The artist catches up with us backstage at White Claw Hard Seltzer’s Wave of Summer.
Over this past year, we’ve all picked up unusual skills during lockdown: banana bread making, rollerskating, the seven steps to Korean skincare – we’ve tried it all. But for Sam Fender, creating a pizza oven was first on his agenda. “I got really into cooking the past year,” he excitedly says. “I’m building it in my backyard, I’m totally into it and fucking love it so much.” Having just walked off White Claw’s stage at their first UK event in London, you would have thought the star would be exhausted having only returned to live performances this year due to COVID, but he couldn’t be more raring to go. Sitting in a small wooden box backstage at their event, Fender eagerly tells me about his past year in quarantine, from overcoming personal challenges to completing his highly anticipated sophomore album Seventeen Going Under, the star assures me that none of it has been easy. “It’s very introspective and much more personal,” the artist candidly said. “I got a lot of therapy during lockdown as well, and that kind of brought out stuff from my childhood. The good, the bad and the ugly. It brought up a lot of stuff I didn’t know was there.”
First starting his career at 14, the North Shields-born singer was heavily influenced by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Buckley, channeling their smooth guitar-laden productions and raw and honest lyricism. Picked up by Ben Howard’s manager Owain Davies, Fender quickly went out to stage a series of gigs and performances around the country. But after a serious and life-altering health scare, the artist decided to take two years out from the music industry. Fast-forward to 2021, the star has BRIT Award Nominations, a critically-acclaimed debut album and sell-out tours all under his belt – but he’s ready to take it all to the next level.
Sitting down with us backstage at White Claw’s event, the star got candid on dealing with his mental health over the years, growing into his sound and how his upcoming album is the most introspective project yet.
Check out the interview below…
So have you picked up any weird unusual skills in the past year?
A bit of cooking, I suppose.
Oh so what have you been cooking then?
Not really much to be honest, more just literally – I’m building a pizza oven.
A pizza oven?
In my backyard. I use my mate’s pizza oven and I’m totally into it, and I fucking love it so that’s what I’m doing.
Is this your first time performing since COVID last year?
What was the first time being back on stage like?
First one was crazy, it was in Stockton the other day we did a little small one and it was absolutely mental like mosh pits and kids going fucking insane. This one was a little tamer obviously but it’s probably the best corporate gig I’ve done because it actually has a vibe and I enjoyed it.
When you got on stage you definitely got everyone going, it was good fun! So you performed at the socially distant concern what was that like?
Not as good as the shows I’ve done over the last couple of days. I mean it was good, but everyone was in these little cattle grid things, it was like pig pens, I’m so glad it’s back to normal
Hopefully, It’ll stay normal! Are you going on tour later this year?
Yes. We’ve got a tour that sold out nearly two years ago and we sold out an arena tour before lockdown. We sold 84,000 arena tickets across the UK, 20,000 in London, 12,000 in Newcastle, 13,000 in Leeds. It’s like the biggest gigs we’ve ever played and then suddenly boom everything stops. I’ve been waiting for over a year to play these shows.
Now you’re ready to go back on stage! What’s your favourite thing about performing?
Seeing people sing. Seeing people sing back to you especially when you bear your soul into a song and it means something to someone else, that’s the most beautiful thing. It gives your job more purpose, sometimes it can be a very vacuous existence being a musician, but then seeing people – those lyrics carry them through a shit day as well, it’s so rewarding.
Random question, but you started out acting before singing? Why did you switch?
Acting was an accident, I’ve always been music first. I’ve got ADHD and my gran was like ‘if we don’t get him doing something on the weekends he’ll fucking explode’ so she got me into this amateur fiver on a Saturday. People came in to audition for a TV show and I got an agent, I was just figuring out what I wanted to do.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to it full time?
I think when I’m 30. I want 5 albums first
That’s a lot of albums!
I’m about to release the second one.
Yeah was going to say your second one is coming out soon.
What can we expect from that?
It’s very introspective, much more personal. In my opinion, it shits on the first one, it’s much more grown-up. I didn’t have anything to write during the lockdown, so I turned the magnifying glass inwards. I got a lot of therapy during lockdown as well, and that kind of brought out stuff from my childhood.
Do you feel pressure releasing this album?
Yeah, a massive pressure! This one is terrifying because this one is personal, it’s a lot about my mom and my old man as well who live in different countries.
You made it in lockdown, so were there any challenges with the record!
We went out to Ireland in the middle of nowhere, it was peaceful – almost too peaceful it was scary and I wrote 60 songs.
Being more personal in your music how does that make you feel?
It’s scary, because I’m bearing my soul and my insecurities. I’m talking about my upbringing and the insecurities that I developed because of that, and how I acted in relationships.
Is there one song on the album that you think for you hit home?
“The Last To Make It Home”. It’s not out yet.
Why the album name Seventeen Going Under? Seventeen Going Under is the single, but also the time of my life when my mom was being hounded by the DWP and she was a nurse all her life and wasn’t fit enough to work. It got to the point where she was having to be on benefits for her health and they hounded her and put her through three tribunals, she was a woman who worked 40 years for the NHS. I watched the way this countries benefit system and courts treated her like shit and see her health deteriorate because of that. I was old enough to understand what was going on, but too young to help financially. I lived in a flat covered in black mold and it erodes your self-esteem when you’re skint. It took me till 25/26 to do therapy and articulate what happened and what it did to my self-esteem and my character. It probably helped my drive, but that’s why it’s the title track, I had to grow up quickly.
I can imagine that’s a stressful environment. When you’re 17, you’re figuring yourself out and you had to grow up really quickly.
There are millions of kids across the UK right now in that boat and much worse boats. I’m in a place now where I can help my mum financially, but there are kids who are in dire situations right now who can’t help their parents financially. This song must have fucking connected with people.
How would you describe your growth in music from then till now.
I think I’ve got better punctuation! I mean you’re always growing aren’t you! I just wanna be the best songwriter I can possibly be. I’m so proud of this record, this one is really where I am now and a good representation of what I’m capable of.
Apart from the album and tour what else are you excited about?
Moving to New York, in January. I brought a house in Shields back home, so I’ll definitely be back to visit my mom!
Why New York?
New York is more similar to home, in that people are loudmouths. In New Jersey, the people are similar to those from South Shields. Every time I went, I fell in love with the place, one of the greatest cities in the world.
Have you already started work on the 3rd one yet?
I’m always writing, and I’ve only just finished this album!