East Nashville music scene staple Kashena Sampson’s sophomore LP, Time Machine, out Friday, Sept. 10, has been a long time coming. It was recorded in 2019 at Jon Estes’ home studio (he also worked on her 2017 debut Wild Heart) with Jeremy Fetzer on guitar and Jon Radford on drums. After getting masters back and her affairs in order, Sampson set the wheels in motion to release the album. In early 2020, she scheduled a meeting with a publicist and made a plan to save up cash tips from her longtime bartending gig to fund the album cycle and prepare to play live shows. Then came March 3.
“Right after, the tornado took out my job [at] Basement East. That’s how I funded all my music, all my records. Everything I’ve done I’ve funded through making tips bartending,” Sampson tells The East Nashvillian.
Like most artists over the past year, she was forced to rearrange her plans and take a step back from the hustle she was so accustomed to. It was during this time she came to realize how much her job and the community surrounding it had enabled her career as an artist.
“The Basement East has been such a support for me to be able to do my art,” Sampson says. “Because of that job, I’ve been able to do what I moved here to do, to follow my dreams with my music.”
While waiting for the venue to be rebuilt and live events to come back, Sampson spent time healing. She stepped away from the record for several months, and when she listened back to it, the songs had not only held up, but taken on new meaning in relation to the struggles of the past year of lockdown.
Time Machine was written during a period of time when Sampson was in a relationship with an incarcerated person — someone she was friends with for a long time and whom she thought it was her job to save. Because she penned most of the songs out of current experience while the relationship was still happening, she hadn’t necessarily set out to write an album with any cohesive theme regarding the situation. She went into the recording sessions with the songs she had at the time, which all held individual significance. It was only when she picked it back up near the end of 2020 that its central theme became clear to her: it’s an album about codependency and feeling more lonesome trying to make it work with the wrong person than being alone. But it also delves into the experience of finding oneself — and one’s joy, again — and the jubilation that comes with independence.
All of these realizations sprouted from the opportunity to pause and further her journey of self-discovery that began with the songs.
“When I came back and it was time to release it, I listened to it again and was like, ‘This is my experience with codependency and finding myself and knowing I’m okay just as I am, and nobody outside of me is going to be able to fix me.’ That’s the whole message of it all,” Sampson says.
It’s apparent as the album progresses. The first lines of the apt opening track, a cover of “Hello Darkness” by Dutch band Shocking Blue, beckon in the darkness she reckons with throughout the rest of the record, by eventually accepting and moving on from it in a healthy way.
“Alone and In Love Again,” co-written with close friend Erin Rae, documents the recurring patterns that crop up with codependency. Baroque strings add a cinematic touch to the ‘70s folk rock a la Dusty Springfield and Linda Ronstadt that permeates the sound of the record. “From the Outside” is an especially prescient track about relationships carried out when experiencing isolation. It was co-written with folk R&B artist Kyshona Armstrong while they volunteered for Send Musicians to Prison, a program that held songwriting workshops for incarcerated people. The similarities between the experiences of those she was writing with and her own relationship bore the song.
The message culminates in the title track. Sampson sings, “Been working myself to the bone, trying to build me a fortune. I keep coming up short and remember what I’m doing this for. If it’s all right, I’d like to come home,” with vulnerable honesty about where the relationship and her aspirations left her.
Other songs tackled her struggles as an artist, and became universally applicable because the pandemic created setbacks for all musicians. Sampson recruited talented songwriter and producer Mary Bragg for “From the Outside,” a spacey and longing tune. The inspiration came from the behind-the-scenes work she put in to make her first record.
“That’s about everything looking good on the outside. People see the outside, they see the end result. They see what people have going on, on the outside, and they don’t know what it took to get there, especially when it comes to the music business,” Sampson says.
The album builds into a place of contentment with “Whole Lot Better” and “Little Spot of Sun,” songs in which Sampson finds gratitude for having her own place to live and the small, observational joys within the mundanity of life.
With Time Machine, Sampson took a journey from constantly reaching outside of herself for fulfillment to the resolute kind of self-confidence that can only be gained from deep, thorough insight.
“It’s an inside job. It’s about finding a relationship with a god you can understand,” she says, matter-of-fact.
Kashena Sampson’s Time Machine release show is tonight (Sept. 8) at The Basement East, 8 p.m. Get tickets here.