Samia and Anjimile Don’t Know They’re The Shit (Yet)

The friends and collaborators talk their matriarchal families, their writing processes, and being the antagonist of your own song.

Samia Finnerty is a New York City-based singer-songwriter; Anjimile Chithambo is a Boston-based singer-songwriter. The two record each mononymously under their first names, and both released debut albums this fall — The Baby and Giver Taker, respectively. They also recently worked together on a new rendition of Samia’s track “Waverly” (which you can listen to below), so in light of the collaboration, they hopped on the phone to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Anjimile Chithambo: Alright, well, this is fucking cool.

Samia Finnerty: I know, I’ve never done anything like this. I’m like, so nervous because I love your album.

Anjimile: [Laughs.] Thank you, the feeling is myooch, so don’t even trip.

Samia: I have been asked a lot of questions about releasing a debut album in a pandemic, but this isn’t technically a debut for you, is it? Is it your first full-length?

Anjimile: It’s my first, like, real full length. In 2015, when me and my buddies recorded a record using a recording studio at my old college, that’s technically my first record. But it, like, feels like the work of a little tiny baby child — who I love! But it was just so many years ago.

Samia: I absolutely understand. I sort of was just spewing singles for, like, three years before we even started working on this record, because I just thought that’s how it had to happen until I knew what direction I was going to take. But that resulted in very unintentionally releasing, like, fucking 11 singles or something, [which] I never wanted to do on purpose.

Anjimile: But it sounds like it panned out just right. 

So, I have some questions. OK, here’s the scoop: I love The Baby. I think it’s so beautiful and exciting. I wanted to ask you about your lyric writing process, because I feel like your relationship with language in these lyrics just feels very sophisticated. Do you read a lot? Do you like poetry? Or do you journal? Or, like, none of the above, all of the above?

Samia: Thank you for using the word sophisticated. I’m going to think about that for the next week. [Laughs.] I write poems primarily first — I just write infinite bad poetry, and then sort of just keep it to myself until it feels like there’s something worth singing about, or there’s a throughline across a couple different poems. Then once I feel confident about that, I try to put it to music. But it really is just a combination of little pieces that I think are potent from a thousand bad poems that I would never share with anyone.

Anjimile: That’s lovely.

Samia: Oh, thank you. Do you have a process that works for you that you stick to? How does it come?

Anjimile: At this point, it’s pretty regularly like… You know in musicals when they’re talking, but then all of a sudden you start hearing the background music slowly fading in, getting louder and louder?

Samia: [Laughs.] Oh, my god, yeah. 

Anjimile: I feel like that’s almost literally my songwriting process. I’ll just be chilling, and then I’ll just hear music in my head, and I’ll grab a guitar and just start singing gibberish. My iPhone is full of voice memos of me going like [sings gibberish]. There’s hundreds of those, just me singing until I hear a melody I like. 

When I was first starting it out, I was very lyrically wordy. I like words, I used to be into, like, Shakespeare and shit in high school, like some big dweeb. Which, it’s lit, but once I got older, I was listening to [my] old tunes and I was like, I think there’s too many words in there. So now now when I write, I leave the lyrics last and I write them more to fit the rhythm of the melody, and kind of adjust from there. 

Samia: I just thought I wish I could do that. I gotta try that more as an exercise, because I really admire when people can just, like, let the words come to them. I totally hear that in listening to your songwriting too. It sounds almost like you have no choice but to sing the exact words that you’re singing, and that you found the perfect word for the emotion that you’re trying to convey. I so often try to get there by way of, like, saying every word until I find it. It seems just so intentional, what you’re singing. Yeah, I think it’s.

Anjimile: Oh, shit. I don’t even know how to do that. I will say, kind of like you were saying, that you write a bunch of bad poems — which, I’ll choose to believe you, OK — but I write a bunch of bad songs. I write a lot of songs, and I like recording demos, doing my little amateur mixing on Ableton and having fun with that. I just write a lot of songs and, you know, a lot of them are bad. I’m like, OK, statistically, the more songs I write, the more good songs I have to write. That’s my logic. I think it’s I think making art that is not that good is a part of making art that is good.

Samia: Yeah. It’s a pretty devastating part, though, too. I feel like it’s so about letting go of pride a little bit, persevering when you — I just get so bummed when I write something that is shitty, and then I feel like the gold comes from just pushing through that feeling and knowing that if you keep doing it, something’s going to happen that’s good.

