Ahead of some exciting new releases for artist Sammi Doll, Dom sat down with her for a chat about all things music, and what it’s like living with ADHD.
‘Hello, everybody, my name is Sammi Doll, I play for an assortment of bands, most recently I play for Kat Von D, I play for IAMX as a synth player, and I have my own solo project under the name ‘Sammi Doll.’
‘I was diagnosed [with ADHD] when I was eight years old so I’ve been on and off medication to treat this disorder for almost all my life, most of my conscious life, that I can recall. How it has affected me creatively – it is a blessing and curse, and I’m totally open for anything that you’d want to ask because I think there should be more attention put on the disorder and what it actually is. I feel like there’s a lot of: ‘oh, you take Adderall and it helps you focus.’ And it’s much more than that.’
Sammi talked through how the disorder can have its pros and cons when it comes to music, touching on how it might help her hyperfocus on a project, but also struggle with time management and regulating her emotions.
‘It can be a blessing in the sense that this is how I’m able to get the synth sounds that I want. So it’ll be maybe 8pm – and this is also the curse – and I will start digging into a synth and just manipulating the sounds and going into every little crevice. And then when I look up, it’ll be 7 in the morning. And so that is something that is a blessing because I get exactly what I want out of it, but that is only one sound for one patch and I still have the rest of the song to program. So, there’s that – there’s an element of perfection that I strive for that I can handle nothing less of.’
‘I have to do things so diligently, and I just don’t have the ability to foresee how long it will actually take. That is a curse. And I think that’s really common with a lot of people that I’ve talked to, is that I’ve had a problem in the past with time management as far as being late. I’m perpetually late to things… A lot of my friends and colleagues who are sticklers for time will tell me that I have to be there 30 minutes earlier or an hour earlier because they know that it’s not that I don’t want to be there, I have every intention of being there, it’s just not being able to foresee how much time things are going to take me and everything gets pushed back and back. That’s a curse. But with the creative process, I care so deeply about what I do. I don’t think there’s anybody that would discredit my dedication for things, and I think that ADHD has really played a big part in that.’
‘There’s something called emotional dysregulation. And that is the ability, or rather the inability, to regulate your emotions in the moment when you’re feeling them. So, if I were to come out of a situation and it’s like, how am I going to channel this? I don’t know how to react, I have a delayed response time. I can’t just be like, ‘I have to write this down because this is how I’m feeling,’ because my brain does not know how to process that emotion in that moment.’
Like many neurodivergent individuals, Sammi expressed that she does not know what it’s like to not have the disorder, but is passionate about letting people know that speaking about mental health differences is a positive thing to do:
‘There is an incredible stigma around mental health in general. And I don’t think that being open about mental health is a sign of weakness. I think it’s a sign of strength, because it’s listening to your body and listening to ways that are just going to help you in the long run.’
‘I only learnt about emotional regulation and rejection sensitivity fairly recently. Because I was diagnosed at such a young age, nobody bothered to tell me what this condition actually was. So I was alongside a lot of the people who thought, ‘oh I just take these pills to help me focus on things’ because otherwise I’m thinking about a million other things. That’s not true! There’s a lot more to this and I think once people start to realise that it’s connected to so much with other elements of the brain that control emotion, reaction, concentration… it’s very common that when you’re diagnosed with ADHD there is another disorder that it’s connected to, and you shouldn’t be afraid of these things because I think that learning about yourself and how you can just win more.’
And when it comes to social media and success, it can be easy to forget that people often portray a curated image to their audiences:
‘Social media, it really really is our highlight reel. Nobody is putting on there with how much they’re struggling, with how this didn’t work out or this song is trash, or the really really hard weeks in between. I have on my Instagram put out a couple of times when I have really really had a hard time, either with feeling extremely depressed, which I’ve realised is another symptom of ADHD where you have extreme highs and extreme lows. So, I’ve been very very open about that publicly… There are some weeks where I just feel completely worthless and I don’t feel good enough and I don’t deserve to be in the space that I’m in and I really beat myself up about it. And that’s so normal, especially for people with ADHD.’
‘When I was asked to join IAMX back in 2013. I got the email saying ‘hey, we’re looking for this, we know that you play the keyboard, would you be interested in auditioning?’ And I called my best friend and I was like, I have to tell them no. And he was like, why would you do that? Why would you say no? This is like, your favourite band in the world. You know all the songs, why wouldn’t you do it? And I’m just like, I just don’t feel like I’m good enough. I don’t know if I have the stage presence… In my mind view of who I thought they were, IAMX, because of how social media had painted them – and they didn’t really have much of a social media presence, ‘cause it wasn’t crazy hoppin’ at that time – and they were quite private, so my view of what I thought they were was miles different from who they actually are.’
‘With a bit of patience and the amount of work that I put into it because of how dedicated I was and how much I wanted it, it worked out for me. So, I look back many years later at that audition tape and I cringe and I’m like wow! But the thing is, I wouldn’t have ever got to that point if I hadn’t tried. So my advice is, you never know how far you’re gonna get unless you try.’
