Ahead of his headlining set at Isle of Wight, we meet the pop frontrunner.
Obviously your new album came out a few weeks ago – how’s the reception been so far?
Yeah it’s been lovely, it’s all very exciting. Lots of fans have all been very excited and I think one of the coolest things was my venturing into some different sounds and sonic landscapes. I’ve kind of acquired a whole new chunk of sounds that I didn’t necessarily have with my first album, which is really really exciting. So while everybody’s back and excited to hear new music from me who enjoyed the first album there’s people who are going “Oh, okay, I’m into this music” who weren’t necessarily listening to the first album.
Amazing. So what would you say are the main differences compared to your debut?
Well the song writing is basically the same. I sort of went at it the same. But production wise, I’ve sort of pushed my own boundaries. In comparison to Chaos and the Calm, I wanted to capture some of the more live energy off the stage. When I was touring Chaos and the Calm some of that has been sort of brought into the making of Electric Light. So there’s a few differences that way in the production of the album definitely. It’s got some different themes and some kind of evolutions and developments. But then a lot of the other ingredients are, you know, are the same.
Amazing. And what made to want to give something new a go, as opposed to kind of sticking with the kind of sound that you’re best known and loved for?
I think it’s kind of boring to do all exactly the same things isn’t it? You know, it’s like when you, I don’t know – there’s a hundred different analogies that would say it in the same way but it’s more exciting to push your boundaries as a musician, as writer, as an artist. I have more influences than just the ones that inspired my first album so I wanted to dig in on more of those for the second album.
And song writing wise, what’s the kind of inspiration behind it?
I guess you know I travelled around the world, so two or three years I was touring, even before Chaos and the Calm came out, I was touring going through a lot of those songs. More and more I was in increasingly bigger and bigger rooms with more and more people sharing these cathartic experiences of togetherness essentially, of all being together sharing the same moments. The sense of unity that comes with all of that is enormous. But when I finally finished touring that first album, I got home and I was sat in my house and that was lovely and something I’d missed, but also that’s in the real world.
You definitely live in a bit of a bubble on tour. There’s all of these people that you’re meeting every night and it’s this wonderful thing that doesn’t happen as often in the real world. I was sort of brought back to reality and I’ve noticed that the real world is a bit scarier and it’s slightly different, you know there’s division as well as unity in the real world and I think that I know there’s a sort of contrast there that I really wanted to talk about on this album and these songs. So that’s the biggest element that inspired the song writing.
And then there’s a whole host, a long list of other artists – from Bowie to Prince to Lorde to Blondie – you know there’s a big long list – with some people like Frank Ocean – who’ve definitely inspired this new album so there’s lots and lots of different people.
Was there much pressure? Obviously your first album did so well. When you were writing the second one did you kind of have it in your head like “Oh shit, this better be like as good as the first one”?
Oh absolutely. I definitely want that just kind of for myself and for my own personal goals and stuff like that. There’s always pressure in that respect. I think I’ve always felt the same about that kind of pressure. It’s like the pressure you feel before you go on stage for any show, if you don’t feel at least a little bit nervous then it must not matter. You have to feel a bit of nerves. It’s kind of all part of the energy, the electricity that sort of takes you into the event. So yeah, there is what I call the right pressure leading up to making and releasing a record.
How are the nerves now you’re playing massive places? Do you ever see this sea of people and think “Oh my god how do I play guitar again?”
No I do love it. I do really love it. And I’m not going to say to you I take it all in my stride and it’s the easiest thing in the world, it’s not. Everything comes with its challenges, but if you love it enough you kind of just get over those things or you roll with the punches and you kind of take each step as it comes but you get stronger and you get better every time you conquer those things. That’s part of the journey. I kind of hope that doesn’t change. I think the day that I say “Oh whatever” to the show, is the day that sort of my soul has died. I’m always going to feel the same excitement and nerves and everything.
Definitely. And obviously with your new album, we have to talk about your new image. What was the kind of idea behind that? What made you want to take the hat off?
In simplish terms, I’d done one particular thing for a very long time and I had intended for that to go the way it went. There was no guaranteeing that that sort of signature look paired with signature sound would all work in the way it did but I hoped it would and there’s an amount of luck that is the reason for that. But it did work and I think when it does work and you stick to it for so long you get to a point where you’re like “Okay, I’m done with that.” I could do more of the same jeans and shirt and shoes everyday for the best part of 10 years, which I did, then eventually you want a change. And obviously you know I said 10 years there, it’s only been three or four years that people on a wider scale have sort of known about me as an artist. But yeah, I’d done that for a long time since before I’d met my label or my manager or anything. All with the same intention and I’m really, really proud to say it worked, but there comes a point where you want to switch it up!
