Life is “All Good”: Samm Henshaw on Music, Intention and Spirituality
On December 9, 2020 Samm Henshaw revealed the visuals for his brand new single “All Good.” Directed by Max Weiland, the video sees Samm unfulfilled and unsatisfied sitting behind his desk at a mundane 9-5. Wishing the hours away, Samm transports himself out through daydreams and dance routines. In collaboration with Samsung Electronics UK, “All Good” is inspired by a fans photo that Samm was challenged to write a song to. Reflected in the single artwork, “All Good” is full of Samm’s charm, positivity and wit.
Rounding off this turbulent year, Samm is now at beginning of a brand new chapter both in his musical journey and personal life. Samm is now a fully independent artist and is rediscovering his love for music after feeling lost amongst the major label whirlwind. Currently, he is in the process of setting up his own record label, Samm plans to release his debut album on it next year with two songs from the album – Thoughts & Prayers & Still Broke – dropping via COLORS late last month.
2020 started strong with an extensive US tour but it was in the midst of this when the worldwide lockdown hit and Samm contracted Covid himself whilst in Memphis. Contained to a hotel room for two weeks he went through a series of emotions whilst at the same time desperate to get home after his dad fell ill simultaneously. Luckily they both made a full recovery and went on to use the quarantine period to reflect and look ahead. Suffering from what can only be referred to as PTSD following his departure from the label, Samm now truly feels confident and free to create openly for the first time in years.
What social commentary are you trying to make with your latest single “All Good” and the accompanying video?
Samm: I think one of the things I wanted people to take away from it is the idea of focus. Using the example of this being a really bad year, for a lot of people I can imagine; if that’s your focus you are not looking at what you could have gained from it and learned from it. If you are still trying to have the same life you were living before Covid, you are missing the opportunity to learn and grow and shift gears.
What I want people to take from “All Good” is that it’s about having the proper mindset; it is the ability to be in a bad situation and still be grateful. Even if this year the circumstances were different, I still have reason to be grateful. I want this song to encourage people and allow them to hear the truth, it’s about accessibility and sharing my message with an audience. I wanna give truth and tell people the truth. But you need to learn how to package it. We live in a sensitive society and I had to figure out how to say what I wanted without sounding like a douche bag. What I would like to tell everyone is; find your reason to be thankful and your reason to be grateful.
As someone who also had family members impacted by the covid virus, I’m happy to know that you and your father recovered from Covid. How did the quarantine period influence your work? Might that have anything to do with your new release?
Samm: It was the year I learned the art of gratitude and being grateful for what I have and what I’ve had, and constantly thanking God. Once your focus shifts, you are focusing on that priority, it’s what you drive towards and are drawn towards. But as long as that’s the case, focusing on one thing, you don’t see the impact it has on other things. We have to be intentional, when you focus on what is positive you see ties to other things and that’s why when I focus on gratitude blessings come. That’s how the period has been for me.
We haven’t had a full project from you since 2016, The Sound Experiment 2. I actually saw you preform The Sound Experiment 1 when you opened for Chance the Rapper in 2016 in Paris. How would you describe your journey as an artist since then?
Samm: For me it was a different time musically. I was trynna figure out who I was, figure out the process of being a musician and tour life, finding my feet where I fit in, and deciding if I wanted to fit in. I decided I’m not trying to fit in anymore, I don’t care. We are in a time where people can see authenticity. If I can’t be real to myself through the art I’m creating, what’s the point of me trynna actually do it? Art is about freedom. I feel liberated, I don’t care too much about where I fit in, or how I fit in. You might see that there’s something that works for everyone else and you wanting to fit in, you aren’t seeing the bigger picture. It’s easy to fit in.
I’ve come to learn that you cut ties with your label and you are starting your own.
Samm: It’s the reality of being an artist in this industry. Cutting ties makes it sound like I played a part in it; I will be honest, I got dropped. I think we, the label and I, could both see that we were over it and I was not feeling where we were going with the label. I have been with them for pretty much the majority of my career, when I finished university I signed a deal with Columbia Records.
