Between the same rotation of turn-up tunes and electronic dance magnets, Sam Dew is creating his own genre. The Chicago-bred singer and songwriter, who is credited for the hook on Wale’s “LoveHate Thing” and has penned tracks for the likes of Rihanna, Mary J. Blige and Jessie Ware, is bringing what he calls “distorted soul” into the musical landscape.
Here, Dew drops off “Rewind,” an old school-esque jam produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek that fuses hip-hop with funk and #truestory lyrics. “That’s my ex,” he tells VIBE of the track’s meaning. “It felt like hell in the middle of it but that [inspired] the line, “I miss the belly of the beast/Where the sun don’t rise in the East/Now that I won’t feel another flame/Now I’m out in the cold.” Too much of anything is bad, sure, but when you’re completely devoid of an existence in your life all of a sudden, it’s like the most sought after thing in the world.”
The same could be said about his forthcoming EP Damn Sue, which puts his diverse musical tastes on full display (Dew listens to everything from Marvin Gaye to Hans Zimmer scores) while still keeping it real on life’s precious moments. Soundtrack your nostalgia with “Rewind” and get more familiar with the man behind the music below.—Adelle Platon with additional reporting from Stacy-Ann Ellis
How did you discover your love for music?
It was just always around. My mother and father sing, not professionally but they sing all the time ‘round the house so that just became my music and radio became my trainer.
Describe your first performance.
My first performance was for a musical in grade school and I was pretty nervous. I was shaking and I could hear the shakes in my voice when I opened up for the first note, but it still sounded good and everyone was into it. Then I remember I wanted to hit a high note and [my voice] completely cracked. It’s on video. My parents still have it on VHS and they’re like ‘oh you know no one noticed.’ but everyone fucking notices that shit. (Laughs) I actually remember another [performance] before that. I did a talent show in the third grade and it was me my two homies. We had on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls jerseys and we did “We Got It” by Immature. We didn’t win.
It’s okay. You won later.
Yeah, we always win later when we deserve it.
Exactly. Talk about some of your musical influences. Who do you really vibe with?
There’s Earth, Wind and Fire, Curtis Mayfield and Michael Jackson. I love the old soul stuff. For me, all of those elements made it into what alternative music is today so I don’t know, the future of soul is like in some [mix of] alternative and dance. So I listened to Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and all these different types of people. I listen to a lot of Caribou. The funny thing is I’ve been listening to Hans Zimmer scores for the past week and there’s no vocals on that. That’s usually what i listen to on my own.
Your influences are so diverse. How would you characterize your sound?
I think what I’ve been trying to go for is alternative soul, for sure. but we’ve been throwing around the title for the record that’s coming after the EP that’s ‘distorted soul,’ which serves multiple purposes. It could be a genre, a feeling, a condition. (Laughs) It’s definitely the best thing I could articulate to describe the music so far.
Your range is crazy and super distinct. Are you formally trained?
Thank you. I sang everything from Barry White to Mariah Carey on the radio. That whole Butterfly record was like a singer’s dream to try to copy. It didn’t matter if [the singer was] male or female. Range was all I heard. It may have a lot to do with me keeping my range as I got older, going through puberty. When i got to college, I was in the Glee club at Morehouse. That took my vocal ability to another level because Dr. David Morrow and Dr. Mel Foster were whizzes. I was only there for a couple of years before I lost my [student] loan in the recession but I still learned what I could at the time. It worked out. I joined a band and started forgetting everything I learned and tried something else. I think anti-knowledge has a lot to do with who I’ve become.
When you perform, you’re a man of little words and very little crowd interaction. What’s going through your head on-stage?
For me, songs are just moments. They’re glimpses so when I’m on stage, I do my best to recreate that moment that we felt when we were in the studio, making the music and trying to find a way to translate that live. For me, talking to people in between every little song [is like] you’re constantly breaking that illusion, that barrier and that just means you have to rebuild it. I try to keep it as basic and simple. The way I see it, people are here for the music. They’re not here for a monologue … My voice is heard enough in the music, you know?
For many, Wale’s “LoveHate Thing” was their first introduction to you. Still, you’ve been working quietly for other artists like Rihanna and Jessie Ware. Was laying low until you were ready to release your own material your intentional strategy?
I mean I don’t like to talk about stuff I do for other people because it’s not my project. If it comes out and I worked on it, I always plug and try to support it as much as possible but I really appreciate being as anonymous as possible. I know that kind of counteracts the work of being known but I just want people to know the music. I don’t want people to feel like they need to know me unless they have to. I like to make it a choice instead of a force-feeding.
Even on social media, you’re somewhat mysterious.
Yeah, I just don’t post a lot of selfies. (laughs)
Was there ever a song you gave to another artist you wish you kept for yourself?
No. The best people I’ve spoken with that I’ve looked up to in this industry always believe that your best song is never the one you’ve already written so it’s like give that shit away. (Laughs)
Why is right now the best time to get to know Sam Dew?
Because the album is coming and you’ll be so confused you don’t know. (laughs) This EP is a primer. It’s gonna be a whole different world. It’s gonna be its own environment hopefully but the context is important. If you want to be part of the whole story, you’re gonna need to know everything.
Your EP is called Damn Sue. Is that a play off your name or does it have a deeper meaning?
It started as a joke but it actually came in handy because “Sue” became the woman that doesn’t exist in my life. Damn Sue is like, ‘Damn the woman I’m waiting for who doesn’t seem to exist anywhere but I know I’m waiting for her. I know i need it and I know she’s around.’ She’s like that pixelated face in the vision. You understand it and you see it but it’s never clear because it’s not in your life. “Sue” is the idea of the woman that doesn’t exist but the reality that I’m fucked up because she’s not in my life.
What can we expect from the project sonically?
Sonically, you get a little distorted soul. Hopefully, you get a little alternative. There’s some hip-hop, old soul and rock in there. There’s some spaces to exist in. Hopefully, the pieces came together in the right way so that people really feel like they haven’t sat through something like this in a while.
Stay tuned for Sam Dew’s Damn Sue EP coming soon.
Photo Credit: Sam Dew