I believe that is where we are in February 2022 its time for people to stop questioning whether or not UK R&B is a thing. In the past decade that I have resided in this country I have been hearing conversations and debates about what is UK R&B, does it exist etc. Even though one might not consider it to be as big of a mainstream sound compared to R&B from the US it is and has been a thing.
I’ve noticed in the past 3-5 years that there has been a new shift amongst this landscape though, were more artists in the R&B landscape have been emerging with a new crop of talent that is representing UK R&B so to speak. Among them have been artists like Mahalia, Jacob Banks, Jvck James, Tiana Major9, Bellah, and of recent times, Mnelia, Amaria BB to name a few.
Sitting amongst this list is a Samm Henshaw probably best known for his 2019 single Church that saw him collaborating with US Dreamville artists EARTHGANG. However, before Church was a thing Samm was and has been making music that has touched on his heavily influenced church roots existing in a space that appreciates the right mix of gospel, soul, hip-hop and what one would class as modern R&B.
Having been on his musical journey since 2015 Samm has been put out several singles 2 Eps, signed to a major label and now independently dropped his debut album Untidy Soul. The album which tells the story of Sonny takes you on a journey that gives insight into Samm as a person and more importantly as an artist.
Speaking with Samm after the release of the album and before he embarks on his tour we spoke about everything from creating the album, Sonny, the incredible visuals, working and creating the sounds of the albums and more.
Going back to the beginning, where did the concept of the album begin for you?
So this was a particular album that I had in mind. Initially, there was an album that I had had plans to create beforehand, and then that didn’t go the way it was supposed to go. So this ended up becoming a whole other album. So the plans for this one began in 2019. And by that point, we had left the label and we were just sort of thinking about what it could be. I always knew I wanted to tell some type of story and I think the more I listened to the music, I felt like everything that was going on with the music was a part of the story that was essential to my life, and particular moments I’ve experienced.
Did you always kind of know that you wanted it to be as conceptual as it was, creating the character of Sonny and building it around him?
I think the idea of Sonny came a little later on. I needed an excuse to disconnect myself from all the particular stories because I think, you know, everything within it is very real. And so, I didn’t want to still feel like I was living in the past and that, these stories, were still connected to my past. So, it just became my excuse to sort of disconnect myself from these past stories and it gave me a little bit more creative autonomy in that way. It felt as if I could use certain situations as inspiration for some things, but not necessarily have to draw for them directly and use every example and every moment that happened in my life.
In creating the character of Sonny, where did the inspiration for his character come from in how you came up with him and what he necessarily represents?
It was interesting I think in my head, I always kind of had an idea that I wanted to disconnect myself from the character. I had the story and the character before I had the name. I ended up coming up with it when we made the video and we were doing the end credits. We were editing and I said to our director, Jim Pilling can you put the name Sonny next to Samm Henshaw. And that was like basically when that happened, and that was like when the first video was done so it was very like last minute. That being said I think the idea in the character of Sonny was something I was always playing around with. I was always just kind of like, I want this to be a character that, you know, when you first see him, he’s just he’s not happy. His life is seemingly amazing, but he’s just not in a good place mentally. And then we do some backstory and we end up finding out that he does have a little bit more character and there is a bit more to this person. In terms of his development, it happened as we were going along, and I think it wasn’t until I had the name I started to embrace him being a full-on character that I could delve into and play around with and see who he is and what he’s into.
Having started the project in 2019 how much did it change from when you began verses to the finished product that we have now?
I think it was constantly changing, it was constantly evolving, even if it were tiny things, there was always going to be something new that was going to be contributed to it. But I think initially it was kind of a given. It was always going to adapt, and I think the more time that we ended up having with the album, it just naturally had to do that and the more time that we had I became a better musician, I became a better writer. I just, you know, my knowledge of things grew and changed and experiences and that shaped the album from when we started to where we ended up.
The title Untidy Soul, where did that come from and how did you feel it represented the whole album?
So, the story I always tell is that I was always getting asked what I would describe my music as. I don’t know what it was like because the stuff wasn’t out yet, but I knew what I knew I was sitting on. And so, it wasn’t just songs like Church and all that sort of stuff. It was like I knew I had this album, I knew I had a bunch of other songs in my bag and I was ready to showcase. And so, someone asked me what my sound was, and I think I just kind of randomly came out and said, oh, it’s like a messy untidy soul and that kind of stuck with me. I loved that phrase and that idea, and I sat with it for a while. When we had left the label, I was working on a new album title and that was what I ended up going back to. Then I think the other side the meaning to me was that as people, as humans, (this is all coming from myself, I guess just like as a self-analysis) it is like I am a bit of a mess as a person internally. It’s the idea that God’s given me enough grace to allow me another day to work on that and try and be the best version of myself that I can be. And you know, I have an opportunity to constantly try and do better and be better. So, it’s like that idea of acknowledging that I’m a mess, but like, I can also clean this up this can you know anything untidy can be made clean.
