Primed to leap across the pond and bring his self described ‘sad and loud’ music to Europe once again, we caught up with Sam Fender backstage at his sold out Manchester Soup Kitchen show to talk milestones, writers, and the great scran you get on European tour riders.
Fender was welcoming, passionate, and candid in his discussion, and not uncomfortable in embracing some of our more involved questions.
I’d like to start by asking you about (Later With) Jools Holland! Can you pull back the curtain a little for us, what was that like, what happened as you expected, and what surprised you?
SF: I think for a lot of musicians it’s a milestone isn’t it? Something everyone wants to do. I think I had the classic ‘smoke and mirrors’ experience of TV really, it just didn’t look at all what I thought it would look like. It’s in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, not to take the magic away or anything! But it was incredible, one of the most amazing experiences I’ve done thus far.
Remind me, who was on that night?
SF: Toots Hibbert from Toots and The Maytals, Lemon Twigs, Echo & The Bunnymen. We hung out with the Lemon Twigs, they were sweet, they were nice guys. Their session drummer was a sweet guy. It was pretty much, you get up and you do it, then Jools Holland fucks off, he’s quite an elusive character, says his hellos, then just straight in a car, it’s pretty mad.
At the time of that you were promoting ‘Dead Boys’, now you’ve moved onto promoting ‘That Sound’. Though they’re quite tonally different, both songs draw inspiration from your hometown. What is it about North Shields that really drives your writing process?
SF: It’s just where I’m from innit, what I’m used to. It’s the only thing I’ve f****** seen for the last 22 years! So that’s pretty much it, I write about what I see and experience, obviously now I see more and get to travel loads doing the music.
Do you ever feel a homesickness and go back there for a creative burst? Or is the writing just a continuous thing with whatever you’re seeing?
SF: Not necessary being in Shields, it’s more about having time off. We don’t have a lot, not that I want time off, but it’d be nice to get some in for new writing. I’ve written the first album, just need to record it. Got too many tracks for it, 50-odd tunes. We’ll see what happens. Thing with me is grouping the tunes, cos I write loads of different types of things, stuff that’d work on an album, just not on this one. I’ve got some stripped back stuff, then some bigger, grander production ideas, we’ll see, we’ll see!
Carrying on with ‘That Sound’, in your press release for it you talk about how in your youth music kept you from going off the rails, do you feel that’s changed with the increased pressure of label backing and the tour, or has it become even more important to keep you on track?
SF: Oh 100%. The creative side of things stops us from being a dickhead I think. I don’t think it makes a heap of difference with a label coming in, Polydor have been great for me and we have a really good relationship. So you won’t see me being an arsehole anytime soon. If I’m being an arse, something’s going wrong. But it won’t be like that, I’m not a diva.
Coming back to ‘Dead Boys’ quickly: a lot of the press has been covering its references to male suicide, the importance of combating it, and sharing that message, being candid in talking about mental health. In terms of the process, was the song written as a contribution to the wider awareness and willingness to talk about mental health, or did releasing it come about at the right time?
SF: I wrote it cos my mate killed himself. It was just a pure reaction to that happening a year ago. I wrote the song about him. And it just accidentally become this anthem for mental health, know what I mean? I think the timing would’ve been right no matter when I released it, it’s that kind of song. It’s a problem that’s been ever present for f****** years, and we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it, suicide still takes 84 lives a week and is still the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. So I don’t think there’d ever have been a bad time for ‘Dead Boys’ really.
I read in your interview with NME that you’d received lots of stories and feedback from people telling you about their response to the single, was that overwhelming?
SF: Of course it was, of course I find that overwhelming. I mean, I’m not ever gonna be one of those people that overestimates the clout of his career, what we’re worth. We’re not f****** healers or doctors, we’re not working for the services as firemen as policemen f****** saving lives. I’m never gonna be one of those people that says their music changed things, I can’t stand them sort of people. [That attitude] comes from a very vain place, I never ever want to capitalize on tragedy.
However, when you do have people coming back saying “this has really helped”, “this helped me talk to a councillor”… some lad signed off a message with alternative lyrics saying “a live boy from your hometown”, that hit us right there [pats heart]. Things like that happen, it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of because it’s the only time you have some weird crossover where there’s more weight to the job than I could ever have imagined. It suddenly makes it a little bit more substance. I’m never gonna preach like Geldof, although Live Aid was a great thing, but it makes a huge difference to be part of something that has affected somebody’s life in a huge way. I’m going out there cos people like my tunes, I’m doing it for me essentially, it’s my self therapy. So yes it’s wonderful, wonderful when that happens.
