SAM FENDER; PUTTING SOUL BACK INTO MUSIC words and photography Filipe Phitzgerard
Newcastle born and bred singer song-write Sam Fender is without a doubt one of those talents whom you will fall in love with at first beat; even though none of this songs are about 'love'. The 21 year old rising star surfaces at a critical time when the music scene is saturated with pointless, soulless, money-seeking music, punching his way into the industry to stir things up with a style that merges honesty, fun, a personal enjoyment and passion for music, and brain-piercing lyrics; all wrapped in an amazing vocal ability that is close to transcendent.
The Play God singer is your typical young outspoken lad whose love for music can be dated to his birth (or somewhere around that time). Sam was raised surrounded by music; growing up in a place where Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie and many other music icons would set the tone in which life in the Fender Household would be. At the age of fourteen, he was writing his own songs. He was – and still is – doing it his own way. Writing about the things that he sees in the world and his surroundings without being predictable or boring, and , by doing so, allowing his music to be effortlessly relatable and fun to listen and dance to.
Sam was spotted in the pub he used to work at by Owain Davies, who took the young lad under this wing and has been a pivotal influence in Fender's development and growth as an artist. We had the immense pleasure of meeting with Sam at the PUB where everything started – or really got going – in Newcastle, and as we sat down with him to talk about music, life, and more music, we came to realize that the young emerging artist ticks all the boxes that precede success. He is a quick-witted guy whose relaxed style and approachable personality make him someone you want to be friends with.
When sitting down to talk to him, music is the subject we are always brought back into, even if through a funny story. Fender's ears are attentive to the background songs playing at the PUB while our chat goes on. It feels like it is something he can't contain or control. And as soon as Joni Mitchell – one of his music idols - blasts through the speakers, Sam instantly gets drawn into her enchanting music; and he doesn't want to go on this journey on his own. No. He invites us with him by telling us about her story and explaining the lyrics of the song playing on the background.
Sam Fender was recently named one of the Sounds of 2018 by the BBC Music alongside other heavy-weight emerging artists such as Sigrid and Khalid. Currently on tour, Fender has a lot to say and even more to do through his distinctive style, 'damn-right' lyrics (talking about government surveillance, fake news, sexual harassment and more) and mind-gripping soul-striking music.
Filipe Phitzgerard: Hey Sam. How are you, man?
Sam Fender: I’m good man. I’ve been really good. Busy but really good.
F.P: It’s been quite a busy year for you already; hasn’t it?
S.F: Yeah. It’s been mental. I did the EUROSONIC already. It was well good. A lot of shows in one day like three or four including promo sessions like radio shows.
F.P: That's insane. And you’re one of the talents to watch in 2018 according to the BBC Music. How do you feel about that?
S.F: Well, we didn’t expect that at all. We have just started putting music out like nine months ago and things have just been great.
F.P: Were you playing music before that?
S.F: Yeah. But I hadn’t released anything yet. I had been hiding and making music just in my bedroom since I was fourteen, but I was just writing and making music for myself.
F.P: What did you write about?
S.F: Just shit. (Laughs) probably like girls and romance. But I hope those songs never resurface.
Top left: Sam wears striped shirt and corduroy jacket URBAN OUTFITTERS / bottom right: Sam wears sweatshirt CHAMPION
F.P: So there is definitely been a shift in the way you write or the things you write about.
S.F: Oh yeah. From that to government surveillance is a bit of a jump.
F.P: Where did that come from?
S.F: Hmm. To compose Play God I was reading a book by George Orwell called Nineteen Eighty-Four and I was like, “I can get a couple of songs out of this” and I managed to get quite a few songs actually. I think it shows a lot of parallel with society now. There is a lot of that idea of technology and politics and power. And I think that’s a hot topic so I thought I’d tap into that as well.
F.P: Are you quite aware of social and political issues?
S.F: Not more than anybody else. I do watch the news but I don't go after it because I think it can get you quite down. I have a reasonable understanding of how the world works but nothing more than anybody else. But it does affect my songs.
F.P: Have you always been involved with music then?
S.F: Yes. Definitely. I started playing guitar around nine years old and I’ve been writing music since I was fourteen, but music has always been a big part of my life because of my dad, my brother, and friends.
F.P: So you'd say you were influenced by music from an early age and at home?
S.F: Yes. My dad is a singer song-writer, guitarist, pianist, fucking great singer. He's a great chef. He is one of those blokes who is just good at everything. He can put a shelve up just by looking at it. He is that kind of guy. A man's man. He is very talented. My older brother plays drums. When I was growing up there would be great music like Aretha Franklin or Bowie playing in the house while my dad was cooking and my brother would be playing drums in his room. My godfather who I am really close to, he is like a father as well, he is a big music fan. He collects music. He has the biggest vinyl collection you'll see. So I was always surrounded by music in some form.
F.P: What would you say is the key thing you want to achieve through your music?
S.F: I think it is entertainment. That is what music is for me. There might be political undertones in there but the point isn't to deliberately start a revolution. I just point and shoot and see. I write about what I see, and if people enjoy it and can have a boogie then great!
F.P: Do you find your music relatable?
S.F: I think people do relate to it. If it provokes any sort of positive emotion in people, that's my job done.
