Sam Obernik the vocalist seeped into clubland’s consciousness in 2002 with Tim Deluxe‘s It Just Won’t Do – but she’s been around a while longer than that. Married into the industry, she’s even appeared on Top Of The Pops as a guitarist… in Britney Spears‘ band. Finally, as her debut solo album sees the light of day, Sam Obernik the artist is all set to make her own agenda.
musicOMH caught up with her and started by asking how someone from Dublin came to be called Obernik…
“Obernik’s a Czech-German ambiguous weird name,” announces Sam grandly. “There are no other Oberniks. My mum’s a Russian-Spanish weirdo.” Her DNA must be something akin to the United Nations. “I grew up in Ireland, though,” she continues, before explaining that she now lives in London.
Which is where she met Tim Deluxe, who was recording in a studio next door to her and asked her to help with some vocal work. Has the notoriety gained from It Just Won’t Do been a virtue or a vice? “It’s a double-edged sword really,” says Sam. “It wasn’t Number 1 which means I don’t have to live up to that. But it’s given me a reputation in a really loyal area of music – dance. But to the mainstream it can be confusing.” It’s also been a fair few months between that slice of beaty bliss and the release of her debut proper – why the delay?
“One thing and another,” she says vaguely. “I’m having to build up a whole new profile. The Sam in It Just Won’t Do is a very different Sam to the Sam that I’m pushing right now,” she says. But it’s by no means a different persona, she adds, and is pleased that the dance mixes of debut single Mr Butterfly are doing well.
“There are no other Oberniks. My mum’s a Russian-Spanish weirdo” – Sam Obernik
So how did she get into being a musician in the first place? “I’ve been writing since I was 16… it’s a big learning curve. I felt a real inspiration that this is what I want to do – and I wrote a song!” There’s no formula to songwriting, according to Sam. “It’s not like you to learn the guitar and you sit down with chord charts and shit. Writing is such a developmental process. Performing is of the moment; writing is something that’s contrived.”
And yet already Sam has been compared with Nelly Furtado. “Once you go past the singles into the depths of the album you’ll find it’s a little more worldly and lived in than Nelly’s stuff – maybe because I have a few years on her!” says Sam.
So what’s the secret of achieving success in such an industry? “Don’t take no for an answer, always push, always argue but don’t play dirty. It really pays off if you don’t play dirty,” says Sam. “Don’t trust anyone.”
Some of Sam’s life experience has been gained painfully – she is divorced, with one child. But she has some advice for anyone suffering the break-up of a relationship. “Make sure you’ve got a support network and have space of your own. And always talk about it. Don’t ever bottle it up.”
“I felt a real inspiration that this is what I want to do – and I wrote a song!” – Sam Obernik
For her debut record, Sam finds herself on Warner EastWest with a multi-album deal that happened after the success of It Just Won’t Do. She knows that being signed to a major brings a unique set of pressures onto a new artist. “I haven’t built up a real fanbase yet – hopefully everybody will be a fan,” she says optimistically.
But Sam’s no stranger to the industry anyway – she’s just never had the limelight to herself before. “I’ve been on the sidelines of this industry for a number of years and am married into the industry as well. Maybe I’m a bit too wise for your average record company marketing department… which can sometimes bring in a conflict of opinions. But you can’t let your opinions rule over how you play the business.” On Top of the Pops, Sam had even played guitar for Britney Spears. “All the heavies got involved… a ring of steel came up to the stage with her!”
Sam’s happy with her album, Stellify. When asked to name her favourite track from it, she asks for three. “I like Solid State as it’s a bit more politcal, and one for the boys. It’s just raw, there and there are no surprises,” she says. “And Miss America is a starting place that I’d really love to expand on. It’s a political satire that’s very much the zeitgeist at the moment and I’d very much like to develop that whole concept.” And of course she likes single Mr Butterfly, which has been getting clubs going.
One thing’s for sure – when it comes to predicting her next musical move, Sam isn’t going to pigeonhole herself. “I’m doing more stuff with Mr Timmy (Deluxe) for his album,” she confirms, before telling us that her favourite recording artist of all time is Nina Simone, and that Terry Hall of The Specials “was going to do an opera for telly” with her, “but Channel 4 descheduled it”.
Sam Obernik – quite the musical Mrs Butterfly.