WITH a debut album hurtling towards this week’s top spot, singer Sam Fender is getting used to being recognised in public.
This morning he was chuffed to be spotted by actor Stephen Graham, star of This Is England and The Virtues, at his hotel.
“Stephen Graham, man,” he says in his Geordie accent. “I spotted him but then he wanted a photo with ME. I was like, ‘F***ing, get in’.”
When it comes to the breakthrough artists of 2019, it is all about Fender and his good friend Lewis Capaldi.
“That bastard,” laughs Fender at mention of the Scottish singer.
“I love Lewis to bits. We are good friends. But it doesn’t matter how famous he gets or if he sells a hundred times more records than me, as he will always be the Critics’ Choice loser.
Sam Fender explains he is really good friends with Lewis Capaldi but he will always be the ‘Critics’ Choice loser’[/caption]
“I won that (2019 Brit) award and that will burn his soul for ever.”
Sat in the back of a Camden pub in North London, the talkative 25-year-old from North Shields, Tyne and Wear, says: “Winning the Brit Award was mental.
“Just before, I had 20,000 followers on Instagram, which I thought was crazy.
“After I won the award, things took off and now I’m touching 200,000. All in eight months.”
The award, handed out in February, launched the careers of Adele and Florence and the Machine.
Now Fender looks set to follow. He says: “Life has changed drastically in the past six months.
“Just two years ago I was on benefits and now I’ve been for dinner with Elton John at his house and got up on stage with Steven Van Zandt.
“Bruce Springsteen is one of my big heroes so meeting Van Zandt, his guitarist, and singing Sun City with him was huge for me.”
‘I’M THE S**T SPRINGSTEEN’
Fender cites The Boss as one of his idols, so how does it feel to be called the “British Bruce”?
“It’s daft,” he replies. “It’s a silly comparison because I had not even released an album.
“Springsteen has released 19 albums and is one of the greatest singer songwriters of all time.
“If anything, I am the s**t version of Bruce Springsteen. I never will be him. I will always be Sam Fender. But I will always nod to my heroes and he’s been one of my biggest ones.”
Fender, who began writing his own songs at 13 and playing gigs at local bars, adds: “I wanted to be in a British rock ’n’ roll band for as long as I can remember.
“When I was ten I wanted to be Slash from Guns N’ Roses. Then when I was 13 I wanted to be Alex Turner. But by the time I was 18 I wanted to be Springsteen.
“I’ve sat in my bedroom with my guitar pretending I was at f***ing Glastonbury many times.”
It is a dream he came close to fulfilling. But he was forced to cancel his slot at this year’s Glasto after losing his voice.
He says: “That was a real downer for me. I’ve dreamed of playing Glastonbury all my life and still haven’t. Hopefully next year.
“I lost my voice. I sat at home upset for a month. I didn’t talk for two weeks and had to stay totally silent. I didn’t know if my voice was going to come back.
“I thought I was going to need surgery like Adele. I was mortified. It was total burnout.
‘WE WEREN’T MAKING RENT’
“Now I have to really look after my voice and I don’t drink when I have shows coming up. I get huge anxiety if it’s not on form.”
Fender’s songs are socially and politically inspired and he’s been hailed the new working-class voice in British rock. But it is a label he struggles with.
He says: “I think class is hard to define. I’ve always floated between working and middle class.
“My mam was a nurse and my dad an electrician, and although they are both from council estate backgrounds, we lived in a terraced house, which was relatively middle class.
“We had good Christmases and I went to an open state school with kids from all sorts of places.
“North Shields is economically in the red. It’s a poor place, but I wasn’t poor. We weren’t well-off but we were comfortable.
“But then my parents divorced when I was eight and then things changed. I moved to a council estate when I was like 14 and went below working class.
“We were on housing benefit, and my mam had problems. She was struggling with work and she had fibromyalgia and various other things and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) were down her neck trying to get her working.
“We were skint. We were absolutely skint. We weren’t making rent and it was tough.
