Introducing BBC SOUND OF 2018 NOMINEE: Sam Fender

  • Words: Iman El Kafrawi

Newcastle born and bred singer-songwriter Sam Fender is a man on a mission. His powerful breakthrough single Play God went straight to No 1 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart and spent several weeks at no 2 in the Spotify viral charts. We caught up with him to talk about his new song Start Again, being nominated for BBC Sound of 2018 and musical influences whilst growing up.

Hey Sam, to start with, can you tell us a bit about how you got started in music?

I’m from a very musical family, my old man and my brother are incredible musicians, they are both multi-instrumentalists. There was always music in the house whether it was a record playing whilst my dad cooked or my brother smashing his drum kit about. They never pushed me in to it, but by the time I was 10 I was mad for it. There were always musicians coming in and out of our house from various different bands that my dad or brother were involved in, I used to ask all of them to teach me stuff. I was an annoying little fucker, completely obsessed. I hit 13 and that was when I knew. I was shit at football and bored at school, all I wanted to do was get back home and play my guitar.

So what music did you listen to growing up, has it inspired your music in any way?

I listened to a great mix of stuff, there was a lot of soul and jazz/rock playing around the house like Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan, then on the other hand my brother (who was a teenager at the time) used to play a lot of 90’s stuff, he got me in to everything from Jeff Buckley to Oasis. My Godfather was also a massive inspiration to me musically, I’d go around to his house, put the kettle on and blast a bit of Joni Mitchell and The Smiths or some obscure artist that I’ve never heard before.

What was it like to write and release your first song?

An amazing experience, makes you feel overwhelmingly excited and vulnerable at the same time. But when it works it’s incredible. Watching something that you wrote and recorded between a shed and your mam’s flat with your best mate become a fully mixed and mastered piece of noise, that is what I live for.

You’re kicking off 2018 with a UK tour, what are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forwards to seeing the fans. There’s nothing better than singing a song that you wrote hungover in your boxers to a crowd of kids shouting the words back at you.

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Can you talk us through your recent track ‘Start Again’?

It’s about an alternative reality in which the world starts again and what would change and what would stay the same. It’s a negative portrayal of the human race’s violent tendencies and it’s innate hunger for power.

We love your video for ‘Play God’! What’s the story and inspiration behind it?

Rich Stewart directed it, for me it’s a beautiful video that challenges our conception of masculinity. That’s all I need to say I think.

How do you go about writing your songs?

Depends really, sometimes I write poetry then come up with a melody and chord structure, then other times I do all that in reverse. The best songs fall out the sky.

The messages in your songs are raw and politically charged – can you tell us about what messages you’re trying to convey?

I just write about what I see, people can take whatever they want from it, as long as they enjoy it then I’ve done my job. The messages are clear.

You were selected as one of BBC’s Sound of 2018 nominees, well done! How do you feel about being nominated?

I’m completely buzzing. It’s made us put our foot on the gas even more than before. I can already see the impact it has had on our following and it’s only January.

You’ve supported artists such as Catfish and The Bottlemen, Ben Howard and George Ezra – what was it like working with such big-names?

It was great, you learn a lot on tour. Especially when the artists you support have toured a lot. I cut my teeth as a live performer with all of these people, and I’m eternally grateful for all their support and advice.

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Have you got any plans for a debut album?

I do. It will come.

What’s the best advice that anyone’s given you since you started your career in music?

I’ve had great advice from a number of people. Look after your voice, pack more underwear than needed, don’t eat loads of shit on tour, be kind to the people you meet on tour, be kind to the people you work with, believe in yourself and never give up. And don’t be a dick.

What is your dream collaboration? and why?

No idea, there are many. I would love to do something completely different to my own music, like working with Thundercat or maybe singing on a Vulfpeck track.

What are you most looking forward to that’s coming up this year?

My first headline tour in the UK. Seeing new countries and releasing new material.

Finally, what advice do you have for young creatives trying to get their message out to the world?

  1. Be relentless with your work ethic. Sitting in your flat ripping bowls and talking about how you’re going to take over the world may be fun, but it’s never going to get you anywhere. You have to create and sacrifice, then you can get as fucked up as you want.
  1. Don’t listen to the people who use the terms “real job” and “plan B”, they’re all dead inside.
  1. Write with honesty and conviction. Mean what you say, if you don’t, no one else will believe you.
  1. Don’t compare yourself to other artists, it draws focus away from your own material.
  1. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Take all reviews with a pinch of salt, even the really good ones. As long as you’re happy with what you’ve created, that’s all that matters.
  1. Never give up.
  1. Most importantly. Have fun.

Listen to Start Again here: