It’s a refreshingly crisp but sunny afternoon in Hackney and Sam Fender has lots to be excited about. His latest single ‘That Sound’ dropped two days ago, and presenting Stone Roses crossed with R.E.M. tendencies it has, inevitably, been very well received. This paired with the fact the musician is about to devour a Homeslice “weird mushroom, pumpkin seed, really strange teriyaki” pizza after our chat, you could say now is an incredible time to be the 22 year old Tyneside troubadour.
At the end of the month (November 20) his debut EP Dead Boys will be released featuring the moving title track, singles ‘Leave Fast’ (with an additional Twin Peaks-esque instrumental) and the aforementioned ‘That Sound’ as well as two newbies - ‘Spice’ and ‘Poundshop Kardashians’.
When angling our conversation towards the great reception ‘That Sound’ has gathered he notes, “It’s been incredible. It’s not one of the heavier songs lyrically, its pretty chill compared to ‘Dead Boys’ or ‘Play God’ but it’s wonderful. It’s just an indie song, it’s quite 90s, it comes from that place, it’s a bit of a ‘fuck off’ to all of the bloody arseholes that surround the industry and the people back home that think I’ve changed. Everyone assumes that you’ll change but the majority of the time it’s them. It’s almost like that song that I thought would be for the lads who play Fifa,” he laughs. “When I’ve got my songs out I always think of the demographics for them and I always think all the Oasis lads will be like, that’s my jam’.”
With a stream of releases so far culminating in the release of the Dead Boys EP, thoughts of the debut album are naturally never far away either. “I’ve got a 17 track album at the moment and I need to whittle it down, so I probably need to sacrifice some of the singles that have already been out.” ‘Play God’, ‘Dead Boys’ and 'Leave Fast’ will all make the cut he assures, although, “people react really well to ‘Start Again’ live so I’m like, ‘do I put ‘Start Again’ on the album? Do I put ‘That Sound’ on the album? Because that’s going down really well at the moment.”
It’s no secret the lyrical themes throughout Fender’s current discography tackle some incredibly hard hitting subjects, leaving the door open for the people who listen to his music to engage in conversation surrounding these issues. The singer’s perception of these topics, a very astute one at that, doesn’t substitute itself, he feels, for a solid understanding though. “I’m not gonna claim to be an expert on these things because I’m not, I’m just speaking from the perspective of a 22 year old from Newcastle. The North East is a very different place to the capital, so I’m speaking from my perspective only and that is all I know. I’m never gonna claim to know the answers, I don’t know the answers and I’m not clever enough to make a difference in this world and I’m not clever enough to change any of the things I find repulsive, but it just is what it is. I have my little rant and turn it into a song and it becomes it’s thing and if anything it’s a therapeutic way of putting these things down - and I know it’s very cliche and I’m sure everybody says that - but it is true, it’s a way for me to vent and then if I get any answers back that I like then that would be wonderful.”
This is however, juxtaposed with Sam’s social media presence. “I write about pretty hectic shit, ‘Dead Boys’ is about male suicide, but particularly my friend killed himself and I talk about that all the time, and that can really bring you down when that’s your job. I’ve always been a joker, whenever I’ve faced adversity I’ve tried to take the piss out of it because that’s my way of dealing with things, so therefore in my normal life I just try to be a fucking idiot all the time. I was a clown in school, it’s how I survived in not getting hassle off of the nasty kids, by just being an idiot - if you make them laugh they might not see you as a threat. It’s always been a defence mechanism I think maybe, I arm myself with a grin, I’ve always done that since I was kid. I think it’s a good way to be, people are so fucking serious and people are so offended by everything now, everyone’s so triggered off of everything, you’ve just got to have a laugh because if you don’t you’ll fucking cry.”
In such a disposable society when a new singer-songwriter seems to appear from around every corner, does Sam find there is a pressure to set yourself apart from your peers? “No,” he laughs, “that’s the short answer. I don’t attempt to be anything else. People keep saying, ‘Sam Fender doesn’t write love songs,’ I’m like, ‘fucking hold on, there’s gonna be love songs.’ I feel like people are purposely trying to make me something cool, I’ve never, ever been one of those people. I’m sure Pitchfork will fucking annihilate me when the album comes out but I’m not ever attempting to be anything other than what I am.”
“I was just having a rant to another interviewer about my generation and how everyone is so horrifically over-conscious about everything to the point where they’re offended by everything and they’re so fucking narcissistic. Everyone is unbelievably narcissistic to the point where they take on these fucking crusades of cultural appropriation and trying to be a part of this crazy left-wing neo-social agenda, which I am left-wing and I am a liberal, but I feel like the alt-right hate us because of this shit representation that we have from these people who are kicking off about somebody who’s got dreadlocks when he’s white, and they’re like no that’s offensive, but it’s like for fucks sake there’s kids getting blown up in Gaza and Donald Trump is the head of the fucking world. I think that kind of school of thought is now intrinsically in everything, it’s in music and everything is so overly-thought.”
