“For me, it’s this version of me that’s always there inside, and to write in this dark space is really freeing“
Sammi Constantine is a musician I have known for a couple of years, and had the privilege to see perform twice back in the days of live music. She has mastered the art of manipulating dark sonic textures to elevate her thoughtful and emotional truths, and has been using her platform to showcase the reality of her personal experience. We caught up over zoom and dissected her journey in music
**this conversation includes mention of an eating disorder
I’m really excited to talk to you about your new release and all of your previous releases because you have a frickin huge catalogue of music out!
Does it feel like you’ve released a lot of music?
I guess so, but I’ve never done a body of work, so in my opinion it’s like I’ve just been drip feeding little bits and pieces. I haven’t had that moment of dumping a whole bunch of music and feeling like it was this big project
I mean, you’ve got like 13 songs out, that’s a whole album!
That’s true! But its really funny because I’m such a different artist compared to who I was even two years ago. In my mind, the last five singles are the ones that are still really relevant to who I am now, and everything else feels like an entirely different project
It’s so interesting how much artists can evolve over time, especially when their catalogue spans many years. I think especially in this last 18 months when we’ve been stuck at home not doing shows there’s been a huge evolution in what artists are wanting to do. Have you found that with your own project?
Oh, definitely, it’s changed everything for me! I think I’ve become more adaptable, and I don’t just mean doing zoom sessions! I’ve always been really involved in the visual side of things and kept it pretty DIY, and I think having to shuffle things around constantly has really taught me a lot about being flexible and not letting my perfectionism get in the way. So in that sense, it’s been really helpful for me. But I also had a chance to get on top of my mental health, which was pretty important. I felt like otherwise I was just going to keep writing about the same things and never actually progressing and healing from them, and I want my writing to be less reflective, and more about transitioning
That’s interesting that you say that, I think artists draw so much on negative emotions, maybe more so than positive emotions when it comes to writing, so there’s almost a risk of just constantly staying in that dark place in order to be creative. You can tell yourself that writing is the creative outlet and catharsis, but sometimes it can make it harder to get over things. If you’re on stage and you’re singing these songs, you want to make sure you’re in a place where you aren’t re-opening wounds.
And songs live for so long before anyone even hears them, the new song is one I wrote literally two years ago! That always happens to me, I write songs that come out two years later! So you might be over those feelings and worked through them by the time they come out
I think that makes it so important for musicians to be on top of their mental health. So they’re not constantly getting whiplash, getting thrown back into this vulnerable world. You’ve always been quite honest about what you’re going through and you make a lot of really great posts about your mental health and your journey, why is it so important for you to be honest about that sort of thing in your writing?
I remember something Twenty One Pilots once said, “don’t leave your listeners in a dark place”, I’m really open with talking about what’s going on, but I always have this little thing in the back of my mind that makes me want to make sure I’m not leaving the listener in this place where they feel heavy. When I’m on stage I try to not feel all of the emotions all over again, and give myself a solution towards the end. I’m also trying to not obsess over everything, and be patient, I think it’s really important to keep releasing music, but not put all this pressure on yourself. I’m a very anxious person, but I don’t really show it in a normal way, I get really frazzled when things aren’t happening according to my plan. It’s strange because its fuel for a lot of my lyrics, and that’s where the lyrics come from. I think with lockdown I’ve been forced to just sit on the couch and write about this chaos and how I’ve been feeling about everything
Yeah absolutely, and I think for a lot of musicians living in that chaos becomes so comfortable, just bouncing from one thing to the next constantly. When you’re put into a lockdown situation where you literally can’t do shows or go to a studio or do anything, it’s hard to not feel productivity guilt
It makes it hard to be patient and do what’s right for you, rather than get swept up in everyone else’s release strategies and plans
Exactly! And people ask me, ‘when are you doing an album?’, but hang on! First of all, where’s the money? I’m trying to stay on top of everything, and even when new apps like TikTok start coming up, we have to constantly adapt and keep on top of all these things. I’ll record a TikTok and it will take an hour and a half, and I don’t have that spare time everyday!
It’s like having a full-time job you aren’t paid for
One hundred percent, but I think what makes an artist stand out is someone who can stay on top of it all
What do you do in order to center yourself when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the music hustle?
I work out a lot, I’m an ex dancer and when I was growing up I did all those physical sports like gymnastics and dancing. For me, it’s all about getting out of the house and walking, I’ve been trying to do my ten thousand steps every day in lockdown! I was at the gym a lot before lockdown, I think it’s a physical thing, but it’s also a really big mental thing for me, just moving my body. I find that if I’m not moving throughout the day I’ll start to feel really restless. It’s funny, it feels like when the blood is flowing, the lyrics are flowing too. I’ll go for a walk for ten minutes and I’ll come back with all of these lyrics!
