dodie: „There is no one right way of being a musician“

Most of us have probably gotten to know dodie as the girl on Youtube, singing songs, accompanying herself with her ukulele. Now, nine years after she uploaded her first video, she’s releasing her debut album „Build A Problem“ which shows us that, while she still is in fact the girl with the ukulele, she has grown up to be a true writer, composer and overall overwhelmingly inspiring personality. „Build A Problem“ is different from everything she has done before and while listening to it, one quickly realizes why it has taken this long for her debut album to be completed. It tells the story of growing up from the perspective of someone who has truly learned what growth really means. 

Nice to meet you, dodie! How are you?

I’m good, I just had three interviews in a row and now had about ten minutes of break, so I got myself a very spicy pickle and now my mouth’s burning a bit. But it’s delicious.

Sounds like it was worth it. Let’s get right into it then. You’ve basically been making music forever. How did you just now make that conscious decision to say: „Okay now five years after my first official release it’s time for my debut album“?

I think it just felt right, really. I was very ready after releasing three EPs. I think I needed that time to really find my sound and to find out who I was and now it just felt right. 

I personally think that „Build A Problem“ is very different from a lot of albums that are being released these days. I feel like it’s much more of a concept album. Was that always the plan?

Thank you! Yeah, I wanted to be smart with it. I think I tried planning something very different but then ended up writing very naturally anyway. I’d like to say that I planned it out beforehand, but I think this is just the result of a few years of just living life. 

Obviously the first album is something quite special to every artist. What did you learn in the process of making „Build A Problem“?

What did I learn? I don’t know. I think I just had a really good time. I think that I learned that I write no matter what, and I learned that I do best when there isn’t a lot of pressure on me. I think I also benefit from having a lot of time to reflect in writing and also in my life. I think my music can also always grow and change. I learned that feelings are very complex and there is no one way of looking at something.  

How would you describe your way of songwriting then?

I always say it’s therapy. It feels like therapy. It’s a lot of processing. I write no matter what, I think. It comes very naturally to me. I’m just so grateful for having it in my life as a way to document things, but also process at the same time. 

You’ve always been very open about yourself and your struggles in your music and online. Especially about your derealisation disorder. It’s something that you talk about a lot, since it’s obviously a very big part of your life. Could you maybe explain what it is and how it affects you, for everyone who isn’s familiar with it?

Sure! Derealisation is a feeling of disconnect. It usually comes as a way to deal with something and is kind of like your brain’s way of shielding you from maybe traumatic events or feelings. And for me, I feel it very physically. I struggle with remembering things. It feels like my vision is obstructed and it causes me depression and anxiety as well. It’s chronic for me. I haven’t found a way to not feel spacey. And yeah, I do talk about it quite a lot, because when I first felt like that, I had no idea what was going on. I wish that back then there was someone who talked about it as in depth as I do now. 

Now you’re actually an ambassador of this foundation called „unreal“, right?

Yeah! It’s the first charity for derealisation in the UK. 

How did that come along?

Just from me talking about it online. There were these people from the foundation who reached out to me, and one of them I even recognized because she had written a book about derealisation. She’s now actually my therapist, so that’s very helpful. I had a few meetings with these women who had also experienced it, and it was amazing to connect in that way. 

How would you say that derealisation affects you in your job, in writing and making music?

It certainly comes into play around all of the outside stuff, like having interviews or playing shows or meeting my fans. I mean, it’s present all the time, but I notice it more when I have to function.

Your entire journey, all of this, began when you started uploading videos to Youtube now more than nine years ago. What was your intention back then, when you sat down to film that first video?

Honestly, I don’t really think I knew what I was doing. I loved the Youtube community and I just wanted to join in with that really. I tried making silly videos before but as I said, I didn’t really know what I was doing. So it felt right to sing a song which was something that I wrote in school, because it was the only thing I had to bring forward, and then that sort of became my project, to upload my original music and then also some covers as well. It was just my way of getting involved and making new friends. 

Now back to your album. I was actually lucky enough to have already been able to listen to it. First of all, I really enjoyed it. 

Thank you!

A song that really stuck with me was „Special Girl“. In that one you’re singing „could not care less if you love me, but hate first, make me work“. What’s behind those lines?

(laughs) I mean, there’s a lot of therapy behind those lines. There’s a lot of understanding what I look for and that kind of goes with the whole vibe of the album and the whole theme, which is how I was built and how I was raised. I think „Special Girl“ is about finding people who are difficult to crack or aren’t particularly giving of praise, so when I get it from them, I feel extra special and extra loved. Which is kind of fucked up and a bit broken, but in that song I’m making light of it, and perhaps I’m in denial about how much it affects me. 

Another one of my favourites is „Rainbow“. It seems very raw, very emotional and very personal. Can you tell me what you were going through while writing this song?

I think this song mostly is about bisexuality, but it also applies to my feelings about mental health and feeling different in any way, whatever that may be for anyone else. Sometimes people call me some sort of ambassador or an icon, bicon, but I think that song is me realising that there are a lot of unprocessed feelings around my sexuality that I resent, because I was sort of raised in a world that was not matched to that, and I wish I would have known what it was. I wished that I was guided through it. I think there are just a lot of feelings around bisexuality that I haven’t discovered or processed yet, but there is also a lightness in the chorus that gives gratitude to those communities that are now here, here for me and everyone else. 

Last year for your 25th birthday you recorded a video in which you reacted to your 20-Year-Old-Self. If you had the chance, what would you tell the dodie who was just starting her career in music?

Oh wow. I’m not sure if I would tell her anything, because I wouldn’t want to mess with anything that has happened, but I suppose I now know that there is no one right way to write music. There is no one right way of being a musician. I didn’t really feel legitimate as an artist when I was younger. I felt silly, like a little girl with her ukulele, but I don’t think that matters at all. I think the ukulele is a great instrument, great and accessible and I’m still a musician and an artist. 

Was that also one of the reasons you started stepping back from Youtube?

I don’t know. Perhaps at first it was an insecurity of not feeling like a legitimate artist. But I think that has gone away now, because I realized just how silly that is. I think I naturally have just given myself space from the internet and created more boundaries, and now I just upload when I feel like it. It just feels like a natural part of growing up. 

I feel like there are a lot of artists who are finding it quite difficult to stay creative during lockdown. How have you been dealing with this?

Honestly, I haven’t (laughs). I think everyone kind of had a motivated spur at the beginning of lockdown. I mean, it’s difficult to stay motivated when the world is in such chaos, for sure. So I think I just had to accept where I’m at, and that might be that I’ll sit in the corner and scroll on my phone for six hours, and that’s all I’m able to do on that day. I also know that I have to recognize when I have to look after myself and try to find the motivation to care. 

But have you actually gotten around to making music during lockdown or is there like no inspiration at all?

There was a period of time between the first and second lockdown and obviously during the first where I was writing a lot, but in the second I really wasn’t at all. I’m slowly creeping my way back into naturally writing. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself.

I think we should all be a bit nicer to ourselves during these times. 

But it’s hard, isn’t it?

Yeah, but I think we’ve all found ways to deal with it. What has been your favourite way of distracting yourself from the mess that is our world right now?

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting, a lot of watching films, a lot DIY actually. I started putting up picture frames in my flat and painting, that was pretty fun. 

Let’s just dream a bit for my last question. As soon as live shows will be able to happen again – which place/festival/venue do you want to play?

All of them! I was supposed to play like three festivals in the summer of last year. I’ll just play anywhere. I have a tour booked in September which I’m just crossing every limb for. Fingers crossed. 

Foto © Parri Thomas