Who is Carter Sampson?
by Levi Parham
“So, what’s with all this stuff?” I ask, scanning the walls with my pointer finger. I am referring to the knick-knacks, shell-elephants (shellephants, she calls them) , shell-boats, skulls, antlers, horns, an Elvis shrine, odd paintings, blowfish, and coconut monkeys either hung from the walls or clustered onto small bookshelves around the room. There are several musical instruments among the decor, along with what appears to be a box full of thrift store clothes. I’ve just sat down in the living room of Carter Sampson – artist, philanthropist, musician, singer, and songwriter.
“Yeah, I have some weird collections. Ya know, it’s just weird stuff that makes me happy. I like treasure hunting. I like thrift stores a lot. I like the stories behind things. For instance, the coconut monkeys. So, one of my first jobs was at Kamps Grocery that used to be on 23rd and Classen. I went to high school in way north Edmond. My first car was this old baby blue Volvo named Minnie, which I loved with all my heart. I wish I still had it. And my mom thought I was insane because I wanted this job that was like 30 miles from where we lived, and I was driving this vehicle that was eating up all this gas. But I didn’t care, because this place was so cool. And like, behind the cash register they had these coconut monkeys. Just rows and rows of coconut monkeys. And I always loved them, it made me think of like tropical islands. So yeah, those have become quite the a…(giggles)…a collection. They’re a little out of control.”
Despite the chaos of collected treasures on display in her living room, nothing about Carter has ever given the impression of being “out of control”. She comes off completely together, intentional, and thoughtful in the endeavors she takes on. And buddy, there are a lot of those.
When I first arrived at her place, she greeted me at the door, laptop in hand, e-mail open, venting about booking shows in Europe – a place she’s toured eight times in less than two years. She recalls, “It’s strange, because it happened really fast. Ya know, like, those eight tours happened really quickly, like within 20 months maybe. But it’s been good, I went in May (2018) with Jesse Aycock and Lauren Barth.” I had the good fortune to cross paths with Carter while touring Netherlands during that me. We started to reminisce about the trip we spent with several other talented Oklahoma musicians (Jesse Aycock, Lauren Barth, Paul Benjamin, Chris Blevins – all on Horton Records).
“Oh yeah, that was fun. We ate that big meal together, on the canal in Utrecht. Paul Benjamin was the happiest man alive. That was such a good day…when that tour ended up being so hard.” We both laugh. “It’s hard. It can be hard. You’re so out of your comfort zone, and I think that’s why that last one was so difficult because after so many of them, it’s like, oh my god, I’m willing to rough it but comeon.” Carter refers to the relentless pace of performances she’s kept up in such a short amount of me. Thankfully, that tour was in Netherlands, where they have Cannabis ‘Coffee Shops’ to cure the stress of the road. She has toured Italy, Ireland, England,
Scotland, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland as well. “But I do love it so much. I can’t wait to get back over there.”
“Gah-damned beatniks!” Erik Oedahl (who sometimes goes by ‘Erik The Viking’, and is Carter’s boyfriend) busts through the front door. “Smokin’ left handed cigarettes, in here talkin’ bout poetry and pot. Fuckin’ hippies.” We all get a good roaring laugh out of Erik’s interruption. The joke hits on the stereotype of the cannabis user as a casual, directionless, midday-do-nothing kind of person. Hollywood has portrayed them as the type of people who are unmotivated to serve any greater purpose in their community. Carter Sampson takes that preconception and flips it on its head.
That’s when I ask Carter about the non-profit music camp, she founded in 2013, Oklahoma City Rock Camp For Girls. “So, the original camp is in Portland, OR, and it started I think in 2000, maybe the late nineties. I had heard about it when they did this nationally released documentary about the camp called Girls Rock. It featured like four or five girls in their week of camp and one of them was like this teenage girl who was super into metal music and lived in Oklahoma City. They did this story about the documentary and about the girl in the Oklahoma Gazette. And in like the same week I see this story, I walk into Bellini’s and she’s hosting there. And I was like, shut up. So, I start talking to her about it, and I’m like, that settles it, I’m going there. And it was fortunate, because I was just in the position where I could afford to go out to Oregon and volunteer for the week. And, I mean, wow, my mind was blown away by the camp. I met women who were making a living teaching punk rock aerobics, okay? Women making synthesizers and running recording studios. All these things that were just not happening in Oklahoma City at the me. So, while volunteering I meet some women who have a band called Raining Jane, and they started the Los Angeles rock camp, and so I went there two years later to volunteer back to back for two weeks. And that camp was so awesome, I mean it’s Los Angeles, they have all the star power. They had like Katy Perry play for the girls during lunch. I mean, it’s really cool to see what they’ve done with that camp and how they inspire the girls there. And really, it’s when I volunteered those two weeks, that’s when I thought ‘Man, maybe we could do this in Oklahoma City. But it’s not going to happen unless I just make it happen.’ So, I tried to do it one year and it didn’t happen, I couldn’t find a venue for it. And then, Camille Harp (local singer/songwriter) introduced me to Amy Young, who owns SixTwelve.”
