Perhaps it was the fact that she’d just received her first Covid vaccine. Or perhaps it was because her debut album has finally been released after a series of lengthy delays. Either way, UK singer-songwriter Dodie was in high spirits when I spoke to her. Talking about finally getting the jab, she opened by declaring excitedly “I was honestly about to cry. But then I thought maybe don’t do that, you’re still in the hospital! I just kept thinking about what it meant. I’m very happy about it.”
As an artist, even though this is her debut full-length release, Dodie really shouldn’t need much of an introduction. To date, she has over 1.9million subscribers and over 340 million views on her main YouTube channel, doddleoddle. As if that wasn’t enough, her ‘side’ channel doddlevloggle has more than 350 videos, over 900k subscribers, and over 94 million views. This is partly explained by her voracious appetite for song-writing (there are at least 70 original songs amongst these videos), but also by her personable covers (almost 80 and counting, taking in Elton John, The Beatles, Regina Spektor, Ariana Grande and Ella Fitzgerald amongst others). It’s quite an astonishing back catalogue for someone in their 20’s and explains why there was so much anticipation for the eventual release of her debut album Build A Problem, which finally arrived on the 7th May 2021.
Writing For Myself
So what does Dodie herself think has been the key to this success?
“Honestly, I think it’s years and years of sharing and uploading online. Project after project after project. Slowly and surely growing an audience of likeminded people. I have a majority female, kind of my age, maybe a bit younger, type crowd. And the queer experience, the mentally ill experience. So I think I can probably ascribe a lot of it to people in that world being very passionate. I guess pouring myself out there helps, but so does the passion of the youth, and people who love music and feeling and life as much as I do.”
The album itself, Build A Problem, charts a journey of personal growth, combining Dodie’s skilful ability to tell individual stories that feel nonetheless relatable. It covers the messy path from adolescence to adulthood, with an enigmatic charm and no topic unexplored. “I definitely focussed more on writing for myself with this album, and I think you can tell, because I’ve not shied away from the more adult topics.” But where exactly does she draw her inspiration from? Dodie is assured and talks with clarity when responding to this. “Life is so much. It can be so messy and painful and then there’s shame and heartbreak but also a lot of excitement and love and wonder. So I just share whatever I write, because it’s about life,” before adding, almost mischieviously, “I’m quoting Ariana Grande here, but someone asked her if she felt the need to be perfect, and she responded by saying – Perfect is the last thing I should be. I really related to that.”
With that in mind, as someone who has bared their soul over the years and amassed a large following in the process, does she feel any pressure as a result? “Oh absolutely, there’s pressure. I’m terrified that people will be disappointed in me. That’s something I’m so afraid of. It feels like sometimes I have a lot of responsibility and that’s really hard because I am just a human being. Now that I’ve grown up a bit and learned about boundaries, I can implement them and that is useful, whether I’m talking about mental health or other issues. I have definitely created a bit more of a distance now, between the internet and myself. Partly because I realised, as interesting as it was and as cool as it felt to be that close, I it wasn’t necessarily that healthy for me. I think it’s best now that I have a little bit of separation. That’s healthier for me. I do definitely want to scoot back on line and overshare, but now I’m doing that with my songs.”
So how does it feel to finally have the album out there? “It’s wonderful, even if it’s a little bit anti-climactic” she explained. “I held on to this album for a year and my whole life was waiting for the album to come out in a pandemic. I was like, OK, my life will begin when this happens. And then it happened, but the fact that I can’t meet or see anyone who’s listened to it, or play it to people, or have a party, all kind of felt a bit sad. I have spoken to a handful of people about it when I’ve been out, which is nice, but I would love to do that times a thousand!”
Despite this, Dodie remains charmingly positive about things. Asked whether she felt she’d been somewhat cheated out of the debut album release experience that other artists might have had, she appeared sanguine for barely a moment, before switching back to a smile. “Everyone has something that’s unique to them. Mine is that my debut album was released in a pandemic. What matters is that people are listening to it and I know that that’s happening now. That’s all I can ask for.”
“I’m A Musician Now”
That people would listen to the album was never really in any doubt, particularly with such a strong following. All of her EP’s to date have been well received, with You (2017) and Human (2019) both charting in the top ten in the UK and the US. Build A Problem has done equally well, peaking at number 3 in the UK shortly after its release. It’s a heartening success story for someone who, by their own admission, has trodden a slightly unconventional path, and who has at times struggled with finding their identity.
“I didn’t even realise I could call myself a musician until recently, because I don’t think I ever really said to anyone that that’s what I wanted to do. Of course, I loved writing songs and making music, but I didn’t feel legit as an artist or a musician because I didn’t go the traditional route or anything like that. I was kind of told by everyone around me that that would never work out, so I never banked on it. And ironically, it sort of just happened” Dodie explains.
“I think I realised in about 2017, ‘Oh, I’m a musician now’, and I loved it! It took all of that time to prove even to myself that I could call myself that” before adding, almost as an afterthought, but with a deserved conviction, “But with the release of this album, I know I’m a musician. And a good one at that.”
Ready to Jump Back In
Now that the album is out, plans are being finalised for both a UK and a US tour, although the shadow of uncertainty still looms. “I just had a meeting about it. We’re budgeting it. We talked about loads of things but at the end I asked just one question: ‘Is it actually going ahead!?’. It’s all so difficult, but we’re about 90% certain right now”. There is a sense of casual acceptance when Dodie is speaking about the unavoidable uncertainty surrounding these tours, although that’s countered by an inability to hide her enthusiasm for the fact that the London show would be “her biggest show to date, a 5000 capacity venue” (at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo).
I asked if she feels ready to play these shows. “I’m SO ready! So excited! I just can’t wait to jump back in and be reminded how lucky I am.” And what should we expect from them? “Well, I have to build my setlist, and obviously it’ll be based on “Build A Problem”, so it’s going to be a different kind of show to ones I’ve done before. A bit more feely and sway-y. Not so many bangers. It’s a nice long album, so there’s lots of material to choose from.”
Onto New Adventures
So what next for Dodie? Talking about the future, she bubbles over with enthusiasm once more. “I don’t really know! I’ve definitely allowed myself to take a break, not think about the album for a bit, but also to work on touring and shows and what they’re going to look and sound like. But I’m definitely like, OK, I’m 26…what does my next project look like? What’s my next release? Am I gonna start a new band with my friend (which might happen), am I gonna put out an EP of just instrumentals, am I gonna work on a short film with a friend and make music for it? So much to think about.”
Something tells me it’s less of a case of which of these creative endeavours Dodie will pursue, but how quickly she’ll make all of them a reality. Dodie is evidently an artist who has worked hard to build the foundations for a lifetime of success as a musician, and Build A Problem is evidence that this would be well deserved. Whether she is pulled off this path by other adventures remains to be seen.
Build A Problem is out now via doddleoddle.