Parri Thomas

Beginning her career covering songs and creating vlogs on YouTube, U.K. singer-songwriter dodie fully embodies her growth as an artist and woman on her debut album Build A Problem. Discussing topics such as the album’s meaning, inspiration, composition processes, and its themes with Variance's Ethan Ijumba. Throughout their conversation they discuss dodie’s work as an artist but also her growth as a human being as well. Be sure to read the full interview below and to stream Build A Problem on all streaming platforms.

Ethan Ijumba: So first things first, you are dodie the famous U.K. singer-songwriter that’s been pretty killing the game since 2011 and started with your original page which was doodles5 and then it became doddleoddle.  And you started on that wave YouTube singers that came up since, like, 2011. And it's crazy, 10 years since then you've still been going, and now we're getting to your debut album after releasing three EP’s. How exactly has it gone from being a singer on YouTube? Just making covers and playing the ukulele and doing collapse isn't now. How has the journey to now finally getting to your debut album?

Dodie: It's been long, but I honestly don't see another way in which I could have ever done this. I think I thought, like, tiptoed into my career by just learning so much. I had doodles5, which was just like a channel where I wanted to, like, put my videos online to, like, see my face on like the computer like on the Internet. It was just such a novelty because it was like watching TV, but like putting yourself on TV on. But when I started doddleoddle my channel, the first video I put up was just an original song that I wrote in school for homework. So it kind of like naturally blended writing songs as a hobby and schoolwork and performances at school and then changing to performing at YouTube conventions, but as friends like, we're all just a bunch of kids on, and then suddenly the kids grew up and I started putting on events. And then I started, like putting on my own shows. And then it turned into, like these huge tours. And it's the same with, like, making music like it was just me writing for homework. And then it turned into, like putting my songs online and then recording them. It all just happened, like very, very gradually, and I think I had to go through everything I've gone through to learn how to get here, I don't know how else I would have done it.

EI: Did you initially always have the hopes and dreams of one day be like a singer at this level one day, and how exactly was it for you when you first tapped into music and said to yourself this is what I want to do?

Dodie: I had no plans, I thought it was an impossible industry to get into. And I was always taught that if you work or study something creative or try to get into the creative industry you're either gonna be completely famous or completely not. So my parents were super against me studying anything like that or trying to become a musician. So I just thought resigned to the fact that I would go to a University or College and study something maybe teach, which you know, I still would have loved to do. But I sort of accidentally fell into my career because it was such a hobby on YouTube was such a great platform to just upload my stuff of fun and then, luckily, it turned out to be a career.

EI: And it's crazy because we've seen singers who began on YouTube who are now famous in the mainstream side of media such as Justin Bieber, Tori Kelly, Shawn Mendez, Charlie Puth, and then now you've worked with the new wave acts such as like Thomas Sanders, Tessa Violet, Lauren Aquilina and they're doing great things YouTube. So we're seeing like, the whole new wave of it, which is incredible to see because you've just made such a huge imprint We never saw thought this platform was going to be such a thing. But aside from that, you now have not. But you also have your other channel, which is...I'm going to butcher this but it’s doodle-vlow-gol...I’m so sorry.

Dodie: It’s fine, it’s doddlevloggle. It doesn't mean anything.

EI: Overall though it's pretty much a channel of just you doing your skits, your stories, random videos, and your everyday life. But was there any reason that you wanted to create a second channel? Was it just, like, kind of, like be? Was that kind of to be what dooders5 initially was supposed to be?

Dodie: Yeah, I think I kind of got a little swept up in the whole YouTube world, and I loved YouTubers and YouTube so for a while, I knew I wanted to do music. Like all the time is my main kind of portfolio content. But I really wanted to join in with the whole YouTube gang as well. So I made doddlevloggle as a way to sort of chat and also show behind the scenes and maybe put up some videos that I didn't want to showcase as my main thing, maybe just to sort of test the waters before I worked on it anymore so It was a really useful place to have. And then as I grew a little older and I realized I didn't want to kind of show anything too personal anymore, I sort of backed away from it. But now it’s becoming really handy again because I'm figuring out different boundaries as I get older and it is really useful to have a bunch of places to kind of separate your content. Sometimes I'm like, What? This is so silly. I have things to share and I wish I just had 1 place to put it, but I think it’s quite useful.