SixTwelve is a community center in the heart of the Paseo district of Oklahoma City with classrooms, a commercial kitchen, cooperative garden, and communal space that provides people with learning opportunities in the arts, music, cooking, gardening and sustainable local living. “The minute I met Amy, we were both just like, our missions are totally aligned. And like, I couldn’t have ever done camp without Amy. And really, we’ve kind of outgrown that building, but I just couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else. That’s the worst part about it, is that we do
have to turn down a lot of applicants every year just because we have limited space and making that as fair a process as possible. There’s been a lot of talk about starting one in Tulsa, and I’d really love to. So, I’ve kind of said from the beginning that I want to keep it the way it is for five years, and this will be our fifth year, so we will see how it goes. We have some amazing volunteers that I just couldn’t do it without them. Ya know, we’re a 501 c3 non-profit organization, so it’s a labor of love and we all love it. But we all have careers, and some have families, so it just takes a lot of me to organize everything.”
That led to my next question, “Between all the work of wring and performing songs, booking tours across the US and Europe, making art pieces, and running a non-profit organization, how are you able to manage it all?” Carter turns to me and emphatically answers, “Weed.” We both grin and laugh. At this point I tell her what intentions I have for this article – to showcase her as an amazingly talented international artist, motivated local community leader, and regular cannabis user, helping break any stigma some folks may have about the miracle drug.
“Yeah, the normalization of it, I feel the same way. Especially since I work with kids, ya know. Like I also work with kids in a really cool atmosphere. It’s not like I’m running a church camp. Most parents are prey cool and knowledgeable about that kind of stuff. But I do think it should be more normally accepted, because I feel like if I didn’t have it in my life…which I didn’t…I didn’t even smoke weed until I was in my thirties. I tried it when I was younger, but at the me I felt like I ate enough, slept enough, laughed enough on my own that it just really didn’t do much for me. But then when I reached my thirties, I feel like if, especially now that I’m in my late thirties, I feel like if I didn’t have it, I would be on all kinds of weird medicine.” I relate with her on using cannabis as a healthy alternate to pharmaceuticals, and the added worries life can toss your way as you venture out of your youth and face the new reality of the world today. Carter carries on, “Ya know, the world is just a different place
than it was. I mean, it just seems like there’s a lot more worry. Maybe it’s just being more grown up? I don’t know. Seems like there’s a lot more fear and heavier things. Maybe it has something to do with technology and the constant bombardment of it, we just didn’t used to have that. So there maybe was less stress.” I agree and chime in, “I don’t know about you, but for me, when I was younger, I felt like maybe I was more stressed about personal shit that really didn’t matter as much. It’s like you think
the world is ending because you got your heart broken, but then knowing the world may be ending due to climate change…”
“That’s a little more to handle”, interjects Carter. We laugh at the severity of it. “It’s like, what’s that Guy Clark song? ‘Gimme one more puff of that worry-be-gone’? It’s true, it really helps me a lot.”
There are certainly those big questions we stress over about the future and what it holds, but keeping up with life, work, our friends and family can be a pleasant distraction from all that, Carter says. “It is really nice to have all these other things, so that when it does get overwhelming, I can set that aside and work on rock camp, or work on songwriting, or booking shows, or glue stuff together.” Carter creates celebrity shadowbox art pieces, or shrines. I first saw them on auction at Horton Records’ Chili Cook-off at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. She sold one shrine of Leon Russell to Teresa Knox, the owner of the historic Church Studios where Leon ran his record label Shelter Records. Teresa is working on renovating the legendary studio and Carter’s artwork will have a special place there. “Ya know, making these shrines, it’s just kind of paying tribute to the musicians that I’ve loved and also getting to play with hot glue and rhinestones, so that’s always fun.”
Whether it’s playing with hot glue, arguing over email with European booking agents, wring well-crafted heartfelt songs, or inspiring young girls to dream as big as rock stars, Carter Sampson says she keeps her positivity up by being around motivated friends and community members, and a little help from some worry-be-gone along the way. To learn more about OKC Rock Camp for Girls, go to www.rcgokc.com. To see Carter Sampson live or to see her artwork, go to www.cartersampson.net