“I’m not on some sort of crusade to make a change in the world; I’m just speaking from the perspective of a 23 year old.”
Indie-rocker Sam Fender is on its way to conquer Europe. In January, he played at the show case festival Eurosonic, where he was one of the highlights. The songs ‘Play God’ and ‘Dead Boys’ were streamed on Spotify for over one million times. To his own overwhelming joy, Sam Fender appeared on the television show of Jools Holland, this week. Defining characteristics of his music are the serious lyrics, and Fenders voice, which has similarities to Jeff Buckley’s. These months, Fender tours with his band through the UK. In November, he will continue his tour through the rest of Europe. CHAOS Music Magazine interviewed Sam Fender before his gig at Kadepop in Groningen (NL).
When did you start making music?
I got a guitar when I was about eight or nine, and started teaching myself when I was ten. When I was about twelve I got guitar lessons and it was solid from there on. My brother used to run a buskers night, like an open mike. One day, I was asked to play a tune and give it a go. So I put on a guitar and got on stage. I think I’ve played an Oasis song, a Kings Of Leon song, and I did a Jimi Hendrix song acoustic. People were like: he’s got a good voice. So out of really nothing I thought: this is it, this is my job. It didn’t matter whether I got to whatever level of success, but I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. If I was able to pay my bills with playing the guitar and singing songs, then I would be happy. After that, when I was fifteen, I got a three piece band and we played a couple of gigs. When I look back at that time, I think it is probably the best time of my life. I remember being on stage with them and genuinely thinking we were the best band in the world. We got off stage going: that was fucking awesome! Then I got cynical enough to quit the band. We got older and realized we were not the best band on the planet. Those two guys from that band are in my band now. They are above excellent.
Can you tell me something about your influences?
I’m influenced by lots of different things. In the past I loved artists like Bruce Springsteen. He’s one of my biggest heroes, and I love Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, all the great singer songwriters. More recently, I listen to Pinegrove and Kendrick Lamar.
How do they influence your music?
I got into Kendrick Lamar when I heard ‘Rigamortis’. Not many people in mainstream music are saying things, other than having to do with sex or having a good time, which is fine. You do need the party songs. But there is a lot more space, especially in the indie-guitar realm for people to talk about stuff. It would be nice to see a guitar orientated band break through mainstream. Bruce Springsteen wrote politically charged songs that would go number one. We don’t have much of that. A lot of new guitar acts are playing it safe. Just dreamy chorus, stare at their pedals and mumble and looking really cool. Everyone in the rap world is actually saying shit. ‘The Blacker The Berry’ of Kendrick Lamar is an enormous politically charged rap song. I don’t feel that from some of the mainstream guitar bands. The artists are all there, but no one is getting the attention. Maybe it is the industry. I’ve been lucky because I’ve signed a major label, and everything is like: go go go!
Maybe some people will float along on your stream.
Well, I hope so. If I could help anyone of my friends underway that would be great.
How do you get your ideas for the songs?
I’m always writing, always putting notes down, and talking in my phone. People think I’m weird, because I’m walking down the street like: blah blah blah (puts his phone towards his mouth), and ‘ah this is a great line’, and… (humming), and people go: ‘what’s wrong with that boy?’ (laughs) Hopefully, I never run out of ideas.
Are the lyrics always going round in my head? Yeah, pretty constant, but I enjoy it. Writing songs is my favorite part of the job, that’s not even a job. It is why I got into this thing in the first place.
The lyrics of your songs are very serious. Can you tell me something about it?
I’m not on some sort of crusade to make a change in the world; I’m just speaking from the perspective of a 23 year old from Newcastle. Before any of this became my job, I used to write for my own therapy, to articulate how I feel about a certain thing. Growing up can be frustrated by everything that is going on around us. I was lucky enough to have music as an outlet for all of that stuff, and subsequently I ended up with songs like ‘Play God’ and ‘Friday Fighting’. Yes, I was quite an angry teenager. I wasn’t really doing anything with my life. I fucked up my education, because my heart wasn’t in it, and I really didn’t know what to do. Music was always a constant solid base for me to go back to and to put into words what was going on.
What lyrics are you most proud of?
‘Play God’ is important to me, because it is the first song that I released. ‘Leave Fast’ and ‘Dead Boys’ are about my hometown. They are personal, so I’m proud of that.
How is it to sing those personal songs?
‘Dead Boys’ is a strange one to sing, because it is about my friend who killed himself. Obviously, I think of him when I sing that song. It’s something you don’t always want to think about, but it is a way for me to give myself a closure to that situation. Singing it is a way to get it out. But it is very strange sometimes, because it is a year and a half now, since that happened. Mad! It is crazy to think about that.
But it is beautiful in a way as well.
Yeah, I think so, that was the goal, if you know what I mean. I think my friend would have liked it so.
Is it also your goal to help other people with this song?
Not really. I’m not going to preach and save people’s lives; I’m only a guy with a guitar. But if it does give somebody a moment of going on and talk with some people, that’s good. It was just what I was writing about at that time.
You just write for yourself as a way to deal with things.
Yes, it is what it is.
Pictures : Bente van der Zalm
Text : Susanne van Hooft