Parri Thomas

EI: No, I think it's good, I think if you try to break down to certain boxes and filing cabinets of what I want to show, that's my emotional side or what I'd like to show, or this is just a dorky little video, me being funny, but it would just be stressing of trying to balance that. I feel like on your part you have to pretty much have all these different hats based on the work that you do is such as being a singer and YouTuber and then you have to go throughout the writing process as a songwriter and then if you ever get to the production side it would just be so much to do. So I don't blame you for that whatsoever, but it's amazing to see all the different sides of you.

Dodie: Thank you, I was gonna say it's weird I don't see YouTube as a job anymore. It's more like a hobby like it's weird that it's so intertwined with my work because, obviously I am a personality as well. But, you know I have no obligation to make videos I just do whenever I fancy it because it runs alongside whatever I'm doing. So, yeah, I don't know I mean, all of my jobs are just a hobby really. I don't know how it happened. I'm very lucky but I don't know what isn't?

EI: So aside from your YouTube channels and media with how you did music-wise. Growing up you said Emily King was a big influence on you as an artist and then you also were a big fan of like musicals like The Sound of Music, La La Land, Les Misérables such and such from there. When it came down to musical movies was that when you started to be like, Oh I love music so much to where it would be a start for you, or was it just a specific artist, or how did exactly come about?

Dodie: So I found Emily King quite late in the game, actually, but she still remains such a big influence for me. I think my love of music started when I was really young. My parents would show me a lot of their music libraries. And I think I was just a very dramatic child, I know we all were but I loved listening to songs and looking out the window and pretending I was in a music video. So it was only natural that I somehow went into this avenue but, yeah, I loved musicals as a kid. I always wanted to like, I don't know, be on stage, but my voice is so tiny I couldn't quite do it but I loved all media.

EI: Do you have any main favorites that brought you up into what you’re doing now and influenced you?

Dodie: I watched Chicago a lot as a kid I loved that as a musical. My music taste, was quite limited because I wasn't allowed to listen to other things. So I kind of had a library of quite old-time music like Electric Light Orchestra or a band from the seventies, which I just adored same as The Beatles, Stevie Wonder then I sort of ventured out when I was a teen and found other music. It's so varied like I can't even pinpoint it I would download a random song that I got free off of a clothing website and then I would pick one random song from a musical from the fifties or a popular pop song. It was always so varied and I could never pinpoint my music taste because it just doesn't matter, like if I like it, then I like it.

EI: So basically, now with that being said, for your album as well as your EPs that you've released. A lot of it incorporates a very big acoustic sound with it and it’s very folk and pop-based as you blend the two worlds between that on Intertwined, You, and Human. But now that you're releasing your first debut album when it came down to Build A Problem, did you have to go a certain direction, or was there a different mindset that you have compared to composing your album compared to when it came to composing your previous EP’s?

Dodie: I think I'm lucky in that? A lot was more accessible to me. So I've always said I wanted to have strings on my records. Luckily, now with funding. I was able to hire a 13-piece string orchestra. So I wrote, the parts for six songs that all kind of blend together. So that has allowed, like such drama and feeling to my album that I've always wanted to do I've always wanted to try that, and it just sounds perfect, so yeah, it's so much grander, I think just like all of my experience from making those EP’s and learning and performing along the way has allowed me to, like, make something like a body of work that is just a lot bigger, but still in my own way is just so holy me, I think which is nice and it feels like a portfolio and I'm very proud of it.

EI: Yeah, I was just gonna say you have a lot of instrumental themes such as traditional orchestra sounds on this album. Was there a certain process that you went through to incorporate that as well as what exactly made you want to add that in? Because this album is very much like It's like a confessional booth, a therapy session, and also a diary at the same time and it's amazing.

