Sophomore Sammie Francis's acoustic guitar performance may have earned her a recording session on Martha's Vineyard, in the same studio where Carly Simon and James Taylor recorded, but she believes her voice is her first prize.
"Singing is my first instrument," Francis said. "Guitar and piano are in addition to what I can do with my voice."
Francis, who sings with a cappella group Ursus Verses and the Bowdoin Chamber Choir, has played piano since she was five and taught herself how to play guitar her first year in high school. She showcased these talents last night in the annual Battle of the Bands as the lead singer of Eleven, a reference to the cult favorite rock mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap."
Proving she is no stranger to performance, Francis landed her first recording contract during her junior year of high school as the winner of the Maine Rock-Off, a musical competition for high school students. She was the first female and solo artist to win the competition.
"There were a bunch of punk bands and I came in with my acoustic guitar," Francis said.
She wasn't satisfied with the recording contract that the competition offered, so Francis sent a demo to James Parr, a recording technician and sound engineer on Martha's Vineyard who worked with Simon and Taylor. The summer after her junior year, she released an EP, "Just Me."
Francis learned piano first, but many of her live performances are with her acoustic guitar.
"I learned piano before I could read," Francis said. "I know the instrument throughout, and I read music that way. With guitar, it's all by ear."
Since coming to Bowdoin, Francis has performed in many acoustic coffeehouses around campus. She also played shows in Boston over Winter Break and performed with local musician Pete Kilpatrick in Portland.
Now, performing with Eleven, Francis said that the music becomes "more alive and exciting when you have a full band with you."
The band is composed of Nick Lechich '10 on hand drums, Alexi Thomakos '10 on lead guitar and additional vocals, and Max Taylor '10 on bass. When Francis heard Taylor practicing his bass guitar in his room earlier this semester, it ended her search for a band, since Taylor had been playing with Lechich and Thomakos throughout the year.
"I kind of assaulted him and said, 'I need a bass player!''" Francis said. "I met the other guys at Super Snack that night. I think that's the only time I've been all year."
Going into Battle of the Bands, Francis hoped that Eleven would offer a different sound than what is usually present on campus. She describes Eleven's music as "chilled out, but vibrant" pop rock and counts Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews as her biggest influences. At Battle of the Bands, Eleven played songs by Matthews, U2, K.T. Tunstall, and an original song by Francis herself.
"I've been performing for a long time, and it's really exciting to be onstage and showcase something original you've created, especially if there's a positive reaction," Francis said. "It's an original and fresh sound that I very much enjoying listening to, since you can hear people singing."
"The music I relate to is simple in terms of chords, but the lyrics are profound in an everyday manner," she continued. "I don't know, it just touches you."