Interview: Simeon Hammond Dallas on developing an independent roots music career

Jeff Beck’s open guitar sound has influenced the eclectic approach of this Camden Town based singer-songwriter.

Camden Town originally was a transport and industrial centre of Greater London but it has subsequently transitioned to an arts and music-friendly economy with supporting tourist-friendly shopping and restaurants. Singer-songwriter Simeon Hammond Dallas was born and breed in Camden, and it has helped influence her approach to her independent career which sees her following in the footsteps of such UK artists as Yola and Lady Nade. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Simeon Hammond Dallas as she was coming down from a successful self-promoted gig at the Lexington in London to discuss her new EP ‘Make It Romantic’. She explains that her formative musical influences were from listening to her dad’s record collection which has given her an eclectic range of influences. However, she says she was drawn to roots music because of its reliance on songwriting which makes it a great vehicle for her own songwriting.

How are you and how did your show at the Lexington go last night?

It was fun, and we had a good time. My sister was on the merch stand and my boyfriend was just running everywhere. I was quite stressed because I was in management mode and I’m not good at delegating, and I was oh, I’ve forgotten this, and I was frantically sending notes to people. I managed to switch from management mode to being a performer in time for the show. It was really important to me because I put the show on myself, and I wanted everyone to have a good time, haha.

How do you think of your own music, is it country, or is it more of an amalgam of various roots styles?

I don’t really, when I’m writing I just kind of write and it kind of comes out as it comes out. I have to have my own influences, and that comes out in the way I write. With all music and art, you have your influences, and that shapes it. I just like to write the song, and evaluate what it sounds like afterwards.

You have received praise for your singing voice, what is most important to you, your singing or your songwriting?

I think they are both important to me, and it is a pretty nasty question to ask me, haha. If you have an amazing voice and you are singing a rubbish song it doesn’t really hit the same for me. There is more chance of you getting away with it as a good songwriter and not much of a singer, rather than the other way round, but I try and do both, haha.

You see yourself as a singer-songwriter, do you include any covers on your releases?

It is all my own work, though I do obviously play covers, I haven’t released anything that is a cover of something. I think if you are going to do a cover of something it needs to be really good because you are always going to be compared to that person. Sometimes it can work out really well. You can probably guess from my lack of hard genre I don’t like being put into a box very much, and there is always a danger with a cover that you will continually get compared to that artist. I’d rather people make an assumption of me themselves rather than letting covers remind them of other artists.

What approach do you take to your songwriting, how disciplined are you or do you just catch the muse as and when?

A little bit of both. It naturally comes to me when the inspiration hits, and that can come from lots of different things, and there are times when I will force myself to be more disciplined. Usually, I take inspiration from my day-to-day life, things I overhear, and things I examine about the world, relationships, and interactions between other human beings, but there wasn’t much of that during lockdown so I had to find another way in and be quite disciplined with myself. So right, I’m going to write a song, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t get the thing, what is important is that I do it, working it like a muscle.

How do you decide when you have finished a song, do you decide that yourself or do you use friends and colleagues as well?

That is quite an instinct for me. What I usually do is write with just me and my guitar, and I will write the acoustic version if you like. I will then bring it into a studio and I will then have some idea of other instrumentation around it, so there is a little bit of play there. The bare bones is written with just me and my guitar in my bedroom, and it is a really weird thing to try and describe in words. It is almost like an internal thing where I’ve said what I had to say and said it in a way that gets the points across. It is almost like when you try and persuade someone to do something, or something like that, there is always a little bit of protesting too much. You have to say I’ve done what I wanted to do, I’ve said what I wanted to say, and I feel that it has been communicated in a good way and I’m not going to anxiously wait for someone to respond.

Your songs cover relationships and also topical subjects, how do you decide which road to take when you write a song?

I think most things are worth writing a song about, I like to write about human experiences that I feel other people can relate to, and in some way that kind of sparks a shared experience that is definitely worth writing about.

How did you record your new EP ‘Make It Romantic’?

I record it with my bassist Leon Itzler, and he mixed the whole thing, and then we had a friend master it. I wrote a lot of it before lockdown and a lot of tweaking was done during lockdown, then we got into the studio and built round it.

Your EP ‘Make It Romantic’ opens with a blues and over 5 tracks is pretty eclectic ending with a country waltz, what were you trying to say?

You always have to have more songs and I did have to sort of cull them. They are all very different, but there are themes linking them so I don’t think they are disjointed as an all-round EP. There were other potential songs that were taken off for various reasons, and I basically had to reworkshop a lot of them because I basically had a lot more time on my hands in 2020, but it was an entirely different version of the EP. For example, the first song ‘Blues Is A Game’ I wrote during lockdown so that wouldn’t have been on the original EP. I knew I wanted to create an EP without knowing it would be this one, haha. It ended up working out I think.

Which artists inspired you to make music your career?

Some of my earliest memories of listening to music and being super intrigued by it was listening to my dad’s record collection and reading the lyrics off of the back of records. When I think of stuff like that you will not be surprised it is a wide range of artists, haha. I think of people like Rickie Lee Jones, The Cranberries, Joni Mitchell, and B. B. King, and then some jazzy people like Ella Fitzgerald, whose voice is just incredible. So definitely a mixed bag, haha.

More and more artists of colour are reclaiming roots music, you have the Black Opry in America, and the UK’s Yola has had considerable success, Lady Nade is making waves, why do think this is?

I’m not sure really, I think for me personally I never really defined my sound which has always been very singer-songwriter and it kind of naturally evolved into that. I think when it becomes a bit more of a welcoming space for people to say that is something I find interesting and I do want to explore that sound. There is something about it that is soulful and it sits in a space that just allows you to tell your story, roots type music allows you to tell your story and when you see other people around whose story is worth telling, it encourages you to say so is mine.

The music business is notoriously difficult but you’ve managed to gain some momentum as an independent artist. What plans do you have to build on your current success?

I going on tour supporting Lady Nade in October, I will just keep on gigging and see where that goes, and I will keep networking to help me build a team around me. I’ve always done things organically, so we will just keep going and see.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which three artists, albums, or tracks you are currently listening to?

Recently I’ve started taking up guitar lessons again, because I’m working on my lead guitar, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Jeff Beck and B. B. King, and sometimes I think one of the best ways to learn something is to listen to something you enjoy and then try and copy that because it gives you more scope to expand from there. I like that open sound that Jeff Beck has. I have small hands, haha, and not great wrist support, and when I write I often write open chords, so on most of the songs on my first EP I don’t play the whole bar chord, I will play with the open strings underneath and it gives a richer sound. I say that but it is also because it is tiring to press down, haha, but I do want to have a beautifully open sound like Jeff Beck. I think his sound is just gorgeous and it is not because he can’t press the frets down, haha.

Finally is there anything you want to say to our UK readers?

Just thank you for welcoming me, and I think americana is really special because it feels like a very inclusive community.

Simeon Hammond Dallas’s ‘Make It Romantic’ is out now as an independent release.

About Martin Johnson 406 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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A year on from this interview and I’m looking forward to hearing Simeon Hammond Dallas perform at a local venue next month. I hope that one day she’ll be playing to a huge crowd and get the recognition her wonderful voice and songwriting deserve.