Anjimile: Yeah, it’s hard to navigate. I find that if I think too much about the song I’m writing while I’m writing it, I kind of lose the flow. And then I’m like, Oh shit, I’m judging this, so now I hate it

Samia: I was just talking to someone the other day about — I forget who said it, but there’s some quote about how if you read anything that anyone has written about you, it interferes with your creative process in some way. It’s like absolutely unavoidable that it’ll stunt your creative process if you read any interpretation of anything you’ve written. I was just thinking about that so much. Like I wonder if I totally abstain from reading anything if that would help me judge less, things that I make. Do you ever think about that? 

Anjimile: Oh, man, abstain is a great word. I’m practicing safe internet right now — I’m going on [social media] if the label shares links to cool stuff, I’ll post about it. But besides that, I’m, like, immediately deleting The ‘Gram. 

Samia: That’s genius.

Anjimile: I don’t know though, because I’ve never had a situation before where I’ve released music and a bunch of people, like, enjoyed it, and then stated in a public way. [Laughs.] So I don’t know if it’ll affect my shit. But I do know that that’s kind of an issue I have anyway, so I wonder if it’ll be exacerbated. Sometimes I’m in the flow and it’s chill, and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I go through periods of like being able to let loose and catch a musical vibe, and sometimes I’m feeling really uptight. So I hope what you said is not true, because I then I am fucked.

Samia: I hope it’s not true. I’ve just been hyper conscious of it, for maybe no reason. I mean, I want to be so grateful to anyone who has taken even a second out of their day to listen to what I’ve done, and especially to say something about it or tell me why it’s affected them in some way. But at the same time, you know, any interpretation of what I’m doing is gonna linger for me. I try to be careful about it. But yeah.

Anjimile: Yeah. How are you dealing with that? Like, seeing stuff written about me is really exciting, but I’m also terrified. It’s all good stuff, but I’m still like, Aaaah! 

Samia: Totally. 

Anjimile: How do you feel about that? How do you deal with that without losing your mind?

Samia: The first week after my album came out, I was reading everything. I was reading every tweet, and every press thing. Then at a certain point I just realized, it can become so obsessive for me. And to measure my worth through someone else’s opinion is always detrimental. And so I’ve tried to also practice safe social media, but I’m still figuring out how best to do that.

Anjimile: Yeah, I think it’s a process. I don’t know how to feel about positive feedback, because I don’t want to absorb or deflect any feedback, if that makes sense. I don’t want to feel like I need validation from a media outlet to say my work is good or bad. But I also obviously do appreciate [press], and it’s a very exciting component of this career path. I wonder if this is like, some sort of karmic exercise in ego imbalance or something. 

Samia: It’s gotta be. I mean, it’s especially strange… everything I write is autobiographical, so it’s often exact transcript of conversations I’ve had. And so it’s super weird to me to know that someone else who has zero relation to me — [who] I’ve never met, is a total stranger to me, and probably will never meet — is, you know, being critical of my literal experience. Which is what I’m asking for, in a way, by putting music out and sharing it in a public way. But the balance between [staying] vulnerable, or deciding to give those experiences away and detach from them is… I go back and forth.

Anjimile: Yeah, that’s wild. I’m kind of in the same boat. I’m trying to detach… The experiences I write about are also autobiographical, pretty specific. People in my life will be like, “Hey!” I’m, like, trying to separate the experience from a musical interpretation of the experience, in an attempt to extricate the criticism of the musical interpretation of the experience… from the experience. [Laughs.]

Samia: Yeah, that’s hard to do, though.

Anjimile: It’s hard to even state. It just feels like an acrobatic exercise.

Samia: Have you ever been nervous about putting out a song for fear that the subject of the song, or the people involved in the story of the song, would be upset? 

Anjimile: Yeah. I have a song on the record called “Baby No More”—

Samia: I love that one.

Anjimile: Thanks. The subject of that song, I wanted to… I was like, Oh, this is kind of not fun, probably, to be the subject of this song. So I kind of just tried to make it as clear as possible in the press explanation of the composition that it wasn’t like… I mean, it bops, but I’m not like, “Hooray, I’m an asshole!” It’s like, “Well, you know, unfortunately, I’m an asshole.” I was afraid that it might be interpreted as a fuckboy anthem or something. So I just tried to make it clear that in that story, I was the antagonist. What about you?

