Sammy Rae & The Friends, an up-and-coming band focused around camaraderie, classic rock and queer/female empowerment, will perform at Roadrunner in Boston this Thursday, Sept. 21, as one of many stops on their fall tour.
On Sept. 6th, the Daily sat down with frontwoman Samantha Bowers, better known by her stage name Sammy Rae, to talk about her songwriting process, upcoming projects and more ahead of the performance.
While the group is currently working on their first full length studio album, their first live record, “The If It All Goes South Tour (Live)” (2023), recently gave their online audience a slightly different look at the band’s sound.
“We love to tour, we love to perform, we put on a really impressive live show,” Bowers said. “The internet audience knows what we sound like in the studio. It’s polished, it’s professional, it sounds great, it’s catchy. But as much as we try to capture that live energy from stage on the album, and as much as we try to pay homage to our album studio recordings when we’re live, it’s just a totally different ballgame.”
While the focus of the band is on collaboration and family, the songs are still primarily Bowers’ stories, and she’s involved every step of the way in the songwriting process.
“When it comes to, legally, ‘What is a song?,’ its lyrics, chords, and melody, I’m the primary songwriter in that regard,” Bowers said. “Sometimes more recently, I’ve been helped by Will Leet, who is our guitarist and also a brilliant songwriter in his own right. … It’s either just me or Will and I collaborating [for] the lyrics, chords and the melody. That’s the bulk of the song. And they’re my stories, so they’re important to me, and I hold them close to me, but the arrangement process is hugely collaborative.”
The band, which formed in 2016, currently consists of Bowers, Debbie Tjong on keys and background vocals, Kellon Reese on the alto saxophone, Max Zooi on the tenor saxophone, Will Leet on the guitar, James Quinlan on the bass and Sebastian “C-Bass” Chiriboga on the drums. With over six years together, Bowers says her bandmates have long influenced her own songwriting.
“At this point, we’ve been making music for so long together, I’m not just writing like, ‘Let me write a killing saxophone solo,’” Bowers said. “[Instead], I’m thinking, ‘What saxophone line can Max Zooi play better than any other tenor sax player in the world?’ Because it’s not some tenor sax player that’s gonna play it. Max is gonna play it. After this long of making music together, I’m starting to write songs that I know will suit this band and also will suit the audience. I know what the audience responds to well. It’s more often than not just stuff that’s authentically us. So it’s easy.”
Saxophonists Reese and Zooi’s dueling and trading of lines marks a distinctive sound of the group, especially in live performances. Bowers says their sound was inspired by The E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen’s primary backing band.
“When I was young, I really fell in love with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band,” Bowers said. “To fall in love with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band is to fall in love with Clarence Clemons on the tenor saxophone … He was soloing on it the way that a guitarist would solo on something, which I thought was really attractive and really cool.”
One of the band’s most loved songs, “Jackie Onassis” (2020), has been received as both an ode to queerness and a women’s empowerment anthem. It also holds a special moment that Bowers takes pride in as a songwriter and performer.
“There’s the moment in ‘Jackie Onassis’ where the character is just so overcome with joy that they’ve hit this moment of coming-into-self and realizing how powerful they are … which I think is both rhythmically and melodically interesting,” Bowers said. “[I sing], ‘I got my rose pink tinted glasses and they fit me just fine. And I’ll let it go and let it go, let it go…’ It’s just supposed to be this moment of laughing to the world, this expression of joy where there are not big enough words. I think that’s cool. And that was very intentional.”
Tickets for Thursday’s performance at the Roadrunner are now on sale.
Clarification: This article has been edited to better categorize the musical genre of Sammy Rae & The Friends. The article has also been edited to reflect how working with the band has influenced Bowers' songwriting.