I like everything you were saying before, about your observations of what the industry aims to uphold, the experience was very similar for me, in the sense of it was a weird feeling. One of the things that excited me about the music industry and being an artist was the idea of freedom. Being with a label at times never felt that way. I’m not saying that to bash them or anything. My experience with them was great.
In comparison to a lot of friends that are in the industry, their stories are different from mine as far as the relationship with their label. The more I started to know who I was as an artist the harder it was to be at the label. They work based off of routine. It’s a business and there’s an element to that that you need to understand.
When they started to direct me creatively, when I’m not making music for myself or the people that I know, the people that support me, then I’m essentially just doing work. I would find myself making music that… I love mainstream music, but like having to create music for the radio and sticking to a formula eventually got to me. It’s not something I’m interested in. I don’t listen to radio like that. Making something for something else, for someone else, it’s not fulfilling. This comes back to our conversation about being authentic, it started off that way, but then it became about numbers. I just wanted to have a solid fan base, not have a bigger rise; I wanted people to be invested and care about what I did and be around for whatever it is that I’m doing. The label and I had two very different views, we both saw me in two very different ways.They saw me and my career going one way and I saw it going a different way.
When it came to a label, like how are you going to promote this, that conversation never sat right with me cause I never knew where it was coming from. When I think about promotion and marketing, I think it’s another way to be creative and think about how I will present myself to people. How do you feel about that, about the industry and your image?
I mean I’m just now becoming familiar with the industry. For me I don’t believe in selling false idols and the image of myself should not be constructed, it should be authentic.
Samm: I think people are going to want to be able to relate. Showing people all this great stuff that you have, showing them you are at a place that they can’t relate to is sort of weird. I guess some people’s story is, I came from the bottom, but there has to be an element of relating to people. We are having a conversation with people. You need to create in order for there to be a conversation that you can gain something from. It’s something that the rest of us as artists that dont wanna do, but we should be aware that we are here representing different kinds of people across the world.
I mentioned Chance the Rapper earlier, as a listener of music from members of the black diaspora across the world, I would liken you to artists such as Anderson Paak or Chance the Rapper. What musical sources do you draw from?
Samm: It would definitely for sure be Anderson Paak and Chance. I wouldn’t say these are people that like… alright for example, Anderson was an inspiration for the new song, “All Good,” but he’s not like someone I sit down and listen to him to draw inspiration from. Funnily enough, a lot of the music I made in the past was more like early Kanye. One thing that I really loved about what Kanye did; I wanted to say stuff to people in a real way without needing it to feel like the mood to go down. Kanye had perfected this, grabbing music, making it sound appealing and talking about what’s real. I feel like I’m coming back to it years later and only now hearing what he’s saying. People like him, Kendrick, Mos Def, Common, Lauryn Hill — the early 2000s for me in regards to Hip Hop was about artists speaking their truth – conscious rap.
You’re not just about the materialism or fame you gained, you’re talking about the mental. They relate to us on a human level. They don’t make us feel like they are inaccessible or like what they have is unattainable. They remind me of being human. Those are the artists I love. There’s just something about them. I resonate with warmth, and feeling warm when listening to music. Their music is appropriate at any time. It’s stuff that you are familiar with but not entrenched in.
Even with people like Fela Kuti, have you gone through his catalog? I wanted to be knowledgeable about these artists, I am more intentional now about who I listen to and why I listen to them. Even now I try to listen to the most obscure and random stuff, so I started listening to Native American music because it helps me concentrate. There is so much that you can take for inspiration. Even classical music and orchestration, just the cinematic feeling that comes together. And I love country and folk music. It’s embedded in me.
Speaking about the multitudes of genre and expression, I speak four languages, and for me art is about synthesizing these worlds and making it all come across as uniform.
