Every once in a while a piece of music is released that is so much more than just a song; it’s a work of art, it’s an act of cathartic release, it’s a message, a lifeline to those in the same position. This incredible release is all of those and more.The video that accompanies the track is a short film of depth and emotion that is a stand alone must see.
The musical artist I Used To Be Sam is an internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter that has performed before as Annie Goodchild, who now under their new creative moniker releases the simply breathtaking ‘Seamstress’. If you are looking for something more from your music, then this single and the EP from which it comes will be something that you love.
Growing up, I Used To Be Sam always knew she had been transracially adopted, the term for when a child is adopted by parents of a different race, and was brought up in a largely Irish part of Boston, USA. She says:
“I remember fighting with my mom and saying how could you name me Annie after the most famous orphan of all time?!”
Since they can remember, I Used To Be Sam have always wanted to track down their birth family and after taking a DNA test the artist was finally able to match with a first cousin who helped Annie find her biological father and learn that she used to be Samantha.
“I was trying to figure out why so much of what made me different from my family was erased”
I Used To Be Sam opened up to a producer about connecting with her birth father for the first time and how her attempts to reconnect with her biological mother had ended in repudiation. The feelings of being a “dirty secret and a mark of shame” inspired the song, written about and to her biological mother.
Speaking of the track, I Used To Be Sam says,
“I knew going into this process that one of the songs on this initial EP would be about my birth mother. Although there is so much more I want to say to her, and so much more I need to explore for myself, this is the song that needed to come first. Like the rest of the EP, I wrote Seamstress in the small bedroom studio of Novaa, the producer I’ve collaborated with for this whole project. We sat on the floor and talked and laughed, and slowly and naturally I began to talk about this very specific hurt that has been my companion throughout life – the rejection and re-rejection of my birth mother.”
“I’ve spent my life wondering about so much. Does she think about me? Can she remember my face? Do I look like her? Does she want to see me and meet me as much as I want to meet her? I got my answer and although it’s not what I wanted, “at least now I know”. As I said those words out loud the lyrics to the chorus were born. I created the music video with Jyri Passanen in a forest outside of Basel. It was really important to me that the song itself be more present in some ways than the visual. I didn’t want to sing directly into the camera much or have a strong narrative; but rather wanted the video to have a vagueness that could compliment the energy of Seamstress.”
I was lucky enough to get to ask this usually guarded artist some questions and I think the importance of the subject matter helped them to answer questions which at times might feel a little uncomfortable but it’s important that this subject is better understood and this artist has the eloquence and experience to tackle the subject matter. It was an honour to ask these questions to such an inspiring human being and I hope you find the interview, the music and the project something that you will take to your heart. Understanding is after all an important first step. Let’s prove to the music industry that music isn’t just about streams, it’s about the bravery and soul exposing honesty of artists like this and projects as important as this deserve to be seen and heard.
EP: Your new single and the cornerstone of your new eponymous EP is out this week. ‘Seamstress’ is such a personal project, it seems to transcend the description ‘song’, a description that simply doesn’t do this outpouring of emotion justice. The fact that it has ended up being an incredibly moving song is a wonderful bonus. Can you give us your insight into your work of art please?
IUTBS: That’s really kind, thank you. When I wrote this EP, and especially Seamstress, I went through a very different creative process than I had in the past. Usually when writing a song there is a little spark, maybe it’s a melody, a drone on piano, or a lyric that you want to jump on and develop. However, for the I Used To Be Sam project, I didn’t initially have any of that. All of the songs were born from long and exploratory conversations that I really hadn’t been able to have until now. Although I consider myself an open person, it is really hard for me to be truly vulnerable with others. I knew in order to communicate this process and what I was feeling, I needed to focus on the music, words, and my voice in the most honest way possible. I needed to get as close to my own roots as possible in order to get to the root of the music.
EP: Away from the inspiration, there is so much imagery and reference in the song’s lyrics, the production and the video. For instance, the voice that opens the track is, I believe, your daughter? The song references Nathaniel Hawthorne’s take on shame and redemption ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and there are strains of Irish fiddles floating in the melodic atmosphere which could reference your upbringing. It has so much depth, so much nuance, was the concept for the video your creation and idea?
