For dodie, a Bit of Madness Is Key [Q&A]
"Oh, I'm so human/ We're just human," confesses dodie on the title track of her third EP, Human. It is a simple yet profound sentiment that builds an impressive level of atmosphere, as well as the emotional crux for much of the English singer-songwriter's touching musings. For whether dodie finds herself diving headfirst into an idyllic, lovelorn number or stepping back into a moment of stripped-back reflection, there is an undeniable human element to the entire affair.
Perhaps it is that very notion of accepting every facet of what makes us human that begins to explain dodie's near-universal appeal. Opening up about her own struggles with mental health in both her music and on her various social media platforms, dodie has amassed a monumental following whose dynamic more closely resembles that of a collective family than that of your typical fan-and-artist relationship.
We had the pleasure to sit down with dodie, who is currently in the midst of her largest headlining tour to date, to discuss what it means to be human, her friendship with Tessa Violet, being labeled a YouTuber, and gifting a purpose to your pain.
OTW: I was in the bathroom, which is a great way to start any interview.
dodie: Yes, it is.
OTW: They had this question written in chalk on the wall. "What keeps you up at night?" Very heavy.
dodie: And you stole it.
OTW: Exactly. I just thought, "That's a good one." So, what keeps you up at night?
dodie: Oh, man. Do we really want to start like this? Ok, let me think. What keeps me up at night? My friends talking in the other room. I guess the fear of death will creep in now and again. I think sometimes I'm guilty of thinking about the past a lot and what it used to be like. I feel like I've trained myself pretty well to fall asleep pretty quickly. If I'm not feeling great, I'll be like, "Brain, time to turn off, and begin again the next day, just try again." If I'm feeling good, I feel good enough to sleep.
OTW: Moving beyond existential dread for a moment, let's talk about your latest EP, Human. What do you think it means to be human?
dodie: I think it means experiencing everything. Forgive yourself and forgive everyone else, because we are experiencing life. So yeah, feeling a lot, experiencing a lot, maybe doing shameful things, and forgiving yourself.
OTW: You're very open when it comes to speaking about mental health. As someone who got their start on a very public-facing platform, was this sense of candidness planned from the outset?
dodie: Nothing has ever been planned. I think I'm planning now, but when I began and the way my career grew, it was not planned. I think I started kind of experiencing different symptoms of mental health problems, and it was new to me. I don't think I had it in me to keep up this happy pretense, so I started sharing naturally on various platforms. And I think at first, the response was very kind - people related – and my community was small enough back then for it to be this really wholesome thing that didn't have many consequences. It's more difficult for me now, because there's just way too many people and way too many opinions, so I kind of hold myself back a little bit more. But it was a helpful thing.
OTW: As someone who has personally and publicly dealt with mental health issues of their own, what do you think is the best advice or best thing a friend has done to help?
dodie: Just listen. It sounds like such a stereotype, but it really is the best thing you can do. When I think about all my friends, and the times I needed them most… I've called friends, sat on sofas as they stuffed pillows in my arms or just put everything down and listened to me cry, and talk it out. They don't even have to pretend to understand. Sadly, a lot of my friends have mental health problems too, so they can relate very easily.
I think just having the space to let me know that I'm being heard, and just that they're there for me is so important. I have a friend called Shannon who says, "We will sort it out. We can do that." That makes me feel so supported. When everything's overwhelming she's like, "We will get through this." I love that so much.
OTW: Would you say a lot of your songwriting comes from personal experience then?
dodie: I think I play with themes that run in my life. More recently, I've been experimenting with writing from different perspectives. I saw Lin-Manuel today. He's writing the new Little Mermaid songs, and he said something along the lines of "Oh, I should get out my Moana book, because he wrote all the songs from Moana, which are all water-themed." And he kind of got over the Moana songs he wrote. I feel that way. Like, I've written about love and mental health a lot, and it's hard to keep going back and being like, "I've already written this song." So yeah, I think I kind of play with different themes in my life that come across. Life is so damn long, and so much happens that I don't think I ever will run out of inspiration.
OTW: There's an ongoing conversation of "Oh, you're a YouTuber-turned-musician," in spite of your very first uploads to the channel being your own music.
dodie: I definitely understand it though, because I did grow up online. Basically, I don't want to get mixed up with people who made YouTube videos solely, and then decided they wanted to make music for fun. Because my music has very much been intertwined with my videos since the beginning. I don't mind the word "YouTuber," or being called a YouTuber. It would be dumb to hide and say that I wasn't, or that I'm not, because I still enjoy YouTube sometimes. It's a little weird now, but it's still really fun to sit down and make a video. So I don't mind, I guess it's just an easy title to say.
