This article originally appears in Verge Magazine! Check it out here.
So, why music?
Reclining in an armchair at the Sony Music offices in central London, soul singer Sam Dew chews over the question.
“I didn’t have a choice” he answers with a smile.
It’s no question the inventive Chicago native has talent. Before he dropped his debut EP, Damn Sue, in April of this year he was writing tracks for some of the world’s hottest R&B artists (Mary J. Blige, Jessie Ware and Rihanna just to name a few). He has a wide assortment of collaborations varying from Wale’s R&B hook “LoveHate Thing” to Skrillex’s bouncing brostep track “Stranger.”
But now Sam has stepped into the solo light with Damn Sue. The soul EP showcases his velvety vocals and was produced by a member of the indie rock band TV on the Radio, Dave Sitek.
“It’s a concept album,” Sam says. “It’s about this ongoing question we all have about partnership. You never know if it’s funny or completely sad. It’s about Sue becoming more of an obsession rather than a goal of love.”
The six track EP is a testament to Sam’s genre blending abilities, from the ethereal opener “Desperately” to synth-beats and soaring vocals of “Lies.” Sam describes the EP’s influences as “layers.”
“I always want those (influences) to be part of the music,” he says. “It’s just about finding the pieces that work together in any given work.”
Sam’s variation of influences is apparent when you look at the progression of his music. Before he was an up-and-coming soul singer, he was the front man of the indie art rock band Cloudeater in Atlanta. The band had mild success with two albums from 2011 – 2013, but it was ultimately a clothing store that would give Sam’s vocal chops the big break they needed.
“It was this place called Wish,” Sam says. “Wale used to go in all the time to shop, and our music would be playing. That’s how he found out about me for the first time.”
After Wale’s outreach, Sam came on to help write the song “Lotus Flower Bomb” from Wale’s 2011 album Ambition. After that Sam’s songwriting spark caught fire. He started writing tracks for pop R&B queens Rita Ora and Jessie Ware among others.
But now, it’s time for Sam to pen his own songs. Since the disbanding of Cloudeater, Sam says little of the “indie-rock” influence made it to Damn Sue.
“For the EP I wanted it to be a little bit clearer,” he says. “what Dave produces – it makes a lot of sense for this. Dave is a huge part of the sound. It felt natural, and I didn’t want to push it any further.”
But how does a Chicago crooner form a collaboration with a post-punk rocker?
“I was listening to TV on the Radio for a few years, but working with any of the members never crossed my mind,” Sam muses as he strokes his impressive facial hair. “After the first day I showed up at (Dave’s) house it felt like I never left. Three months went by and we had this giant pile of music, but we just kept making more and more.”
A select amount of this music is set to appear on Sam’s first full-length album – set to be released later this year. But the milestone of his first album doesn’t mean Sam is ready to settle in. He says he’s still trying to find his music identity, and he’s comfortable with the idea of never having the “answer” to success.
“It’s about learning how to live with those lack of answers,” he says. “It never really feels like it’s over. You just have to accept that whatever you’re presenting to the public isn’t a final form; it’s where you’re at in the moment. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s the hardest thing about being an artist, knowing that you’re not perfect.”
With that, Sam says his goodbyes. A surprisingly humble and personable guy, he’s off to his show with Miguel at XOYO.
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