroom (more on that later.)

“She is such a badass,” Sidley says. “My record sounds exactly like what I needed it to sound like – the old records I grew up on, mixed with now and the future.”

“I’m gay and I’m proud, and I want to sing songs that are about being gay and proud,” Sidley explains about “I Like Girls,” but also about actually liking girls. She is content in her skin, in her relationship, and about how her marriage is not just personal i.e. it includes building a recording studio in her childhood bedroom (we’ll get to it!)

“I saw her and was completely blown away,” Sidley says of first seeing Gruska’s band perform over ten years ago. “I thought, I understand that person. I can take care of them.” It wasn’t until Sidley heard Gruska’s voice on MySpace (MySpace!) that Sidley got up the nerve to message Gruska that she was “smitten.”

It’s a testament to Sidley’s life-long love of vocalists that her actual love life was sparked by a voice.

“My whole life was a song,” Sidley says of her childhood. “If I looked at a tree, it was a song. If I felt happy, sad, joy, it was a song. When I first heard Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ I remember thinking: ‘I understand.’ I’ve always considered myself an interpreter, which is sort of an undervalued art form. I like to take a song and make the story true for me.”

Sidley soon discovered Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, soul music in general, and her own personal “soulfulness” itself. You know, like all seven-year-olds do. Later, considering how annoyed 11-year-old Sidley was when her vocal instructor wouldn’t allow her to sing Holiday’s “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)” at her first recital, it all made perfect sense.

A decade later, Sidley got to sing whatever she wanted, performing at NYC’s legendary Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, where she lived in Dorothy Parker’s room, listened to a lot of Anita O’Day and Ella Fitzgerald, and landed a rave review in the New York Times.

Unfortunately, the universe slapped back when Sidley’s father became terminally ill. She moved back to Los Angeles to be with him until the end, and then to grieve with her mother and sister whom she considers her best friends. They all lived together in the home Sidley grew up in, a mess of a structure in Silverlake where every light in the house had to be unplugged before using the microwave. Sidley fell into a depression.

“And then Barb came into our life.”

It’s a good thing that the arcane electricity situation didn’t keep Sidley off of MySpace, because Gruska eventually moved in and became part of Sidley’s family.

“All of us together in this falling down house in Silverlake!”

Interior Person does include one nod to this era of Sidley’s career when she covers the 1968 Beach Boys song “Busy Doin’ Nothin’”. “I love doing covers,” she says. “It’s like doing a rendition of an old play.”

It’s not hard to imagine others artists, gay or straight or otherwise, covering “I Like Girls” someday.

“We’ve been able to relate to songs that come from straight perspectives our whole lives,” says Gruska, who co-wrote the song with Lilly. “We have to have faith that straight listeners can  relate to songs that are written from gay perspectives.”

Gruska further explains, “It’s as if Sam is saying, ‘I’m gay. I love being gay. If you’re cool with that, listen on, because I’ve got a lot more to say!’”

Samantha Sidley likes girls and it’s easy to like her back.

Interior Person is the debut album by Los Angeles-based jazz vocalist, Samantha Sidley. The album arrives Sept. 13th from Release Me Records, preceded by the single “I Like Girls” on June 21st.

Check out Samantha Sidley’s Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.