On the afternoon before the first show of her upcoming “Build a Problem” tour, singer-songwriter dodie phoned into Cleverock to chat about her music, songwriting, and how the pandemic has changed her music. The 26-year-old artist is about to embark on a tour across the US and Canada and will be in Columbus, OH at Newport Music Hall on February 15.
Your tour surrounds your latest album release, ‘Build a Problem.’ I’m always really curious about songwriting processes for people, especially since you write all of your own songs. I’m curious how your songwriting process has changed as you’ve gone from YouTube to now writing an album.
It’s changed a lot, to be honest. At first, I was convinced I only liked a song if I wrote it within a day and finished it. And I had work really hard and then be like, ‘oh I guess it’s just not good enough.’ And then I learned that I really enjoyed writing down ideas and kind of like scrapbooking things together. Sometimes, I’ll finish a song I started a year ago and sometimes it makes it really interesting because I have added perspective of time and learning and then the song kind of goes on a journey. I’m really enjoying picking songs up and working with them and putting them back down. It also means that I have a bunch of ideas all the time, so if I’m completely dry I can dive back in.
I think a lot of people really connect with your songs and the words that you write because they’re so personal. Do you pull from other material or do you find you write mostly things you have experienced?
That is a good question. I think sometimes I try to look through the lens of someone else but if I’m being honest, if it’s my project, I really like to use my songs to process something I’m feeling, or learning, or crying through. So even if it’s a story about someone else there will be a huge element of me in there. And also, I think it’s fun to kinda like look back at specific albums and see chapters in my life.
Absolutely. I feel like that has to be a very vulnerable experience though.
Yes, definitely. Definitely. I get up on stage, even sound checking the other day and I was like, “oh my god, I can’t believe I’m still singing a song about this traumatic thing I try not to think about.” Or, you know, that I’ve worked through and came out the other side. It is interesting, but it does give a chance to constantly reprocess and not be too afraid looking at demons again and again.
Do you find that because of getting to play things live and having that shared experience with fans that maybe some of your songs have taken on new meaning?
Absolutely. Oh my god, 100%. It’s weird. Songs go with big feelings or life experiences. And ,its so nice to get to sing them over the years of aging and see how they change and adapt and how I feel about them now. I have a song called “When,” which I wrote when I was a lot younger, maybe early 20s, and I was just mourning being a teenager and I wanted that back so badly. Now, I dont really relate to that anymore, but it’s so interesting to dip back in and see what I do relate to. There’s still an ache of the passing of time.
I love that. It’s really interesting to think about who you were at 16-17 versus now in your 20s.
Yeah, I was entirely different.
Which is good! You should be a different person.
Yeah! I think so, too.
The other thing I think is really unique about your album is that you have a songwriting credit, but also so many instrumental credits, which I don’t think is common to play such a massive array, but the thing that stuck out to me was the string arrangements that you did. When did that start and what was that process like?
So I’m very lucky in that I learned to play clarinet when I was younger. It was just my first school instrument and that taught me a lot of theory and basic language to get along. And then, honestly, when it comes to string arranging, I do a lot of vocal arranging and I do enjoy the building of chords and melodies and I just sort of melted the two together and I really recommend anyone to try it. It’s not that hard! If you write songs and hear music then it’s an interesting avenue to go down but it really is so fun. Like, SO fun. Especially because I was kinda scoring a movie in my head and then like at that point I wrote sheet music and then the process of like hearing terrible samples on your computer and then being in the room [when it was played] was just unbelievable.
Yeah, I can’t imagine the feeling of you writing it then getting to hear different instruments play it out and hear your creation come to life.
Totally. Oh my god. It was like the best day of my life. It was so fun.
That’s so cool. Are there hopes of what you want to continue to do with musical arranging and things like that? Any scores or things like that?
Absolutely. I think, honestly the other I was struggling with a song, I had no idea what to add. And then, it just so happened that I had a string session booked so I thought, “Ok I’ll just write the strings for this song even though it’s a little bit early.” I didnt have the rest of the song yet. But in writing the string parts, it kind of helped guide me in what else I wanted and it really shaped the song. So, I think I’ll always do that from now on. And, I would love to expand on that and maybe write for more instruments; different instruments. It is a little tough because I’m not quite conventional in where I came from and what I do so sometimes. It gets a little complicated when I’m asking violins to double-stop things that are impossible. But they’re all very kind when I tell them.
