Sam Dew is not your average punk rock soul singer. In fact, any singer behind that sort of genre mesh isn’t average at all. You may have heard his neo-soul croon assisting Wale’s “LoveHate Thing” or opening the stage for the sultry Wildhearter Miguel. But you’ve never heard him like this.
Embarking on UK tours and serving his own umbra of soul essentiality through his latest EP, Damn Sue, “emerging” is an understatement for the breakthrough of Roc Nation’s signee and wide-ranged Chi-Towner. During his performance at Red Bull’s Sound Select, a monthly concert series hosted by Red Bull and top music fest curators such as Afropunk, Dew’s potent vocals matched with the coalescence of rock-soul instrumentals captured the audience. His dynamic tonality dominates the mic and sways fans into an obscure, yet pleasurable sense of musical bewilderment.
VIBE caught up with the man behind the madness as he explains his resurfacing to new artistry and what fans can expect from his slow but sure soul establishment.
VIBE: What most inspires the soul in your music?
Sam Dew: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I think that’s the part I don’t have to think about. It really just came from listening to my parents’ music and it’s what I grew up on. I think soul will always find its way into what I’m doing. It just comes from my root.
What about the inspiration from your former rock band, Cloudeater? How did you dabble into rock music as a soul singer?
We all came from different backgrounds in that band. I was coming from soul, one guy was coming from hip-hop, another guy did drum and bass and another came from jazz. When we came together we had no idea what we were going to get, and that was then of it. Trying to figure out where the pieces fit.
What’s different when you write for yourself as opposed to writing with a band, like Cloudeater, or even for other artists?
It’s way easier to write for other people. Yourself isn’t in it. When you write for yourself, you overthink and you become paranoid. When you write for others, it isn’t about you. Especially when they’re big artists because you think of the fans and you’re aware of their career. It’s easy to get in their head— at least for me. I have a lot of fun writing for artists, but I’m learning to apply that fun to myself.
Was that how you did so well with Damn Sue? What adjustments will you make from learning how this project went?
Yes, we’re still learning. It just came out this year, so we’re kind of gauging reactions. I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of say in what we do or change in our music though because we have an idea of what we like to do. Hopefully, people will like the EP.
Some artists tend to transform their music and image based on what they see their fans picking up on. Do you see yourself adjusting in that way?
It depends on how fun the fan-base wants to get with me. If there’s room to make a record every year and it sounds nothing like the old one, I might do that. It’s easy to get in and have fun. To me, if it feels right, that’s all that needs to be done.
You also discussed that as an artist, you wanted to constantly focus on taking away and adding layers to your sound and music. What did you mean by that?
I think at times it can be really easy to complicate yourself. Lately, my writing has gotten simpler and I think it’s better. If you can find a strong message that is the most minimal, nine times out of ten, it resonates. It will resonate longer than a complicated message. Like “LoveHate Thing” with Wale, I kept that simple. It wasn’t really room on that song for people to gauge what I do, which I liked. I love that song for that reason; it felt like fragmented space in time.
What energies do you want your fans to receive from you at Afropunk this year?
With the EP, I was feeling a lot of catharsis and introspection. I found ways for people to process their lives through me. I think that’s how people feel when they listen to me. I want them to see themselves in the music and process themselves in a positive way. I want people to also process love differently. I think there’s a hilariously wrong thing that’s happening with love in this generation. Everyone being desperate to find their soulmates, and I think we are going about it the wrong way. We are facing new issues we didn’t have before like technology. Hopefully, the music makes you question how you process that love.