With a new year, comes the weight of expectation on a new batch of artists, thrust into the spotlight and expected to set the agenda for the twelve months ahead. That’s what The Hype List is about – a series of interviews, profiles and more highlighting who we think will be making a noise in 2019.
Sam Fender’s had quite the year. Named on the BBC Sound of 2018 list, he has enjoyed a whirlwind twelve months that have included a successful festival season, being signed to Polydor, and appearances on both Jools and FIFA 19.
Now, the ‘Dead Boys’ EP heralds the start of another exciting chapter. All this for an artist who, in his own words, “has only been on the scene for a year and a half”.
The heartfelt truthfulness of Fender’s lyrics have struck a chord at a time where all the accepted norms of masculinity are being questioned and challenged, his tales of life in a coastal town in the North-East of England sparking countless comparisons with a certain Bruce Springsteen. But these are early days, and its clear from the very start of any conversation with him, that he is his own man.
Hi Sam, how are you?
I’m great, cheers! I was at the IDLES show last night [in Newcastle], they were superb.
You guys share a lot of similarities in what you write about?
Yeah, I got a call from the New York Times yesterday, and they were saying the same thing. Trying to probe us and go into detail, asking why I think everyone’s talking about toxic masculinity. Because it’s there, that’s why! I’m not gonna claim to be some sort of expert in this stuff; I’m a 22-year-old who’s just writing songs about things I see.
How has 2018 been for you?
It’s been fucking incredible and terrifying. We’ve only been around for a short while, but I’ve been working at this for years now.
If someone had said to you this time last year, you’d do everything you have done, what would you have thought?
I’d be terrified. I feel like we haven’t missed a step on the ladder though, one step follows the next. It’s been overwhelming, but nothing that I haven’t been able to take in my stride. Jools was my highlight. We were on with Toots! I love that song [‘54-46 Was My Number’]. We used to sing that all the time when I was a teenager.
It felt like nobody was surprised to see you on Jools, like you’d earned it. How was the festival season?
I think we might have gigged the most out of all the bands on the planet this year. I think we did 160 shows, by the end of the year it’ll be close to 200.
How have you managed to a) have a life and b) record stuff?
Well, I haven’t! At all. I have no life. But it’s tremendous; we’ve grafted hard. I’ve cut my teeth this year, and now I know what I’m in for, it’s been good training for next year.
You’ve got some big dates to come?
It’s gonna be hectic. We’ve just put on Electric Brixton for next year, Gorilla in Manchester too. That should be fun. Australia, New Zealand and I think we’re doing Tokyo as well. Fucking crackers.
Where are you with the album?
The album’s done. I wrote too many songs; there were fifty, now there’s 17 or 18 that I need to get down to 13 or 14.
When is it likely to be out?
End of the summer, hopefully!
Will the EP tracks join it or stay separate?
Most of it will be its own thing, apart from the singles. ‘Dead Boys’ is a very important song, ‘Leave Fast’ is a personal song from back home, and it’s a solo song; I want that flavour on the album. It’s for everyone who’s not from London or other big cities. I feel like it’s the first song that really connected.
Can you tell us anything about the album?
It’s an observational album. A few more personal tracks. I haven’t really done any love songs, and I’m kinda getting worried because everybody’s like, “Sam Fender doesn’t write love songs, because he’s fucking cool.” I have a couple; I just haven’t brought them out yet! I haven’t got ‘love’ songs anyway; mine are about things that surround relationships, more about mental health and the damage you can do when you’re not a full person. I actually wrote a love song the other day called ‘I Don’t Write Love Songs’, but I’m not gonna release it on this album. Maybe somewhere down the line.
What about some of your other tracks?
‘Poundshop Kardashian’ is me having an existentialist crisis, we idolise people just for being famous. I used to think you got famous for either having a talent or for robbing a bank. People are genuinely becoming famous for becoming influencers. Influencers? What the fuck even is an influencer? It’s mental. I’m not claiming to be some sort of expert who knows the answer; I don’t. I’m not smart enough. I’m not an influencer.
You’re obviously passionate about politics, how much of it comes out in your music?
Probably not enough. I was appalling at writing at school, horrific. But my English teacher was a total inspiration, she piled loads of time and work into me after school, and got my writing to a good standard. But I still feel like I live in this constant fear that what I have up here [taps head] isn’t getting into my songs. I feel like a load of writers are flowery with words, trying to be overly clever for no reason.
Do you feel different from other artists right now?
In my genre of classic indie music, which is what people seem to put me in, then I probably am. But I see myself as a singer-songwriter like Springsteen, Jeff Buckley or even Bowie – I like to be able to have that freedom to move. In rap music, there are loads of people talking about drug addiction; there’s stuff going on in a lot of cool alternative stuff. IDLES do, but they’re a lot more hardcore. I don’t feel enough questions get asked in standard indie guitar music.
Can you believe where you are now?
No! I love it. I’m from a fucking fishing town in Newcastle. My Grandma used to get homesick when she walked a mile from the house. That’s the level of progression that my family has made. Tokyo. Fucking crackers.
Taken from the December 2018 / January 2019 issue of Dork. Order a copy below.
Words: Jamie MacMillan