Ibiza clubbing: blondewearingblack – Everything is exactly how it should be
London-born Samantha Smith – aka singer and songwriter blondewearingblack – knew she was destined to live in Ibiza from the moment she stepped foot on its shores in 1996 as a fresh-faced teenager looking to celebrate finishing her GSCEs. Little did she know at the time, just how pivotal Ibiza and its music scene would be in her life, and indeed, her career. “My brother had been playing an album called Spiritually Ibiza to death,” she explains of the inspiration for the holiday. “I knew there was house music and an amazing sunset here, but that’s about it. Then I spent two weeks here and felt like I was part of a community very quickly. I felt like I belonged.”
Upon returning to London, she also returned to a life in music – not the kind of music she’d experienced on the white isle. From the age of five – after a teacher clocked her powerful vocal chords during a school nativity play – Samantha had been involved in stage school, musical theatre and the West End scene, yet she was constantly feeling unfulfilled by the experiences. “As soon as I discovered house music, I started working in clubs,” she explains. “I would be auditioning for shows at the same time, but I just wanted to be in trainers on a dance floor.” In hindsight, she sees this as a natural reaction to performing other people’s lyrics and the need to conform to certain standards to be in a chorus or take a lead role – a very strong personality means Samantha is quite anti-establishment by nature.
She continued to holiday in Ibiza and in 2000, Samantha followed her heart and relocated to Ibiza for the summer. After a few typical waitressing and flyering jobs, she found herself in the coveted position of driver for iconic island party We Love… Sundays at Space. Picking DJs up from the airport and driving them between hotels and gigs meant she made a lot of heavyweight connections – however at the time, the talented singer didn’t put two and two together and consider she may have a future in dance music. Spending happy summers on the white isle, followed by long winters in London performing in musicals such as Bugsy Malone, Gypsy, Annie and A Chorus Line. “That should have been when I fell in love with musical theatre,” she says retrospectively. “I’d worked so hard for it, but it just made me want to be in Ibiza even more.”
By 2009, Samantha decided to focus on her life and career in London. Four years later – after four knee operations due to damaged cartilage from years of tap dancing was making her deeply unhappy and in pain on the West End – she took some advice from a friend who was a life coach. “I told her the last time I’d been truly happy was in Ibiza,” she reminisces. “I wasn’t happy on the West End and I still wanted to be singing and dancing but still, I couldn’t put the two industries together. It took someone pointing out that while I had so many contacts in dance music, I was still trying to make it in musical theatre where I wasn’t happy – to the point where my body was saying don’t do this. She suggested I try house music, and to this day, I thank her so much for that.”
Once the penny had dropped, Samantha returned to her spiritual home of Ibiza in 2014 and back to her role of driving and as artist liaison at Space Ibiza. “I started talking to a lot of DJs and telling them I wanted to make music, but nothing really happened” she says. “Then that following winter in London, I finally made some demos using my own lyrics.” In addition to her uniquely powerful voice, lyrics are where blondewearingblack truly excels and yet again, it was something she’d been doing for much of her life – writing poetry – yet Samantha had never associated her words with music until many years later. “I look back on my old poetry books now and think, ahhhh, that’s what I was trying to do!” she laughs.
Once poetry was set to music, the wheels were in motion – quite literally, as Samantha returned to driving DJs for DC-10 in 2015. She was now living on the island year-round and had a plan of action and her sights set on success, and would line up her demo halfway through a track to start playing as some of the world’s most influential DJs and producers got in and out of her car. While many commented and suggested working together, it was the legendary Mr G who acted on impulse and sent Samantha an eight-minute piece of music to apply her musical and lyrical skills to, despite having never worked directly with a vocalist throughout his career. “I spent about four weeks playing these eight minutes of dark rolling bass with no idea what to do with it,” Samantha readily admits. “Then one day in the shower, I started belting out a really high, soulful but angry ‘something here ain’t right’ and that was it.”
She recorded the lyrics on an iPad, sent it back to Mr G who phoned her immediately to tell her it was amazing. Four weeks later, blondewearingblack was signed to the iconic Defected Records. The track in question is the 2016 summer smash Precious Cargo – a track Samantha continues to see people singing along on a dance floor to this season. “It’s such a buzz, having that connection with so many people you don’t even know,” she says. “When you’re struggling as an artist, it’s moments like that you really need. Seeing people go mental to your track… it’s an utter joy.” She’s even had her share of Tom Jones moments, with guys taking their shirts off and throwing them to her in the club!
