There is an airplane analogy that I (and many before me) like to use when it comes to explaining the importance of self-care: “Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” This is usually in reference to the safety tutorial flight attendants present pre-flight, describing what you should do in the case of the cabin losing air pressure, causing oxygen masks to drop from the overhead bin. In the context of real life, the application isn’t all that different—take care of yourself before you can take care of others. It’s a hard lesson to learn sometimes, and one that L.A’s Sam DeRosa had to master in order to release her perfectly timed debut EP, The Medicine.
“I think what I’ve realized is, it’s not my responsibility to go into [songwriting] thinking about saving someone’s life, I have to go into it thinking that I’m saving mine.” DeRosa is beaming at me from her phone’s camera, holding it at eye-level, trying hard to keep it steady despite the passionate gestures she makes with her hands as she talks, a grateful smile always finding its way back to her face. “…What motivates me to start unpacking my own shit…honestly, what motivates me to talk about hard stuff is knowing that somewhere, even if one person hears it, and it helps them, I did it.”
The New York native-turned-L.A-songwriter-for-the-masses’ trajectory to this release has been anything but conventional. After entering countless talent shows where she would perform popular covers since her young teens, DeRosa has seemingly been in a “hustle” mode for the better part of the past decade. Having finally snatched her first win at the age of fifteen for an original song, she started to realize her potential, leading her to the Berklee College of Music. Fast forward a degree and a few more life experiences later, she lands on an episode of NBC’s Songland, performing once again an original song. “I didn’t ever think that that many people will watch it. But they said like six million people watch the episode, so I was like, cool, I really have to make sure I do this right. And that I make sure I’m aware of the story that I’m telling and who I am and what I’m putting forward, because it needs to be real and authentic to me, or else I’ll feel like I’m trying.” “Pill For This,” a song based on a very real story of her ex boyfriend getting engaged to her ex friend impressed not only the millions watching, but judge and Monuments Records co-president, Shane McAnally as well, who promptly signed her to a record deal. “So what happened was, I woke up the next day. My song was number four on iTunes. I had 12,000 new Instagram followers, hundreds of DMs and I answered all of them. I literally took three weeks to respond to every single person, thanked every single person, but they wanted to know how the story ended. They wanted to know what happened. They said something similar happened. And I was like, ‘Damn, I know I’ve been writing about this in the last few months, but how do I wrap it up?’ And that’s when I had the idea of ‘Medicine.'”
As a songwriter, DeRosa is daring in her raw delivery of personal moments, whether cherished or picked at like old scabs. Her vulnerability is a shield, protecting her from outside harm, and sometimes even from herself. Every track has a line that rings with honest truth—the box of letters from old boyfriends she keeps in her closet, the audio books she purchased in the pursuit of self actualization—and every one is written with the shadowing fear of exposing herself, subdued only by the sheer hope that her own stories will help someone else who is still trying to make sense of their own. “I’m so glad I didn’t become a superstar at eighteen. Because I would have had no idea.” She lets that sink in a little before continuing. “I wouldn’t have been good enough of a singer. I wouldn’t have known that I could write songs like this or that I could do it myself. And I wouldn’t have had the human experience that led me to finding what was my voice as an artist, which is ‘Hi, I’m Sam, here’s my life resume. It’s bumpy af, but I promise you it’s real.’ And for that reason, I will always give you songs that you can relate to because they’re real. They’re mine.”
In fact, DeRosa’s songs don’t just stop at her artist page. She’s written songs for lovelytheband, Lukas Graham, even Dixie D’amelio. “I still as a songwriter pitch everything out. Because I always feel with the way my life has worked out, and I can’t speak for everyone, but I mean, girl, everything that has been meant for me has come back. So I’m just like, no babies here, send them out and send them off to college. If they come back, cool. If they don’t, they don’t.” There is something in the way she describes her songs that remind you of a nurturing, proud, and fiercely progressive parent. There is concern for how they’re treated, the desire to see them happy, finding a place they belong to, with the knowledge that sometimes, they will have to learn how to do it on their own. “I will never forget quarantine started and I got a link of Dixie’s little pretty face and someone was like, hey, this girl wants [my song] ‘Be Happy’. And they were giving me numbers. I was like, okay, that’s all awesome. But does she resonate with the song lyrics? Does she like it? Does she love it? Does she feel it? Does she want to sing it for the rest of her life? If she’s willing to do that, then sign me up. And I say, thank God I have been able to separate myself from that craft because the amount of people in quarantine who have resonated with that song— I’m so thankful, I do my little victory dance, even though I’m not the one singing it.”
While DeRosa’s own EP can read like a jaded lover’s journal entries, there is a moment on it in “Sad Faces” where she internalizes her despair, putting up a mirror to her own face and forcing herself to look closer at the cracks. “I got everything I wanted,” she opens up. “I got a number one song, it was platinum. I had just found out about Songland. Everything was going great. My song came back to me, I’m about to sign a record deal. I went from $13 in my bank account to —I thought it was a mathematical error. I sent a picture to my mom, I was like, ‘Mom, we did it, dinner’s on me.’ You know, and my mental health was in the toilet. I downloaded every audio book you could think of, every podcast you could think of. I got a dry erase marker, I actually used Sharpie at first by accident, wrote affirmations on my bathroom mirror: ‘You’re beautiful’, ‘you’re worthy.’ And after a while I was like, holy shit. Why do I need to remind myself this everyday, seeing it is like me telling myself you’re not enough, so here’s a reminder that you are. And that’s how I started taking it. And then I’m looking at my Instagram, and it’s like, coffee or like, ‘so blessed’ and damn. That’s not you, so not you. How can I sit here and write songs and ask people to spend money on me and my career when I am a walking dumpster fire. So I put my phone down, and I just got to work. And what I mean by that is, I did the exact opposite of what everybody told me to. Because I realized if I’m anxious, and I’m overwhelmed, the last thing I should do is a morning routine of nineteen things that also involves journaling.”
The Medicine, as implied by its name, holds healing properties that extend beyond the mend for a broken heart. At its surface, it’s an anthem for all the nights spent crying over an ex, the attempts to feel alive again by surrounding yourself with strangers in a crowded place. But dig a little deeper, and it becomes a love story, an ode to the one person that truly matters—you.