IN CONVERSATION WITH HOUSSEIN interview and photography Filipe Phitzgerard - words Andrea Ward - fashion Sophie Emmett
In an age when finding true talent might be a task only for the brave - considering that the flood of information on social media seems to be overshadowing talent per se - we get a refreshing perspective on the matter as we get talking with nineteen-year-old, Surrey-based singer-songwriter - and social media heartthrob - Houssein. Born in London, the young creative brings to the table a fresh new breed of pop that has the potential of becoming the next big thing.
Houssein is young, outspoken, intelligent and very talented, with a unique outlook to the way music correlates with social media today and an openness to observe and adapt to the mass movement his generation represents. Musically, Houssein is smart enough to identify that his style is still under construction and development. His aim is to become a pop icon whose music speaks for itself, integrating both mainstream pop and British indie and by doing so, reaching a broad audience of music enthusiasts.
The British singer-songwriter seems to have it all together, he dreams high and yet keeps himself in the reality realm. Houssein knows that where he is today is not where he dreams of being, but sees this time in his growing career as a stepping stone, and, in all fairness, this might just be the secret to achieve the level of success we all have been searching for.
In one of his visits to London, we had the pleasure of talking to this young yet bright music creative to find out more about his upbringing, the transition from Vine to the stage, his very own definition of love, and much more.
Filipe Phitzgerard: How are you doing today?
Houssein: I’m good. How are you?
Filipe Phitzgerard: I’m doing really well. So this interview is more like a chat so no pressure to be concise and you can just say whatever you want. We’re not going to talk about anything too deep…
Houssein: Like Brexit! [Laughs]
Filipe Phitzgerard: Oh, we can talk about Brexit if you want. What’s your take on it?
Houssein: No. No. I don’t have a take on that. [Laughs]
Filipe Phitzgerard: I guess a lot of people are trying to stay away from this subject at the moment, right?
Houssein: Yes. It's a very messy situation.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Alright, so. We know that you were born in London but moved to Surrey when you were very young. What is it like living in Surrey?
Houssein: It’s great. I’m not too far from London and I still have the perk of living in a quiet place. I feel like I get the best of both worlds, I can come to London whenever I need, Surrey isn't that far from the city so I get to come here easily.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Do you come to London often?
Houssein: Yes. I would say an average of three to four times a week. Some weeks I won’t come into town at all and others I’m here every day. It really depends on the week. If I am recording or working on new music then I will most likely not come to the city and just focus on getting the music ready.
Filipe Phitzgerard: You seem very enthusiastic about England, and, of course, London; but if you were to move anywhere in the world besides London, where would that be?
Houssein: I would probably still live in England. But if I couldn’t be in England, I’d move to LA. I’m really fussy with food so I guess America has all the food I would eat.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Are you really picky about your food then?
Houssein: I am. I went to Spain on a holiday, which isn’t even that foreign, and I lived off bread because I didn’t really like the food. [Giggles]
Filipe Phitzgerard: If the US has the kind of food you’re into, then, are you a big deep fried food eater?
Houssein: Not at all. I don’t like fast food either but I like standard food. In Spain, everything was so fancy. Also in Sweden, I had the same problem because everything had fish on it and I’m not keen on fish either.
LEFT: Houssein wears t-shirt PALM ANGELS at MR PORTER; denim trousers LEVI'S
RIGHT: Houssein wears top OFF-WHITE at MR PORTER
Filipe Phitzgerard: What’s the most interesting thing about L.A for you?
Houssein: I think the fact that there is so much to do in L.A all the time. You have the big city next to the Hills and nature and you can find things to do any time of the day or night. It’s a very fast passed city for sure. Although, I have to say that the Hollywood Boulevard (Hollywood Walk of Fame) was a big disappointment.
Filipe Phitzgerard: How so?
Houssein: I imagined it to be glamorous and clean and that wasn’t what I found when I got there. [Laughs] You have a lot of car parks as well in L.A. It’s a really funny thing because you will have this little building with three stories and a car park for twenty cars once you only have five cars in the building. L.A is a very interesting and intriguing place.
Filipe Phitzgerard: I guess that's something most tourist will find as well when they get there. Hollywood Boulevard isn't as glamorous as people imagine.
Houssein: Yes. But overall L.A is a great place.
Filipe Phitzgerard: We know that before you got into music publicly you were already influential online and had a big following back then which has grown and expanded as you started to release your music. How has this transition been for you? What has led you to do it?
Houssein: I used to sing in the school choir and people told my mum that I was good at it so I started to do it a bit more. My dad got me a drum kit and my mum got me a guitar and I also got me to do piano lessons. I ended up doing some West End plays and did that for a while. I always loved pop music and when Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes came out, I was even more inspired to do it. They were on social media and growing both because of their talent but also the way they presented themselves to the world. They had their unique personality and that coolness. I started doing vines at that time and I got a really good exposure and following from that which I think has helped me when it came to getting a manager and professional support.
