Sam Obernik

Dance music’s spell binding chanteuse


Sam Obernik is the ultimate globe-trotting electronic soul singer. A musician, an artist, a house head, an album and vinyl aficionado. As the voice and face of Barefoot, she is the vocal powerhouse behind the worldwide smash hits such as ‘It Just Won’t Do’, ‘Baditude’, and ‘Stereo Flo’. The first, ‘It Just Won’t Do’, was produced by electro house legend Tim Deluxe and gained instant status. It also instantly propelled Sam into the stratosphere of the elite house music vocalists.

Hello Sam, welcome to the DMC world. A wonderful story regarding the start to your musical career, out on the streets of Dublin with Glen Hansard at the tender ageof  15…

“Hello Dan! Yes! – and it was actually Glen who persuaded me to go write my first song. I really, really wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have such a great story to tell, with so many bonkers contributors! I’m very proud of my musical roots but I never imagined I would end up being “crossover-niche” in any genre. Whilst I was out and about everywhere with my guitar and a big axe to grind, I just kind of did what I did instinctlively. But coming form an organic singer-songwriter background I guess gives weight to my creative process…and busking certainly sorts the men out from the boys when it comes to performing.”

Obernik – a very tradditional Irish name huh? What’s the background there then?

“Ha, yeah! My cultural background – or lack of it- is a bit taxing on the attention span. But Obernik is easily camouflaged for Irish use, as a crafty, O’ Bernik, or more commonly, Obernick (There is no C in Obernik everybody!!). Although it works quite well in it’s proper form when touring in Russia, which is more or less where Obernik is originally from.”

What artists were you listening to back then, who do you now regard as musical influences?

“My Da had quite a respectable record collection and he used to take me to Golden Discs in Dublin every now and then. We would read through the Music Week chart sellotaped to the shop counter, choose something, then I’d go home and record it to tape so I could mosh around with my hairbrush later on. I remember there being a lot of reggae, from Marley and Steel Pulse, to Black Uhuru and UB40…then there was a bit of rock and prog rock and country, I used to love Steve Miller, Steely Dan, Genesis, Roxy and Pink Floyd…jazz and soul from Ella to Marvin and Duke…lots of classical music which weirdly, I listened to intensely. The collection was really eclectic. Guess like my own preferences are now. My own collection, is a bit bonkers in terms of diversity, but I get bored easily. I am quite sparing about listening to music for pleasure these days as I really like to be drawn in, and consumed by it… and i feel I can only do that these days by having the time it desrves to be given- like a good book. So I usually listen hard when I’m on holiday time. I guess I can trace certain elements of my musical character back to quite a young age. Mostly, to my ears, I have been influenced by Bowie, Depeche Mode and Nina Simone, though I am sure some would beg to differ!”

You moved to Los Angeles in your early 20s, what took you there and what did you make of Hollywood life?

“I hung out in the States for a while when I was 19/20, yeah. First off, I went to the ye olde New Music Seminar in New York which kind of blew my mind. it really put me in my place coming from a little cultural bubble that was Dublin to playing gigs and hanging out face to face with artists who had only ever been pictures on my bedroom walls. It opened my eyes so wide – it changed everything for me. From there I went on to LA going with the flow, gigging, writing, blagging and gate crashing record compnay-execs’ offices to busk when I had run out of demo tapes. I seemed to bump into an extraordinary amount of weirdos out there, and in turn, a lot of weird situations still occupy my memory! But that’s what you gotta do, right? Make great memories, and you never get old!!!”

Your spin into dance music was greatly helped with a chance meeting with Tim Deluxe and providing the vocals on ‘It Just Won’t Do’, what’s the story there?

“I was in the middle of a major label production for my debut album at the time. I had a studio next door to Tim’s and one time he asked me to throw some vocals down on this embryonic tune, I didnt think much of it really as I was focusing on my album, but it was so cute and fresh and I secretly hoped for good things to happen with it! Soon after, a white label went out to Miami under Pete Tong’s arm, followed by the now infamous bidding war to bag the release! It all feels so mystical now, but it was a whole lot of fun, you know? I will always love and be grateful for ‘It Just Wont Do’ and everything it showed me how to be. The primary lesson being that dance music, although geographically very spread out, was a real community- as opposed to major label sponsored hothouse product being quite insular. It’s funny thinking about the whole download thing now and how it has so badly affected the economics of music, it’s as if it was always going to be the case with dance music. It has always been about sharing- music, love, tribalism and that all-encompassing and hedonistic freedom of expression.
I really love how, for me, the process of making dance music is so democratic, accessible and high turn-over…as a writer in my studio it’s a clean sheet every day. Of course there are downsides to this, but it’s mostly academic. Although recently I feel that because margins for labels have been squeezed so tight, coupled with the current mass-popification of a standardised dance sound, that the “community” has been compromised and there is a lot less loyalty about. The phenomenon of social networking has had the bizarre effect of bringing people closer together but at the same time, fragmenting focus on original thought and development. I guess for me, it just makes me work a bit harder on the music and relationships that I value.”

