Though she’s only 18 years-old, Samantha Spano is already a music “lifer.” After taking up the piano at just five years-old and adding guitar to her arsenal by the time she was eight, Spano says it’s hard to remember a time in her life where music isn’t what she wanted to do with her life. And when she realized she could put her feelings to paper and put melodies to them, the stage was set.
With the release of her first EP at just 13 years-old, Spano introduced a country-pop sound not dissimilar to the leading ladies of country music at the time that she admired. However, with her new string of tunes, starting with a cover of Chris Stapleton’s “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” Spano has entered a new era with her music, leaning more into a country-rocking sound akin to Stapleton. Spano followed her first release since 2018 with “The Angel,” a powerful song honoring heroes including police officers and first responders. Most recently, Spano released the tongue-in-cheek “Daisies,” the third installment of her series of releases chock full of twanging guitars and banjo.
We chatted with Spano about her early start in music, confidence in herself, each of her new releases, what listeners can expect from her forthcoming releases and more!
Pro Country: Who were some of your earliest musical influences who have had an impact on your sound?
Samantha Spano: In the beginning, I wanted to go more towards a country-pop sound. Artists like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert were the ultimate stars for me at the time. At the same time, my parents were listening to older country like Reba, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. Eventually, I grew into a honky-tonk country and a country rock sound. I think that’s continuing to develop as I continue to work on and release music.
I remember being five years old and begging for piano lessons because I wanted to play an instrument so bad, and by the time I was eight, I was playing both piano and guitar. I was singing the National Anthem at football games in the local area, so it’s kind of been a lifetime thing. My whole life is kind of been surrounded by music.
PC: What was it about playing an instrument and performing that struck you and connected with you so early in life that made you want to dive in?
SS: I really think it was Taylor Swift. I used to watch documentaries and YouTube videos about how she used to use music to help her through things and to heal, even as early as Middle School. At the time, I thought that I could do the same thing; I thought I could write my feelings on a piece of paper and write some music to them. I was really a go-getter at that age [laughs].
PC: When did that early interest in music translate into realizing you could/wanted to pursue it as a career?
SS: I think it was the fact that my parents never really let me give up on it, but they also didn’t force me into it. It’s something that I always wanted to do. All my tooth fairy money went to buying a guitar, which I still have and still play [laughs]. I think it was when I was around 13 that I started writing songs that, in my eyes, were actually pretty good. That’s when we decided that we were going to record, and I did my first EP when I was 13. That was the point where every other year, I was going to Nashville, performing and getting to speak to people. The last five years have led up to present day and the music I’m releasing now.
PC: You won the Freehold Idol competition at just 11 years-old. What kind of validation comes with earning that distinction, especially so early in your career?
SS: I was shocked! I had auditioned two years prior when I was nine, and I got cut in the first round. That was the first time I ever did anything like that and really put myself out there, so it was really a bit of a reality check. By the time I was 11, I had won it! It was crazy to me. I remember that I was one of the first people to go, and after I went, I sat and watched all the acts and just sat there in anticipation. During the final round, they called my name, and I just said, “What, that was me, I did that?” Laughs. That was something cool to add to the resumé for sure. For a little while after that, when I would sing national anthems at Blueclaws games or anywhere else, they would announce me as the 2014 Freehold Idol winner, which was really interesting, but it helped me build my confidence a little bit too.
PC: What was the experience of being in the studio at 13 and releasing music for the first time like for you?
SS: I recorded that first EP here in New Jersey. I wrote those three songs by myself, and when I went in the studio, they didn’t think I was 13. They were saying that the songs had to have been written by someone who’s at least 30 [laughs]. I would bring those songs to Nashville and hand CDs out to people while I was down there. It was probably 2017 where I had gone to the CD Baby DIY Musician’s Conference, and when we went down there, it came with free entry to BB King’s Nightclub in downtown Nashville. It was an open mic, and I was the very last one to go on and the youngest one there. They have the speakers outside of the venue, and when I walked out, people were standing outside and asking if I was the girl that was singing. There are a lot of moments early on that made me realize that music was something that I might actually be able to do. It was crazy as a 13 year-old to tell those super talented musicians in the studio about an idea I had for a song, and they knew exactly what to do with it. Looking back, it’s really cool to see all the things that have happened to me!