OTW: There is a whole new generation of apps and platforms, from Instagram, Spotify, to TikTok, which have allowed for an unprecedented level of visibility. Any thoughts on the present state of streaming and social media culture?
dodie: It's interesting because there are a lot of talented people out there, and now there are so many platforms in which you can get yourself discovered. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's a pretty cool thing – to have the potential to create a portfolio on whatever platform you choose. It's weird. It's interesting. It's terrifying. I'm kind of glad I came to it before, and I got to experience what it was like to have that world in a smaller way.
OTW: Speaking of fellow YouTubers, who have gone on to make some amazing music, what is the story with Tessa Violet?
dodie: I was a fan of Meekakitty. I guess you could say that Tessa was a YouTuber-turned-musician, but she's a damn good musician. She deserves any title. Touring with her was awesome. She is the coolest woman. I love her songs. I can't wait for her to blow up an become a pop goddess; that's what she deserves.
OTW: 100% agreed as someone who has watched the music video for "Crush" far too many times.
dodie: It's so good. I remember when she was playing me her songs, because she's just like me, she has a lot of self-doubt. She was sending me various versions of songs saying, "I don't know if I like this." And at that time she was spending so much money trying to make these songs, trying to make videos, and she wasn't sure if it was going to work out. I just kept saying, "Trust me, when people hear this song, the world's going to go mad." And they did. I'm so glad. She has a ridiculous amount of views now, and she deserves it.
OTW: Have you had a similar feeling at any point? The age-old doubts of "I don't know if this is right… is music for me?"
dodie: Definitely not with music. I don't know, sometimes I'm like do I really want this as my career? Because I love it so much, and it's always been that way with me. It's tough when in interviews people ask, "What's your hobby? What gives you joy?" And I just say, "music is my life." I don't know, but I always come back to "Well, why not?" It's the perfect thing.
If I can survive off of doing the thing I love most, then god, I'm so damn lucky. But, I think in terms of what musical career I want, I'm at a very nice place right now where I'm working on my personal project, which is my album and a lot of forthcoming things. But then I'm being hired to cover songs for TV shows, which is something else I really want to get into - like film and TV. I'm just very lucky, basically.
OTW: Any plans for an acting debut?
Dodie: Oh heck yeah! Actually, you know what, I want to be an actor. Acting actually was my number one. I didn't think music could be a job, but luckily that happened. I was just like, "I'll always have music in my life." If I could write a song for an episode and then be in the episode, that would be great! Hire me!
OTW: I have to ask. What's your tattoo?
dodie: Have you seen La La Land?
OTW: Of course.
dodie: This is a quote from La La Land. It's the song Mia sings in her audition, called "The Fools Who Dream." She sings, "A bit of madness is key." It's probably my favorite film of all time. It's filled with music, color, and LA, and I love LA and all of its weirdness. Also, I feel like this quote, in particular, has a mental health meaning of whenever I feel really, really bad, I remind myself that I've used it, and I can use it again. It helps me in writing or being empathetic, so you need a little bit of this pain to keep going. Even though, when you're really in it, you're just like, "No, you don't! I'd rather just not have it!"
OTW: Do you worry sometimes that people romanticize mental illness too much, especially when it comes to creating art?
dodie: It is tough. I think about that a lot. I'll start with the bad first, and then get into why I don't believe that's true. I can understand. You go online now, and everyone's joking about mental health, anxiety, panic attacks, dissociating, and depression. It's tough; it's triggering. I think, growing up now, I would probably question my mental health, and I don't know what that would have done to me.
However, in comparison to all the good that it's made, that is so small. If you don't have mental health problems, you might see that as a problem. In having mental health problems, you will know that making fun of the fucking shit that you feel is the only way you are going to get through.
There's so much good in gifting a purpose to your pain. Otherwise, what else are you supposed to do with it? Just fucking sit and carry it around? No! I think it's great when people take what they have to have, because it's so hard to get rid of, work through, process it, and make something good out of it. At least then, you've got something out of it. Especially when you're in your worst moments, where you're like, "What am I doing here? I don't want this." You have evidence to prove yourself and to everyone else that you have a purpose and that you can use whatever ails you for good.
OTW: What's next for you musically?
dodie: I am trying to write an album. I'm really excited for whatever's next. I don't know when this whole body of work will come to fruition, cause I don't have a lot of time but definitely some exciting things happening.
OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?
dodie: Orla Gartland. She's my good friend, one of the best damn singer-songwriters I know. Tessa Violet! She's got a few years worth of songwriting and, let me tell you, they are bangers. I went on tour with KAWALA. They were great lads. Those are my Ones To Watch!
OTW: Any final words?
dodie: I'm thirsty, and I'm going to get a drink but not Kombucha. Those are my final words!