What song can’t you get out of your head at the moment?

“Switch – ‘I Still Love You’.”

What has been the proudest moment of your career to date?

“It’s a face off between recording my solo songs live with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road (whilst fighting back the tears on the mic)and the Radio 1 Big Weekend in Ibiza 2002. ‘It Just Wont Do’ was going off big time and we really did feel the love on that stage. But there are so many quietly proud moments that just happen along the way. My feathers are always primed!”

What is your guilty pleasure song?

“Joe Dolce – ‘Shaddapayaface’.”

What one thing would you change about yourself?

“My inablity to fly.”

Where is home at the moment?
“Actually I’m staying home in London for a bit to catch up in the studio. But soon enough I’ll be back at 30.000 feet propping up the galley with the air stewards, exchanging practical yoga- tips- for- flying!”

What 10 tunes are you listening to on youriPod today?

“Really? Ok, this is the shuffle…

Little White Doves – Dirty Vegas
Into Dust – Mazzy Star
Hypnotise U – N.E.R.D
Les Fleur – 4Hero
Like a Hobo – Charlie Winston
Don’t Put Him Down – Dory Previn
Dont Fight it Feel it – Primal Scream
The Trumpeter – Ray Foxx
End Credits feat. Plan B – Chase & Status
Pump Up The Jam – Technotronic

What was appearing on Top Of The Pops in Britney Spears’ band all about?

“HA!. I’m not actually sure. But I was definitely there doing the guitar thing on ‘Not Yet A Girl (Not Yet A Woman)’ for her movie Crossroads – and I’ve got it on VHS somewhere…very far away. I’d much rather talk about my own appearances on TOTP of course!”

What has been your favourite live performance?

“It”s just too hard to pick a favouite. So many dramatically different scenarios. I played my Barefoot tunes for Madonna once and it was like, ten people sitting politely in a living room type gig…it was cool but quite alarming. After I sang, she was like “that was really brave!” and I was like “you’re telling ME?” (we laughed). Oh, oh, I sang my friends up the aisle on their wedding day with ‘It Just Won’t Do’…that was SO cute! Then there was the time when I was driven to what I thought was a private afternoon party in Moscow and turned out to be 70,000 people in a park singing along to Stereo FLo – I had no idea, I’m not often ill-prepared but I nearly peed myself that day!”

What is your favourite album of all time?

“How much do I dread this unfair question!!? In a desert island situation, it could Radiohead ‘OK Computer’, or Stevie Wonder ‘Innervisions’, or Rufus Wainwright ‘Want One’, or  TheThe ‘Soul Mining’, anything by the Beatles, Public Enemy, Bowie, Ennio Morricone, N.E.R.D, Van Morrisson or Prince…. Oh crap, this is stupid and I’m still nowhere near the answer!”

Not many people know this, but I am very good at…

“Keeping a secret.”

It has been a struggle to get to the heights you are at now – what advice can you give to aspiring singer/songwriters out there reading this?

“Your ego is going to do all it can to be your best friend, but dont let it take over. If you really believe you have what its takes to be a success, dont take no for an answer. Knock on doors and make things happen. Have a blast. Keep mastering your craft. Be realistic, dont be a dick. Be true to the reasons that made you do what do in the first place. Be nice to your friends and even nicer to yourself. The creative black outs happen for a reason, they will come back fitter and stronger if you give it space. So step back and try not to doubt yourself- use the down time to free your mind and make plans. Believe in many and trust in few, for better or worse, as you carry on throwing mud and making hay…”

What is your greatest weakness? Arsenal Football Club?

“Oh how funny you are DMCWorld… ho ho ha ha.
I’m not telling you now.”

What is coming next studio wise from you in 2012?

“Well…I have a few tunes just off the desk. The ones I can tell you about are collabs with Kid Massive-  a single called ‘YAWN’ and album tracks which I’m loving!.A very special record with The Str8jackets ‘LOVE & OXYGEN’, it really works – I can’t wait to get it out there. Been working on a production with Roger Sanchez and Sidney Samson and a beauty called ‘Angry Heart’ with EDX. Amongst one or two others I’m really excited about that are still being tweaked. I’d like to think that in terms of output next year, less will be more, its hard to say no sometimes. But I will be making more space later in  2012 for some ‘project development’!!
Thank yooou DMC!”

Interview by Dan Prince