A catchy, thoughtful, and sweetly emotive soundtrack to navigating the throes of everyday living, Samm Henshaw’s debut album ‘Untidy Soul’ is classic soul seduction with a tasteful modern touch. In our interview, we touch on ‘The College Dropout’-era Kanye West, John Mayer’s best live album, and everything in-between.
Stream: ‘Untidy Soul’ – Samm Henshaw
I remember just kind of saying, “Oh, it’s like messy, untidy soul,” because in my head, it doesn’t feel like a clean thing.
Life is a beautiful mess, and Samm Henshaw is here to be our guide and guru.
Five very long years in the making, the London singer/songwriter’s debut album is the start of a legacy: Timeless, human, and cathartic, it’s a special collection of highs and lows (and all that feel-good disorder in-between) that soothes while it inspires. A catchy, thoughtful, and sweetly emotive soundtrack to navigating the throes of everyday living, Untidy Soul is classic soul seduction with a tasteful modern touch.
2022 has only just begun, and yet this is sure to be one of the year’s most exciting and resilient releases
How high is high enough?
How far is far is enough?
How much is too much?
When is enough enough?
How rich is rich enough?
How strong is strong enough?
I’m scared of losing touch
So when is enough enough?
– “Enough,” Samm Henshaw
Released January 28, 2022 via AWAL Recordings, Untidy Soul is the hotly-anticipated first full-length LP from one of London’s shining stars on the rise. An Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch, Samm Henshaw debuted in the mid-2010s with back-to-back EPs. The Sound Experiment and The Sound Experiment 2 EPs are incredibly lively and spirited vessels of hauntingly beautiful soul expression – but it’s been through more recent songs like “Broke,” “How Does It Feel?” and “Church” (ft. EARTHGANG) that Henshaw found his audience and began ramping up his presence. Following a collaboration with Brooklyn duo Brasstracks (“Change for Me”) and his two-song showcase with COLORSXSTUDIOS (“Thoughts and Prayers” and “Still Broke”), Henshaw closed out 2020 with December’s “All Good” – all but ensuring we’d be singing his words well into the new year, and beyond. He spent 2021 steadily teasing out singles from his LP, with songs like the summery, sun-kissed reverie “Grow” and the calorific, irresistible “Chicken Wings” showcasing his ear for musical zest while giving all who listened an instant living room dance party.
“People are familiar with that side of me because all I’ve put out are singles,” Henshaw says in conversation, “and most people think that it’s really fun, maybe like silly things, and so I was like alright, I will give people that on the record, but this is not what that record is. I wanted to make sure there was a balance of the two, so I wanted people to know that ‘Grow’ was more of the route that I was going down, but then get ‘Chicken Wings’ to feel like you will still get a little bit of this.”
The fun and feel-good, and the intimate and serious. At the heart of it all lies Samm Henshaw’s literal untidy soul.
From the heart-on-sleeve entrance “Thoughts and Prayers” and radiant “Grow” to the winking, tongue-in-cheek “Chicken Wings” and the gospel outpouring “Joy,” Henshaw’s soaring vocals captivate as he surrounds himself (and in turn his listeners) in an enchanting array of rich harmonies and warm, wondrous instruments. His lyrics often find him delving deep into his own heart, reckoning with themes of love and connection, finding oneself and one’s path in life (what makes us happy? what does “success” mean to us), and much more.
Sixteen tracks light up the airwaves as Henshaw captures moments of joy and sorrow, wonder and reflection, passion and longing, and so much more. In the searing “Enough,” he asks pointedly, “Why I always gotta be perfect? Sometimes, I go, I try to make everything so perfect… How high is high enough? How far is far is enough? How much is too much? When is enough enough?” On paper it sounds like he’s singing to himself, but when we hear it sung aloud, one can’t help but internalize these philosophical ruminations and make Henshaw’s words our own.
Untidy Soul, which is as much a state of mind as it is a fitting genre description, invites us to join Samm Henshaw in an hour or so of deep thought, reverie, and celebration.
His songs are definitively fun, but there’s so much more than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Henshaw’s modern soul sound harkens back to the greats, while injecting plenty of exciting twists and colorful flourishes to feel refreshing and of this day and age. Whether or not you’re hungry for some sweet soul, you’re going to get it with Samm Henshaw – whose fresh, energizing music is as emblematic of this timeless genre, as it is a vessel of blazing the pathway forward.
Let this album mark the “official” start of Samm Henshaw’s artistic legacy, and dive deeper into Henshaw’s music in our interview below.
Untidy Soul is out now.
:: stream/purchase Untidy Soul here ::
Stream: “Enough” – Samm Henshaw
A CONVERSATION WITH SAMM HENSHAW
Atwood Magazine: Samm, congrats on your debut album release! How does it feel to be in the final stretch?
Samm Henshaw: Really weird. Really weird. I’ve been doing this for almost… I feel like I’ve been doing this for most of my career now. It feels great, but at the same time, it’s also like, “Huh, I’ve been doing this for so long. I’ve been working towards this for so long, I don’t really know what to do now.” But it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling and I feel very honored, that I’ve gotten here to this point.