Samm: It’s great to see how normal it’s becoming. You can speak more than one language and put it on a song or on an album. To have this heritage and have it come with you to wherever you are. But sometimes you don’t see that in art. Now it’s becoming normalized in film and TV, which is crazy because growing up it was already normal for life to be this way, it just wasn’t represented. I grew up in a Nigerian household with different cultures. But to not see that in the media was not usual to me. To see that it’s becoming normalized is great.
Have you heard the new song “Peng Black Girls?”
Samm: By Enny, oh my days, I just heard this recently, someone put me on. “Peng Black Girls” is what we need more of. She’s not your typical rapper, she’s having fun with it, not taking herself seriously. I watched the video and I felt I related to it. That’s how I grew up, it is what I saw growing up; to see that was a beautiful thing and the song was creative. I’m rooting for her heavily, she’s got something incredible going for her. Those of us from other cultures always recognize different cultures.
In your song “Church,” and in many of your other songs, you talk about faith. And I know your father is a pastor. How has your upbringing impacted your music.
Samm: I remember being in the church and I wasn’t present. It’s easy to play church, it’s a role to uphold. The older I got the more I realized I need to start finding this for myself. I got away from church. Growing up in church you saw how we are supposed to be behaving and it comes as a surprise how flawed we can be as humans. I think when we start off in a church and get released into the world you realize that not everyone is a Christian, you ask questions and become curious.
As I got older, as I found faith for myself, that’s when I wanted to explore faith for myself. It was not for my parents or my friends or anyone. Those are the moments I realize it becomes authentic for me. Authenticity is really being confident in my faith as well. Years ago I wouldn’t have been able to have a discussion on faith. I just want to be able to allow young people to not be ashamed in what I believe in. It became important to share my truth with people. I’m still learning and growing. It’s what I had to find for myself.
I love hearing people’s journey with God and their journey as a human in general. I still lead worship at church. My dad was an actor in Nollywood in Nigeria, so my dad is a creative so he really understood the vibe when I said I wanted to make music. My dad is very creative, easy going and grounded in his own faith and felt like, if this is what God’s calling you to do that’s great. My mom was in a similar position, but she was more stern than my dad. There was a point when I was signing deals, my publishing deal, my record deal, she basically knows how she feels on this, and she just started praying on it. They have both been fully supportive. I think they trust that they raised me well enough that they don’t need to try to tell me what they think I should be doing.
You’re across the seas but the soul and the feeling of Gospel is very concentrated; is music a form of spiritual release for you?
Samm: I always find that sort of stuff for me; I realize in hindsight how spiritual the moment is. I was with my dad the other day and we were sitting down talking about some of the songs I made. And he said he was listening to the lyrics and couldn’t believe that they had come from me.
The songs that I’ve written I realize that I’m not present, God gives me what needs to be said, and I just go with it. I actually forget, I can’t tell you how these songs are written. I black out and suddenly I got a song, like I’m God’s instrument. It’s a gift, I’m a vessel, there are times when it’s unexplainable. It’s a real thing to me anyway, it’s a very beautiful experience when it goes beyond the practical side of it
What community are you trying to represent?
Samm: When you said community, it really made me think that I’m not trynna represent a community; I want to represent the human race.The biggest problem we might have as a human society is the tribalism idea because everyone wants to be seen and heard we are ignoring everyone, we ignore other people.
It’s about love for me. It’s about ensuring the idea of God’s love, ensuring that everyone gets noticed through love, is recognized through love and the way we treat people and how we wish to be treated. It’s about allowing people to see love and God’s love through the way that I act and treat people just through the music in general. We have gotten too used to the idea again of patriotism, nationalism, all the isms; it’s really caused more issue than people would like to admit. It’s about accepting people and loving people. Unless we really become familiar with that, we will stay the same. It about embracing love and God’s love; making sure people feel that and that people can be touched by that
I’m trynna think beyond here, we are caught up on our day to day lives that we don’t think about what’s to come
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