Let’s talk about your upcoming EP, I notice there’s two pop culture references in the track list, one being ‘Spice’…
SF: It’s not called ‘Spice Up My Life’, they’ve sent out the wrong titles! Every press person is writing that, it’s just called ‘Spice’! Need to do something about that…
Well what about ‘Poundshop Kardashians’, are there any more pop culture references thrown into the EP?
SF: Nah, in ‘Poundshop Kardashians’ I’m talking about the archetypal night out in Newcastle. The line in it is, ‘I drink and watch the zoo in motion, beautiful people devoid of emotion, sterilized pedicured pedigrees of mankind, thick as fuck and soulless. I no longer fear genocide, it’s gonna end from what I reckon, as I puke my guts up all over the deck, because the square reeks of plastic action men and pound shop Kardashians’.
Plastic action men being like, ya Georgie Shore types, pound shop Kardashians being budget Kardashians. That’s what I’m talking about, I’m being a prick about ‘em. There’s a line later on where I say, ‘we idolize idiots, masturbate over sex tapes, we love them and we hate them and wanna see them fall’. But it’s kinda in this weird state where people are famous for the sake of being famous, like what are they famous for? They’re famous for being famous, it’s a very strange thing, it is what it is. I’ve got nothing against ’em! Got nought against the Kardashians, I do think there’s a lot of, like, kids idolizing these pumped up deities, and it does make me think what’s the drive to do anything, what’s the example it gives to kids? All my roles models were either really talented musicians or they were wicked at football, they were good at something! [Musically] I’m not really talking about answers, I’m just asking questions, what effect does that have on a kid growing up? I dunno. I’m not smart enough to change a thing!
This sort of leads on since we’re talking thematic stuff, on the BBC, and when Bitter Sweet Symphonies wrote about you when you first broke through, one of the comments they make is about your lack of love songs and how you skirt more towards political themes, social change, and so on. For you is that a conscious refusal, and if you were to go in on love, how would you tie it into wider themes?
SF: I just haven’t released a love song yet, that’s all. People are kind of obsessed about this, ‘he doesn’t write love songs, oooh’, but I just haven’t released one! I find that, as a starting artist, it’s not gonna set me aside from anyone else on the planet, it’s a very saturated thing. And to write a good love song is f****** hard. We need love songs, of course we do. I’ve got some love songs in there that are coming out, so we’ll see.
Who would you say is an artist around currently that has the most lyrical prowess?
SF: I dunno, there’s a load of incredible artists and lyricists out there. Kendrick Lemar has got some good ones, good lines, a lot of good lines. Alex Turner has always been a good wordsmith but he’s obviously going off into his own mad realm with the latest album. A lot of my favorite writers aren’t really from now, there’s just so much good old music and I’m working my way through the decades! I love stuff like Pinegrove ya know, whiny alternative country music, which sounds nothing like what I do, but yeah, anything from Joni Mitchell to Death Grips [laughs].
You’re on tour, how many dates in are you?
SF: Six. Tonight is show six [glances at tour manager for confirmation]. Six! Halfway, almost… then it’s Europe.
Is there anywhere in Europe you’re playing for the first time that you’re excited to play?
SF: No we’ve played everywhere we’re visiting before. I love Europe, I like ’em cos you get wicked riders and great scran! And it’s amazing to not be in a place that’s not the UK for a bit. I do love it here but one of the perks of the jobs is the travel.
Final question then: pitch us your tour, why should people come, what are they gonna get out of it?
SF: Um, it’s not just an indie band, not just a singer songwriter, there’s a lot of things in between, a lot of little touches, I’ll play some solo stuff on the piano then do stuff that’s really thrashy. I think it’s a very mixed show in sonic terms, quite a jumbled up set. I hate that when you see bands where everything’s exactly the same, so it’s got a lot of different flavors, caters for a wide audience, and it’s sad and loud.
Sam Fender’s upcoming EP, ‘Dead Boys,’ is due on 20th of November – you can order various formats and exclusive bundles here ahead of its release.