Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Berklee’s Samantha Fierke. Together we discussed their introduction to jazz, how they balance being a student and musician, their latest album “Mirage” and so much more! Check out the interview below.
1. Mustard would like to thank you for joining them! They are grateful and appreciative. How are you doing?
I’m doing great! Very busy lately but it feels worth it.
2. Mustard wonders when you were first introduced to Jazz. Who was your favorite artist at this time? Has that artist continued to influence you?
Of course as a kid I was exposed to a ton of the greats, especially vocalists. When I really started homing in on jazz, I became enamored with Chet Baker. I’ve noticed that many instrumentalists that sing tend to maintain their “voice” or “sound” on both. Chet is a fantastic example of that phenomena. And that phrasing — so effortless and clean! When I first started transcribing solos, I started with him and he’s not as flashy and complex as some of the other people I transcribe but every time I feel myself losing touch with my improv and getting too in my head, I still turn back to Chet. Though he’s not necessarily my biggest influence anymore, he still informs my playing a lot and is a core part of my music.
3. How do you balance being a student and a musician? Mustard has spoken with other Berklee students such as Honey Eyes and they noted everyone is pretty supportive of each other. Would you agree? Do you have a favorite spot on campus?
Luckily I was able to choose a major that matches what I need for my career path fairly well! That makes it so that my work, art, and school are intertwined and feed into each other. Sometimes classes can be difficult to manage but my saving grace has been my daily practice routine – 2 hours of music that I choose to play, and I keep Berklee stuff completely separate. It allows me to keep my head on straight without being swallowed up by Berklee and all that it entails.
4. You have highlights of some of your favorite food on Instagram. What is your ideal meal? Do you have a condiment preference? What food do you recommend humans try? How does food in Boston compare to your hometown of Columbia, MO?
Lately I’ve been cooking a lot from home and I keep going back to these Korean-inspired Bulgogi bowls. Rice, fresh cut veggies, beef cooked in a Korean marinade, and always a fried egg. Lately I’ve started topping it with black sesame seeds, a drizzle of sriracha, and a drizzle of Japanese Mayo – makes all the difference. And of course my favorite condiment is none other than mustard, particularly a nice fancy Dijon. When I moved to Boston I expected the food in my hometown of Columbia, MO to start to lose its charm in comparison but luckily I’ve been able to find some of the best in both cities. It really just depends what I’m looking for.
5. Mustard unfortunately does not have a human voice such as yours. How do you train your voice? Do you have any tips or techniques you could share for those looking to train theirs?
I try to practice 2 hours a day, slightly resetting the material of my routine each week. I spend a lot of time training my musicality with Improv, memorization, scales, arpeggios, the works. But I’ve been starting to work some intentional vocal technique work back into my routine with some breath work and exercises to bridge tonal gaps in my range.
6. What is your creative process? Do the lyrics come first or the composition? How do you build and compose your music?
Typically when I’m writing my best work the lyrics and melody start flowing out of me. It feels like something has been trapped inside of me and it just falls out before I even have the chance to think about it. To finish a song I usually come back later on — could be hours, could be months — to figure out what the heck the music means and provide more context. After a while it all starts to make sense and I understand what was trying to get out all along. I just have to trust my unconscious mind to guide me. I love writing fun chord progressions or rhythmic figures and then just recording as I improvise over the top, on loop. Eventually I notice patterns and Melodie’s that start to stick to the chords. The sticky music is what I know must stay. If the lyrics aren’t naturally flowing out of me without thought, I usually write everything else first. For example, when I wrote When People Speak, the hemiola that appears in the intro was sticky, like jam. And then i began to improvise. When I wrote lyrics, I focused much less on things like rhyme scheme and really tried to match the words to the improvised sounds that originally stuck. I noticed that anything different started to lose its magic somehow. When I was co-teaching songwriters with my mentor a while back, he always wanted me to teach them about my “list of pretty words,” which is exactly what it sounds like. I keep a lot of notes on my phone, one being a simple list of words that speak to me, whether it be through imagery or simply the way they feel in my mouth. Anytime I feel stuck musically, this list helps to jumpstart me. I try to get out of my head when I write.
7. 2018 saw the release of your first ever EP “Sam.” Could you share more about this EP? Did this EP help shape and influence your debut album “Mirage?”
That EP was my first step into life as a professional musician. It was all about potential and about getting my name out there. “Sam” walked so that “Mirage” could run. I no longer use it for a frame of reference of my artistry, but having a small and simple EP of standards out at the age of 16 still feels like a huge landmark and I think so fondly on the memories of recording with that group. Two of the players were the same ones on the new album — drummer Loyd Warden and bassist Mickey Jaimeson.
8. Is it still coffee time? Do you have a go-to coffee order?
Isn’t it always?! I tend to drink a lot of black tea at home right now actually but when I go out for a nice little coffee I usually order a cappuccino. So far I haven’t found one in Boston that rivals the shop I worked at back home.
9. You recently released your debut album “Mirage.” How does this optical phenomenon play a role on this album? Is mirage a response to your EP Sam? A reflection of what you have accomplished so far? What do you hope listeners get from Mirage?
Beyond just being a title-track album, “Mirage” is conceptually existential, to put it as simply as possible. It’s so much more than that but the song “Mirage” taps into this concept of a world that feels like it’s spinning off is axis and nothing seems to be worth the trek of trying to fix it. It is both hopeful and hopeless, a call to stay focused and not let our minds convince us to stray away from the important fights that need to happen right now.
10. Where can readers listen to your music? Do you have a preferred streaming platform?
My music can be found on all streaming platforms as well as on CD through my website, www.samdoesjazz.com. I don’t have a favorite streaming service at the moment but Spotify is my personal go-to at the moment. I’m most excited to see what fun playlists my music ends up on.