As for the name? blondewearingblack is a nod to Samantha’s days as a driver. “I’d send DJs a message saying ‘This is Samantha, I’m your driver, look for a blonde wearing black at arrivals.’ when I was picking them up,” she explains. “One day I was driving Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses for Paradise, and they replied to the message saying it was an amazing name for an artist.” She responded telling them she actually was an artist and needed a name, since her actual name Sam Smith was already used by someone else in the industry. And blondewearingblack was officially born…
Samantha describes the blondewearingblack sound as industrial, edgy house with soulful vocals. “It’s a paradox,” she says. “You’ve got the dark and low sounding music and the vocals are high frequency – that’s my favourite thing. And though most of my songs are very personal and usually something I’m angry about, it all sounds upbeat.” It’s no surprise her favourite band is The Smiths – the very epitome of happy sounding music with the darkest lyrics known to man. Channelling anger and frustration into lyrics now comes easily to Samantha, whether it’s sitting on her balcony in Ibiza’s gypsy quarter of Sa Penya with a glass of wine, sitting in a DJ booth or in a car on the way to a gig.
“My writing is very reactive. It’s like therapy,” she says. “I’ll get messages from people asking me if some tracks are about a guy who broke my heart and actually, it could be about the coalition failing in Britain or about driving DJs! But I always stop myself from correcting them because I think lyrics should always mean whatever a person wants them to be.” Her non-conformist attitude remains and when labels have asked her to censor a track in order for it to be played on BBC1 or Capital UK, she staunchly refuses. When asked if this could be to her detriment, she proudly stands her ground. “The track – Let’s Go – still got played on those stations, with my words in place. That’s just my personality – the minute someone says don’t do that, I am totally going to do it, right now!”
While Samantha is passionate about staying true to her ethos of not performing other people’s lyrics, she recently made an exception and recorded a cover of iconic house track Hideaway by De’Lacy, with none other than Grammy-award winning producer and DJ David Morales. After all, when a producer who has remixed artists such as Madonna, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston asks you to record a cover with him, you say yes. It was a winter sighting of Morales in Samantha’s local late night haunt Paradise Lost that prompted the singer to connect with him through his team at Def Mix in New York (thanks to those valuable driving hook-ups from many years ago) and to her surprise, he asked her to meet up with him the very next day in Ibiza – Christmas Eve – to work on some music.
Once again it was bathroom acoustics that inspired the cover – as a joke (and after a few tequilas), while in the bathroom Samantha had grabbed Morales’ signature black trilby hat and was singing Hideaway into the mirror. Morales complimented her and insisted they re-record it together. “At first I said absolutely not – don’t touch a classic, plus I’m pretty big on not singing other people’s lyrics. But when you think about all those Def Mix remixes I grew up on, and all those vocalists he’s remixed – I’m so grateful to be one of those people now.” Hideaway by David Morales featuring blondewearingblack is released on Morales’ new label Diridim Records in July 2018.
With a string of hit releases behind her, and even more ahead of her, it seems blondewearingblack is just at the beginning of her ascension to success. She’s currently working on an edgy live concept – mixing her own music with other tracks she loves while singing and ad libbing over the top – that will be seen in Ibiza and around the world in 2018 and beyond. With seasonal residencies at The Zoo Project and EGO at Lío Ibiza with Mike and Claire Manumission, Samantha’s allegiance to the white isle remains. “Nowhere else will ever be home for me,” she says. “It’s the only place where I feel people can be themselves. In London, everyone’s walking around with their heads down, whereas here, everyone is looking to connect in some way. Even if it’s a ten-minute row about Brexit – it’s something interesting and stimulating that happens to you!”
Looking back at the years she spent living and working in Ibiza without considering she may have had a future in dance music, Samantha has zero regrets. If anything, she sees the experience as pivotal in shaping her as the artist she is today. “Sometimes I think I can’t believe I wasn’t doing this all my life,” she says. “But I’d never have gotten here, or written all these songs, or met all these people without those experiences. Everything is exactly how it should be.”
The Zoo Project photos by Renata Subic