Once she used to play her music to the wallpaper, too afraid to leave the house, but Sam RB has learnt to live with her mental illness and is now preparing for her first overseas gig.

"It's fair to say I would be the least likely person to be doing what I am now," says the self-taught musician.

Sam has been writing songs since she was in high school and says she entered the competition to write an Olympic anthem on a bit of a whim.

"I saw details on Facebook and thought I would like to try writing an anthem. I didn't really tell anyone I'd entered, just waited."


Sam drew on her own experience with mental illness to write Stand Tall, saying she wanted to capture the uplifting feeling of overcoming a challenge.

Her song was selected by both an Olympic committee and public vote and, as winner, Sam will be flown to London to perform at the Governor-General's dinner at Banqueting House, Whitehall, as part of New Zealand's Olympic celebrations.

The dinner is not until July 26 but Sam is heading over a month early for a busking tour that will include Paris, Amsterdam and Scotland.

The Three Kings resident says winning is an honour and a privilege.

"It's all very surreal. I don't think it will hit me till I'm on the plane. I bought my first dress for the performance," she says with a shy grin. "I think that London will be pretty full-on."

In the past such an overwhelming experience would have been too much for Sam, who spent 10 years in the public mental health system battling with what she describes as "internal chaos".

"Over that time I built up the resources and strategies I now use every day. Before, I couldn't leave the house, but now I can deal with the difficulties.

"I don't want to minimise it as it's very much a human experience."

And it's one that shaped the lyrics of her winning song.

"Part of the song is about an emotional strength; when you find that place where you can believe in yourself. It sounds a cliche but it's just amazing to get there. It's quite life-changing.

"And I imagine our Olympic athletes have had to find that place to be successful."

In 2010 a media grant from the Mental Health Foundation enabled Sam to put out an album and around this time she also started busking on Queen St and at markets.

"I love busking. I still get anxious about it, but it's also the one thing that connects me to a community and gives me a sense of belonging.

"It's amazing to be able to live off my music," she says, quickly adding that she's a busker who pays tax.

She says after London she'll keep busking three or four days a week and is working towards funding a second album.

"There'll be other stuff that comes up but I'm not chasing it. I'm on a journey and it's exciting to see what comes up. I believe in taking opportunities and running with them whereas I used to be too afraid of the world to do that."

She loves it when people come up to her in the street saying they've been touched by her music.

"I get so much from the people on Queen St, it makes me feel really good."

Play It Strange founder and CEO Mike Chunn, of Split Enz and Citizen Band fame, has mentored Sam since she received the grant and helped with recording her first album. "As an independent musician it's really useful to be able to connect with someone like Mike," she says.

"He's a very kind, generous and knowledgeable man and he helps so many people... and that's the kaupapa of Play It Strange."

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements says when it comes to dealing with mental health, Sam's achievement sends a strong message about positivity and self-care.

"Like Sam's lyrics say, we all need to stand tall, have self-respect, recognise our own strength and look for connections with other people."

Sam RB has re-released her album 'Seems I might be human' to include her single Stand Tall. It can be ordered through www.samRB.com

Paul Gurney of country blues band The DeSotos is a Sam RB fan and invited her to be the opening act for his band's next gig on Friday, June 22.

Gurney is a music tutor at the Live Art Trust Toi Ora (www.toiora.org.nz), a shared creative space for adults who have come into contact with mental health services.

"I was made aware of her singer/songwriter skills through the manager of the facility, Erwin Van Asbeck," explains Gurney. "Plus I had heard her busking in central Auckland and was impressed with what I heard."

The DeSotos like to share the bill with interesting acts.

"Her winning the Olympic anthem competition was the icing on the cake, and the gig with us is a great opportunity for her to perform in a more concert-based atmosphere before heading away to England."

WHAT Sam RB, The DeSotos

WHEN Friday June 22, 7.30pm
WHERE Juice Bar, Parnell

HOW MUCH Pre sales $15, tickets at eventfinder.co.nz; Door sales $20

WEB thedesotos.com