Start Again & Play God with a Greasy Spoon

Written by on 26th January 2018

Sam Fender opens up on break-out year, touring with Declan McKenna & headlining The Cluny.

It’s been a monumental year for Sam Fender. Since releasing his debut single ‘Play God’ in April, the 21-year-old from North Shields has gone from strength-to-strength to establish himself as one of the most exciting acts in the country.

After four singles, two sold-out hometown headline shows, and a BBC Music ‘Sound Of 2018’ nomination, the future is looking incredibly bright for one of our own.

In December, Rhys Melhuish spoke with Sam shortly before his sold-out headline show at the Riverside.

We’ve followed you and your music almost religiously since Play God was released. But talk us through your story, and how you initially fell in love with music.

I come from a musical family, I’ve been very lucky in that sense. My Dad was a singer, my brother is a singer/songwriter, my cousins always used to be in a band too.

I’ve been surrounded my music all my life, so from a very young age I’ve always been involved, going to gigs, even just sitting and listening to my Dad at home. It happened via osmosis really, just being around music.

I got my first guitar when I was about 8, but I don’t think I touched it for the next couple of years. I first picked it up when I was about 10, I started practicing and then it became an addiction. I played guitar every day from there, practicing relentlessly.

I started writing songs when I was about 14, starting up little bands, stuff like that. We were pretty bad back then, but we got better as time went on. Then I met my manager when I was about 18, and it’s all went from there.

When it comes to your lyrics, you don’t go for bog-standard love songs. You sing and write about far more complex issues. What influences your lyrics?

I don’t think I’m pointing out anything new in my music. It’s frustrations that a lot of people have.

I write about what I know. It’s nothing massively profound or ground-breaking. But it’s straight-up and a lot of people see that and share those frustrations.

I write about what I see. That’s the best way to write, it’s honest.

Some people will write and shroud their songs in metaphors to make one big, confusing statement. I don’t get that. If you just write about something that’s real, you can’t mess up, and people respond to that.

Your debut single, ‘Play God’, received a phenomenal reaction. Did you anticipate such a positive response?

Not at all, it blew me away, and it still does.

I just wrote in my shed for two years, I was very quiet. When we put it out there, with it being a debut, we thought it’d just be for the tastemakers, it’d break the ice. But the reaction was overwhelming. It gave me a lot of confidence going into releasing the next singles.

Funnily enough, at first, ‘Play God’ was never going to be released; I didn’t know where it was going to fit.

We were thinking of an EP, I had four songs which were ready, and none have been released since.

My producer, manager and friends asked if we had anything else, I showed them ‘Play God’ and they were adamant that would be “the one”, so we went with it!

‘Start Again’, was one people often complimented live. Was that part of the reason you chose to release it as a single?

I knew the track went down well, but I didn’t think it went down THAT well until I saw a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook that people really enjoyed hearing it live. I thought that was interesting, remembering songs that aren’t out at the time.

There’s another two songs in the set that go down really well live, especially when we went into Europe with Declan McKenna and Bear’s Den. They always go down well, but they aren’t anything like the singles. There are so many avenues we could go down, which is exciting.

In September, you headlined The Cluny. Tickets sold out just minutes after going on sale. How did you react to that?

It was absolutely insane, really overwhelming. I didn’t think it was going to sell out in that time, no chance.

I remember waking up, seeing that it had sold out and just thinking: “wow!”

It was pretty quick, and very special. A lot of family and close friends had to miss out which was a shame, but that’s why we announced the Riverside show for December too.

You have a special connection with the Riverside too, don’t you?

Riverside touches my heart. I played there when I was 15, with one of my first ever bands, supporting Alt-J.

Nobody knew who they were at the time. We turned up for sound check and we’d sold about 7 tickets, it was completely dead.

After us, they got up and we thought they were amazing. There was a guy on the sound desk who said they wouldn’t go anywhere, and then a few months later ‘Breezeblocks’ exploded. It’ll be exciting and emotional to go back and play in front of more than 7 people this time!

You’ve had an immense year, has it sunk in for you just how well you’re doing?

I’m trying not to focus too much on that, you can get too distracted by staring at your socials.

The moment you take your foot off the gas to think about how great everything is, that’s when it gets dangerous. I’m obviously buzzing with how everything is going but I want to keep on going.

It’s a long road, and everyone else in the industry will know that. It can be short-lived too, you have to keep working hard. You don’t know when, or if, it’s going to fizzle out.

Of course, you aren’t alone in what you do! Talk us through your band…

As a band, we’ve only been together for a few months. The main guitarist, Dean, is my closest friend, who I’ve grown up with since we were little kids. I met him when we were thirteen, he came around the corner on this golden Mongoose BMX and I just thought I needed to be his mate. We were inseparable since, and both played guitar. He also helps engineer everything too.

We also have Drew, the drummer. We’ve been acquaintances for a couple of years; at the time we were looking he was living down in Brighton, playing in another band. He’s an absolute powerhouse, the best we could’ve gone for.

Tom, bass player, is our adopted Geordie, he’s French, and draws in the ladies with his beautiful accent; it gives the band a hell of a lot more sex appeal, and he’s pretty good on bass too!

Outside of the North East, can you think of one particular gig or venue that stuck out for you?

There’s been quite a few. Paris with Declan [McKenna] was insane, but if I had to pick one, it was at this really quaint place.

We did our own show in Germany, in a town called Haldern. The Haldern Pop Bar. It was crackers!

We turned up and nobody was there, but then the whole town seemed to turn up. Within minutes, it was rammed, it was amazing. The owner kept pouring all sorts of mad German alcohol down our necks, it was surreal.

If you had to pick one standalone highlight from the year, what would it be?

It would have to be the Cluny headliner. It’s a rite of passage for anyone from the North East to play there.

Especially in front of a crowd of people I didn’t know, all singing the songs back to me. It was ridiculous.

To be fair, that’s happened everywhere I’ve been, out and about in Europe too. Seeing people singing your songs back to you is just the most amazing feeling on the planet. That’s when it clicked that my music was having an impact on people. I can’t explain it, it was so exhilarating.

Are there any future plans for an EP, or maybe an album?

I don’t think we’re going to do an EP. I think the plan is to keep releasing singles and try and get an album together.

We’ve more than an album’s worth of material, but there’s no rush. We can if we want to, but it’s important we wait and see what else we can come up with before we rush into dropping an album.

The last three singles have come around recently, so we don’t want to rush it.

Picture Credit Beth McConnell – Article Originally Appeared in Spark Magazine 

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