by Tom Williams
Samana confront the heaviest elements of the human condition
At the start of our conversation, Franklin Mockett – who forms one-half of the project, Samana, alongside Rebecca Rose Harris – preemptively apologises for his ‘horrifically slow’ signal – dialling in from a remote region of North Wales.
The duo’s sophomore album, All One Breath, is due out for release the day following our conversation and is already getting rave reviews from critics who praise its diverse soundscape and effective evocation of mood – be it the melancholia, or dream-like wonder that it achieves at alternate moments. But before diving into their rich, layered second LP, I ask about the album’s latest pre-release single – the brooding Patience. The song is accompanied by a nearly ten minute short-film, which was shot in black and white through a 16mm camera by Benjamin Wigley. Shot in Anglesey – and taking full advantage of the area’s vast landscape; the film is described as a ‘metamorphosis’ by Rose – bridging the gap between the seen and unseen.
‘Samana seeks to extrapolate the layers of consciousness,’ Rose tells me when I ask her how she would describe the band to the previously unacquainted. It’s a fitting description of a group whose music captures yearning like lightning in a bottle; a band who throw out fundamental, philosophical questions – often without expecting answers (‘Do I really feel I know myself?’ asks Rose on The Spirit Moving).
The first thing that jumps out when listening to the duo’s sophomore album is its sonic diversity – with All One Breath alternately evoking Beach House, Big Thief and Happy Woman Blues-era Lucinda Williams. When I ask Mockett and Rose about the music that they were listening to in the run up to this LP, their answers are fittingly eclectic – with everything from David Crosby, Debussy, 50s era Gospel music and Zambian rock getting a shout out.
The recording sessions for All One Breath took place during an extended stay in the French countryside – originally there for a three week residency in early 2020, the pandemic forced them to decide whether to leave early or stay for the following months. The duo chose the latter and the resulting album – like many of the best singer-songwriter records – is intrinsically moored to the place it was created. In France, the duo wrote and recorded over 60 pieces of music – initially conceived not as an album, but as a mere document of a moment in time in the pair’s history. Only once they had finished making this huge collection of songs did they realise they had an album’s worth of excellent music.
Much of what was composed in these sessions were ‘improvisations,’ Rose tells me, guided by in-the-moment inspiration and faith in the magic of spontaneity. Accordingly, these songs channel a free-wheeling spirit – less conceptual than its predecessor, yet somehow heavier, and harbouring all the power of a revelation. Mockett tells me that the music of All One Breath was written during a period devoid of ‘the touch of humanity’ and as such these songs can almost feel as though they were written by the last people on earth – finding solace in their solitude while pondering the unknowable.
All One Breath offers a clear point of departure from 2019’s Ascension – something that’s made instantly clear on the brooding, moody opener, Melancholy Heat. Yet, All One Breath somehow feels like a natural point of continuation from that album; not so much re-inventing the band’s sound, but instead taking their early ambitions and expanding them into cinematic proportions. ‘I never see the musical process as an evolution, but as a continuation,’ Rose tells me. ‘We never sit down and try to craft a sound,’ she continues, ‘we are always governed by feeling.’
Towards the end of the month, Rose and Mockett are set to go on tour in support of their new album – covering six locations – including London and Manchester in a matter of six days. Following a two year period defined largely by lockdowns and social distancing, the duo seem viscerally excited when I broach the subject of performing live to them. It is only recently, Mockett says, that the two have found a ‘solid band’ to perform with across multiple venues. When I ask him what fans can expect from these live sets, he says to ‘expect the unexpected’ – chuckling as he does so. He says that he and Rose have fashioned their sets ‘dependent on venue’ and that their string-assisted performances in Brighton will be ‘vastly different to the sets we’re playing [elsewhere] as a five piece; which [will be] far more raucous and heavy.’
The pair’s sophomore album is one that confronts the heaviest elements of the human condition – alternately surrendering to this heaviness and transcending it. Based on recent performances, the band seems quietly confident that the power of these songs will come through effectively in a live setting. Rose recounts a moment during a recent set where midway through a performance she looked out into the crowd and saw a sea of tear-stained faces absorbed in the moment. Promising to give her most ‘honest and true’ self to audiences during the upcoming tour, when asked what she ultimately hopes to achieve, she replies ‘transcendence.’