This album is such a long time coming. You started off with a couple of Sound Experiments, which are really fun to listen to. When was it time to make a full length album, and what was your vision going into making your LP?
Samm Henshaw: I think we had been working towards it from maybe 2017; is my earliest memory of it. We started working on it in 2017. I think we had promoted the second sound experiment. We had finished that whole run of things and in my head I was like, “All right, we should probably get moving on.” And my A&R at the time as well felt the same way. And he was like, “We need to move to the next stage of whatever this is.” And so I was like, “All right. Cool.” So then, we just started working on new music and I was just trying to change the sound and… Excuse me, figure out a bit more of my musical identity and stuff within that time. And then, I think 2017 was technically when we started the road towards this. And obviously, so much has happened since that time and so much has changed, but that’s when we… I feel like that’s when we started having that conversation and that’s when it kinda started changing a little bit.
It's scary to think that 2017 is five years ago.
Samm Henshaw: Dude, it’s insane. It’s so nuts.
And I'm sure you agree with me, an album should never take five years to make.
Samm Henshaw: No.
So what was this journey for you – was it frustrating? Was it a question of labels? Perfectionism? All of the above?
Samm Henshaw: I think it was a little bit of all the above. Honestly, for the most part, it was the label. I think when you’re in a situation where… When you’re in a situation, where you’re not in… I don’t want to say in control, but when you do have to work alongside and compromise with, a machine like a major label, it’s definitely not as easy. It was like an interesting situation to be in, where they… They wanted more and they wanted it… How do I always put this? Because I don’t want it to feel like I hate them or anything. Because they were great, they essentially helped kickstart my career. But I think what their expectations of what they wanted it to be and become, when it felt like it wasn’t meeting that we would… ‘Cause for the most stuff that was happening, I was doing great and I was enjoying that. I was like, this is pretty successful to me, but obviously, their version of that is like, “Well, no, we’re you used to higher numbers, and way bigger stuff.”
I was like, “This is fun.” I was having fun with it, but obviously the expectation was a lot higher for them, and I think it wasn’t meeting the standards that they had. And so every time it felt like a win for me, they were like, “Great, but we need to do another single because it’s still not what we need it to be.” So I just ended up becoming a singles artist, which I hated ’cause I don’t even really… I literally only listen to albums. So it was a weird situation to be in. Feeling like every time you felt like you were a little bit closer to dropping the album or even making an announcement for it or whatever, it just kind of got pushed a little further away.
That's so tough. What was the experience like for you, parting ways with Sony and going independent?
Samm Henshaw: It was weird, ’cause obviously, like I said, for the most part, I was like, “Well, I’m not doing… ” nothing bad has happened in my career. It wasn’t like I’d flopped or anything. I didn’t flop. I think at first it was like, “Huh, that’s odd.” And then it just became, “Okay, you just need to figure this out now and move on.” It was a little weird ’cause that was my entire life. My entire time in the music industry professionally, was with them. And so, that was what? Four years, I’ve been with them. So to suddenly shift and be in a time of like, “Oh, you need to do it all on your own now,” was somewhat foreign to me. I haven’t had to do it on my own in years. So that was weird, but then I kind of thank God for the pandemic because it slowed everything down and really showed me how to figure it out and do things, and I’m still learning now, but it’s been great. I love it. I actually don’t know if I could go back to a major label. I would never say never, but I don’t know if I’ve got interest as much anymore now, ’cause this had been great.
I get it. Is there a special significance and feeling that you have in putting out your debut LP independently?
Samm Henshaw: 100% like I’m super gassed about it. Who would have thought that with that entire journey and everything that happened, that I was just gonna put out my album independently. It’s mad to me, but I’m super grateful for it. It’s weird. I actually do sit down and think about it a lot, and I’m like, “This is nuts. This is actually nuts. We’re actually doing this.” And so, it’s just exciting to me and it makes me believe that almost anything is possible at this point, after that.
As the person in the real driver’s seat and with full creative control over your career, what do you want people to think of when they think of Samm Henshaw?
Samm Henshaw: Wow, that’s a really interesting question. It’s a great question. I’ve never actually… Maybe, I subconsciously thought about that and not realized that’s what I was thinking, but I think I want people to be inspired, especially young people and more so from the UK – young men, young women. I don’t particularly care what race or where you’re from or whatever, I wanna be able to inspire you, but obviously, there’s always gonna be a bias side to me that’s like, “I want young Black men that wanna sing, to believe that they can do it, and same with young Black women.” But for the most part, it’s if I can inspire people to have a bit of belief in themselves, to have some hope in themselves to use their gifts to serve others and to be a blessing to other people and stuff, then that’s definitely… Those are just a couple of the take aways that I’d love for people to have from me. We’re in a position, where we inspire a lot and so, not be afraid to really dive into that.
You mentioned you want to be an inspiration for others. Who are some of your inspirations? Did you see yourself as somebody who could become an artist and a singer, growing up as a young Black man?
