If you haven’t heard of England’s latest new star Sam Fender, then chances are you’ve been living under a rock. The 25 year-old singer-songwriter is quickly proving himself to be one of the best in the biz.
A relatively fresh name, Fender has shot to fame off the back of some truly chart-busting singles and a relentless touring schedule. Recently, that schedule even brought him to Australia.
With his debut album Hypersonic Missiles just over the horizon and an Australian tour in his back pocket, we caught up with Sam Fender for a chat.
HAPPY: You’ve just played Splendour in The Grass, Australia’s biggest festival, how was that experience?
SAM: It’s Australia’s biggest festival is it? Wow. Well yeah, it was fucking amazing. Like we were saying when we were driving around, like, “fuck me this is big.” It was a full-on grass hill wasn’t it! I loved the location of it, I think it’s one of the most beautiful festivals I’ve ever been in… there was this festival called Somersault that happened twice in England and it was in the South of Devon, and I went there once and then it never happened again. I don’t know why, because it was beautiful and there was this mad tree-lined valley and there were loads of these beautiful forests on either side. And I remember being really gutted that that festival went. Splendour I reckon was better than Somersault, but I was like “fucking hell this reminds me of Somersault”.
HAPPY: It is pretty crazy how perfect the location is for an event like that.
SAM: And I guess you guys are probably not too blown away by it, but just the trees here look really prehistoric to me. They are so beautiful, and I feel like I’m in the middle of a David Attenborough fucking documentary when I was walking through the thing. I could hear David Attenborough’s voice being like “over on the left, a giant lizard.” Anyway, I guess we don’t really see that sort of stuff where we are.
HAPPY: On top of your main set I’m told you played a showcase for the VIPs. How did you fare with that crowd?
SAM: It was really good yeah, it was really good! I kind of stupidly told the crowd to come closer because I felt like I was on a stage, because they were a bit further away. But then I realised that I wasn’t on a stage and it was kind of painfully awkward because I was then playing to them really close and when I went for a big note I was spitting in their face and stuff. People at the front were a bit like “ugh god.”
HAPPY: How has it felt being so well received here in Australia? Was it something you expected to happen this quickly?
SAM: No, not at all and it’s mind boggling like, going 24 hours on a fucking plane to a place where people know the words to your songs. Like, even though we are playing smaller venues and stuff. Like you know, in England, as opposed to playing 5,000 people we are playing to like 500, but it’s incredible and interesting and it’s like the embers of something starting, you know what I mean? Because that’s what it was like in England, it just happened really quickly. Like we went from doing a 100-cap venue and then four or five months later we are selling 4,000 tickets and it just happened quick like that, and we can start to see it and hopefully the same thing will happen here.
HAPPY: Are there any countries you haven’t quite cracked yet, which you would like to?
SAM: I’d like to do America, but it’s a bit of a slog I’ve heard. Because it’s like trying to crack 52 countries and everyone everywhere is so different. I’m sure we will be able to have a crack at the South like, we have the twang in our guitars and people love that in Texas and shit like that. Maybe New York. We are starting to go quite good in Germany. I love it over in Europe and for some reason Germany just fucking love us over there. But to be honest I don’t really care where it is. If there are people that want to see me play, then we’re there. And that is just a wonderful feeling anyway.
SAM: Yeah, it’s just fucking stupid. Its fucking stupid.
HAPPY: Were they ‘bucket list’ artists for you?
SAM: It was never on my bucket list because I never ever, ever, ever thought I’d get a chance to do it. It’s just not the sort of thing you can even dream of because it’s so ridiculous. It’s like, the only other people I would wanna play with on a stage, if I could tick them off, I could play with Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen. But like, sadly Joni Mitchell can’t because she’s not, Aretha Franklin, you can’t because she’s dead and Bruce Springsteen I probably can’t because I’ve ripped his songs off.
HAPPY: Yeah, I was going to ask if there were any more musicians that you dream of working with?
SAM: Oh Kendrick Lamar! But that’s never gonna happen, because I’m a white, guitar playing indie boy. I don’t know, I just think that man’s a genius, I think he’s one of the most progressive writers of our time. I think he writes about what is needed to be spoken about. When I put his tunes on I’m like… ah! He’s just such a genius.
HAPPY: Your debut album is coming out really soon. This must be a really surreal feeling. When did you start making the album and how does it feel to be where you are now?
SAM: Well technically I started it when I was like 19. I started writing it a long time ago, so technically this album was finished years ago, with the exception of maybe two songs, which I didn’t write until later. But I wrote half these songs when I was a kid. So, it’s like, the albums I’m gonna do after this, it’s going to be hard to catch up with all my material. Because I write sporadically all the time, because that’s just the thing I do. I think by the time I’ve done the third album I might be caught up to the songs I’ve been writing up until now.
HAPPY: So, do you think the songs on the album are still relevant to you now?
SAM: Personally, no. A couple of songs, like Hypersonic Missiles; yes, Borders; yes definitely, White Privilege; yes. Certain songs like Two People, like that song is about domestic violence so it is still relevant. As long as that sort of thing exists I suppose it will be. But I don’t know, its not really up to me to decide if something is relevant or not, it’s up to the people, and if they think it’s shit, then it’s shit and then I’ll just go away and work as a plumber.
HAPPY: The album was written, recorded and produced in a warehouse studio that you built yourself. How did it all come about?
