During our conversation, Sam Dotia pours out over the phone to me. It’s endless and unavoidable, spilling truths, hidden dreams and unexpected, resurfaced memories of times gone by as we both sit, miles apart but connected by two small devices. And the exact same can be said every time I listen to his music. First, fourth, or fortieth listen and the returning lump in my throat is formed, with the equal heaviness of the heart; through technology, Dotia fools you into believing you’re right there alongside his bittersweet melancholy, holding his hand and shedding similar tears.
It was early in his childhood that Dotia received his call to arms, starring in a talent show at his school at just nine years old. ‘In the weeks preceding I had just found the song Home by Michael Buble. I hadn’t really thought about it [singing] so when the auditions came around, I had no problem singing in front of my friends. I got through the audition and then the next thing I knew I was on stage in the auditorium with the whole year watching’. Sounds simple, doesn’t it, looking back? You stumble upon your talent, or rather, it finds its way out of you into the world, and then you begin the long craft of honing? With Sam, as most artists of any kind will understand, the door to creativity brought with it only more choice, and complications.
Gifted in not just singing, acting, and dancing, Dotia originally pursued the route of musical theatre; ticking all boxes minimally and allowing individual passions, and more importantly, strengths, to shine along the way. The physicalities of dance proved unaligned with his body just yet, while acting was adored but didn’t call out quite as fiercely as music; and so, through trial and error, the Sam we hear today was washed into consciousness. A self-confessed die-hard Twilight fan from an early age **, the way that author Stephanie Meyer was able to conceive and bring into bloom an entire universe mesmerised Sam, and, in reflective essence, could be used as explanation for his own work, metaphorical and intricate to its core.
At the time of writing Dotia has two tracks available to stream, Uriah’s Cry, which clocks in at just over 100’000 streams, and the accompanying Requiem 48. Pensieve, poetic, and pointed, they could each accompany a rainy day indoors or sunny coastal drive. The power of imagination really is fruitful here, allowing a listener to take the arrangement of chords and fuse them into their own life, however the pieces align. Contextually, Uriah’s Cry is a song of departure, forgiveness and honesty, wherein a future-Sam (on his deathbed) sheds his soul to his future-son, apologising for the hurt and pain he’s caused. Dotia likened the song to his sister as a ‘hug before you go’, which translates even on the very first listen; emotive, and determined, the track is a rare moment of peace in an ocean of mixed feelings.
‘I felt it would be a strong introduction to me… I was in a lecture [at the Academy of Contemporary Music] with one of my favourite lecturers once; he was speaking about how when a song is so powerful you can recognise it from the first two seconds, a song with such a strong identity, and given that Uriah’s Cry is one of those songs wherein the first guitar riff you know what song it is…’. Recognisable, and fitting to Dotia’s overall metaphor of life. He explains, ‘I see the world and everything in it as jigsaw pieces (signified in daily life by a jigsaw puzzle tattoo on his left wrist). Every single part of life is a piece, and depending on where you take your life shapes the overall image, and resultantly how you fit the pieces together. At first, in terms of approaching music, it was either finding the lyrics or the melody; it wasn’t forced, I would sit at my piano and think ‘huh, let me find another piece that fits together’… so it kind of all falls out. Then, leaving it to breathe so it doesn’t feel too structured. You know, chasing a feeling rather than creating something polished’. With any art, chasing perfection is fruitless and damaging to the overall arching final work; it’s refreshing that Dotia already has the mentality to refrain from rushing after the impossible. But, all great things take time, and lots of practise.
Writing poetry all his life, mixing spoken word and music was a natural progression, that flourished during his final year of Brit School; wherein, in his room, he discovered that mixing the guitar and piano with poetry was easier done than he previously thought. He essentially describes his music as ‘poetry you can sing’, ensuring his heart and soul sits front and centre within his art. An organic climb through word of mouth of family and friends has boosted the confidence and spirit Sam effervesces today, and kickstarted the drive to reveal himself to them and the rest of the world, layer by layer. ‘I’m looking forward to people finding out what I’m about. It would be nice to have more music and things that add to the body of my work so that people know more about who I am. I want to be a star, I guess, but want to be relatable all the time’.
He mentions that alongside his musical ambitions he wishes to build a car one day, out of parts. While he’s not the most skilled handyman (‘the way I’m talking, you would think…), his creativity spills over the sides again over the musical centre of his brain, and who disagrees? Writers dream of painting, architects envision giving moving speeches in buildings they’ve designed, and Sam… wants to crank his music full-blast deep in the heart of nature.
‘If you’re confident within yourself, your music and your art, that’s what shines through as opposed to just being ‘great’’, he continues, discussing the plausibility of balancing success with inherent desire to create. ‘Striving for something that may not be possible… I want to be passionate about music and bring a level of art, but I’m not seeking to be the greatest for the sake of chasing a spot’. We linger on the idea of being ‘the greatest’, in a world run by dominating Record Labels, forcing artist after artist to the top of the pyramid only to topple them moments later; the cycle of female pop stars rings a bell, with picking sides (Gaga vs. Katy, Gaga vs. Madonna, Gaga vs. … well, anyone) often being nothing but a poorly-disguised marketing ploy to make money. Dotia, however, will play no such part.
‘I see the top as a place on Earth rather than a spot. It isn’t just the one person that can be number one, you can be One of the Greats rather than just have one Greatest. Having a monopoly on being the greatest seems counteractive’. And with Uriah’s Cry, a ‘fresh start’ that developed from a place of guilt, Sam’s intentions are aligned perfectly so that every step forwards is one of sincerity, ensuring his music is what shines through, not petty feuds or chart battles. ‘Musically [in his work], there are themes of love, unrequited love, redemption, religious themes… it’s all very metaphysical. It’s all very intangible, so not things you can approach lightly’. He continues, ‘I want to be a star, I guess, but want to be relatable at the same time. Being an admirer of Frank Ocean, i think he’s amazing, 10/10, and I want to be able to look across at someone like him as opposed to always having to look up’.
We began our phone call with a reminiscent look into the past, discussing his New Years Goals (‘to be consistent’), and towards the end we mull over the future, discussing steps forward, and how to get there. ‘I’m looking forward to people finding out what I’m about. It would be nice to have more music and things that add to the body of my work so that people know more about who I am’.
In between Jeff Buckley, James Blake, Kenrick Lamar and Hyukoh, he mentions Ben Howard and All Saints as lyrical, and sonic inspirations. ‘I write everyday, as my songwriting tutor elective at the Brit School always said ‘songwriting is a muscle and it gets stronger the more you use it’. I always try to do something rather than let it waste away’. While visions aren’t set in stone just yet, Dotia has his eyes on releasing, or being close to finishing, a project by the end of the year, but finds this question a little tough to answer. I switch my strategy, and instead direct him to understanding and concentrating on how he’d like to feel at the end of 2020. This sits far more suitably with him.
‘By the end of the year I would love to look back and feel motivated. ‘I’ve come this far, I can still do it’, rather than feeling defeated’. He signs off with a genuine gush of appreciation and a laugh, and I’m left with one feeling; of confidence. Dotia’s introduction to the world may have been born of redemption and guilt, but his legacy is going to be golden.
This feature was originally published in point for Volume #36 – The Escapism Issue.