Samm Henshaw: Yeah, so growing up, I didn’t care. Not that I didn’t care, I just didn’t… I always say this to people, “I didn’t know how you got onto TV. I didn’t know how you became a musician. Or an artist?” Because I’m a ’90s baby. You’d watch TV and you’d be like, “Great they’re on TV. Good for them.” I’m gonna go and become a lawyer or a teacher or anything because those were… That was normal. And that was you at least knew the route, that you took to getting to that. So honestly, until I was maybe, 18, 19, I didn’t… That’s when I actually, and I was in uni and stuff, that’s when I started to actually realize there was a… And it became a lot easier then because you had the internet and stuff like that.
But then I started to see, that there was this route to get into that place and that stage. And honestly, a lot of the people that inspired me were people… The two I can think of are these two British artists called… Well, no there’s three actually. There’s one. Most people would know him, his name’s Labrinth, does the Euphoria soundtrack and it’s just an all round, just genius. So, Labrinth for me was like just, “Oh, my gosh. Wow.” And then, there was artists like, Shaker, who’s another incredible UK based R&B singer.
I wouldn’t call him an R&B singer. He’s just a great artist. He creates and just has the mind of just… I can’t even describe it. But again, him and then Jacob Banks, Labrinth, those are the three… Again, those were three inspiring artists for me. There’s obviously tons of other people, that are just inspiring outside of music. But I remember for me personally, seeing them, seeing what I did and being… And even to this day, they still inspire me. When I think about what Labrinth does now and when I think about what Shaker does now and Jacob as well. Jacob’s career to me is the sickest thing ever. He just gases me so much. He’s so sick. But when I think about these guys, they were all like me. I looked at them and I was like, “All right, cool. You guys are Black. You guys sing. You guys are all from the UK.” That was super important to me to see people like that and see very different, ’cause it was all very three different types of careers and they’re all successful.
Which is what I thought was amazing. Was like, “Okay, that also taught me that I don’t need to go for one type of… There’s not one route to becoming a successful artist.” And again, obviously success is relative. So it’s seeing, where they’re at and seeing how happy and comfortable where they’re at as well. And even I’ve spoken to a few of them, just to know… Excuse me, where they’re at in their careers and lives and stuff is like, “Wow, you guys are at peace with… But it’s because you found the version of success that you wanted.” You went for that. And that’s just super important to me as well. And I think to be able to let people know that too is dope. It’s like, you don’t need to be the biggest artist in the world to be successful. You don’t need to be the biggest creative in the world to be successful. Sometimes it’s just the ability to create. Like I’ve had so many blocks or just so many moments of fear that I’ve just not even pushed forward my ideas. So even now for me, the fact that this album coming out and I’ve done maybe half of what I thought I wanted to do, I’ve succeeded. I’m super. I feel like I’m super successful at this point. So I’m just grateful. It’s yeah. Those guys are… They’re huge influences to me.
So if music wasn't necessarily on your radar as a career, were you always singing and writing songs on the side? How did that start?
Samm Henshaw: So, I was always doing something to do with music. I was writing and singing. I didn’t start singing until I was maybe 17, 18. It was the very last thing I attempted and it didn’t go badly. But it wasn’t the thing that I necessarily pictured myself doing. But I was always doing music. Something to do with music. I was either playing drums at church or playing keys at church or guitar or I was…
So you have many instruments under your belt?
Samm Henshaw: Yeah, yeah, I’ve got a few. I’m sitting here with all of them now! But I always was playing an instrument or just taking in some type of music. Grime was a really big thing when I was in secondary school, high school for you guys. So, there was a point where I was spitting bars and I was rapping. So I just love music so much, that it was never not a part of… And I don’t even think I realized that I loved it. I loved it at the time. I was just always doing it in some capacity.
Can we get the full rundown of instruments: Drums, keys, guitars, vocals, anything else that you play?
Samm Henshaw: Bass guitar, there was a point where I picked up harmonica and ’cause I saw Stevie Wonder and I got super gassed and I was like, I need to… I just need to know. I need to know how he’s doing what he’s doing.
Samm Henshaw: It’s really hard! There was a random point where I used to play… When I was in, I can’t remember how old I was. I was really young, but there was a point where I wanted to learn a brass instrument. So I picked up euphonium, and… It’s really, it was really big. I was like a really small kid and this thing is just gigantic. I don’t remember what happened with that from my euphonium career, but yeah, I played that for a while.
Your music is very organic. You surround yourself with incredibly talented artists as well, and you bring it to life with a very full band sound. I'd love to get into it for a little bit: What was the difference in vision between this album versus your EPs?
Samm Henshaw: I think for starters… I mean, my experiences within music and my knowledge of music just changed immensely because of time and stuff, and I’d started spending time around more musicians that just kinda opened my mind and just my eyes and ears to these entirely different worlds and sections of music that you’ve never really seen or experienced. A lot of the things that I loved still actually were quite the same and still quite prevalent in what I was doing when we started working on the album, but yeah, for the most part, it was just like… I think it was just time and growth made it a different experience when I was comparing it, yeah, to the sound experiment.
For a record made over five years’ time, I feel like this album is surprisingly and impressively cohesive.
