Cesar Sampson, 34, is no stranger to the Eurovision scene. As a key member of Symphonix international, he was one of the producers that led Bulgaria’s acts to fourth and second places at Eurovision 2016 and 2017 respectively. Traditionally behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer, he’s ready to represent his country with everything he’s got.
Besides working in the music industry he has a lot of experience as a nutritionist, personal trainer and a social worker. SBS spoke with Cesar to learn more about his song “Nobody but you” and his unique Eurovision journey.
How do you feel about representing Austria? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
No, it’s something I’ve actually never thought about doing because visually not looking like an Austrian I’ve never been put into that position. I never saw myself as “the” Austrian guy that everyone recognised as Austrian. Even without me noticing I always put myself into this corner. I always thought the rest of the world is much more likely to embrace me than my own country. When Austria reached out and we came to an agreement and it was clear that I was going to represent Austria I was quite touched.
“Nobody but you” has a very distinctive sound, mix of pop and soul, is this what you always envisioned? What was the process of how this song came about?
I mean I have a certain sound that I just like, I like the '70s mix of jazz, soul and rock and always liked how they came together. We didn’t want to make a genre piece anyway so we just went where we felt where we wanted to go with that song and it was quite intuitive. The song having many influences is just the way I make music as well as the way my partners and my team makes music. With pop, if you’re going to write something for 200 million people to listen to you have to bring it to a point where everybody can connect to it without losing your story right?
Originally you were back-up for Bulgaria in 2016 and 2017, and now representing Austria. When did the talks start for you to become the representative of Austria?
In the first year when I was there in 2016 in Stockholm there was all this banter “when are you going represent Austria?” and it just never stopped. At the end of the Eurovision song contest we had already started talking with ORF, the Austrian broadcaster, and of course these are people that of course always knew that I exist and it wasn’t an unknown factor. In 2017 everything came together, they asked me to write something and send something so I did and it worked out!
Being a part of Symphonix, you guys have quite a Eurovision history. Do you have a favourite song or group that you’ve worked with so far?
My favourite song is actually this song Nobody but You. First of all I think it’s because it’s the first one in a long time that every member was involved which isn’t a given. So everyone put finishing touches and added something to it as well as we had the time to get it right.
How do you prepare for a show like Eurovision? Is there anything you’ll be specifically doing to prepare yourself?
You prepare by being very much prepared, the less it is any kind of stress. Stress always comes from insecurity and variables you cannot change. The less variables the more comfortable you are and that’s the point actually because in the end I just want to focus on expressing myself, being myself, being on stage as natural as possible with all of that bing, bang going on. As I’m a personal trainer, I would think in terms of how to get a result – what do I need to do? What do I need to keep doing? There will be an exercise regimen which is definitely something I’ll be doing every morning, things that will activate me but directly before the show I just try to be myself.
Traditionally, you normally work behind the scenes as a songwriter. Do you have a favourite singer that you have just naturally clicked with or felt that the project itself was an absolute stand out?
I do have a favourite singer who is one of my backing vocals this year. She’s normally a solo vocalist who has a very distinct and powerful voice and I’ve known her for a long time. Sometimes we’ve recorded something that is magical but we haven’t found the time or the exact direction just yet but I really love working with her. We’ve also set up a small studio in Lisbon so who knows what will happen!
Being a writer, do you find that you are your harshest critic or that you are very particular with the lyrics and what they mean?
I’m definitely much more critical about my own work than I am about other people’s work. At the end of the day music is all about being felt and I can separate those two directives. I can say that you’ve done a masterful job at producing a song but it didn’t do anything for me or it’s a very raw song, very unrefined but it lacks something. There’s a place for both of those things, and I don’t really care, credit is where credits due right?
You’re a bit of a wildcard as it seems as you’ve been involved in a lot of other projects that doesn’t necessarily revolve around music whereas some Eurovision contestants this is the only thing they know. What other projects have you been involved in and what are some things that your fans may not know about you?
Since I’m not 20 but 34, I’ve had more time to learn things and expand my horizons. Being a sports scientist and a personal trainer of course I have my expertise in that where I’ve been involved in projects as a councillor and a nutritionist, I work with restaurants and I give nutritional counsel with publications and helped building of gyms. I used to be a social worker and working with handicapped people for 5, 6 years. Now I can give something back and working with these not-for-profit organisations and try to come up with projects that is beneficial for those endeavours.
That’s quite unique because we’re surrounded by contestants in their 20s who have been through all the different music shows and competitions, going through the natural process of competing nationally before becoming the representative which is not your particular journey. Does going through all these different experiences give you a different insight and ultimately make you appreciate it more?
You definitely need your basics and I’ve been through all of that, from age 9 to age 21 where I really focused on music and doing shows. This was not only just performing as a singer but as a drummer, percussionist, so you need to have that. As an artist you need to have that experience more than anything else. I know so many musicians in their 40’s who are part child because there are so many things that other people have to go through and they just never do. I never wanted to be one of those, I wanted to be a well-rounded guy and also be independent.
Lastly, do you have any other favourite acts for Eurovision 2018?
It’s really not me plugging anything, my favourite act other than myself is Equinox from Bulgaria who will be performing Bones, they are my friends as well. It’s just an amazing song which I had the pleasure of seeing being born and developed. The finishing product just surprised me and wowed me, I look forward to seeing them on stage!
Will Cesar clinch victory? Watch the Grand Final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest LIVE on Sunday 13 May from 5am (and you can vote for any of the finalists other than Australia!), and at 7.30pm (featuring the best tweets and party pics from #Eurovision #SBSEurovision). Catch all the action on SBS with live streaming at SBS On Demand.