I taught myself for a bit then I met this guy called Phil Martin who was amazing and taught me everything
“And that is why I get a bit sceptical when people call me a working-class hero as I have experienced hardship financially but it wasn’t always like that and I just don’t ever want to be seen as a fraud.”
Fender adds he was an “angry kid with a lot of emotion” who poured all of his feelings into his music.
He says: “I taught myself for a bit then I met this guy called Phil Martin who was amazing and taught me everything.
“I was listening to everything from Nirvana and Oasis to Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.
“Then at school I was listening to Kendrick Lamar and hip hop. It all had attitude. I’ve always loved music that says something and has something to say. The world is worth fighting for.”
Fender got his break in 2013 when Owain Davies, manager of Ben Howard, came into the bar he worked at near his home town.
The landlord recognised Davies, who was there celebrating Howard’s double Brit Awards win, and told Fender to get his guitar. He was signed up a week later.
Fender says: “I didn’t know who he was but was told to get my guitar and play.
“I did and Owain asked if I had any original songs. I started playing my own songs and then he took my number.
“I was so overwhelmed that I went into the toilet and bawled my eyes. I knew then it was going to happen.”
The singer explains how one of his songs helped stopped a suicide crash[/caption]
Originally, Fender had his sights set on becoming an actor but could not afford to travel to London for auditions.
He says: “I’d get a call from an agent to attend an audition and by the time I got down to London my wages from the pub were gone.
“You have to be bankrolled to be an actor. And I guess in music, too. I’ve just been lucky as I met a manager who had made money from another artist and who believed in me.
“He couldn’t pay his mortgage when I signed my record deal as he’d spent everything on me.
“There are kids who are better singers and songwriters than me who will never be seen as they can’t afford to be.”
Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles is on course to be this year’s second-fastest-selling British debut album (behind that of his pal Capaldi).
Acclaim-wise, it is far superior. Tracks such as Play God, about government surveillance, That Sounds and the folky White Privilege are what make this album special.
Fender says: “White Privilege is about becoming self-loathing, vacuous and self-centred after looking at pictures of yourself and people all day on Instagram while there are kids getting blown up in Gaza.
“It’s also about the duality of politics. On the right-wing you’ve got f***ing racist people pushing for Brexit for what I can see as no other reason than they don’t like immigrants.
“Then you get left-wing people calling people stupid — you’re never going to change anyone’s opinion calling anyone stupid. There needs to be someone who can come out and speak to both sides.”
SAN FENDER: HYPERSONIC MISSILES
- Hypersonic Missiles
- The Borders
- While Privilege
- Dead Boys
- You’re Not The Only One
- Play God
- Will We Talk?
- Two People
- Call Me Lover
- Leave Fast
- Use (Live)
The centrepiece is Dead Boys, a song Fender wrote after a friend killed himself.
He says: “I’d known my friend since I was a kid and wrote loads of songs in his house. He was just wonderful.
“I wrote that song because I had to write it for myself. I didn’t write it to do anything, but a guy was about to run his car off the road in an attempt to kill himself when he was listening to Radio 5 Live and I was on talking about Dead Boys.
“He heard the song and stopped the car and sat on the side of the road and cried for hours then drove to his wife and said he needed help.
“Six months later he sent me an email. It was, ‘What the f**k’.
“I think people are suffering a lot today with the constant critiquing of people.
“It’s good to keep myself in check with this job and I like going home and talking to my godfather’s kids about school and being a normal person in society.
“I’m looking forward to doing more things with my community. I visited a primary school recently which was great and I’m getting involved with Newcastle United’s charity work, too.”
MOST READ IN MUSIC
With our time up, Fender is rushed off, but keen to keep talking. “I’m ready to take on the world,” he says. “I’ve got my UK tour coming up and I can’t wait.
“What with me and bands like Fontaines DC and Inhaler, there’s going to be another renaissance with guitar music.
“Guitar music is great again and I’m proud to be part of it.”
- The album Hypersonic Missiles is out now.
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