Samm Henshaw: Oh, really?
Do you not feel the same?
Samm Henshaw: I appreciate that. You know what? I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be, but I never really thought… Sometimes, I feel like I need to hear someone else say it in order for me to… ‘Cause I wanted it to be cohesive. I don’t know if I always heard… Like I’ve heard this thing for so long, I can’t even… I don’t even know what to feel when I listen to it anymore. I still love it, but I’m just like… It’s been so long, I don’t even know how to really digest any of it anymore. And so there was intention for us to make it feel like it flowed, but yeah, it wasn’t… I don’t know. Yeah, I have to hear someone else say it, and then I can be all right, cool, great, it works.
Yeah, it flows, it really does flow. “Untidy Soul” is such a captivating phrase. What does the name of this album mean for you?
Samm Henshaw: It’s a few things. The main two that I tell everyone is that when… The origin of it was when I was coming up with… Well, I wasn’t even coming up with a name or a title, I was just… I think I did an interview and someone… I kept getting asked actually in a few interviews, like how would I describe my sound, and I really struggled with that question because it’s not a one-worded answer, and because I don’t listen to one genre and it doesn’t take… Sometimes, I would get frustrated when people would like hear my music and go, “Oh, gospel,” and I’m like, “Gospel’s probably like the last thing that’s gone into this, if it has.” Obviously, I understand. I grew up in the church. I’m influenced by Gospel chords and stuff like that, but it’s like there are so many other things that go into this, to hear someone just kind of describe it as something that is one part of that always just got to me.
I remember, I’d get asked so much like, “How would you describe your sound?” And I just remembered feeling like because there was all these meshes of different things and all these things that I’d put into the music or taken just generally as a listener, I remember just kind of saying, “Oh, it’s like messy, untidy soul,” because in my head, it doesn’t feel like a clean thing. So I was like, “Yeah, it’s messy, untidy soul.” And then I remember just kinda going, “Oh, that’s really cool,” and holding on to it for a while, and then eventually I think when I needed to come up with an album name, the idea came back and I was like, “Oh great, that can totally be the title for the project,” and so I think yeah, just kind of sat with it for as long as I could.
And then the other part of it is just understanding and recognizing and being okay with the fact that as a human being and just as me, Samm, I’m a bit of a mess but it’s okay. We all are, internally, and that every moment that we have to wake up and see a new day is like a new opportunity to better ourselves and to grow and push forward and move ahead, so yeah.
That's beautiful. I love those dual meanings; thank you for sharing them. I definitely don't like pigeon-holing anybody either, but I certainly consider Untidy Soul as a genre unto itself. That said, soul music goes back generations now. What does it mean for you to be a modern soul singer?
Samm Henshaw: It’s an honor ’cause obviously that’s what I always grew up listening to, and you kind of look at those artists and you look at their impact on society, on key communities, like just… It doesn’t matter, just when you look at what they’ve input into the world, or what they contributed to the world, you just kind of go, “That’s amazing. And hopefully, I can one day be a part of that,” so… Yeah, that’s how I’ve always seen soul music, I’ve always seen it… Like music in general, but soul music’s always played a big part for me, ’cause it’s had so much input in my life. So yeah, it’s great to be able to say I can be a part of that.
Standing on the shoulders of giants. You said you only listen to albums earlier in our conversation. What are some of your all-time favorite LPs?
Samm Henshaw: Oh, man. I guess, it’s D’Angelo’s Voodoo. It’s like one of my favorites. Obviously, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Pretty much the whole Kanye College Dropout Collection. So yeah, College Dropout, Late Registration. Late Registration gases me mainly. Like Late Registration is one of my favorites, ’cause I think, Late Registration‘s a cleaner continuation of… It’s kind of like he… College Dropout is like, okay, I’m trying to figure it out. And he… Obviously, it’s a great album with great songs. But it didn’t feel… College Dropout, to me, is like, “I’m dope, I know I’m dope, you know I’m gonna get doper, so just take this for now and watch what I do next.” And Late Registration just feels like, when he figured… When he’s like, Alright, cool, I figured out why I’m doing all of this, and just overall, it just felt like a cleaner, more polished, put-together sound. And so, I love Late Registration. I also love Late Registration just ’cause the first four songs on, the first four songs on that are just incredible. And then obviously, all the interludes and skits, with Bernie Mac and that just is insane, so…
Do you count Graduation as a part of that – is it a trilogy to you, or is it just those first two?
Samm Henshaw: Definitely. Graduation is definitely a part of that. I think that’s obviously like a much… That, to me, is like a futuristic take on those two. But obviously, those two, there’s something about it sonically that I just connected with. There’s a little more, there’s just more soulful elements in those ones and in the production on those ones are more based off of that sort of world.
It's music mixed with soul.