And so what do you feel are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt from being on the road since your first album came out? What kind of things have you taken on board that you want to put out into the universe now?
You have to follow your gut. That always counts, ever since the very beginning. I think keep an open mind. I think pop music in particular is ever changing and evolving but you can’t sort of chase the wider thing that is pop music and you can’t sort of chase what’s on the radio so you have to stick to your own identity and stay inspired, you know and like I say keep an open mind and just enjoy it. I think every day that I get to do this is the luckiest I’ve ever been so you know keep going, keep enjoying, keep an open mind and give it your best. You can never work hard enough. It doesn’t matter what you achieve, somebody else is always coming along with just as exciting or more exciting things and you just have to keep working harder and harder and harder.
I was going to ask, as a male pop solo artist obviously there’s about 10,000 in the world right now, how do you kind of keep your head above the water and keep yourself being a main player in that game?
I have absolutely no idea to be honest! People like what I do and I like what I do, which is enough, especially from my point of view, but that might change. You’re talking about the pace and opinion of so many people, the world virtually, to be up in the sort of higher ranking of that massive amount of people is an honour essentially. It takes a lot of hard work, like more than you can ever imagine, to get into that position but it takes a lot of luck at the same time, which is entirely out of my control.
Did you have the thought when you first started out that you’d ever be in this position like selling out Roundhouse and performing these humongous festivals like Isle of Wight?
The reality is mad but I certainly was trying and I really did hope that I’d reach these heights but the reality of getting there is a whole different thing. Again it’s a bit of luck. You just have to sort of embrace it and enjoy it. It can be hard to believe when you achieve these things. But if you sell out at Hammersmith or Brixton or whatever, you’ve got to step up to the moment and own it. That’s the make or break. I have to remind myself I did want this, and I do want this, and take it from there basically.
Completely. And was there like a moment when you were like performing or anything when you were like “Holy shit, like I’ve kind of made it, I’m doing it now”?
The “made” thing is a sort of horrendous like thing to say – only if I was saying it, not that you’re saying it – but you know I’ll never be like “check me out, I’ve done it guys!” That doesn’t apply, especially when you want to carry on doing this until the day you die. But I will tell you that the moment that I experienced people, massive crowds of people and even smaller crowds of people, singing my songs back to me at the shows, there’s nothing like that and it certainly kind of reinforces your belief that you might be quite good at this, and that’s an important moment on the journey to be honest.
So obviously you’ve got a huge tour coming up and you’re playing Isle of Wight as well, what’s your favourite thing about performing in front of people?
The connection I think. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I can walk out on a stage, even at some festivals recently and there’s people waiting to see me. Yeah they’re waiting to see a lot of the other acts as well, but they’re waiting to see me and I step out any everybody gets excited then I start up that first song and you start to connect. By the middle of the set there’s an even tighter connection and by the end of the set it’s really strong and those are my favourite things about performing in front of big groups of people whether it’s a festival or my own show.
Is it like a totally different vibe at a festival?
It is, it’s a different vibe. It’s no worse, it’s no better, it’s just different. It’s a different version of a really amazing thing to do for a living you know.
Definitely. And have you got anywhere that you’re going to that you’re super super excited about playing?
Isle of Wight is a particularly exciting one, I’ve been there once before but it’s main stage and we’re on a bit later this time which is really cool so it’ll be an even more exciting moment in the day potentially. We’re going to Jakarta for a festival which I’m actually really excited about because I’ve never been there before. I’m going to Splenda In The Grass in Australia which I’m really excited about. I’ve never been there before but everyone loses their minds about that festival so there’s a load. The list goes on.
What else are you up to this year, what else can we expect from you?
You know, whilst it’s very exciting to have this whole new album out and I’m so excited to be touring those songs, I’m having a lot of fun already with the set up with a lot of old songs and a lot of new songs. I want to sort of power through and focus on writing again. I’ve recognised a lot of what people get up to as they release music they’re creating more and writing more and I’m going to keep sort of tapping that vein and seeing what else I’ve got, you know.
Amazing so have you already kind of got a third album plan on like the horizon?
I can’t say that but maybe on the horizon. I wouldn’t mind, I hope to have a more confident about it by the end of the year.
Amazing. And finally for the third album – change of haircut, maybe a mullet what are you thinking?
Who knows – oh what are you suggesting a mullet? Do you think that would work, do you think people would like that? Maybe I will get a bit more confidence to do it myself and we’ll go forth together, mullets, hand in hand, it’d be beautiful.
OK well I’ll hold you to that then.
Isle of Wight Festival takes place from 21st – 24th June. More info here.