PC: You recorded and released “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” in late August, your first release since 2018. What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to put yourself back out there with that song?
SS: It was really surreal! There was so much that went into it. I was supposed to record in Nashville in 2020, but we ended up canceling our trip because of the pandemic. Coming out of it, there were a lot of nerves and anxiety about things not going the way I had planned and if people thought I was just another one coming in to record and leave. I knew I needed to make my mark while I was in Nashville. Chris Stapleton is one of my ultimate Inspirations, and I take a lot of my writing inspiration from him. To record one of his songs, put it out and say, “Dear Chris Stapleton, here is my version of one of your songs,” was very nerve-wracking. People love Chris Stapleton, and if they hear and 18 year-old girl singing one of his songs, they might say that she couldn’t do the song justice. There were a lot of nerves about that, but so far, I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback! I released it on the same day as my album release party at The Saint in Asbury Park, which was also the same day that I released the music video, which told the story from the girl’s point of view. It became a lot of fun after that. There were people listening to it and reaching out about the song and the video, and it just became really fun to talk about.
PC: As someone who is such a fan of Chris Stapleton, what drew you to cut “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” and why did you feel it was the best way to introduce your new batch of songs that you’ll be releasing?
SS: I listened to his newest album, Starting Over, and as soon as I heard the first few bars of that song and that guitar hook, I said “Wow, this is real country,” and that’s what I wanted my music to sound like. That’s the inspiration I wanted to draw from. That’s when I started writing songs for this new album. I wanted it to sound gritty and edgy, and at some points, even a little raunchy. I wanted to introduce it that way and see how people liked the new country-rock version of me, and people seem to like it! Even when I perform that song, people are convinced it’s my song, and I always make a point to tell him that it’s Chris Stapleton and that he’s really cool and that people should check him out [laughs].
PC: You filmed and released a music video for “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” as well. What has the response in the weeks since the video release meant to you and how fun was filming that video?
SS: Being from the Jersey Shore, you see people start to like country music. Growing up, I was the only kid that was saying that I loved country music. I would wear cowboy boots and cotton dresses to school, and people would wonder what I was doing. Even back then, I would bring my guitar in and play for the class for show and tell. To have all these people watch me grow up and continue to show up to listen to my new music and watch that video is very humbling. It makes you realize how many people are actually on your side. Some people who are trying to do this might not have that, so I’m very grateful for it. I just started college and I’m studying music business at Monmouth University. To meet new people and to tell them I have a new music video out and ask them to watch, and for them to say they don’t really listen to country music but they enjoyed it, it’s kind of cool to open up their minds and make them realize they might like country music a little bit [laughs]. To have my song do that has been really exciting!
I shot the video with a friend who also goes to Monmouth. I had one of my friends come down and shoot the video, and it was probably about a hundred degrees out. The sun was blaring and it was really humid. My mom came along with me to watch us film the video, and it was torture in the heat, but we ended up having so much fun with it. Even the love interest in the video was kind of shy at first, but all of a sudden, he started putting in input and it was awesome! I actually borrowed my dad’s car and he let me drive it, which was shocking [laughs]. If men don’t like you for the music, they usually like you for the car, and if women don’t like you for you, they’ll like it for Alex, so it’s a win/win [laughs].
PC: You released your newest single, “The Angel,” a few weeks ago, which is a very heavy-hitting song. Why did you think that was the right follow up to “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice”?