Samm Henshaw: Exactly. That vibe… Exactly, he did it with Common and Talib Kweli. When I heard those records, I was like, “Alright, cool.” I really connect with those records more. Graduation is incredible, and it’s great. But it sits in a different realm to those two, and still is an incredibly album. I just remember as well, actually growing up seeing College Dropout… I remember growing up and watching, always seeing “All Falls Down” come on MTV and stuff like that, or whatever music channel it was, and then “The New Workout Plan” video, which obviously as a young man, I’m just like, [chuckle] “Oh, that’s fun.” It was just beautiful and colorful, and just seeing his visuals was dope as well.
Seeing that side of Kanye is always great. So yeah, I remember that, and then I remember Late Registration, and then seeing him do the Late Orchestration and watching him perform all these songs on… It was just dope. That’s one of my favorite ever of music anyway. So yeah, there’s those… What other albums out there? Obviously, grew up on a lot of gospel albums, so Kirk Franklin’s Rebirth is hands down one of my favorite things to just listen to, period. John Mayer’s, Where the Light Is concert, that he does in LA. That’s… It’s funny, I was chatting to my friend, we went away for a couple… For a week or something, and we were in this cabin and she had a… She was a John Mayer fan. And I was on the phone to my friend, and we were talking about the fact that I went to a John Mayer concert with my ex, but didn’t go with… I didn’t take my friend instead…
So, he was kind of like, “I’m kinda still pissed at you. I never will really forgive you for that.” And then she was like… And then my friend was like, “Oh yeah, I’m a huge John Mayer fan, blah-blah-blah,” We be like, “What’s your favorite John Mayer album or song?” And, she mentioned some good ones, but she never mentioned that she was like, “I’ve never listened to Where the Light Is, the concert… ” I was like, “What?” And then on our drive back, I put it on, and it blew her mind. She was like, “This is insane. I’ve never heard this album before, I’ve never heard these versions of theses songs.” Like Continuum is a great album, but I just can’t listen to Continuum anymore, because it’s just so tight and rigid. So yeah, the Where The Light Is concert is a solid one for me. And then there’s a bunch more.
What about you in concert? When you play live, are these songs drawn out and given more light and breath and space, or are they what we hear on the record?
Samm Henshaw: So weirdly, back in the day, I used to be like, “I’m gonna play one song for an hour if I need to. We’ll just go with it, and I’m gonna have so much fun with this crap.” I’ve gotten a little older and I’m like, “I don’t wanna just… [chuckle] I don’t necessarily wanna do that. Some songs, I just wanna… ” Some people just wanna hear the song for what it is, and I don’t wanna just have to play it for ages, but… So yeah, I love playing around with… I think, doing a live show is my favorite thing about music because it’s like such a moment of freedom with what you’re creating. And so yeah, I think, we pocket it quite well now. We keep it quite structured and in length, but I always love keeping room open for us to be able to improvise a bit, just ’cause music, man, you don’t need to have all these rules for it. We don’t need to exactly… But yeah, it’s fun to be able to re-arrange or recreate a song for the live setting, that’s always fun.
When you're playing on stage, do you typically move between a few instruments, or are you solely on the mic for that?
Samm Henshaw: I stopped playing instruments. My manager got really angry with me about it, he was just like… And it’s weird, ’cause I was like, “I don’t feel like I need to show off that I can play instruments.” I was just kind of like, “I’ll play it in when I create the record, and then let me just enjoy myself on stage.” I don’t really know what my mentality was behind it all, but I just kind of stopped a little more with live concerts instruments…
Are you the instrumentalist in a lot of these songs though?
Samm Henshaw: Yeah, there’s… Okay, so it’s funny I do say that, but this is the least I played on a record, actually. I know incredible musicians, so I was just like, “Why do I need to play on every single thing?” I play on at least every song. There’s like at least one instrument now I play on every song. There is a song on the album called “Enough,” I play the guitar on that. I play the keys on “Thoughts and Prayers.” I play keys on “Grow,” I play keys on “Still Broke.” I play keys on “Joy.” Yeah, I play on most.
It sounds like you really let your voice shine, and you really focused on the vocals then.
Samm Henshaw: I focused on vocals and writing a bit more on this one. If anything, actually, I focused more on writing than I did even vocals and just the overall sound. So, if I wasn’t playing, I just was producing essentially and just saying, “This is what I want this to feel like and this is what I want this to feel like,” and just really, I guess, curating and making sure it just kind of came together how I heard it in my head.
Can you put into words what that meant for you, to really focus on the writing? How would you describe it to me?
Samm Henshaw: I don’t write much. So for me, it was a big doing, it was important to make sure that not only was I saying stuff that felt real and what was important to me, but I think it was also… Yeah, it was just nice to know that like, “Okay, I’ve written on my, I’ve written on this album, I’ve written these songs,” and you will know that it’s come from a place for me. And even if I’m not like, there is some songs… I think everything’s… Most of the songs are like co-writes on the album, but it’s like… Yeah, even with that, it’s like, these are my thoughts and these are my feelings, and this has all come from me, and so… Yeah, it was great to at least know that with this album, this isn’t a… I wasn’t sent any beats beforehand or anything like that, we really made this. And so yeah, I’m happy that I gave writing a bit more of my energy definitely.
Let’s talk about Untidy Soul’s songs, then! So, you open with a cheeky node to the fact that this took five years to come out, “Still No Album.” I’d say self-awareness is at an all-time high here – why start like that?