Do you think that your lack of conventional background is almost an advantage to you?
Yeah, I think so. I think I always write best when I don’t know what chords I’m going to use. It’s why I’m using like one string a lot of the time, just so I can not fall into traps or something or be too afraid of doing sometime too obvious. You know, if it sounds good, fuck it, it doesn’t matter. I think I definitely fell into this place for a while of, “oh no I can’t possibly do this chord sequence it’s so normal and boring.” But I’m not too afraid of that anymore; anything to get the song written.
I love that idea of “whatever it takes to get the song written.” That’s why I think your songs have such a unique sound, and as much as it flows together there are very unique elements to each. I would love to know a bit about your album and how artists decide what singles to release. How did you decide to have singles like “Guiltless” and “Cool Girl”?
It’s interestin, actually. That is a great question, because I think I write a little differently than a lot of artists. Well, I’m not really sure. Maybe other artists write like me? But usually, if I finish a song it will definitely go out. I don’t really write too often, though. I’m trying to change that this year. If I finish a song I try not think about when I’m writing if it’s going to be “the single.” I’m just trying to finish it so that I like it and then I guess I just assess the songs I have. I have a song called “Sorry” that’s like so floaty and a weird structure and it’s annoying because I wish that could be a single but alas, it is not quite suited for radio or anything like that.
I think it speaks a lot to the ones that you did pick. Yeah, maybe you have to fit that radio criterion and all that, but I think they also did represent the album really well and the sounds and messages that come with it.
Thank you. I’m trying not too hard to think about. I don’t know,. What is like conventional acceptable, I guess? I’m just trying to make music that I like. It is tough when that [radio play] is a part of it. But…Yeah, I dont know what I’m trying to say!
I think “conventional” – whatever that may be anymore, is not necessarily the norm. Part of that is probably from the pandemic but also what people are interested in hearing. So that is a huge element it is as well. But going with that, another unconventional type of thing of this album is all the demos that you had on the extended edition. I’d love to know the decision process behind that since I think a lot of artists are afraid to release demos and you put a whole lot of them on the album.
Yeah, so they [the demos] came from a year of writing in the pandemic, and it was just a side project I had. I think because I had my album, it was kind of sitting in my own head and on my Dropbox and I was getting hopeful that these were just the last songs I wrote. So, I found a halfway of releasing music kind of like sliding it across the table, which was releasing it on my YouTube, which has been hub for my original songs for a while. And, then once the album was ready to go I had all these extra songs, even though they were just the demos, we didn’t have plans to shape them up or anything, and I really loved them the way that they were, so I thought, “oh well fuck it why not just mold it all together and just put this album out as this chunk of time.” And it’s weird, because I feel those songs will only live as demos now, or maybe they won’t? Maybe I’ll come back to them. I don’t mind it. I sort of like them being my own bedroom songs in that way.
That was my next thought. Would they ever evolve out of demos? But it does paint a picture of what the time of releasing this albums was like.
Totally, yeah. Just a lot of room time.
Oh yeah, a lot of room time we all had for the last too many months. Do you feel like that time, even though I hate talking about the pandemic, I think it did evolve music in a lot of ways. Did it change the album itself or the way you were creating it?
Honestly, we were so lucky. The album just got like pretty much finished(ish) right when the pandemic hit. So I think the album itself, like the main section of it, isn’t too different from what it would be. Actually, thats not true! “Cool Girl” was written as part of that project and then I decided I really liked it and wanted it on. So we managed to find a spot of time in the pandemic to record, which was pretty scary but we managed to get it done. So yeah I guess it has changed in a way, I added an extra song and it was a song that was missing I think.
That’s awesome, well I don’t want to take too much more time, so lastly, are there any songs as you head into the tour that you are most excited to play and for fans to hear?
That’s such a nice question! Honestly, my favorite changes all the time, but I think…I don’t know! I think I’m ready to be surprised, I haven’t thought too much about these songs. I’ve been going through a lot of emotional stuff this year so I’m excited to play through the songs with all of my new emotions and see which ones stick out to me as something I need to play again.
I’m sure fans are excited to hear the songs. It’s been an emotional time for a lot of people and I think your music has that very emotional connection that people are going to be so excited to see live and experience and be in a space with others.
That is so nice. Thank you so much. And, thank you so much for like paying such close attention to my album and noticing all the demo songs and everything. I appreciate that.