Filipe Phitzgerard: So would you say that your move into music was somehow a calculated move or did it happen more organically?
Houssein: I didn’t force or plan to go into music but I had the aspiration for sure and looked up to guys like Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, and many others.
Filipe Phitzgerard: With that said, it feels today that success in the music or entertainment business has more to do with the number of followers you have on social media than talent per se.
Houssein: I think that there is a place where the two things – talent and social media following – collide and support each other. If you have a lot of followers but no talent, your career will probably not have the same longevity as someone who does have that talent and to stay relevant you will have to live your life based on scandals. On the other hand, if you have the talent but not the global following, you are potentially much less visible to the world and the people who run the music and entertainment businesses. A big following, in this case, helps you to fast track being signed and represented by a label because your music is already proving to be likeable by a large audience.
Filipe Phitzgerard: That makes complete sense. It is a fine line that divides them, no?
Houssein: Yes. My aim personally is to see my music speaking for itself as I create and develop my style. I love the fact that so many people are already looking into what I am creating and being so supportive but I do hope my music will become its own thing.
Filipe Phitzgerard: That sounds like a good plan. And an honourable one as well. It’s sad when you see artists relying too much on the social media following they have to survive. Who have been your biggest music influences up to now?
Houssein: Growing up Queen was a big influence, they were the first ever band I heard, and then I was obsessed with Green Day and Billy Joe Armstrong. Nowadays I am influenced by Troye Sivan, Shawn Mendes, The 1975, Declan McKenna and other artists like that.
Houssein wears t-shirt PALM ANGELS at MR PORTER; jacket and trousers REPRESENT
Filipe Phitzgerard: Are you eclectic when it comes to the music you listen to?
Houssein: I guess so. It’s funny because I don’t usually like an artist and everything they do. I like particular songs. I don’t like searching for music as well; I let the music find me.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Oh wow. How does that happen?
Houssein: Good question. I don’t really know how it happens. When I find myself actively trying to find a song I don’t usually like the songs I find. But then when I am just playing around online I find this music video of this super cool song. Or if I’m listening to the radio and a song comes up and it just sticks to me. Music that I like ends up finding me. If that makes sense. Recently I’ve been really into Justin Bieber, Declan McKenna, Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes oh and the 1975 so whatever they release I’m instantly into it.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Declan is awesome. We had him starring on one of our covers. On the day we were shooting his cover story he got everyone on set dancing to Abba.
Houssein: Oh really? [Laughs] He’s such a cool guy and his music is great! I listen to a lot of his stuff.
Filipe Phitzgerard: And when it comes to your own music, do you see yourself being influenced by these artists and their music or do you get your inspiration from elsewhere?
Houssein: I just started realising my music this year so as a new artist I find myself still trying to find and define my own style so I feel like I am still quite influenced by British indie-pop. I want to take that and mix with mainstream pop and fuse them to create something that the wider audience would love. I want to make it my own by I don’t see any problem in being inspired by your idols.
Filipe Phitzgerard: You see yourself refining and developing your own style.
Houssein: Yes. Definitely. In a year from now, I don’t think I will be the same musically as I am now. If I compare today with last year, my mindset has already changed and I think the same will happen next year and the year after that. I am hardly anywhere I wanna be so I am aware that this development is part of the journey and I welcome it.
Filipe Phitzgerard: So do you set yourself goals? Like in five years time, do you have a plan to where you want to be?
Houssein: I don’t know. Because usually, nothing goes to plan. [Laughs]
Filipe Phitzgerard: It’s inevitably organic then?
Houssein: Yes. But you know sometimes I will be like “by this time I want to be doing this tour” and then it doesn’t happen. But then, something else I had not planned will happen. I wouldn’t say I have many set goals. I do want to headline my own tour and have an album out but other than that I don’t really make a plan. I just wanna be able to make music without having anything else on the side. I want music to be my main thing, you know?
Filipe Phitzgerard: What would you say drives you the most as a person?
Houssein: I guess music itself but not like I planned or forced it to happen. I always wanted to pursue music and I think the fact that I’ve got a good social media and I am young, that helps to create that drive.
Filipe Phitzgerard: What is your relationship with social media?
Houssein: I love that social media is a way to put stuff out there. Anyone can be an artist today, and I love that. There are a lot of artists today that I don’t think they’d be making it as big if social media wasn’t there. Because if there is a big following behind them it means that people connect to them and like them, those people following them chose to pick those people to follow so that speaks of the public choice.
Houssein wears t-shirt and trousers OFF-WHITE at MR PORTER; sneakers CONVERSE
Filipe Phitzgerard: But isn’t there a danger that social media following will hide the lack of talent because the artists have so much outside talent that’s covering it all up?
Houssein: I think that getting a huge following on social media is a talent on itself. If there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of people following someone it means that they have a talent that attracts those millions of people.