Samm Henshaw: I like to laugh at things, I like to laugh at myself sometimes, and I think with this situation as well… It just like… I can’t be mad at the situation, there were so many things that were out of our control like… I think this album was technically meant to be done and out in 2020. We were actually meant to… No, yeah it was meant to… At one point it was meant to… We were preparing to drop it in 2020, COVID hit. We were preparing to drop it in 2021, we just weren’t ready at that point.
I think we were doing it at the best time that we can possibly do it at the right time and it feels right. But yeah, just… I had to laugh at it and I had to get my friend on it. It’s a mutual friend that everyone that… Just my friends and I, we just got this friend, his name’s Jeff. And he is just… He’s like our big brother. And he’s basically just got great energy. And I was like… I always said to myself, I was like, “If I do an album, and I’m doing skits, you have to do it.” ‘Cause, he’ll have these… We can be talking to him. And he’ll have like, a 30-minute monologue, of just going in about something and it’s hilarious. And I’m, “One day, I’m gonna do a record, where he just… I’ll give him a whole minute or two to just run about something.” But I was just like, “Yeah, this is great. I really just want to be able to laugh at this situation.” So that was actually more for me than it is for anyone else. So me and my friends.
The legit start to this album is “Thoughts & Prayers.” You sing, “If everyone would like me, could they be the change I'd like to see?” along with so many other compelling and memorable lines. What's the significance of this song for you?
Samm Henshaw: When we created that song, I actually remember… I was… I was in a… I was in an Uber, on my way to a session, I think that could have been this actual particular session, I was on my way. And I just… I was seeing stuff on the road that just frustrated me a little bit. Just a lot of homeless people and stuff like that. And just seeing… Yeah, just seeing the world for a second. And then I go into my head and I was just like, “Huh, why… ” I think I just remember being angry at the idea of, “Why don’t I do more?” Why am I not doing more and a lot of the areas that I can do stuff? Why does it feel like I need to wait for people in power or someone with some type of authority to allow for me to do something or allow for me to say it’s okay to do something. And just remember then getting into a session with Sebastian Cole who’s on a lot of this project as well. And he’s incredible. And I love him to bits, he’s amazing. And we, Seb, and I will normally sit down and just talk. And he’s an incredible, incredible writer. So we sat down, and I just let all this out. And I was just like, “I wanna do more.”
And sometimes I’m just like, my own worst enemy and don’t and, and then got into a bit more of the idea of, Why do we feel the need to… The idea of change will… You can see a greater change if you just as an individual choose to do something. Why do we always need for the masses to be able to do something or someone in a level of importance to do something. And it just became a conversation about challenging the individual to basically say, “Alright, today I’m going to get up and do something for someone that isn’t… ” It doesn’t need to be anything grand. I mean, sometimes I think people think they need to do these grand gestures, and everyone needs to see what they’ve done to contribute towards the world being a better place and being a little different. And it just became a conversation about as individuals, how do we just add some type of change or something towards the world? And yeah.
I listened to your album, and I think a lot about Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life.
Samm Henshaw: That’s such an album!
Sometimes I feel like that album doesn't get its due. I think it’s his best record of all time.
Samm Henshaw: Very true.
You were just talking about how you can be the change, rather than waiting on the world to change, to quote one of your favorite artists. Later on in “Enough,” you sing, “How high is high enough? How far is far enough? How much is too much? When is enough, enough? How rich is rich enough? How strong is strong enough?” You are compelling your audience to look at things with a more critical lens, but you're not making anybody feel guilty. You're just pointing it out and sharing your own social commentary.
Samm Henshaw: Yeah. My thing is, my dad’s a pastor, so I don’t wanna be preachy. As an individual, these are questions I’ve asked myself – and as an individual, there’s times where I’ve challenged myself, or I’ve been convicted about things. Obviously, with my faith as well, these are the basic things that we talk about in Christianity, and it’s like, “Okay, so why am I not even doing these types of things?”
I always say this: I don’t make albums for people, I make it for an individual. So I just want one person to hear it and be able to feel like it was directed at them or for it to feel like they connect with it in a way where it’s like, “This is a personal thing to me. I’ve had this conversation with myself. Let me do something about it.” And that’s it. I never want it to feel like it’s all of us together in this type of thing. It’s like no, because not everyone’s got the same ideas. Not everyone thinks the same way. Not everyone does the same thing. So it’s like, yeah, maybe one person will hear it and they’ll feel challenged enough to question themselves or question… Just something and do something about it.
That's interesting, because I feel like you say this is for the individual, and I feel like this is such a community-inspired album.
Samm Henshaw: Hmm. Again, individuals have to listen to it in order for it to become more than one, do you know what I mean, so that’s great, but that’s my thing is like, I don’t want it to be… When you think about songs like… Well, maybe not like “Drawn Out,” but it’s when you think about something like “We Are The World,” that’s saying to everyone, “Let’s come together and do something. Let’s all come together and do something about this.” It’s not a bad message but it’s just a very broad message, and I just don’t…
You want to lead people to water, you don't want to make them drink.