Samia: Yeah. I mean, it could hardly be interpreted as a fuckboy anthem, I think it’s so clear, your self-awareness in that song. I try to do that all the time, but I am always afraid that it’ll come off as apathy or something, when I talk about blaming myself. I want to be as genuine as possible, and it’s coming from a genuine place, but yeah. It’s hard to write from a place of knowing that you’re not the victim in a situation, but still having to communicate that pain somehow. It’s kind of a weird position.

Anjimile: Yeah, I feel like it’s kind of a fine line between self-awareness-slash-accountability versus, like, self-flagellation, which I feel like is what men tend to do, TBH. It’s such a delicate thing to musicalize, and thusly, like, make a historical artifact of an experience through music.

Samia: Yeah. And especially like — this has been my experience — knowing that something is true for me and honest for me doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not exploiting someone else’s experience. So I have to be extra cautious of doing that, because when stuff is so specific… 

Anjimile: Yeah, damn. This isn’t explicitly related to what we’re talking about, but “Waverly” is so beautiful, and… 

Samia: [Laughs.] Thank you.

Anjimile: The line, “You can push all the tables together but you can’t pull one over on Waverly” is something that I’ve been thinking about since I heard it. It’s just such beautiful parallelism. It has stuck with me. I just love that entire story. I love your storytelling style.

Samia: That means the most coming from you, thank you. I am so excited that we’re collaborating… 

Anjimile: I was like, “Yeah! That’s my favorite one!”

Samia: I mean, I would be so happy to have you on any of them… 

I was just listening to 1978 this morning, because I though, Oh, I’ll just refresh on this record that I’ve now heard so many times, and particularly that song. I put it on this morning, which was a mistake because I didn’t realize I was already in a vulnerable place, and I heard the line, “I could fall asleep in your love again,” and was just a weeping mess in the middle of Central Park. [Laughs.] It’s such a poignant… I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but yeah. I think that hit me the hardest of all the songs on your album. I creepily read your Rolling Stone article, but is that about your grandmother?

Anjimile: That’s not creepy at all! Yeah, my grandma on my mom’s side. I never met her and she passed away when my mom was, like, 14, so everything I know about her, I know from my mom. Word on the street is she was wicked religious, very spiritual, and also just a really strong human. My immediate family I think is basically a matriarchy, and learning more about my grandma, it feels like somehow she is at the head of it. Her influence is just resonant, and the older I get, the more I find that to be true. So I was like, Yeah, I gotta throw one up for G-ma

Samia: Yeah, I feel the same way. My family is totally a matriarchy, too, and my mom’s mom was at the head of it also. She has been such an influence on my songwriting and my life. We had a lot of grandma parallels, I think, on our records I threw in a voicemail from her that opens my [record]. I wish they could hear it, you know.

Anjimile: Yeah. Whenever I sing it, I just sing it to her. Because you know, it is hers — she might as well have wrote it, for fuck sake.

Samia: I have so much more to say to you that I’ll think of when we hang up… I had one more thing, this always happens!

Anjimile: One of my questions — I have a little Google Doc — is just: When did you realize you were the shit? 

Samia: I’m still waitin’. 

Anjimile: Damn, that’s gonna be a mighty fine day. 

Samia: Yeah, I wasn’t aware that was a possibility, but now I’m excited about it. I don’t know, I fully feel like the people that I rely on and lean on in my little community of creators is the shit, and so I sometimes by proxy can feel like the shit. Just knowing that I can be involved with such cool people, including you over the internet… So I guess that’s my answer. I guess sometimes as a as a reflection of my community, I can feel like the shit.

When did you realize you were the shit? 

Anjimile: Oh, it was the was 1993, I’d just been birthed… [Laughs.] I don’t know, but I do know that when we finished the record and we were listening back, we were like, “This slaps,” and we were happy with the way that it sounded. That was the first time that I had ever been happy with a release of mine, and proud of it. And yeah, basically the same, where my collaborators — like, their love, energy, creativity, talent, and hard work kind of just imbued me with the shit-ness, and like lifted me up to a place where I was like, OK, I believe in this work, we did it together.

Samia: I love that, I felt the same way/ I never felt proud, or like I could really stand on something that I made until this one. It was so much about the people who were involved, and how hard I had to fight for my instincts and stuff like that. I think it’s so much more about the process than anything.

Samia is a New York City-based singer-songwriter. Her debut full-length The Baby is out now via Grand Jury.