“Writing Real and Writing True”: Samantha McKaige Brings Authentic Genre-Fluidity to Boston’s Music Scene
By Payton Cavanaugh
Picture this: you’re driving down a dirt road with all the windows down, sun beams reflecting off the rearview. The weather is gorgeous and the earthy smell of a warm breeze encapsulates the car with scents bursting with serotonin. Samantha McKaige’s work so beautifully embodies this euphoric feeling of freedom and absolute solace.
“I feel like in a lot of the things I take inspiration from, which is the outdoors and mountains and solace, I want people to feel like that when they’re not there,” said McKaige, sitting outside of Pavement Coffeehouse. “As if listening to my music would transport them there.”
McKaige is incredibly genuine and the pure authenticity of her being is amplified within the vulnerability of her writing.
As she sipped on a hot chai latte, she discussed her life before Berklee, before the EP, before Boston—the life that led her to the stage.
“I grew up in a very musical household, my dad was a musician and my mom has always been a great singer,” said McKaige.
She explained the plethora of musical activities she participated in throughout her childhood and teenage years, from choir to musical theater, and eventually writing her very first song. McKaige said she wrote the song as a freshman in highschool, saying it was
“a very cheesy four chord song about my mom and brother, and for years it was just a fun thing I liked to do.”
McKaige moved across the country a lot growing up, yet music has always remained a constant for her. Even now she attributes music as her vessel for expression and processing.
“I definitely write very emotional music, it's not sad music or happy music, but…I feel a lot of emotions and my vessel for that has always been writing music in any capacity,” said McKaige.
After a few moves, her family settled back into Seattle during her junior year of high school. It was then that she began to share her music and her incredible talents with an audience, playing open mic nights around the city to showcase her original works. McKaige played at Seattle’s Make Music Day festivities, a yearly event downtown, in June of 2019, and had started going to a weekly open mic at Stoneway Cafe. From there, she was booked for her first gig called The Round at Fremont Abbey. The gig aimed to find local musicians and put them in a Nashville-style “ [in] the round.”
“I was with my mom at one of these open mics and a guy came up to me after and gave me his card. He told me he books for this company called Fremont Abbey in Seattle and he wanted to book me for a show. He walked away and my mom and I both just started crying,” McKaige said.
On Oct. 28, 2022, McKaige released her EP, After You Left Me, which she wrote during a brief, three month, off the grid stint as a camp counselor in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. No phone, no social media, just Samantha, her thoughts, and her lyrics.
Prior to that summer, McKaige attended Camp Nor’Wester as a camper, following in the footsteps of her mom. The only difference being that that year she worked at the camp as the music director.
“That’s where I learned to play guitar, that was my first experience with performing up in front of people,” said McKaige, “I attribute a lot of my passion for music from this place. It was really insane to go back and work as music staff and then write an album from it. It just felt so full circle.”
If you have ever seen Samantha McKaige live, or have streamed her music, it is undeniable that creativity runs through her veins. McKaige opened for Copilot at Brighton Music Hall in late October of last year, performed alongside Ellie Irwin and Taylor O'Connell last month at The Burren, and most recently took the stage yet again Copilot and Jill McCracken at Brighton Music Hall on March 4th.
When Samantha takes to the stage smiling from ear to ear alongside her band of close friends, it’s hard not to become completely transfixed. All of her songs carry a certain resonance and relatability within the experiences she depicts.
“Even writing stories that aren’t about myself, it’s still helpful to have that relatability with the characters I’m writing about like ‘Trying to Get Home,’” she said.
While McKaige currently studies at Berklee College of Music, majoring in songwriting, she explored other avenues before committing to her passion in the music industry. Originally, McKaige thought of pursuing journalism or creative writing.
“I’ve always been into writing, so I wanted to translate those skills into any field,” she said, “If it wasn’t going to be Berklee, I wanted it to be something in terms of creative writing.”
This love for creative writing is translated into her music, and it is so deeply ingrained into everything she creates—even her decision to roll out her EP chapter by chapter.
McKaige created two characters and a storyline that really hits home. Her song, “Trying to Get Home,” was written entirely surrounding this carefully curated storyline and discusses the complex experience of losing someone you love, featuring immense feelings of intertwined infatuation and hatred.
“I wanted to finish off the story with this culmination of what it feels like to lose someone special, leave someone special, and hate it and miss them,” she said, “That’s the one song that, although it’s not about me, I put a lot of feeling into both of those characters, a lot in the production too. I just wanted it to hit so hard. I wanted that to be a song that you could listen to in the car and just scream it out.”
McKaige credits Ernest Hemingway’s advice to “write hard and clear about what hurts” as an inspiration behind her lyricism.
“Write down everything you’re feeling, everything that’s hurting you, even if it's too painful to write down,” said McKaige, “You have to. A lot of these stories have come out of that, a lot of my favorite songs have come from pain or reflecting on pain.”