Samm Henshaw: Exactly. Yeah, that’s a perfect way of putting it, I think. Yeah, sometimes people just need to be inspired by an idea or just… Yeah, and who knows what kind of conversations that can lead to? Sometimes people don’t even think in these types of ways. Lord knows, I’ve heard music or seen things, and it’s completely changed my perspective on something because it’s been introduced to me in a way that doesn’t feel like everyone needs to hear it.
Do you have any definitive favorite songs off this record, whether it be singles or deep cuts that haven't been released yet?
Samm Henshaw: Most of my favorite songs are deep cuts. So “Joy,” I love. “Joy” is like one of my favorites, which is weird ’cause I say that it’s one of my favorites but it also feels like it’s maybe gonna become a little bit of a single later on. Everyone’s talking to me about it, but 8.16’s one of my favorites. I really love “816.” I love “Mr. Introvert.” I love the way “Mr. Introvert” goes into “816.” That’s like one of my favorite things on the album, so I love those two.
I tried looking up 816 as an area code and I was like, ''This is Kansas City. This must not be what it's about.'' What's ''816'' about?
Samm Henshaw: That’s hilarious though because my producer, Josh, he’s from Kansas, so it could be that, but I decided the other day, I’m not gonna tell anyone what “816” means actually, so it was just… It was like a spur of the moment thing, so I think for the first time someone asked me, they were like, “What’s “816?””and they seemed so curious. I was just like, “Huh, I’m not gonna tell you.” So yeah, you can figure it out. Listen to it, maybe if you figure it out, then let me know. Then it would be great.
Oh, that one's a heartbreaker. That's a heartbreaker, for sure.
Samm Henshaw: So yeah, that’s one of my favorites. And “Enough.” I love “Enough.” I love “Thoughts and Prayers.” I’ve always loved “Thoughts and Prayers.” That’s like one of my favorite songs. “Take time,” I love “Take Time,” with Toby. I like all of them. They’re all good songs. I don’t actually… I weirdly don’t hate this album after spending so long with it. But yeah.
I hope right. One of the things I kinda noticed, and you can call me out if you think this is mistaken, is that a lot of the singles ended up being the faster songs, the more upbeat ones, and I get it. I think that's the thing that you wanna do. You wanna get people dancing and moving, and the faster the beat, there's this thought that people are gonna come back more. The deeper cuts are in my ears slower, deeper grooves, fatter bass, and there's also... I felt there was more R&B influence in those songs, where there's just... You just layer on the feelings and the instruments.
Samm Henshaw: Yeah, no that’s… Yeah, you’re not wrong at all. When we made some of the songs, we were just kind of like… I think there was the idea of like, okay, a lot of people are familiar with what I’ve done, and because I’d never… I hadn’t put out a record before, I kind of looked at it from this perspective of, okay, I need people to… I need to ease people in. That was just my headspace. It could be totally wrong, but from my perspective, it was just like you guys… Even making “Chicken Wings’ was kind of just like…
People are familiar with that side of me because all I’ve put out are singles, and most people think that it’s really fun, fun maybe like silly things, and so I was like alright, I will give people that on the record, but this is not what that record is. I wanted to make sure there was like a balance of the two, so I wanted people to know that “Grow”… Oh yeah, “Grow” is another one of my favorites… But I wanted people to know that “Grow” was more of the route that I was going down, but then get you know “Chicken Wings” to feel like you will still get a little bit of this. And “Still Broke” was just kind of… I don’t know… “Still Broke” to me is just like… I love that song as well, and I just think it was a nice balance of the two. It was just kind of an in-between. So yeah.
Do you ever feel like, with whatever you define as success one day, “Broke” and “Still Broke” will be... You won't be able to play them from the heart as much anymore?
Samm Henshaw: Yeah, like “Broke,” I’m definitely over that point. I love that people love it. “Still Broke,” I still genuinely love that song. But yeah, I always said this actually, the one… The funny thing is, towards the end, the lyrics become more hopeful in “Still Broke.” And I did that deliberately, ’cause I was just like… I think I remember showing it to my mum. She was like, “Hah. This is pretty negative,” and I was like, “You’re right.” And I remember feeling like, okay, I don’t wanna sing this in front of like… I don’t wanna sing this with a bunch of people, and everyone’s just like, “Oh, I’m still broke.” It’s like, no, this needs to kinda go somewhere. It needs to… Or hopeful towards the end. So yeah.
I like that. Speaking of getting towards the end, how did you know when this album was finished? When did you feel like, ''Okay, we made a record, it's good to go. I don't need to keep adding to it, I don't need to keep editing?''