He continues, “I genuinely feel like I’m having a constant crisis when I look at the state of my generation, I feel like we’re in a very, very confusing place for the future, we’re in a tits up place with Brexit and everything, it’s massively fucked and the climate is fucked, we’ve got 12 years or something, but then again has it been the end of days since…I don’t really know what we’re talking about, you’re supposed to be asking the questions and I’m asking you the questions, what is going on? I’ve had three coffees, I feel like I’ve had a line of gak.”
His adrenaline fuelled answers are the result consuming three “black Americanos straight up, no fucking about” in a very short space of time. This paired with the passion he possesses when speaking about things - whether it be the impact of Instagram on his generation or his favourite flavour of crisps (Cheese & Onion if we’re talking Walker’s but in the grand scheme of crisps he’s a Sun Bites and McCoys Flaming Grilled Steak fan, if you’re wondering) - makes him all the more endearing.
When he’s not on the road, Sam still lives in his North Shields home with his mother. “My mam’s terrified and she just has a breakdown all the time, I think she’s so fucking scared that it’s going to change our life that she just freaks out about it. She’s mega proud, whenever I tell her anything, I was like, ‘mam I’m going on Jools Holland,’ she doesn’t handle it very well bless her. But that’s just because she cares. I live with my mam on my own, it’s just me and her still, we live in a little flat in the estates next to Chirton, which is a place in North Shields. We live in a normal council flat, and ever since signing the record deal, it’s all suddenly changed. Now things are a lot easier and she doesn’t have to worry about her rent and things like that. These are all wonderful things that have happened but it’s all very overwhelming for your son to come home and be like, ‘everything’s good’.” I note the selflessness of his actions and he continues, “I’m terrified that I can’t maintain it, so I’m just hoping that it works out for us and I get to do this as a job for the rest of my life because if not I’m fucked - I have no other talents and I’m the worst barman on the planet.”
His dad, who is a musician living in France, shares the pride. “I think he’s a bit flabbergasted because he always told us to not do that and he always told us to get a real job, because I think he knew how hard it was, so I proved him wrong, whey!” Although spawned from a musician father, there was no guarantee Sam would develop the voice he has, so when did the realisation come that he could actually sing?
“I always sang when I was a kid, my dad’s a good singer and my brother’s good singer, so I was imitating them singing, trying to create the same sounds that they did, but I was always making noises when I was a kid, I loved Star Wars [laughs] and I used to pride myself on making the best sound effects and I think that was a great lesson in making noise and it helped my vibrato. I got that from being a noisy little bastard.” He continues, “when I was about 14 I used to wait until my dad would go to work in the summer holidays and I’d have the house to myself, I would start fucking belting it out as loud as I could, probably just shouting really but it was a good start and I had the balls to do it because no one was there. I think I just taught myself that way.”
“Apparently it’s something to do with the shape of your head though. I heard something about the way your voice comes out or the way it resonates is something to do with the shape of your head and I’ve got a fucking huge head, like it’s massive. My entire life has just been my dad trying to get jumpers over my head because it wouldn’t go, I couldn’t get jumpers over my head and I’m still like that today, I try clothes on and I cannot get my noggin through the hole, so maybe the fact that I’ve got a big head has helped us?” He adds with acute comic timing.
From an outsider’s perspective, this year has seen the singer smash one milestone after another, from landing a place on the BBC Sound of 2018 Poll at the beginning of the year to nailing a much coveted appearance on Later…with Jools Holland - an experience that Sam describes as, “utterly terrifying.” He divulges, “I think it was the first time he [Jools Holland] has said North Shields in his entire life. I came out and my arse was nipping like a rabbit’s nose. I was shitting myself but it was great, wonderful, a dream come true. I’m just glad I didn’t piss myself or fall over or drop a guitar or step on the wrong pedal or have a vocal meltdown, luckily it went swimmingly.”
He was joined on the show by his live band. All close friends of the singer, have they started to take on more responsibilities when it comes to the ‘Sam Fender creative process’? “No, and they won’t. I’m too much of a control freak with the creative side of things. I get the bass player in to do his bass parts and then I just play them myself. I just trust that I can do it better and it’s not necessarily because I can do it better, they probably could do it just as good if not better than me, but if it goes wrong and something reacts wrong and if anybody says, ‘oh that bass part is slack,’ I’ll be fucking furious with them and I don’t ever want to be furious with them. I’d rather be furious with myself because I can deal with that. I just like to take on the responsibility so if it all goes wrong it’s my fault. It’s not anyone else’s fault.
“I don’t trust people with my stuff, that’s just my thing, it’s because I’m a Taurus, stubborn as fuck, but nice, likes his food, all that sort of crap. I don’t really believe in star signs but my drummer talks about them all the time and I almost feel like it becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy, you almost read what it is you’re supposed to be.”
I wonder if Sam ever gets time to sit back and digest the crazy whirlwind of the past few years in between playing countless gigs, and of course checking his horoscope, and he answers jovially, “No, I’m waiting for that mental breakdown in a year or so,” and it’s another poignant example of his infectious humour that, paired with his willingness to speak out about everything and anything, proves he is heading towards becoming an important pillar for his generation - whether he likes it or not.