That’s really good to split up your focus like that, if you’re in the studio or in your room writing all day, every day, it’s really hard to be inspired all the time. When you’re distracting your brain for a second, it’s almost like the gates have opened and suddenly all these ideas come through! Do you find you get inspired by stuff other than music?
I actually do to be honest, I’m one of those weird people that doesn’t listen to a lot of music. I can’t listen to music when I’m working on something else. I only really listen to music in my car or at a party, I don’t really do it that often. The reason for that was because I didn’t want to be influenced by a sound that I then mimicked. I was in this phase of my project where I was really trying to figure out what my sound was because I was a bit all over the pace with electronic pop, and commercial pop, and dark pop. I don’t even know what my genre is, but I didn’t want to be influenced by anything so I really only listened to a very few specific artists.
When your world is music, it’s really hard to passively listen to anything. You’re focusing on the production and the lyrics and everything that’s going on. It can become this massive effort to enjoy music!
Are there artists that you can enjoy easily?
Honestly Halsey is that for me, the production and the lyrics, and I’m obsessed with storytelling! For me, I can just listen and really deeply relate to what she’s saying, whereas when I’m listening to Australian artists, I find I just compare myself so much to what they’re doing. It’s frustrating and it can be a detriment as well, because I’m doing my own thing and I’m not keeping up with what’s meant to be “happening”. Maybe I’m focusing on a genre that other people have already left behind, but I just love it! I also really love older music like Missy Higgins, like, ‘The Sound Of White’ and ‘On A Clear Night’ are albums I’ll go back to every now and again. Also Alanis Morissett, music like that I can just enjoy because I already know and I grew up with it.
I think a lot of musicians really fall back onto the music that they grew up on because it’s got such a comfort to it. It can also really shape your sound and how you understand and create your own music.
The funny thing is, with my dance history I have always learnt to analyse music. If I wasn’t writing music, I’m was moving on a particular beat or a particular lyric or expression. So I’ve been analysing music since forever, and I actually find silence more peaceful than anything else.
How about we talk about this new song! Tell me a little bit about ‘The Show’. What is it about? Where is the inspiration coming from? What are you communicating?
Basically this one was written in a pretty dark place in my life, and I say that about pretty much every song because a lot of my music comes from pain. I was in this strange period where I moved back in with my parents at 24 after a really crappy break-up, and I felt like my independence had been totally stripped away from me. It was like I lost this security blanket, and I found myself in a relapse. In the past, I’ve been in and out of struggling with anorexia and depression, and fell into that again. It was really hard because I didn’t really have a reason to stay on top of my health. Nothing felt right anymore, my body didn’t feel like it was mine, home didn’t feel like home because it wasn’t. I became a little bit self-destructive, I was staying out too late and sleeping on other people’s couches. It was a really exhausting and isolating time in my life, I even slept in my car some nights. These lyrics came from all the different feelings attached to this situation, I usually write a lot of poetry and letters to myself, to my future self and my past self. A lot of my lyrics come kind of, talking to myself. This song was an attempt to make sense of what was going on, and understand why I was this self destructive version of myself. I was safe but nothing felt safe, and I would transform into this dark side of myself just to cope, and I just felt too exhausted to stop it from taking over.
You leave one semi-stable situation but have all this emotional hurt going on, only to move on to a more emotionally freeing situation, but with no stability, and it’s hard to know what’s better when you feel so overwhelmed by it all. I think that’s why retrospect is so important in those situations.
Exactly, and it’s really interesting because during this time I had a lot of people telling me I was just being dramatic, I had my parents house to go back to so why was I acting so selfishly? I think a lot of people around me in my circle at the time didn’t really understand mental health, and a few of my friends didn’t really know my history with my eating disorder. For me, it was really difficult to navigate what I was going through with these opinions telling me that I was being selfish and I just needed to snap out of it. I took that destructive character like, “fine, watch me!”
Well I think that you certainly packed a lot of emotion into this track, and the visuals are so striking and so cool. It really feels like your fingerprints are all over the visuals for this track and it really is a personal retelling of your experience. Have you directed before?
I worked really closely with one videographer who I just adore and I think he’s so talented, and he does all the editing and is absolutely amazing, but I’m very bossy so I’ll storyboard everything and I’m really involved with what’s going on. It takes me a lot of time to put together what I’m trying to visually portray because I get really distracted. It’s like I have too many ideas, so it’s really hard to hone in on that one concept. I love visuals, the visuals for me is 50 percent of the release! I hate releasing music without the music video because I think it really paints the story so well. I worry that I’m too bossy sometimes though!