Filipe Phitzgerard: So that doesn’t dilute the talent element on itself?
Houssein: I don't think so and I don’t think it has ever been any different. If we go back in time when social media didn't exist every artist only got where they got because they had a label behind them. Today social media has helped to give the artist more visibility, one that before was much harder to get. If anything I think that being able to build a following online or on TV is a talent. Social media has also been a great tool to connect with your audience on another level, a more personal one. Like, people will follow a certain artist and they are able to see what the day-to-day of that person is like. You will have artists who have a talent but also through social media they display their lifestyles and the things that make them who they are as people. I think that makes an artist more relatable and approachable. The music industry is not just about being a musician but an entertainer. There are so many aspects that go into it partly by their label and management and partly because of social media.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Do you feel any pressure to succeed in this industry?
Houssein: Hmm. Well, I wouldn't say "pressure to succeed" but more when I look at the music industry and realise that this is not a black and white world. For example; you do interviews and release music and you hope that all that will help push you further but there is no way to know for sure. I think the uncertainties of this industry is something I’m of and that can put some pressure on anyone who's doing this.
Filipe Phitzgerard: And there is that feeling that you’re constantly growing, and somehow, expected to.
Houssein: Yes. You can’t really control it. I think that as much as I am making music that I like then that’s the way to go.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Are you into fashion at all?
Houssein: I love fashion. However, at the moment I am not signed to a label so all the income I have I’m putting back into my music. When I get a number one hit then I can buy a lot of clothes. [Laughs]
Filipe Phitzgerard: And fashion and music walk hand-in-hand, right?
Houssein: I think fashion is so important in music. I went to Spain for the MTV EMA awards and seeing those big artists wearing the clothes you see only on social media, they’re so next level. You get used to seeing them online but when you see them live it’s just another level.
Filipe Phitzgerard: What is your style?
Houssein: I like the classics like Burberry and Ralph Lauren but I also love Off-White and the more streetwear scene. I like up-and-coming designers and brand as well. But my favourite is probably Burberry.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Alright, so when it comes to your music. What is it that inspires you to write?
Houssein: I am all about pop but not the cheesy love type nor the sad songs. I’m not a sad person so I couldn’t write about that. [Laughs] I like writing about real things but not taking it too seriously.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Both your tracks “Tokyo” and “Walking Away” have that teenage love feeling to them. Have you been in love?
Houssein: I have been in love. [Laughs] I think people get annoyed when they hear someone young singing about love.
Filipe Phitzgerard: So what is love for you then?
Houssein: I don’t know. Liking someone. [Laughs] I don’t think love should be taken so seriously. I think for me love is having a good time, no matter what it is. If you have a good time with someone, that’s a form of love. I see so many people in relationships and they always seem so sad and miserable that I keep thinking whether relationships are really that great. [Laughs] Like, chill out people.
Filipe Phitzgerard: That’s so true. Why are we even in relationships? [Laughs] So what are the top three things you’re in "love with" right now?
Houssein: My family. My girlfriend and my friends.
Filipe Phitzgerard: How does your family see your music career?
Houssein: They’re really supportive. They comment on social media and always watch the videos. They all come around to watch it before we release them. They come to the shows as well and they’re always present and involved.
Filipe Phitzgerard: What’s the next step for you?
Houssein: I would love to do a little tour. I think that would be really cool.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Do you feel nervous when you’re on stage?
Houssein: I don’t get nervous. I don’t see the point of it because I think you’d be just creating more pain to yourself. I’m always excited to do it but not really nervous. I did get nervous when I was performing at the Nickelodeon event because the crowd was really young and I didn’t know how they’d respond. It was in an arena as well so that didn’t help. [Laughs] I did two shows for them and on the second one I wasn’t nervous anymore.
Houssein wears sweatshirt CHAMPION; denim trousers LEVI'S
Filipe Phitzgerard: Do you think about moving into film or TV at some point?
Houssein: No. [Laughs]. I’m an awkward actor.
Filipe Phitzgerard: How about dancing?
Houssein: I did ballet and other dances when I was younger but I can’t do it. I remember once I faked an injury so I could get off the dance classes. I went to the hospital and told the doctors I had broken my arm and they said I hadn’t. I insisted on it and they gave me one of those arm things for support and I wore it for three months so I could get off the ballet classes.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Wow. That’s commitment.
Houssein: Yes. I respect ballet dancers a lot but I really can’t do it.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Are you working on anything at the moment?
Houssein: Yes. I am working on a new song which we are going into the studio to record. We are working on some other new things at the moment. So stay tuned!
Filipe Phitzgerard: We can’t wait to hear them. Alright, last but not least. Favourite f-word:
Houssein: It has to be Fun.
Special thanks to BLOK London. Check out BLOK London here.
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Check out Houssein on YouTube
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Off-White at MR PORTER
Palm Angels at MR PORTER