IUTBS: Yes, it’s been really important for me to be in control of the telling of my story. So many adoptees don’t have that. I didn’t have that. The voice in the beginning of the song is my daughter. What she’s saying is somewhat mundane and has nothing to do with being my child or this project, but it’s proof that I’m there for all of it. Having her voice on Seamstress, as well as singing some backups throughout the EP, is in some ways, evidence of my existence that has been denied for so long and a physical representation of a blood line being continued.
EP: This is the start of a new book in your life, an opening chapter. As you close the book on the artist Annie Goodchild, and the critical acclaim you received, does this new step fill you with excitement or trepidation?
IUTBS: Utterly both.
EP: can’t think of many, if any, songs that deal so movingly with transracial adoption. As you embark on this new creative phase of your journey, what message are you trying to send to others who find themselves in a similar place, and how do you think the song will help?
IUTBS: I want to let my community know that I see you. You are valid, and you are completely worthy of the love and family, chosen or otherwise, you want and need. We’ve been voiceless for so long, and only until very recently some incredible adoptees and transracial adoptees (TRA’s) have built their own platform and began to share their own experiences. I am here and creating and sharing because of the space they have already carved out for us. I think about the way music has helped us all throughout different moments in our lives – for example, there are songs for almost any experience and feeling, but I’ve never heard a song about this really big part of my life and identity. Having music and art that mirrors your experience can be hugely impactful, so hopefully I can do that for others the way they have for me.
EP: You’ve already had a prolific and successful career, and yet this new step feels like a brave and freeing one. Do you think of this new EP and the music that will follow, the next chapters, as your most important work, even if it’s not commercially successful?
IUTBS: Without a doubt, this is the most important work I’ve created and put out. In some ways the subject matter is niche. It’s pop, but not pop, it’s folk but also soulful, it feels organic yet there are electronic soundscapes holding it all together, and representing it all is the ambiguous me. Nothing about this project is easily marketable or definable and that makes it undesirable to the music industry. I know what this project means to me, and how much I’ve needed it, and I know what It would have meant to me growing up. So whether the I Used To Be Sam EP is commercially successful or not, it just doesn’t come close or outweigh what this project has already brought me or the other TRA’s who have already reached out and shared the impact this music has had on them.
EP: Can we hope to see you play this music live soon? You have such an incredible voice which has always been so evocative, I can’t wait to hear you sing words that mean so much personally that will be so helpful to so many in the same position.
IUTBS: Yes! I’ll be playing a few smaller shows around Switzerland in the next months, but am currently working on a big release show. I’ve connected with Abelia Nordmann who is known for their work with choirs. For this show, I will be able to finally create all of my vocal parts live and sing the entire EP – plus a few extra songs that aren’t on the EP, but with a full choir! I’m really excited about this…terrified but excited. Moving forward you’ll be able to see me performing throughout Western Europe. I hope to see you there.
EP: Please don’t answer this question if it’s too upsetting or personal. Your song deals very movingly with transracial adoption from the eyes of the adoptee and that is something hugely necessary. It’s important to see every side of a narrative. I have no idea if your upbringing in a largely Irish Boston community was happy, I sincerely hope it was, but I know this new song deals with the rejection from your birth mother. How does your adoptive mother feel about this new chapter in your life and this new song?
IUTBS: The reunion process, being able to see what adoption is in a fuller sense, and having the language to communicate that can be very triggering. It brings up a lot for everyone involved and uncentering yourself as the adopter is a really hard habit to break. My first reaction to this question was fear. I wanted to answer, but didn’t want to say anything that would cause any hurt or backlash. I think those conflicting emotions are really common for a lot of adoptees.
EP: Finally, has the release of this song , and the EP, been cathartic for you? Has it helped you deal with the maelstrom of emotions that must have accompanied your journey to this release? I hope so.
IUTBS: All of this has been locked away for so long, so creating these songs and educating myself on my experiences and those of other TRA’s has given me the movement I’ve really needed. The floodgates are open and I’m being tossed down a raging river. It’s overwhelming, but it feels like I’m finally going somewhere.