Sam Fender has gone from pulling pints in a bar to selling out a UK tour at break-neck speed. The firebrand from up North, or specifically North Shields for those who want to go there (though speaking from experience I wouldn’t recommend it) has the sort of sheer star power you see once in a generation.
Despite his idolising of Springsteen and Buckley the contemporary performer he resembles most, from the sheer power of his voice to the force of his personality, is Adele. And we all remember how that turned out…
HN: ‘Dead Boys’ is the perfect introduction to your sound. How did that song come about?
SF: I wrote it as a reaction to losing someone to suicide. Purely because it was my way on getting closure on it. It was my way of putting it to bed. It’s how I deal with most things in my life.
You become more sensitive to things when you’ve experienced them in some way. I started looking into it more. I didn’t start off thinking: “I want to write a song about male suicide.” It was only after I realised what a prominent problem it is.
It’s become sort of a mental health anthem, in a weird way. It’s done exactly what I wanted it to do and raised awareness. I get messages from people who have had horrific experiences. One guy had attempted suicide. He sent me a message and signed it off with alternative lyrics to the song. That was special.
HN: What part came first?
SF: There’s not many lyrics, most of my songs have more actual writing in them. It’s just two verses and a chorus. I feel like the song is in itself just describing the shock. It’s more about that feeling of “Fucking hell, how has this happened?”
I wrote it in about five minutes, and the main picking progression just happened right there. It really feel out of the blue.
HN: How does toxic masculinity relate to ‘Dead Boys’?
SF: Toxic masculinity is kind of a buzzword. I don’t want to become some sort of poster boy. Are you in an indie band these days if you aren’t talking about toxic masculinity? I’m not by any means coming here to preach that blokes shouldn’t be masculine.
What I have a problem with is this emasculating culture online where showing any sort of empathy suddenly making you an inferior man. You get these fucking arseholes going round using terms like ‘snowflake’. Like, that’s a word used by fucking sociopaths really.
There’s nothing wrong with being a big masculine bloke. Be that. That’s great. Be a boxer. Be a fucking MMA fighter at the highest level who can knock anyone out. Hard as fuck. All of that. But don’t tell your son that they cant cry. I was told as a boy not to cry, most boys are. It’s ludicrous. It’s good to cry. If you’re feeling sad, there’s probably a good reason. And you should acknowledge that, talk about it to somebody and sort it out.
It’s simple things. I’m just saying don’t fucking wolf whistle lasses. And teach your boys to have empathy about their problems. Because then there wont be 84 of them killing themselves every week in this country.
HN: The video is so stark and some of the imagery really sticks with you. Were you heavily involved in that?
SF: “I’m not going to take any credit for that. It was Vince Haycock. He had experienced suicide himself in his life, so the song had touched him. He brought the treatment to me and it was beautiful. I could envisage exactly what it was going to be. The video came out exactly how I imagined it which was a dream, because that never ever happens.
HN: Who are your biggest inspirations?
SF: I was weened on old Soul and some singer-songwriters like Springsteen and Joni Mitchell. Then there’s Jeff Buckley and Nirvana, Oasis. That came from my brother.
Lyrically I’d cite everyone from Charles Bukowski to Kendrick Lamar and the Punk Poet.
HN: Which vocalists inspired your style?
SF: My favourite vocalists are much better singers than me. Donny Hathaway, Jeff Buckley. I love power singers – people who can really sing. Aretha Franklin – she’s probably my favourite singer of all time. But Jeff Buckley is probably the biggest inspiration, because he was a white boy with a high voice. And I’m a white boy with a high voice, so…
HN: What inspired you to write ‘Play God’?
SF: It’s just a snapshot of a moment, and a play on ‘1984’ – an Orwellian fucking perception of the world. I was pretty paranoid and agitated at the time when I wrote it, I was putting tape on the cameras on my phone and that.
HN: Why were you paranoid?
SF: I thought I was being watched.
HN: We talking gaffer tape? Don’t think cellotape would do the job…
SF: Yeah masking tape, just a little over the top of the screen on your laptop webcam.
HN: You taken them off yet?
SF: People can watch you and they definitely can listen to what you’re saying on the phone. I don’t pretend to know for sure, but I think it would be very naive to assume they cant.
The Turkish government can tap into Jamal Khashoggi’s phone, who’s to say government’s cannot access you? Who’s to say there’s not someone sat in an office watching you fucking wank off to Pornhub?
HN: I just feel bad for the guy who has to watch me really
SF: Yeah same
HN: You’ve mentioned two authors already. Do you read a lot?
SF: as much as I should. I’m a very lazy reader, but when I do I get lost. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t put a book down till it’s done.
HN: Your proudest achievement to date?
SF: When I got the Big Tasty sauce gun from the guy in McDonalds and he let me just shoot everything. That was the big one.
HN: How did you get that?!
SF: I asked for it
HN: Just like that?
SF: Just like that. I was shooting everything – it was amazing. Selling out this tour, that has been amazing. Proud on getting on Jools Holland. Recording the EP.
HN: How does the EP sound?
SF: Sad & loud
HN: Let’s talk about the North East. I’m interested to get your view on this because obviously you’ve come through it – there’s a lot of great bands round there but not really a scene, would you agree?
SF: There is a scene. But there’s nothing else to push or pedal you. There’s loads of great bands stuck. If you don’t get out, you’re fucked. Gig out of Newcastle as much as you can.
Get your stuff online. Promote it yourself. And gig as much as you can.
Follow Sam Fender here.