Dodie: Oh my God wow, cool, thank you. So I wanted to add strings because, like I said my voice is so small and I can't quite get across the intensity that I want to write for so using strings it's such an easy way to add tension, release, drama, and feeling especially with so many of them. So yeah, I think it just naturally goes along with the kind of music I write, which is kind of inspired by musicals but also very filmic. I think I write quite visually as well so that marries it up. 

EI: And I know for your writing process, you say that you have two methods where you pretty much have the Frankenstein method or you normally just let the song pour out of you. So for this album, and over the months that you put it together was there a certain process that used more than the other in terms of this, or was it pretty much a little bit of mix of both?

Dodie: That's a good question, quite a lot of them were stitched together and Frankenstein built. I now tend to write more like I have some lines that are from around in my head that I write down and then I return to later. There are definitely a few songs that were just, like, pulled out of me. Like "Four Tequilas Down" is a song that I wrote in the morning, then something like “Hate Myself” was stitched.  

EI: Aside from the musicals, were there any specific people, albums, or artists that you listened to that inspired and influenced you to tap into to get this album right? 

Dodie: Yeah my friend Rusty Clinton, he made an album called “Big Bear Little Bear”, which also flowed as a whole piece that interlinked sort of drone which sounds really, really nice. So I listened to that after I finished kind to get the vibe of it. I also listened to The Staves record a lot I really enjoyed it, there's a song called “Blood I Bled”, which has this intense build-up of organic music like strings and drums and that kind of thing and their use of harmonies to make something burst through. And then Jacob Collier sort of opened my eyes in just writing however, I want to and knowing that I'm right and I should trust my intuition that's sort of like broke something free in me and I'm grateful to him for that.

EI: Another frequent collaborator that you’ve worked with the incredibly and immensely talented Joe Rubio and he's worked with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Maisie Peters, Rag'n'Bone Man, and you guys have done work together from your earlier days that you started dropping your EP’s and such

Dodie: Yeah, he worked on “Human”  with me and we worked together for the whole record. 

EI: So when working together, how would you describe your guys’ relationship and the composition process that you have with one another.

Dodie: We might see just sort of sit about and chat and piss ourselves laughing, to be honest and occasionally work. Yeah, no, he's just like the best person to collaborate with he's so enthusiastic, so easy going and relaxed as well. For me, I can get stressed whenever I'm trying to describe a particular song, and I'm like, It's not quite right, but he's always so patient and understanding and will work hard to find something, right, no matter how many tries to take and I'm grateful to him for that. Making this album with him was one of the best experiences of my life. It was just so, so brilliant, and we still listen to it now and text each other casually just being like “This is good”!

EI: So in terms of that, when you guys made this album, I honestly think a lot of it’s themes based on growth, mistakes, humility, self-reflection, and such like that you've really been open about speaking about your own faults, flaws, and issues mentality. Do you feel that this album has been a reflection of who you are as a person of what you've been going through, gone through, and what helps you cope and let that out in a therapeutic kind of method?

Dodie: Certainly, I think this is a very truthful representation of a year in my life of being at 24 just like everything that comes with being 24, a woman, someone with mental health problems, and family issues like whatever that brings. I'm really pleased to have it all sort of like packaged up into an album in the form of music because I think I'll personally look back on it and listen to it and remember what it was like. And I think it's super truthful and honest on everything that has happened to me you know.

EI: So with your own personal mental health battles, how do you battle and go about it in your own life? Because for the ones that have issues of their own there's always different ways that people have when it comes to coping. Is there anything that you do that you yourself would advise and suggest to others in terms of battling mental health?

Dodie: I think it's taken me a while, but I think I’m finally sort of accepting that this will just be with me for maybe forever about however long and that took a long time to really do because I was so angry that I had to deal with all these problems and on,, don't get me wrong like I still do therapy like every few weeks and I'll always be on the lookout so, for a lot more help, and I try and look after myself much as I can. But I think before I was like, you know, stretching myself so wide, calling these testing places, and on desperately trying to figure out, and trying different pills and that kind of thing. Whereas now I think I think I just have to accept that this is like something that I just have,  they always say that people with mental health issues is you have to let it become a friend, and I think that's what I'm trying to do. So, yeah, I don't know. Maybe that's not good advice for some people, but I know for me like it certainly helps when I try and work with my bad brains rather than against it and sometimes just accept that this is where I am and on this is what I'll have to be for however long until it passes through. 