I don’t think that it’s bossy though, you care about your project and you care about what you want to say, and you have the ideas! An artist who is storyboarding and having ideas and visual concepts is an artist who’s going to release something that is really cohesive and is hopefully really reflective of what they actually want.
Yeah, exactly. I really enjoy creating in this way too. I think it’s good to be able to put everything together yourself and be really proud of it. I can only watch the video so many times because I get really scared of myself! I look bizarre with the contacts in, but I needed something to differentiate between that self-destructive me and then normal me
It’s so cool! It’s also so clear that you enjoy the visual process because there’s so much cohesion in all of your releases. The visual artistry behind everything makes all your songs feel very episodic because the imagery is so clear.
I really love putting it all together and having a visual moment for all the songs
I want to talk a little bit about some of your other songs. ‘Roses’ is very different to your other music, it’s such a beautiful Disney piano ballad!
Tell me about it!
What was it that made you want to do something that is pretty left of field for what you have been releasing?
It was about two years ago now, I’d written the chorus of this song on my own one night, just inspired by something that my friend was going through, and I showed it to Gabriel, who is on the track, in my first sessions with him. He was like, oh my god I can hear everything around this! We went downstairs to the piano just to see what would come out, so he’s playing the piano and I’m just blah-blahing over the top of it and I was recording the whole thing on my phone. We stopped for a second and listened back to the recording on the phone, and we were both really emotional actually! To be honest, I still go back to that voice memo because something about it was so special and so beautiful. We had only just met each other, and I had actually just gone through another break-up literally that day! We kept working on it, we did another session with another song, but we came back to this song about a year later. It was meant to come out in 2020 to wrap up the year, but I just really didn’t want to release it because the year was just so exhausting. I held off, and we actually started dating, which is super cute, and I wanted to just drop this song for the fun of it. I just really wanted to shake things up for just a second and see what happened. The response was actually so good and we were not expecting it which is awesome. I didn’t have anything else that I wanted to do because of COVID, and I was feeling really defeated about music, so I’m so happy that I had this little moment and release it into the world.
I think it’s important to shake up what you’re doing every once in a while so that listeners can see your versatility and different sides of your personality of songwriting. This song is so different to what you’ve released in the past, but it’s still intrinsically rooted in your writing and your vocal inflexions. It really subverts your expectations of what a ‘Sammi’ song is. Did you find it hard to release something that has such a different sonic palette to what you’ve done in the past?
I was scared because it was so different, but not I wasn’t scared about it being stripped back because I kind of built my following on stripped back covers, and every time I do a cover I get a crazy positive response so I knew people would like it. I was worried about it fitting into my ‘branding’ and all of that, but I’m really happy we did it to be honest
It’s a hard balance between branding being important, and branding holding you back. As much as you want to say ‘screw you!’ to capitalism and strategies, it’s really hard to actually make it in the music industry with that kind of attitude! But being formulaic with every release can sometimes cause a rigidness in the music.
Exactly, and when you stumble on music that is so different and interesting, it feels really special so I’m hoping people stumble on this track and get to see a different side of my music
Absolutely. You said in one of your Instagram posts that the lyrics
love me after dark so I can learn all your flaws
show me who you are before you leave your clothes on my floor
Why is that lyric so special to you?
It’s kind of like that transition of giving yourself to someone emotionally, but also physically. You want it to be real, and after everything that I’ve been through with these broken relationships, I just want to see that ‘real you’, so that’s what those lyrics mean
Yeah, and I think that with a song that’s so stripped back, lyrics like that can really sing because it’s just so clear. Without all these flourishes you’re just asking ‘show me who you are’, and I think that’s a really good setting to have a lyric like that.
Let’s talk a bit about ‘Growing Pains’, Dark Pop is absolutely the vibe, and I was wondering, what is it about this genre that really draws you in and makes you want to write in it?
I think it’s stepping into a character! When I’m on stage singing these songs, I’m playing a character, but I’m also being really true to myself. I’ve lived a lot of life in my twenty-seven years, and I haven’t had a lot of ways to deal with it other than talking. For me, it’s this version of me that’s always there inside, and to write in this dark space is really freeing for me. I don’t want to be trapped in a dark place all the time, and I’m a pretty positive and optimistic person for the most part. To step into that character is cathartic and freeing
It’s interesting because the music itself is so honest and such a reflection of who you are and what you’re going through, but the imagery and the soundscape behind it might not necessarily reflect how you portray yourself. There’s this dark-pop cinematic psychotic character you’re playing, but the music is still deeply rooted in your personal truth.
At the same time, when I think back to dancing, it’s all dramatic and full of big movements, and the way that I perform in my music videos is very dramatic and full of these weird jellyfish hand movements!
