sampha just dropped a visually stunning new video
As he drops his first ever music video, we call Sampha to discuss the visuals, his time out of the spotlight, and feeling the need to document his personal life in music again.
As an artist who often shies away from the limelight, there has been a noticeable Sampha-shaped gap in modern music of late. We were drip-fed occasional releases, perhaps his voice would be sampled here and there, and a hook added to Saint Pablo, the newborn latecomer to Kanye's 'living breathing' artpiece-slash-album The Life of Pablo. Having taken some time to reflect on his own life for a handful of years, Sampha is finally ready to come back. And properly this time.
We caught up with the gospel-inspired velvet voice of Too Much and Timmy's Prayer as he prepares for his debut solo live perfomance of Blood On Me on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a highbrow but light-hearted, politically charged yet highly shareable US talk show.
Premiering recently as Annie Mac's Hottest Record in the World, Blood On Me is a thudding atmospheric track, a gothic urban cocktail of blood, tooth and nail, laced with weighty lyrics, stormy production and an unsettling choral ending. The Alex-Lill directed promo is a cinematic, textural journey through long grass, tall trees and the long dark road of a dog track, shot entirely on film, describing a visceral reaction to exorcising personal demons, and the haunting pressures of real life.
On the last day of a particularly stifling August, Sampha tells us about the spiritual release of making music, adding his voice to Frank Ocean's Endless, and relocating his bedroom production to a studio on a remote island off the west coast of Norway.
This is your first solo music video… did you feel the pressure?
Yeah, I guess. There were a lot of things I didn't know about in terms of cameras and film and the production side of things. I learnt how much actually goes into making a music video.
It looks like it was a massive shoot. There were cranes going on, cars falling out of trees...!
Yeah, there was quite a bit going on. Lots of figuring things out. It was interesting.
The bit where you're running along the track with the dogs is great. Were you running about all day?
I ran a couple of times but didn't really warm up properly so I did it like three times before I hurt my hamstrings… I don't go to the gym that often. I mean, I had dogs chasing me so I was trying to go fast. They were really nice though, the dogs.
Where were you shooting?
Near Bedford. And I can't remember the name of the dog track but it was just outside of London.
The lyrics are really visceral and poetic... there's a sense of you being haunted. In your mind, what is the track about?
For me, it's about running away from myself and fears and things that I've seen that I can't really run away from; things that I don't deal with basically. Really it's just like a dramatic story.
So did you have a lot of input into the visuals? I know that Alex Lill directed it…
He came up with the overall idea and there was a bit of back and forth.
And what would you say is the overall message?
I don't know if there's an overall message as such, but I really just wanted a cool visual. And I wanted it to feel quite realistic but otherworldly and hopefully it's just intriguing. It's quite fragmented and dream like I think.
There's a great shot of you in the long grass from above. It's a good job it was good weather!
It was actually raining one minute and then really sunny the next, it was pretty schizophrenic weather that we had to deal with.
Was some of it shot on film?
Yeah, it was all shot on film. It really makes it feel like it's in it's own world and that kind of glues it all together I think and makes everything feel weirdly man-made I think, as opposed to how digital can sometimes be quite sterile.
Definitely. I think you being out there in nature helps with that too. How does the track fit in with the rest of the album that's coming… is there a theme running through it?
I guess I'm just going to extreme interims of emotions throughout in terms of there being tense and anxious points… this one fits into the album but it's not a reflection of the whole album.
Tell us a bit about the process of making the new record. Did you make it in London?
Yeah, most of it in studios and places around London. But I did quite a bit of it in Norway, which was really good. It was at this studio called Ocean Sound and it's basically on this island off the West coast of Norway called Giske and it was beautiful. I stayed there for like ten days straight to record. It was right by the ocean and surrounded by mountains and stuff, it was really cool. I could really focus and pull things together; sometimes living in London it's hard to get into a flow. So that was a catalyst in terms of getting the album on it's feet.
It's been quite a while since we've had a proper body of work from you. Why the delay?
I guess personal reasons and just not feeling like I was ready emotionally or psychologically to release an album with all the things that I imagined would come with it. There are all the things I'd like to do, like playing shows and just having it out there for the whole world to hear, but because of the way the industry works, people really focus on an album. I've always wanted to make one, just to be a part of that thing, even though in this day and age there are lots of arguments surrounding an album as a format.
It's like a photo album isn't it? Of the last few albums of your life?
That's exactly what it feels like. Just a documentation of the couple of years I recorded it in.
It seems like this track would be a cathartic experience for these personal experiences that you've had over the past few years. Did it feel like a release?
It did. All the things I've been going through in my family life or whatever, going to the studio would be the place I express myself and find out how I was really feeling. There's definitely that element to it.
And I guess that becomes even easier when you're away from the city as well? And have time to reflect on your thoughts?
Yeah, you definitely feel the distance and that gives you a perspective on how you're feeling about stuff.
I guess it was totally different from the way that you recorded Jewel?
Well yeah, cause a lot of that was recorded in my bedroom. This was a totally different experience to be honest.
A better one?
I wouldn't say better, just different really. I never really look back at the things I've done because I find it hard to say I've progressed or got better, it's more of a documentation, you know? I appreciate my teenage years as much as I do my life right now. I'm more mature and it's kind of like that with music too. I guess I've progressed in terms of moving through my life.
Who else is on the record?
The co-producer on the record is a guy called Rodaidh Mcdonald, who I initially intended to get to help me engineer because I was going into a studio. But he ended up having a bigger role and helped me arrange some vocal performances and stuff. And even though I produced, programmed and played the majority of the album, he really did help me finish the record. I worked with a kora player, a singer-songwriter who did backing vocals, a drummer called Paulie, and some instrumentalists, but no proper features.
And back to basics, why is it that you make music?
I guess it's just a natural thing; I just love making music, the release I get, and the amount of levels that it hits me on; it's a passion really. There's an element of cognitive stimulation and physical stimulation and spiritual stimulation. I'm fortunate to be able to articulate myself through music.
And now, for the elephant in the room, your voice popping up on the Frank Ocean Endless album…
Yeah, he wanted to tie the project together and he wanted to do it through vocals and backing vocals and so I went out to New York to try some stuff and I recorded a bunch of vocals and I guess he used that, which is all good. He's a really hard worker, a quietly confident guy.
What did you think to the record?
Yeah, I thought it was great. It took me a little while to get into it, with it being quite different to his last album. It always takes a little while to adjust, doesn't it? It's grown on me a lot. I really appreciate it.
It was worth the wait then?
Yeah, I mean, I totally understand it from his side. You've got to be ready to release music. I always feel like if I'm into someone I'm always gonna like what they do whether it's in two years time or four years time.
What else are you listening to at the moment that's exciting you or interesting you?
I've been listening to… nothing too niche. I've been listening to the latest Radiohead and Blonde, and there's this thing I always listen to by Steve Reich.
Are there touring plans?
Yeah, I'm working on the live show at the moment. I'm getting a band together.
And when's the album out?
Um, yeah… soon.
Sampha is playing Corsica Studios, London 12 October 2016. Tickets have now sold out.
Text Tom Ivin