Carter Sampson has been a part of the NWA music scene for two years, but she has been performing for a decade. A native of Oklahoma, Carter found her way to Fayetteville while on tour — when she met a boy and fell in love. That boy just happened to live in Fayetteville, Ark.
A native of Oklahoma, Carter found her way to Fayetteville while on tour — when she met a boy and fell in love. That boy just happened to live in Fayetteville.
She’s been called the Queen of Oklahoma, a nickname that sprang from a song on her last album. She explains, in her smoky voice, that the nickname is funny because she wrote the song while she was living in Fayetteville. “I was thinking about Oklahoma and missing it. It’s my home, and there are great things about it. Then, I thought, if I were the Queen of Oklahoma, it would be even better.”
Today, at Nightbird books, Carter’s signature shortly cropped bangs are pinned to the side with a bobby pin. Her glasses, black and cat-eyed, are almost as permanent an accessory as her guitar.
Carter first picked up a guitar as a 15-year-old girl, inspired by her father’s musicianship and his extensive record collection. As a young girl with an interest in playing the guitar, Carter found that she needed to forge her own path. Her first, and last, guitar teacher turned a deaf ear to Carter’s interests, choosing instead to play Metallica songs.
After quitting her lessons, she mainly taught herself, though her father offered his tutelage. The guitar, for Carter, was an accompaniment to her voice. With a natural talent for singing, she felt the need to develop independence as an artist.
“I knew I wanted to sing,” she says. “I didn’t want to rely on someone else for instrumentation.”
Shortly after picking up the guitar, she joined a band, which featured three guitarists — all boys. “They wouldn’t let me play,” she remembers, before shrugging it off.
From the experience, Carter learned that she disliked being only a vocalist.
“I … feel naked if I’m only singing. If I don’t have a guitar in front of me, it’s very awkward.”
After years of touring and collaborating, Carter easily navigates the male-dominated world that is the music scene, and especially, she says the Oklahoma country music scene.
“The Red Dirt scene is a big time boys’ club,” she says. “There are never very many women.”
She says at first it was intimidating, as she was unsure of her skills; but now that she has earned recognition and respect, she says being a part of the boys’ club feels really good.
In fact, some of her strongest allies are men. On April 12, the day this article will print, Carter will begin a tour with Joe Mack of Tahlequah, Okla. When she plays in the NWA region, she is accompanied by The County Seat band, which is made up of Chris Moore, Caleb Rose and Jared Dunn.
Carter has also found a support system in the female artists of Fayetteville. She praises Bernice Hembree of 3 Penny Acre for her work with the Roots Festival and Tiffany Christopher’s creation of the Women’s Singer-Songwriter Circle. When Carter first entered the Fayetteville music scene, Sarah Hughes helped acclimate her to the new scene by introducing her to various people and billing her as an opening act.
Empowering other female musicians is important to Carter, especially with a background that offered very little influence from women. Unless, of course, you count Lilith Fair, Billie Holiday, Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin.
“When I found Patty Griffin, I realized, ‘This is the kind of music I want to make.’”
A few years ago, while still living in Oklahoma City, Carter caught wind of an all-girls rock camp that taught all aspects of live performances and being a part of a band: stage lighting, printing T-shirts and playing instruments, to name a few.
Trying to be the type of positive role model she wishes she had had as a teen, Carter taught electric guitar to a group of girls; and in every practice, she would let them spend a few minutes playing with their amps turned all the way up.
“It’s such an empowering place,” she says of the Rock camp, and says its easy for young musicians to get discouraged. Discouraged by raw fingers and bad music, Carter gave up the guitar for a few months when she first began to play.
“I think I just wanted it so bad,” she says when I ask her why she picked it back up. “I never envisioned myself not playing music.”
Pat Ryan Key is a numbers man by day and a musician by night. Fresh out of college, Pat has a constant grin and sandy blonde hair that makes him seem even younger. Entering the NWA music scene in 2011, Pat hit the ground running with his solo project, entitled, I Do Declare, and a self-recorded CD, “A Rebel’s Chance.”
At his logistics job in a corporate office, Pat says he has to scale his personality back to be presentable to clients. Practical and methodical, he says that he understands the importance of “playing the game” and says that even when challenging the status quo, there is a fine line that separates success and failure.
Music is Pat’s release, and performing is his element.
“When playing a show,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who you are. I can get people dancin’ and laughin’ and clappin’ their hands. I feel at home on stage.”
Though Pat is a native of Northwest Arkansas, this is his first appearance in the music scene after high school. During his days at Rogers High School, he played bass and drums in different bands.
Pat, who was “bred on music,” found inspiration in classic rock and grunge. He says his major influences were John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath.
“They called him ‘the riff master,’” says Pat of Iommi.
“He could write something that could just catch you.”
It wasn’t until college that Pat picked up the guitar. With no band, Pat needed a way to keep going, so he began learning blues chords.
Eventually, he taught himself enough to piece together riffs, nothing close to an entire song, but a melody that he could mentally file away.
From there, Pat says, “Sounds that I liked transformed into songs.” Sometimes, the sounds would marinate for years before reaching fruition.
In the time Pat spent away from the music scene, he earned two degrees; but he also found his voice.
Writing and singing his own songs was new to Pat, and though he performed live at a few small functions, the real training occurred during the recording process. While recording, he would go back to listen and used trial and error to shape his voice and songs.
Pat not only recorded his voice, but all of the instrumentation. The one-man-band DYI approach defines Pat’s independence and drive. After going on a hiatus for years, the young singer-songwriter feels that he has some catching up to do, and he’s prepared to give 150% to making it in the music scene
“I stepped out of the music scene, went the professional route and then decided I wanted more,” he says.
After playing aggressively in the music scene for a year, Pat says he has gained a sixth sense for the creative magic of the moment, that he can recognize and seize opportunities for writing or improvising or revising songs.
“I don’t like to force things. I like things to happen naturally,” he says, explaining that being aware and on point during live performances and recordings makes him more open to the intuitive process.
As a musician who dropped out and re-entered the scene, Pat felt it was important that his stage name make a statement. “Declaration” was the first word that came to mind, but he felt it wasn’t right.
“I remembered my grandmother saying, ‘I do declare,” Pat laughs, raising his voice an octave to mimic a Southern woman’s voice. The dual meaning, the tribute to his grandmother and a proclamation to his dedication, set the band name.
Pat’s dedication has earned him a NAMA nomination for Best New Artist..
“Being nominated has shown me just how much support I have,” he says.
Pat’s next project will also feature him as the solo musician, but will be recorded in part by Chris Moore of East Hall studios. At East Hall, Pat will record the bass and drums in analog, which he explains, will benefit from the warmth and depth of an analog recording.
The guitar and vocals, however, will remain DYI at Pat’s home studio.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he says.