London based singer-songwriter dodie draws listeners by sculpting a picture of her own experiences and often turbulent emotions through song. The resulting project is a collection of works that can, according to the writer, bring opportunity for others to process their own feelings as they surface unexpectedly.
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Following the release of two well received EP’s, the artist shares her debut, full length record, Build A Problem. The album dives into dodie’s mind and heart, carrying both heavy lyrical concepts, and beautiful sonic exploration.
“I’m just so excited to release something I am, I think for the first time, completely proud of and utterly satisfied with,” dodie tells American Songwriter. “I adore so many moments—it is grand, it is intimate. It’s delicious and is a bed of feelings and has waves of emotion and I am just in love with every musical and lyrical decision. It really feels like this is a portfolio of who I am and what I create, and I know I love it because I’ve sat on it for a year and am still excited!”
Human, released in 2019, was the writer’s latest project preceding Build A Problem. But in both creative processes, dodie says her main focus was not to merely churn out songs for a record, but to write songs which give voice to life’s conflicts, intricate feelings and many lessons.
“I remember looking at the work of writing such a huge project ahead of me and freaking out—and then before I knew it, I had over 10 [songs],” dodie says. “The main difference with Build A Problem was writing the string arrangements for the section in the middle that flows together. [It was] super challenging to try and balance so many worlds in my head and struggling CPU, but unbelievably rewarding, especially when hearing them in real players.”
Build A Problem carries raw honesty, portrayed in very nuanced ways and dodie explains much of the inspiration comes from the legitimate personal crisis she was going through.
“I lost myself a little in the year that this was written—the songs are spacey, promiscuous, angry, ashamed, sometimes all at once around the same topic. I discovered that life is far from black or white, and so are the feelings associated with everything,” dodie says. “Things you think you have come to understand will be ripped away from you again as you grow older and learn even more. I’m still going through whatever it is, I think. I’m not sure if anyone ever settles on knowing themselves wholly —so hopefully this will resonate with everyone.”
The lyrical content and music choices are sometimes juxtaposed, with an ominous concept paired over a lighthearted sonic underlay. The abstract nature of a song is, according to dodie, one of the most interesting parts of the creative process.
“When I dig deeper and maybe am a little more honest in my work, the structure/style becomes a little less conventional,” dodie notes, “and contrasting or matching the sound to the themes of my music is one of my favorite parts of creating. I don’t know how a song comes to be —it’s bizarre. It’s like a dream, a slice of subconscious, and there’s something so abstract and yet so specific about it. I always inherently know whether a song is upbeat and silly, to laugh away a thought, or whether it’s serious and we build a distorted world to surround it in despair.”
The record marks a new stage for her career, dodie emphasizes, not only in project length or reach, but in perspective and confidence.
“I think for a long time I was really worried about what people will think of me after I put this out there. This album is so honest and so raw and doesn’t paint me in the best light a lot of the time. But once I realised it doesn’t matter—people will listen to this and bring their own experiences and lives—I started feeling like this was entirely the right thing to do,” the writer says. “I know we have all felt these feelings. I hope people will enjoy the music and as a bonus, maybe find something in it to process a clunky feeling through how I’ve processed mine.
“I’m really grateful I was given the opportunity to write so much music—pop songs and traditional structure to soaring strings and theatre,” dodie continues. “I think for a while I felt a little illegitimate as an artist, probably because I was a girl who played the ukulele at first, and that stereotype is still damning, which I think is bullshit —ukuleles are an incredible accessible instrument and I’m so grateful for it being a gateway into learning guitar and a whole other style or writing. I think this album has proved that I am a musician—most importantly, to myself.”
While live shows are still only questionably on the horizon, the songwriter says she’s taking this time to enjoy a project she loves and keep the rest of the year open to adventure, both practically and creatively.
“I’d love to try something new, live somewhere different, write with other people for the first time, write for other people,” dodie says. “I’m excited to start a different project, but I’m also excited to live in this project a little longer, to finally share it with anyone who’d love to listen.”
Photo by Parri Thomas