Words by David C. Obenour
On her debut album, Sammi Lanzetta will be heard. With an intensely personal style of writing, Ceiling Mirror is an honest reflection of both the artist and the world around her. Songs are wound up in a ball of honesty as she tackles the anxiety and misogyny that make up everyday life in America.
Of course, the lyrics are just part of the album. It’s also a scorching rocker filled with just the right amount of hooks and riffs to feel instantly recognizable but still earnest enough to carry its weight.
Off Shelf: From top to bottom, Ceiling Mirror is an amazing debut album. Are these songs you’ve been out touring with for awhile?
Sammi Lanzetta: Thank you! Yes! Half of these songs I wrote when I was around 18-20, I’m 23 now, and the other half are newer tracks that I started having the band play around the Tacocat tour. The newest newest ones have piano in them which I’ve played live a couple of times., but not too many. My keyboard broke on the last tour we did so I’ve since had to replace it. [laughs]
OS: Who are you performing with? Is it the same band out on the road that was in the studio?
SL: We’ve had a bit of swapping around recently as I have moved to Brooklyn and everyone in the band was living in Richmond. When I started playing under my name I tried to keep in mind that everyone has their own lives outside of “my project” and that people need to do what’s right for them in whatever part of life they’re in. I always refer to my band as “famzetta” and we’ve had a few people come in and out, and some of the folks that have been out I hope get to play with me again some day in the future when the time is right for them! Especially my friends that have helped guide me as a bandmate and musician over years of touring.
David Long, Justin Sheer and Austin Tekamp have been the lineup I was touring with most recently and they all played on the record. They killed it. This was a really solid group of buds and they helped me shape this record that’s been rattling around in my brain and I couldn’t thank them enough for being perfect angels. I’m sad that particular line up of “famzetta” can’t go on forever, but again everyone has their own stuff going on! Moving to New York was kind of a wild hair decision, but I still am happy I did it for myself even if it’s complicated live shows temporarily.
OS: As far as the band dynamic, how much control did you have over how the songs came out on Ceiling Mirror?
SL: I would say I had pretty solid control. These were all songs I wrote and everyone was really respectful to what I wanted it to sound like. My real good buds came to record with me in the studio and since they have toured/played a bunch of live shows with me they kind of knew exactly what I was looking for. Of course I let everyone put input into what they played on their own instruments, but it was hard to give a lot of notes because everything came together so beautifully and complimented what I had written so much.
After we had all hashed out what we were doing live, going into the studio was super simple. David Long and I do a little bit of dueling riffs on the album, and he’s been a very close friend of mine for like, 5 years now. He started playing with the band after I had been performing for a little bit with only a bassist and drummer when I decided I wanted a fuller sound. He knows that I love really guitar heavy, driving rock n’ roll music… like Thin Lizzy. Justin and Austin absolutely killed it too; They were so tight and pretty much nailed everything right away. I’m so impressed with all of them as friends and bandmates!
OS: How did you end up working with Justin Pizzoferrato?
SL: [My label] 6131 had suggested working with Justin and when I saw his roster it seemed like such a no brainer! I couldn’t imagine recording with anyone else…. such a perfect fit.
OS: Yeah, looking at some of the bands he’s worked with like Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, Parquet Courts, Ceiling Mirror definitely has some of that energy and rawness to it. Were those bands that you had thought of when you went into the studio for this album?
SL: Initially no. It’s hard for me to zoom out and look at what my own music sounds like sometimes; but again, after I looked at his roster, full of some absolute favorites of mine, I remember putting a bunch of his work on a playlist and listening to it on a long run and being like, “Oh hell yea, this is going to be so good for capturing out live sound.” My favorite part of playing music is kind of the hiked energy, drama and rawness I get to strive for as a front person and I wanted the album to capture what I sound like live.
I kind of had this moment listening to his roster where I realized that a lot of these bands that had gotten me into playing music initially! Sebadoh was recording their most recent album the same month as us and I was freaking out a little bit because I remember traveling to DC to see them as a teenager! It made me feel so cool to know the folks that influenced me growing up had been working there.
OS: There’s just some incredible hooks here, on guitar and vocally, that feel just as heavily informed by great pop melodies as crunchy heavy guitar. Do you have influences on both sides? Do you see that as a balance you’re striking?
SL: I think a lot of what I write is influenced by everything I listen to… and a lot of what I listen to is classic rock and pop, as well as punk, metal, 90s rock/grunge, folk, hip hop. It’s hard for me to place my own genre, but I hear the songs how I want them to sound in my head and I guess they end up taking shape one way or another. I do like being able to be both a rock n roll band and also still fit into the indie pop world. I have a complicated personality and I think that maybe the balance in these sounds is my way of expressing both sides of myself.
OS: Singing on some incredibly personal topics, do you think that affects how fans approach you?
SL: I’m still so new to the game and burdened with “Imposter Syndrome” so I was in a little denial that I had fans that actually listen to me at all so I had never even thought about this until more recently. When I’ve been touring, any fans that have approached me have been so incredibly honest and kind. Someone recently told me she got the courage to breakup with her boyfriend after listening to my music and I was so happy I could empower another young woman in that way. I have always been a “heart on my sleeve” person and as scary as it’s been to sing about these personal topics, it makes me really happy that so many people have expressed that they can relate. I have a rough time with my anxiety and a lot of storms that life has created, but I know that I’m not alone and I want other people to know that they’re not alone. Y’know? [laughs]
OS: What is the drives you to sing about what you do? Do you buy into the music as therapy for the performer theory? Is it something else?
SL: I write a lot about my feelings or what’s on my mind sporadically. Sometimes it feels cathartic to me to write about stuff I have no control over. A lot of things I think will just turn into a melody or song that pops up in my head. I wish I understood my writing process a little more because it seems so random… like waking up at 4 in the morning and being like, “Wow I have to grab my guitar right now” random. Most of my lyrics are stream of consciousness too, I rarely sit down and write lyrics that much but will sometimes think of a clever line and jot it down in my notepad that later will get incorporated into a song. I don’t know if performing is therapeutic for everyone, but it 100% is for me. Nothing feels better during a breakup than getting to yell to a crowd of people about how shitty your ex made you feel and have them cheer you on.
OS: Black Belt Eagle Scout recently said in an interview that she gets uncomfortable when she sees mostly white men at her shows, saying “the reason why I’m playing music is not for them.” Is that anything you can identify with?
SL: I can totally identify with that feeling! The reason I play music is also not for them, but of course I also want whoever enjoys my music to be comfortable enjoying my music live. That being said the “girls to the front” mentality is very important to me, as well as trans, non binary and POC to the front. I try be conscious of how folks in the audience are feeling because my biggest concern is that non-white men would feel uncomfortable at my show. So if you’re a cis straight white dude and you want to hear me yell about my exes and the anxiety I feel as a young woman, feel free to do so as long as you are respectful and mindful to the folks around you.
OS: I know it’s not even out yet, but have you started to think about your follow up album? There’s such a build up of energy and intent on a debut, I have to imagine the sophomore album can be intimidating.
SL: I literally can’t wait to record my next album. I don’t know how long it will be, but I’ve already been writing for it and I’m excited to make more music now that I feel like I’ve figured out what I’m doing with my sound!