Parri Thomas

EI: Do you feel that with each musical release you've had, you give a piece of yourself sort of like on Intertwined and Human and even on Build A Problem as well shows that, but do you feel like each one of your releases you try to incorporate topics for others to understand what you and they also go through.

Dodie: Definitely, yeah I honestly just don't think I can help it like I'm always just going to write honestly and, like, right about what comes to mind. And I usually figure out how to talk about it later, because I like writing the music so much Oh, yeah, it's weird that it's sort of like comes alongside with me in my life. And is left there and for people to to look at and listen to, but I sometimes think it's in fact I mostly think it's not really about me, and I know a lot of people are curious and I want to know who I am, but I think what's really valuable is when people listen to this music and see it as a reflection of their own life. Because that's what it's supposed to do and that is what I think is most important.

EI: So for this album did you also have a specific direction that you wanted to go with? For example, some if not most rap albums are based on the themes about wanting to prove and claim the title as the best rapper. But when you're more like in a songwriting sense, you're not really trying to play for competition. You're more so trying to make music that people can feel, change, or relate to in their life. Or was it something more for you to be like? I want people to see this is who I am as a person and have that message for another person that goes through this and relates to it?

Dodie: I think honestly I wanted that after making it retrospectively because I wrote it regardless I don't think I could help myself if It just came out of me. Then when I look back on it at first, I was quite afraid I was like, “oh god, do I really want to share this vulnerable part of me?” I think the thing that was driving through me is, “yeah, of course, I do like this is human, you're right.” It is like who I am, or at least a part of my life that happened and I can't hide from it.” And then I kind of want to show myself and I can stick to my words and say like, I am human. I'm a human being on everyone goes through something messy.

EI: Most importantly, and it's like it's good to show that because it's not easy to show that, for one thing, But with how you’re portrayed by other people you’re someone that people will see look at and be like, Wow, if she can do it I can do it or like, this is album or song something for me to get through what I'm going through, and it has something for people to also connect with and relate to, which is it's amazing because not a lot of people have that message musically, Because it's so progressive socially such as like Me Too movement or I Stand With Her since I think that women have the hardest and most oppressive treatment in society aside from certain people from other races, religions, and ethnicities. So this album just shows you a new example of what a perfect person is which is to say this is who I am and I'm not perfect. As well as it can help people in terms of accepting flaws and faults, and you’re here to share and show that no one is alone.

Dodie: Yeah. Thanks man, yeah, that's perfect.

EI: So aside from that with everything on this album, you also have ALOSIA (A Lot Of Songs In April/August) which is the demos, unreleased versions, and such. Is this an extended edition that you're only going to see if you get or listen to the deluxe version of the album? Or is it just demos and extras of something to include?

Dodie: Yeah, so we made the album in 2019 and kind of finished it because there was still a few songs we had to add we had to finish “Hate Myself” and also “Cool Girl”. So it was sort of rounded off early 2020 and then lockdown happened and I wrote so many more songs just cause we were all inside and I was bored And then I don't know, since we had more time off and having the album being pushed back because of Corona. Like we just thought, why not? let's just shove it all on a swell s Oh, yeah, I think I'm I'm glad. Like we're also putting out, obviously all these songs will be available online in some way. But, if you want to buy the deluxe album then of course, you can have that as a package. But yeah, I really like the idea that we're just sort of like putting out everything that I've made over the last two years.

EI: With that being said is there anything that you look that you want to do next that you have in mind on what you want to focus on as your career still going? 

Dodie: Honestly I have no idea. I've got a few songs that I've written since that, you know, I might, put together for, like an EP. But I think I want to try something different maybe, you know, writing for something visual, or I'm also working on scoring for an animated series at the moment so that's kind of like taking up a bit of my time. Yeah, it's a show called “Final Space” it's on Netflix set in motion, so that's been interesting and fun and has taught me a lot. Maybe that will lead on to something else or working more collaboratively, I'm not too sure I just have to wait and see.