I wanted to talk a little bit about your live stuff, what was your favourite show to perform and why?
So I went on tour with Rita Ora in 2019, and I don’t think I could beat that! We did a show in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, and one hundred percent hands down my favourite show was in Perth. I don’t know what it was, but that audience was so engaged, and even though they had never heard my songs before, they were trying to sing along and get involved. I just loved the enthusiasm, there was just something about that crowd. We didn’t even really have a dressing room or anything, we were in a little alleyway on the stage rehearsing, but that show was just so special, definitely my favourite
I think your music evokes that sort of enthusiasm, you just want to jump around and be apart of it
Exactly, and that’s what makes it so much fun!
I want to talk a little bit about this series of releases, there’s ‘Mannequin’, ‘See What You See’, ‘Trigger Heavy’, ‘Heroine’, ‘Growing Pains’, are these tracks the same ‘moment’ for you or are they all quite distinctly different?
No, they were definitely conceptual. ‘Trigger Heavy’ was this midway point to what was going on, and ‘Heroine’, and ‘Growing Pains’ were part of this conceptual series of songs that were describing my eating disorder, but they all touched on different parts of what it felt like to go through, come out of, relapse, and find myself again in that period.
‘See What You See’ was an acknowledgement of the people who were trying to help me, but I wasn’t letting them, and it’s about being sorry for that. ‘Growing Pains’, as the title suggests, is that painful process of having to accept physical growing and also emotional growing. Coming out of that, ‘Heroine’ was about being your own hero and really trying to acknowledge that even though you might not love yourself all the time, you have to be the hero of your story. ‘Mannequin’ is talking directly to the eating disorder and saying, “why are you here! What do you want from me, how can I get rid of you?” I really wanted it to be really raw and real, I didn’t want to sugarcoat anything or have anything be swept under the rug. I wanted it to tell it how it was, and that it was terrible.
Did you find these episodic releases were a turning point for your mental health as well? Did you feel like you were getting through things with the releases or was it not necessarily interacting with your real life feelings about everything?
No, it was definitely real at the time, especially with a song like ‘See What You See’ because I was at this point where a lot of people around me were giving me ultimatums in terms of getting on top of my health. I think what really changed my perspective was actually COVID and being in lockdown as well as all the crazy stuff that was going on around the world. It was like all of a sudden, I’m not the only person in the world that’s feeling lost
Have you been able to do these songs live very much?
Once! Which is so sad, and I did do a few live streams with proper sound production which was so much fun. But no, I haven’t really been able to perform them live yet.
How do you think it’ll go? These songs are really quite personal and emotional for you, are you looking forward to doing them on stage?
A couple months ago, me and my music producer put together the new set, and I’m really excited and ready to play them live! The one time I did get to perform these songs they were actually received really well, I think there is something about being extra honest in the songs that translated really well. I don’t know if it is relatable for everyone, but I can’t please everybody. Even if it is just for me, I felt like I can be really true to myself on stage and people can connect with that
For sure, and that energy transference is so important with live music. It’s such an outpouring of your emotions and your own energy, and it really matters to receive that back. I think that’s something a lot of musicians are feeling so fatigued with right now- live streaming is not a fraction of the experience! There’s so much energy there when you perform live and you working with adrenaline and with other people in the space.
Especially when you’re performing something you believe in, I think it’s really important to be honest and sing and perform from your heart, because the audience can tell when you’re aren’t into it.
One hundred percent. Well if you could curate the perfect listening environment for a big live show, what would it look like?
It would be awesome to have people right up to the stage, and have a few dancers, I’d love visuals that compliment each song, and maybe project a bit of the music video too. I don’t think this venue exists in my head, but it’s kind of circusy, kind of clubby…
So a big circus tent club!
Yes! Think Pink!, Beyonce, something epic like what they do
Well thanks for sitting down with me! Do you have any last thoughts or some wisdom for emerging artists?
Honestly, the biggest thing is finding people around you that are there for you, not for any other reason. I know that might sound obvious, but your team needs to be people that care about you, not just the music or success, they need to care about you. People that are going to stick through the shitty periods. It’s important to network outside of your team too, and expand your skills. There’s something really powerful about an artist who can direct themselves and have a vision for themselves, not just sing or not just write. I get so inspired by people who are really passionate about every part of the process. But I think probably the number one thing for me is having a team around you that cares about your wellbeing.
Having a good team around you is so important, and it’s something that you do need to spend time curating. The people around you are valuable and they matter, and they influence your emotions as well as your music
Yeah exactly, and I think it’s also important to not let go of people just because they’re not there with you at your level, because friendship is really important, and we should all be supporting each other.