2018 Artist Spotlight: Samfox

By Rachel Hunt

Charity Cunningham and Braxton Taylor share responsibility as the songwriters and vocalists behind the rock n' roll outfit, Samfox. With given names that exude as much swagger as their onstage personas, you may think they would have christened the group after one another. Instead, the nom de guerre was inspired by a girl from Taylor's college marketing class. "It represents not really her, but what she meant to me. She was the embodiment of being cool without doing very much, standing out by being who you are."

The two may function as part of a bigger picture, but Cunningham and Taylor maintain their individuality in the group. Take their two most recent singles: "Baby Blues", penned by Cunningham and "Misunderstood" written by Taylor.

"Mine is a tragic love song, thru and thru," she says. "I like to write about yearning-needing them, dreaming about them. I love those feelings." In the song Cunningham documents a new relationship from initial infatuation to an explosive end. Her smoky, sweet voice is reminiscent of Lana Del Rey without any of the pretense, generating a more organic, emotional reaction from the listener.

Taylor takes a different approach to writing. For "Misunderstood" he used their drummer, Josh Montgomery, as a muse and an exercise in empathy. "When it comes to other people and anxiety, they're always trying to diagnose and remedy you. It's not that easy," he says flat out. "It's like they're on land, but you're in the boat. The waters are turbulent and they're trying to tell you, 'Just paddle!'" On the track, Cunningham's vocals play the foil to Taylor's protagonist trying to justify his mental illness.

"The one consistent thing about my writing is that the music always comes first," Taylor explains. Instruments surround him inside of their practice spot next to Steelyard Commons. With a guitar propped on his knee and a kick drum at his feet, it's easy to imagine him playing an especially dynamic riff and working it through to completion.

"'Misunderstood' is really non-traditional in terms of structure with two different pre-choruses, which is something we haven't done before," Randall Hoyle, the band's rhythm guitarist and trumpet player, comments. "I think a lot of [our growth] really comes from learning how to work together," Cunningham adds. "We have different personalities and opinions, but by the time we're done it can't not be good."

The five members of Samfox are all fierce individuals, living up to the hype of their band's namesake. "During our live shows I want people to not know where to look. No matter what they're doing, they're missing something that's happening," says Hoyle. "You could easily let Braxton and Charity take over the show and have us be the backing band, but we're here too."

Framed by large stages at Night Market Cleveland, Larchmere Porchfest or LaureLive (they've played them all in the three years they've been together) Samfox's kinetic performances divert the audience's attention from all corners of the show. It's a mash up of talent, from virtuoso bass player Morgan Fox to Cunningham belting it out on keys, and back to Hoyle on horn going head to head with Taylor's guitar work.

One of their goals for new music this year was to keep things dynamic and fresh while building on their signature Cleveland sound. What does that mean? "I'm taking away something from everything," Taylor says of watching his friends play at venues around the city. He lists off specific attributes he loves about every band in the game-from the energy of Teddy Boys, to ripping a solo as well as The Moxies, to the upbeat no-frills style of John's Little Sister and the professionalism of Welshly Arms.

"I just want to represent something timeless," considers Taylor. "I grew up on the timelessness of an Al Green or a White Stripes song; something you can always listen to. You're not totally reinventing the wheel but you're doing it in a modern way. I want to play cool rock n' roll shit without doing what's already been done."