Samantha Urbani has a quality about her that makes you feel as if you've been great friends for ages. Her warm, infectious, and witty persona is captivating and matched with an intelligence not found in most pop performers today, and it’s because of these qualities that she's connected with just about everybody in the music industry. An emerging voice to come out of Brooklyn’s indie music scene, Urbani fronted the dance-punk band, Friends, before working with long-time collaborator and ex-boyfriend Dev Hynes [Blood Orange].

Now, she’s making her own mark on the music world. The artist, whose solo debut EP Policies of Power arrives today, sat down with Highsnobiety Music in Los Angeles to discuss the formation of her long-anticipated debut, how her high-profile breakup inspired a move to sunny LA and her love for all things '80s pop.

This is your first solo project. Before you were collaborating with your band [Friends] and then Dev Hynes [Blood Orange]. What was it like working alone?

I finished a lot of the EP a long time ago but I was not emotionally ready for it to come out. I was just second-guessing everything. Even if there were times that I loved it, those were the times that I was annoyed by it. When you have a band, there’s a system of checks and balances at play. One person loves one song and you make fun of them for it because you think it’s the worst. But if you’re just having an internal dialogue with yourself, you question the music a lot. There’s definitely less of an ongoing catharsis with dialogue I think.

Is that why you chose to test the waters with the visual release of the fourth song on the EP, “Go Deeper”, first?

Yeah, I mean the label thought that it would be a good transition for “Hints & Implications” to be the first single and I just thought that it’s too in your face. It’s fine with me for people to hear it but maybe it’s not a cool introduction. “Go Deeper” felt like a good, chilled out intro and it’s an interesting arrangement with a lot sonically going on. If you want to get into it, you can, but it’s also straightforward. It’s a good kind of neutral.

Now that you’ve completed the EP, do you prefer working alone?

It’s way different. There are pros and cons. In order to get a song to where I really want it to be, I like to work with other people. The big difference though is that when it’s a solo project, an EP is a continuously interchangeable construct, and I can depend on a different group of people for whatever type of vibe I need. It’s nice having that freedom, but it made me miss the kind of infrastructure that comes with having a band.

Do you think being a solo artist allows for more evolution in your work?

Yeah, the solo shit gives me the freedom to do any type of song that I want with any person at any given time.

How did you come up with the name of the EP, Policies of Power?

It’s a lyric from the first line in “Hints & Implications”. I didn’t think about it as a concept for the EP, but as I was putting together the artwork, I thought that it needed a title that was heavy-handed. All the songs are about power dynamics on many levels and that’s what I always write songs about. Whether it’s a love song or a political song, there’s always a meditation on where things stand with people, privilege, and interpersonal, inter-gender, interclass dynamics.

That’s one thing I love about your music... that it’s androgynous in regards to empowerment.

Yes, I think every power dynamic is so intersectional and so importantly multifaceted on all levels. I never want to speak on behalf of someone’s experience I don’t have, but I do have empathy for marginalization and power structures.

Where did you record most of the EP?

Mostly in LA. I have a friend out here [Sam Mehran] that I worked with. We’ve been friends for a long time and have similar tastes in music. We’d go to his house everyday and he had a weird studio that’s twice the size of this table in his basement. His computer was broken and I went to Guitar Center and bought monitors that we returned in a month. We had no money. We were really resourceful about it. We knew how to [make it like that] because we were both making weird Bushwick pop back in 2003.

On your Wikipedia page, it says that you’re a Bushwick celebrity.

[Laughing] I thought that was really funny when I read it. It needs to stay. My ex-boyfriend and his friends used to call me the Queen of Bushwick when we first started hanging out. We would travel to the UK and they’d be like, “Tell us about hipsters in Bushwick.” It’s such a troll move. I’m sure one of my friends wrote that.

Do you think that’s true though? Do you think you had a hand in the formation of the whole scene that’s grown out of Brooklyn?

Definitely... for better or for worse. I joke that I’m in a tourist commercial when I’m in Friends’ “I’m His Girl” music video walking under the J/M/Z Bridge. It screams, 'Visit Bushwick! Myrtle and Broadway! Where we all hang out and listen to funky pop! We’re talking about androgyny and polyamory. We’re a little new age, a little punk, and a little multicultural. We grew up poor and now we’re finding our way! It’s the New York Dream!'

Do you think the Bushwick you just described still exists?

No, it’s really depressing. It sucks for the people who have been living there for generations. That kind of community and a real arts community can coexist in an amazing way because artists who didn’t grow up privileged often do have a sincere empathetic output and like to empower communities rather than take away from them. All my friends were starting music venues that were community centers during the day where neighborhood kids could come and hang out. Now Brooklyn is just financial district bros living there for the aesthetic. It sucked to be lumped into that and see that community disappear.

Is that the reason you decided to move to LA?

Multiple things did. When I first came to LA, I was staying here with my ex-boyfriend and we were planning on being here for a few months. Then, he did this weird, shady thing where he said, 'Oh I have to go back to New York to work for a week,' which turned into, 'Oh, I’m not coming back. You can stay in the house alone. I’ll see you whenever you get back.' We’d been together for two years. It was just very dysfunctional and there was bad communication involved.

I had this weird purgatory of not knowing what was going on with the thing that made me feel grounded at the time. I moved back to New York and it was like being in The Twilight Zone. He couldn’t even look me in the eye and treat me like a regular person. He had just gotten over the whole relationship without telling me that’s what was going on. I tried living in New York for six months, but all of the sudden, nothing made sense to me anymore. I had just let out the first song “1234” and it went over really well, but I didn’t have the support system that I thought I was going to have. I started to play shows, but I felt so weird and vulnerable.

Was the idea that you were going to collaborate on this music with your ex?


Well that makes total sense then why you would feel that way.

Yeah, there were a lot of expectations that were not followed through and then a lot of invalidations of those expectations. You don’t want to feel like you need anything from anyone but when it’s been promised and then taken away, there’s a lot of loose ends. I spent a lot of sacrificed time contributing to this thing and I thought it was going to be a balance, but... it’s fine... people do what they have to do or just feel like doing.

You’re involved with almost all aspects of production on every project you work on. What’s your favorite hat to wear?

It’s the music, but if the visuals are right, it’s so satisfying. I grew up painting and sculpting from a young age and was good at it. But for me, it wasn’t that challenging or inspiring because I was always trying to figure out how to transcend reality with my art. Music was always my obsession and I was so in love and in awe of it that it felt intimidating to do it myself. I knew I’d be a crazy perfectionist and insecure about people hearing it so I wrote songs secretly until college.

Who are some of your musical influences?

Some of my favorite production is from the '80s and that’s undeniable. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who did all of Janet Jackson’s music, is a big influence or Malcolm McLaren or Wally Badarou, who produced a lot of Tom Tom Club and is a crazy synth guy. He’s someone I’m obsessed with and would love to work with. Also, Jim Steinmen who’s the king of power ballads. He wrote every one of Meat Loaf’s songs and wrote “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s my karaoke song. It’s so good. It climaxes something like six times. I love all kinds of music though and I’m influenced by so much shit. I sing in all different ways and my goal is for my music to be comfortably schizo.

I love that... comfortably schizo.

[Laughing] Where it’s not confusing but it is a little surprising at times. That’s the solo music. I want to continue that notion of using my own name and doing whatever I want, but it’s also my writing so there will always be a string of continuity. I don’t like to think that my music belongs in one place or another.

For more of our interview, take a look at our editorial and chat with A$AP Ferg about his new album 'Still Striving' right here.

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