NewTracks New Artist: Sammie

NewTracks New Artist: Sammie

Illustrating that the pathway to music production isn’t always flagged by school-age musicianship or vocal training, Auckland ‘newcomer’ Sammie found her own path via a childhood of dance and early adulthood as a club DJ. In 2021 the millennial Libran has released a track called Preoccupied that found its way onto NZ On Air Music‘s latest NewTracks compilation, making it a debut of sorts. 

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Samantha Whitaker, and I’m from Palmerston North. 

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I grew up dancing all through school. Hip hop, jazz, contemporary – I lived and breathed dance. The obnoxious costumes, the inappropriate-for-my age routines, knowing every inch of the Ministry Of Sound annuals! There’s something so incredibly freeing about performing – ironic considering I came from such a conservative upbringing. I wasn’t even allowed to go to the school disco, so I’m not sure how I got away with performing on stage in sequin hot-pants at 11. 

Any other musical projects might we know you from?

I’ve been DJing in Auckland for a few years now. Started at local clubs and have been lucky enough to use it to travel, and play at different festivals around New Zealand. Hidden Valley and Rhythm & Vines have been some of my favourite festivals to be a part of. 

What’s the background to how you started to perform as Sammie? 

Sammie was the product of me being a Libra – time-efficient and indecisive. There’s so much pressure when it comes to a name (in any creative venture), and for some reason, it’s so easy to offer suggestions to other people, but it’s really hard to come up with one yourself.

It also seemed like everyone was coming up with really “cool” and organically effortless names. I had gone through a long list of potentials and they all made me feel like I was trying too hard. I had been using Sammie for club bookings and eventually that just caught on. It’s definitely not an intentionally “creative decision”, but I guess I can claim the “effortless” and “organic” part. 

I do think it gives me the freedom to evolve with my music and performance style.

How has your own music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

I love the idea of music transporting you somewhere with a feeling: nostalgia, freedom, I really just want people to connect with it in their own way.

I think that’s what’s probably evolved the most for me as of late – stopping the comparison of myself to other creatives, or thinking that there’s a right way to do things, and instead just doing what I love, my way.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date? 

So many highlights. I travelled to the Maldives to DJ there for a few months! Spring break in Rarotonga and Fiji, but Rhythm & Vines will always hold that special place in my heart. The atmosphere is magic and it’s when I feel like I have so much freedom with my set. Gigs aside, my biggest highlight is the people I’ve met along the way – so many creative, interesting people! It’s such an exciting world that I love so much to be a part of. 

What makes Preoccupied stand out for you as a single?

I think Preoccupied marks a new step for me in my production journey. I’ve always had technical input in the mixing stages from other producers to elevate my work but Preoccupied feels like it was a little more untouched in the final stage.

I feel like it shows development in my style as a DJ and represents more what music I play in my sets, as well as foreshadowing what I have planned to release next.

What is the story behind Preoccupied?

Preoccupied for me is a lot about my process of letting go, and being okay to fail. I started it in our first lockdown in 2020 and found myself really struggling to finish it – nothing was good enough. I actually almost threw the whole idea out, but after a bit of a break from it I came back to it and listened to just enjoy it, and then all of a sudden I finally got it finished. 

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I think the moment when the second drop hits is my favourite. It’s a moment I was so excited about when I made it and kind of pays homage to the style of music I originally wanted to make. I think it catches you off guard a little too, which is something I always appreciate in a dance track.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where?

It was a lockdown piece, so all my suffocation and walls getting smaller anxiety is in it. I was lucky enough to record the vocals at Stebbing Recording Studio which is like stepping into a ’70s time warp, it’s amazing in there! I recorded the vocals with the help of my friends and extremely talented artists Kedu Carlo (Carly Gill & Jess Penson). Carly and I worked on some of the mixing together and the final mixdown and master was done by Ethan McLeary, another talented NZ producer who goes by Sushi Mane. I am a huge advocate of surrounding yourself with creative talents and just absorbing all the goodness as much as you can – let it inspire you.  

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

You know that feeling of euphoria and freedom you get on a dancefloor, at a festival, brooding alone in your room listening to nostalgic music… that!

Being able to be in the moment and let everything go, that’s what I need from music and always the first thing I think about when I make it.  

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Going back to collaborative efforts – a lot of my friends are DJs or work in music, so we’re constantly discussing or showing each other what we love at the moment. I always ask myself what I would want from a track as a listener, but being around so many weirdos and exposing myself to people with great tastes definitely helps. 

Who else is in your team?

I’m currently self-managed. I produce the tracks and write and perform the vocals myself. I would definitely love to collaborate with other artists in future and find some representation, but I am grateful for the time I have had doing it myself, it’s pushed me and made me really work for things that I want. Being forced to hustle has really helped me to be definitive about finding my sound as an artist. 

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

At the moment Sammie is my main focus but I do have some unreleased tracks on the way that I am really excited about.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

The Kedu Carlo remix of L2K by Aroha is an amazing track i often play in my DJ sets, I also play a few Kadyn Webster tunes, I especially love his track Might Mouse, and Magik J aka Dick Johnson is someone I have always looked up to a lot, his remix of Ya Mama by Fatboy Slim is a go-to track in my sets.

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others? 

I haven’t previously applied before and in all honesty, I never expected to be chosen. Coming from the dance music scene I never viewed these sorts of opportunities being realistic to someone like me, and I get so wrapped up in the music that I really forget how important it is to just take a stab at things and also to put effort into my self-promotion. My advice is to stay true to your sound as an artist. If you love what you make then you can stand strong in your work, and I really think that translates to the audience.  

Music is such a personal and vulnerable thing to me so honestly just submitting an application in the first place was scary. I just remembered how important it is to back yourself and step out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I did it, but vulnerability is definitely my next hurdle. 

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

There are a few dance music labels/platforms I love and follow to stay inspired like Bunny Tiger, Box of Cats and Blanc. 

Any last words?

Thanks so much for giving me a space to talk more about my music, and I can’t wait to play it to some dancefloors over summer.