SAM: We were very, very lucky. Like, really lucky. I was a barman working at a pub called The Lowlights. I had Joe there working with me as well. We were the shittiest barmen ever. I mean, I was better than him, but that didn’t mean a thing because we both fucking totally sucked. But that was because he couldn’t wash dishes because he was scared of mayonnaise and germs and stuff. And anyway, it was fucking awful. So I got picked up by the manager there, who was also managing Ben Howard at the time and he had just won two Brit awards. He came into the little bar where I worked at and my manager at the bar told me to get my guitar out. And so, I met him, and he was like “have you got any original songs” and I was like “yeah” and he was pissed, and I was just playing to this pissed guy and he took my number.
And that was when I was 18 and he started working on me after that. It took us a good seven years to get where we are now. We signed a record deal like a year and a bit ago, but it took like six years to sign a record deal. It took a lot of development. I had like twpo years out because I got really ill and then I recovered from all that. I’ve had a pretty crazy roller coaster sorta story. At one point I thought I was gonna die, didn’t die, came back, everything went really well, then I wrote a load of mad songs, signed a record deal, got a shit load of money, which we then used to reimburse my manager for putting his money into us, then we bought the studio and we are still building it and I’m still buying more gear for it and now I’m in this perpetual world of debt until this album comes out.
HAPPY: Is the studio how you see you see yourself always making your music in the future?
SAM: I mean, it’s kind of like one of those things where you say never say never. I’m not gonna fucking say that we are gonna stop using the studio and move to LA, but I’m also saying that I’m not opposed to the idea of going somewhere else. Because, we have been to some pretty fucking mental studios, like Metropolis and stuff and the gear that they have is outrageous. I mean our studio is great. I love it. It serves a purpose. But I mean the thing is, shit goes in and shit goes out. So, it doesn’t matter what studio you use, if the songs are bullocks it will be bullocks. So, if this record works, and our career goes great, then I know that we don’t need some big swanky studio, we can just use our place and prove that you can do it yourself. I mean, not yourself, because I have used money from one of the biggest corporations on planet earth, but you know, it’s still homegrown. But you never know, if this album flops maybe you will see me in LA trying to make a hip-hop record.
HAPPY: So far this year we have heard Hypersonic Missiles, and Will We Talk? Is there an album track you’re most looking forward to us hearing?
SAM: The Borders. I think it’s a really good tune and I’m excited for people to hear that. Not because I think it will do well, but more because I personally like it. I’m kind of excited for more of the die-hard fans to hear it because if they connect with that then it means they’ve connected with me really personally, because the song has parts of my own life in it.
HAPPY: What was the most challenging aspect of the album creation process?
SAM: Fucking… there was a song which took me ages. The mixing was a nightmare. Saturday, it was. Because the label wanted to send it to America to make it more accessible. But yeah Saturday has gone through the mill. I think they care about it and it’s their job to make sure this record becomes whatever they want it to be, so they could have been a bit paranoid.
HAPPY: Did you feel protective over the album or were you more trusting?
SAM: I’m very trusting because I’m one of those people who trusts people and then gets a slap in the face. I mean I’m probably crossing over into a bit of a cynic but I’m still keeping a bit of that naivety. I was very naive when I was 19 and I think I still am pretty naive. I trust in my team and I trust that they are gonna make this album as accessible to many people without jeopardising my original vision. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve played the game to make it accessible, but I think it’s still my songs. For me, this is like a prototype. I’ve never released an album before, so I don’t know what to expect. If it goes well and it’s critically received well then, I’ll be happy.
If it’s critically smashed then I’ll be like “oh, that’s not good.” But then again does it really matter if the fans are buying it? The most important thing for me is that I maintain some level of integrity because I think I have acquired a level of integrity from the whole process. People seem to keep talking about my lyrics as if they are decent lyrics and I find that really strange. Because I can’t actually string a fucking sentence together in normal life. When I talk to people I’m a bumbling mess. My control of the English language is fucking disgraceful, but I seem to be able to write a half decent song, so as long as I can maintain that I’ll be happy. But I trust them, and I trust they will do a good job and they won’t turn us into Ed Sheeran. No disrespect to Ed.
HAPPY: How would you personally define success as an artist?
SAM: Hmm I dunno, it’s a sliding scale, success, for people isn’t it? As cringe as it sounds, and this is just a platitude again, I’m just spitting platitudes because that’s what most people do… but I think for me success is being able to do the thing that I love comfortably until I’ve got a house full of dogs. If I can get to the stage where I’ve got a fuck load of dogs, then I’ll be happy. Like, I tell you what. This would be massive success; no mortgage, still writing music and fucking loads of dogs. I mean not fucking dogs, just having loads of them.
HAPPY: So there isn’t a level of recognition that you aspire too?
SAM: Well I quite like playing the shows that we’ve been playing. Like I won’t lie I obviously love seeing them get bigger, because there’s a great level of adrenaline which comes with them. But it’s nice to come over here and start again and play at these smaller venues. It’s really fun because there’s a beauty behind being the underdogs again. We thrive when we are up against it and have something to prove. It’s like ‘oh here’s this kid’ and everyone’s like ‘who the fuck’s this?’ I like it when half the audience aren’t expecting what I’m all about and then they’re like ‘Oh he’s pretty good actually.’ I think we thrive as a band in that sort of situation.
Sam Fender’s debut album Hypersonic Missiles is out September 13th. Pre-order your copy here.