SS: I wrote this song after seeing all the riots happening in 2020 against the police, first responders in the military. There was so much happening that I sat in my music room by myself and thought about what it must be like to have somebody you loved out there. I was wondering what those families were going through. Here in New Jersey, there’s a state police officer that passed away in training, and after I heard that happened, that was also a contributing factor. It made me think that it must be so hard to sit home and wonder how your loved one is doing as they do a really insane job. I wrote the song by myself, and I’m so proud of it, because I felt like I really said something with it and it was something that people can really relate to. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I know people who were directly affected, and I can only imagine how it must have been waiting at home. I thought the song was a perfect tribute. I thought it would be good to put this one out as the first song I wrote by myself of this batch. “The Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” was a fun cover, but this one was more of a solemn tribute kind of song that showed what I could really do with my writing skills.
PC: You released your newest single, “Daisies,” about a week ago. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
SS: “Daisies” was a song I wrote about being the girl that didn’t ask for much, but knew exactly what she wanted. For me, when it comes to guys, it’s about how much they’re willing to put themselves out there for you and pay attention to you and what you actually like, in more ways than one. I had written the concept for this song years ago, and I shelved it because at the time, I didn’t know how to write a song that gave this quirky, cheeky message in a clever way. At the time, my favorite line I had written was, “I rose so swift, just call my Taylor,” in my song “One of the Guys.” I think I just needed to mature, so at 17, “Daisies” finally came down off of that shelf and became what it is!
PC: Your bio mentions that you recorded an album in Nashville. What was the experience like of recording in Nashville and being surrounded with such a high level of collective talent?
SS: Driving down there for 13 hours, there were a lot of nerves. Me and my parents packed up the truck and drove down there. There’s always a thought in the back of my head about people not taking me seriously as a young country singer and being new to the business. What if people just think that I’m another one coming through that’s never going to do anything? They’re just thoughts that are in the back of my head that I just kind of had to push away, and I just told myself I had to be confident in my music. I knew the songs by heart and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. Once I stepped into the studio, my entire world was opened up. As soon as I went in there, I knew that’s where I needed to be and I knew that it was time to put the work and grind it out. We ended up having a really good time! When you hear that your drummer plays with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and your piano player has played for Olivia Newton-John, it puts on a little extra pressure to do well [laughs]. They were all really open to my ideas and they really played off of them.
After we ran through the first take of “The Angel,” the room was silent. Nobody said anything. That’s when I really thought to myself, “Wow, I did that.” My piano player said it was beautiful, and it was a really big reality check. I was totally fangirling [laughs].
PC: What information can you give about your upcoming releases? What can listeners expect to hear?
SS: The next single is going to be called “Jesus Tattoo.” That one takes inspiration from everyone from Chris Stapleton to Carrie Underwood to Shania Twain. It’s kind of a more cheeky sounding song like, “Oh, I can’t help falling for you and that Jesus tattoo;” it’s kind of like a sly little remark from a girl that knows a guy is bad news but she’s going to stay interested anyway [laughs]. That one is more of a country rocker. After that, we have “Lie to Me,” which I wrote solely on piano. I wrote that song about three years ago, and I actually found the very first voice memo of it that I recorded. It’s so crazy to hear how my voice has matured, because it sounded like I had a baby voice at the time [laughs]. I compared the two recordings and what I had changed and how I had grown, and it’s funny, because everything but my voice pretty much stayed the same. When you go in the studio with musicians, a lot of things tend to change, but “Lie to Me” kind of stayed as it was, which was kind of weird because I changed my mind like crazy, so the fact that one song stayed the same for three years was bizarre [laughs].
PC: Of the things you can control, along with your new releases, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
SS: I’m really taking things day-by-day. Things are springing up out of nowhere. I’ve been traveling a lot and trying to balance that with school. I’m focused on these next releases. I think all of these songs are so similar, but they’re so different and show different sides of myself that I never really knew I had until recently. I think that comes with growing up and maturing and different things you see and hear. I’m hoping to have as many people hear these new songs as possible!
*Samantha’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*