You worked with quite a few musicians on the album and it comes through in terms of the live instrumentation that you hear across the album. Was this important and intentional to you?
That was hugely important. I grew up in a church, so I’ve always played live, I’ve always experienced live instrumentation, the first albums I have heard were never studio albums it was always like live bands and everything you heard had a purpose and had a part to play in the song. So, for me, you know, live music has to be a part of what I do. Even if we were going into rooms where it felt like we wanted to have some sort of digital or analogue vibes there always had to be at least one instrument on the record that was live, especially regarding horns. I’d done some stuff in the past where we had fake horns on it, and it just doesn’t sound good. And so I just was very intentional about making sure that I found my favourite musicians and some of like the best live horn players around and be like, okay, I need you on these songs I need all these records. I’d say there’s probably more collaboration with musicians and instrumentalists than there are like artists on the album. I just wanted to get like my favourite musicians on some of these songs, and so I’m grateful that we got to do it.
I want to touch on the visuals because they have been such a great pairing with the album and telling the story of Sonny with the three previous releases visuals that came about. Were those concepts that you initially or did you build them with your director Jim Pilling?
I had the full basis of Still Broke and Grown already. So, like I’d say I had the foundations of stories. And then we were going through a bunch of directors and just trying to see who would understand what I was doing, what I wanted to do and try and like, match it visually and kind of aid in that sense. We ended up falling on Jim Pilling and Jim just got it instantly and was instantly like contributing ideas back and forth with me and came up with these amazing ideas and stuff. So, once that happened I felt safe and I felt like he knew what I was trying to do and knew what I was trying to go for, and then from there, he just sort of fleshed out and helped build these stories beyond, like what my mind or ideas were. I always knew that the basis of Still Broke was that Sonny was going to be this man that you don’t fully understand this character yet because he’s just rich and he’s not happy but I wanted it to be very beautiful. Then I knew that Grown was meant to be a back story into what had happened before he got to that point and that it was going to be a story based on a bonsai tree. So, I knew all of those things beforehand, and then Jim just kind of found the best way to build the two together, and then carrying it on with Chicken Wings and the next one coming. Like even the simplest things of like having the tree in Still Broke and leaves being all dead and people kind of not understanding entirely what that was about. But once the second video came out, it would make sense and with Chicken Wings and the new one coming it all just worked great. He’s incredible and he has been an amazing collaboration and friend.
The album has been out now for a few weeks and so in putting everything together and the project being out, has the reaction matched the expectation of what people have said about the album?
So, I have learned in this situation that I think I got to a point where I stretched myself out so much that I, lowered expectations to the point that I kind of didn’t have any. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what people were going to say or feel or do. I think with the label situation being with a label they’re suddenly expectations on everything that you do and to not be in that situation anymore, I was just put in a position where there were none and I didn’t need to have any and I was okay with that. It was great to be in a position where it was like, OK, I’ve made something. I’m proud of what I’ve made, I just kind of want to get rid of it now and let people have this thing and listen to it and see how they respond. And so, the reaction has been beyond anything I think I could have comprehended. I’ve never made an album before, people heard my music in a certain way before where they might have heard Church, and that like they were even creating a song like Chicken Wings, I deliberately created chicken wings because it was like, this album is not going to sound like what you had to do before. So, had to make a song like Chicken Wings for people to feel at least like there was some sort of familiarity. There was a fear, where it was like I don’t know if anybody is going to mess with this, I don’t know. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know how this is going to be taken. So, I did what I wanted to do for myself, but I also was like, let me make sure the people that are familiar, what I don’t feel like I’ve forgotten them. With what I was doing before and being with the label what happened was that people got a version of me and they got a side of me that wasn’t necessarily the full picture. and I think what the album was at least allowed me to do is present that full picture now. And so, yeah, the reactions have been great to that, though I really couldn’t be more grateful. For the first attempt at an album, I’m grateful and like, Yeah, it’s been. It’s been very it’s been a good response.
So, as a final question, what would you are some things you would like to do and where you would like to go in your journey?
You know I kind of realised during the pandemic of everything that planning things and having expectations of anything doesn’t make sense anymore. Everything at the moment is like I don’t know what’s going to happen next I don’t know where the world is going to be in the next few days, you know. What I do know is that going to tour, I want to tour this album until I’m so fed up with it I want to be able to travel a little bit more and see different parts of the world and do that. And then, yeah, I think I want to I want to dove into some other creative endeavours. I know that I’m kind of excited about writing stuff and, you know, a bit more now and then eventually, you know, I think I’m going to go on like a mission trip this year to Uganda. So that would be amazing, which I’m looking forward to. By God’s grace, if we can do it and then you’re like, just I don’t know, just, you know, enjoying life, spending time with family and seeing people hanging with friends, just sort of catching up on life a bit and then, you know, maybe start working on another novel record at some point. But yeah, maybe just like rest rejuvenation, just get to live my life a bit and then enjoy it and then see what happens after that, you know?
Untidy Soul is out now, follow Samm via @sammhenshaw
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