In terms of coping mechanisms, Sammi candidly shared what works for her, and what she still struggles with when dealing with the difficult points of having ADHD. What makes her feel better when the going gets tough?
‘To be honest, sometimes there’s nothing. Because I have a delayed response time, for anything that is extremely emotional, so if it’s a really deep and dark feeling and I’m in a social scenario or on the road or whatever, I have to sweep it under the rug, ‘the show must go on on’ sort of thing. But when I come into my private time, I still have this big mountain of prep that I need to deal with. I have found that the best therapy is just sitting in those moments and feeling them because I have a really bad habit of just shoving things aside. I do deal with them in my own time. The way that I cope with them sometimes is to be like, okay, so I’m going to take two personal days and I’m going to sort through all of these feelings that I have because I can’t carry them around with me any more.’
‘[Healthy coping mechanisms] are something that I’ve learnt over time. Because I’m very receptive and I think people with ADHD are sensitive, we can read the room pretty well. For me I’m an emotional sponge so if I walk in and the vibe is pretty weird, I’m like, ooh! I feel that tenfold! I admire those people who can walk into a room and feel the energy and be like ‘this needs to change!’ that’s not me. I have continuously tried to work on connecting with myself. I think my coping mechanisms when I was 20 were very destructive. I probably lost myself in running away from the feelings and I didn’t quite know what they were and I didn’t really realise I was running away from feelings because it was kind of like, am I chasing something else, am I misunderstood, you know.’
‘It was only when I started through a process of elimination being like hey, I need to kind of realign with myself here and teach myself ways of making myself feel better. I think a lot of it too is having a supportive friend group or spouse, partner, anything, that is understanding of the condition. I’m way more understanding of my condition now than I ever was, but it’s taken me a really long time to get there.’
‘Learning more about your disorder is the first step because then you can fully understand how you can overcome the lows and really ride the highs.’
Sammi shared her experience working with artist Kat Von D over the past year, which included Kat’s new album, produced by Gunship.
‘I joined Kat Von D’s band last year and she and I have worked together previously – she sang on a couple of IAMX songs, so that was our connection there – and she played me some of her demos and she was like, what do you think? And I was like, I think I would love to play this if you ever want to do it live! And then she called me a couple of years later and that’s what we’re doing! So we had plans just like everybody else, to go on tour last year, and everything got cancelled. So we really took that time to take her demos and her ideas and everything that would’ve been on the album and really reinvent it… We spent all the time in quarantine – I moved into her place for a couple of months with my cat and another one of the band members – and we just really recreated her ideas but in a more cohesive, darker, melancholic, synthwave kind of overtone for the entire album.’
‘That album is coming out on August 27th, it’s called ‘Love Made Me Do It’ and we just released the last single before the album release, called ‘Fear You’ and that music video was just released. I feel like it’s my favourite song on the album, it’s really moody, I feel like a lot of these songs on this record, everybody can relate to. It’s a heartbreak record, it’s about getting out of a toxic cycle with somebody you love. It’s kind of an answer to anybody that has ever been in that scenario and I think it’s really relatable… it’s just a great ‘songs to break up to’ record!’
But she’s not just working with other artists; Sammi also talked a little bit about her solo project, and the challenges she faced around taking that on after being used to being part of projects with others, including Bulletheight, where she took on the role of frontwoman alongside Jon Courtney:
‘It was extremely hard, and a lot of people had to convince me to do it because I wanted to hide behind a moniker, I wanted to hide behind a band scenario and feel safe in a group environment and feel like I could share the responsibility if it tanked! It really was a natural progression, but I was so uncomfortable with it because it wasn’t that I felt like I couldn’t do it, it was just more the responsibility of attaching my own name to something.’
‘I needed IAMX to become the front person that Bulletheight needs, but I really needed all of these projects to be the person that Sammi Doll really needs.’
So, what does Sammi want to express to those who have supported her, whether over the years or more recently?
‘That’s a really broad spectrum of people but I have the same things to say to everyone; it’s that I cannot express how much gratitude I have for people who have just joined the journey, or for people that have been on my journey since the beginning. I come into contact with those people every so often and I’m like, I’m so grateful that you find me so interesting or what you find what I’m doing interesting enough to follow me for so long. And from the bottom of my heart, I cannot express how much it makes my heart full. People who enjoy interacting with me, my friends, my family, people across the scene, people who I don’t see every day but I can pick back up with as if I saw them yesterday, I have this immense appreciation and love when I think about them, and I think about the people who follow me with my career – they make it possible for me to be able to do this.’
‘All of you make it possible for me to live my dreams, and I have really no way of expressing how that makes me feel but the closest thing is that it makes me feel really full, because the feeling is indescribable but it’s full of love, light, positivity, and gratitude. So thank you, everybody, so much.’
‘Love Made Me Do It’ is out now on all streaming platforms.
Sammi’s socials –