Samm Henshaw: Oh man! I think when we did… I think when we added “Joy” to it, actually. That could be a lie, but I think it was when we added “Joy.” That’s the ending. I think that’s when we kind of felt like it was ready. I wrote “Joy” 2020, so that was like… I mean, we wrote a bunch of the songs in the beginning of 2020, but “Joy” was at the end of 2020. And, I think then when we finally sort of sat down and started putting all the songs together and stuff, we were like, “Hold on, we should put “Joy” on this album.” ‘Cause I basically wrote “Joy” for a Samsung ad and it was the… So we did a Samsung ad, where I wrote a song “All Good” and “All Good” became the song for the ad, but normally when we would write, we would do about three or four songs at once, just to give them a bunch of stuff to use, what to choose from. They picked “All Good.” They didn’t… I don’t even think they have acknowledged “Joy.” But I was like, “This is a really good song, mate, I think I like this.” And then, yeah, we put it on and then… Yeah, and then 2021, we kinda just circled back around to it, and I was like, “Huh, this should end the album.” And then we did it, and we worked on it a little bit more. And by that point, I was like, “Okay, cool. I think we are done.” Yeah.
The record is very inspiring, and I will admit, I think “Joy” might be your most gospel-ly tune on the album.
Samm Henshaw: Definitely, I definitely was like, “I’m going for that one.”
You got the full chorus and everything, it's beautiful. What do you hope listeners take away from the album? I know you said you want it to be an individual experience, but if you could hope for anything for people listening to this record for the first time, for the second time, what do you hope this record ends up meaning to them, if anything?
Samm Henshaw: Honestly, I hope it means to whatever they want, I know it sounds like a bit of a cop out, but it’s just like… I hope it means whatever they… I just hope they take it in enough for it to mean something. But yeah, I want it to mean whatever it can mean, whatever will mean to them, ’cause obviously everyone takes music in however they want. So, yeah, everyone relates things differently as well. So I just hope, yeah… I hope whatever they do take from it, it’s something hopeful and it’s something that allows them to wanna move forward and push forward through in life and stuff, but yeah, I just hope it’s whatever they want.
I love that, Samm. What about you? What have you taken away from making this album and now putting it out?
Samm Henshaw: I said this the other day to someone, I’m really proud of myself for completing something, and really… Yeah, I’m just proud of myself for making this, completing it and actually putting it out. Again, that’s another form of success to me, the idea that I can… Some people struggle with the idea of finishing things and completing things, and I felt that way for a while. And so, there was a point where I didn’t think this was ever gonna happen. So yeah, just the fact that it has, I’m just… Yeah, I think that’s what I’ve taken away from it, that I’m capable of such things. Yeah.
Congrats, that's amazing. And obviously doing it independently, there's an added layer to it. Sure, you've got your start with a label, but doing this all on your own, marketing, advertising, arts, getting everybody in a room for a session, that's on you.
Samm Henshaw: Yeah, I can’t take all the credit, but I’m grateful for… Yeah, I’m grateful for my entire team and everyone that’s helped with it. I really would be like… If it was just me on my own, this thing would not have come out. But yeah, no, I know what you mean, and I am grateful. I’m a super, super glad that we’ve been able to make this happen. So yeah, it’s incredible.
You mentioned a couple of your inspirations earlier. Who are you listening to, and is there anybody who's up and coming right now that you would recommend our readers check out that you're really excited about?
Samm Henshaw: I have the worst memory, so you said that and I’m like, “Hah, I have to like… It’s literally look at my who I’ve been listening to, recently.” So I’m kind of in my singer songwriter back at the moment and just listening to… There’s this artist called Holly Humberstone that I just started listening to, she’s great. But also there… I mean, there’s people like Tiana Major9, who’s incredible that I listen to. She’s one of the best I think, and can’t wait to what she comes out with. I’m super excited to hear what she does. I listened to the Dijon album, fricking amazing. I’m super gassed by that album, I would definitely recommend it if you haven’t heard it.
Who else? There’s an artist called Olivia Dean from the UK that’s just insanely good. I’m a super fan. Ama Lou’s just come back with some music, she’s great. I love her whole vibe and stuff like that. Who else, man? There’s this one artist. I never know how to say her surname, but she makes gorgeous music. Her name is Lizzy McAlpine! [laughs] She’s sick. She’s so sick.
You really are in your singer/songwriter phase right now, you're deep in it!
Samm Henshaw: I think I’ve rinsed all the R&B and soul music I can possibly listen to. I mean, that’s the sort of stuff I was listing to when I was making the sound experiments. Oh, Jordan Mackampa, he’s another British artist, with one of the most gorgeous voices I’ve ever heard. And his pen is insane, he’s such an amazing writer. Jordan is great. I can’t wait to see what he does, just in life, ’cause he’s exceptional. There’s a bunch of people, but those are the ones that I’ve listened to recently that I’m just like, “Yes, this is great.”
These are all great recommendations – thank you, Samm! I'm so grateful for your time, and it's great to meet you. This was such a fun conversation. Somehow we went from everything from John Mayer and Kanye to “Chicken Wings.”
Samm Henshaw: Aw, thanks to you, man. Yeah, [chuckle] oh man, no, thank you for your time, this has been great. It’s been a lot of fun chatting.
Wishing you all the best. Congrats on this release, and we'll talk about your sophomore album in like 2030?
Samm Henshaw: Maybe 2040, maybe. If it takes as long as that next time, it will definitely be because of me. It would definitely be my fault next time!
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