F.P: Who would you say are your music icons?
S.F: I've got a lot of icons. I love classic singer song-writers from Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen to Kendrick Lamar. I love people who have something to say.
Sam wears sweatshirt CHAMPION; cropped denim trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS
F.P: Are you musically eclectic?
S.F: Yes. Massively.
F.P: Do you think that plays a part when you are making your own music?
S.F: Yes. Sometimes I have to watch myself, a lot of people when they come to see our live shows they see those different genres there. I think that is a good thing especially because we have been able to keep them within our own style. But as an artist I feel like I still have some changes to go through and to form that identity.
F.P: Do you feel like you are still building your own identity?
S.F: Yes. Definitely. I always admired artists like Bowie when he could just change at every album and still be him. He used to say before releasing a new album 'I promise it won't be boring' and I love that because at the end it was always Bowie no matter how different the next album was from the previous ones.
F.P: How much has life changed since you started making music professionally?
S.P: I do this full time now. Before I was playing just in the shed for fun and now it is just what I do. My life is a lot busier now and there are gigs and tours and festivals. It's great!
F.P: Do you still write a lot?
S.F: All the time. I am constantly writing notes on my phone. I write something like poetry then I try to work it into the melody but the inverse process can happen as well. I have the melody and then I put the lyrics in it.
F.P: So there isn't a specific process for you?
S.F: Some people do. They have a set formula and they do this and that and I used to be like that. But after a while I stopped doing it because I feel that can restrict you sometimes. It works for some people, but not for me.
F.P: Where do you drive the inspiration from?
S.F: Things around me. People or even stories that I imagine. Taking inspiration from the people you meet is incredible. I think if you are writing music you should write about something that really speaks to you or catches your attention. It has to mean something to you.
F.P: Do you feel like there is a pressure from the industry for artists to write a hit?
S.F: I think that there is a pressure from the wider industry, and that's how you end up with bad music. You have this one person writing for everyone and they're just piling up the same idea or feeling and you get a bunch of music that's soulless. I think that is something we are lacking today. We need more angry kids with a lot of conviction. There are a lot of them out there for sure, but we need more or give them more visibility.
F.P: I agree! Too much commercial music and too little good music. So, you were born and bred in Newcastle right?
S.F: Yep. I'm a Geordie.
Sam wears striped shirt and black corduroy jacket and trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS; sneakers LEVI'S
F.P: What would you say is the most special thing about Newcastle?
S.F: Everyone is real. If they like you they like you and if they think you're a prick they'll tell you. You meet a lot of interesting people, genuine people. You are on a bus stop waiting for your bus and some bloke starts talking to you and sharing his life story, he might be drunk, but you have a good time. People here are just real.
F.P: Would you move anywhere else?
F.P: Alright, let's do a quick fire round.
F.P: Best place in the world
F.P: Favorite food
F.P: Favorite drink
F.P: Which one?
S.F: Any decent pilsner.
F.P: The last movie you watched
S.F: A B-movie called City Dragon. It's such a shit movie. It has no plot and the dialogues are so bad. There is a rap at the beginning. Basically he is a rapper and a Kung Fu fighter. It's just bad.
Sam wears sweatshirt UMBRO; denim trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS
F.P: What kind of stuff are you into to watch?
S.F: I like binge watching Netflix stuff like everybody else.
F.P: What was the last series you binge-watched?
S.F: Black Mirror. I watched in two days. And that 'Sinner' one, I enjoyed that.
F.P: If we press play on your playlist right now, what are we gonna listen to?
S.F: Jodi Mitchell or The War on Drugs.
F.P: What does Sam hate?
S.F: People who stand on the wrong fucking side on the escalator. There is always that one bastard who doesn't do it.
F.P: Tell us something about you people don't know yet.
S.F: I have hairless legs.
F.P: An advice for the future generations.
S.F: Be good to your kids or they'll start identifying as fucking dolphins or something.
Sam wears top UMBRO; jacket URBAN OUTFITTERS
See Sam Fender's Tour dates below and for more information click HERE.
23/03/2018 APPLE STORE / REGENT STREET, LONDON
17/04/2018 CAFE ALTSTADT, EINDHOVEN / NETHERLANDS
18/04/2018 SUPERSONIC, PARIS / FRANCE
19/04/2018 ARTHEATER, COLOGNE / GERMANY
21/04/2018 MOLOTOW SKYBAR, HAMBURG / GERMANY
24/04/2018 MUSIK UND FRIEDEN, BERLIN / GERMANY
25/04/2018 MERLEYN, NIJMEGEN / NETHERLANDS
26/04/2018 MELKWEG THEATRE, AMSTERDAM / NETHERLANDS
27/04/2018 VISMARKT, GRONINGEN
29/04/2018 EKKO, UTRECHT / NETHERLANDS
05/05/2018 LIVERPOOL BALTIC TRIANGLE, LIVERPOOL
06/05/2018 SOUND CITY, LIVERPOOL
11/05/2018 THE CAVERN, EXETER
12/05/2018 THE OLD BAKERY, TRURO
15/05/2018 THE CAMDEN ASSEMBLY, LONDON
16/05/2018 BOILEROOM, GUILFORD
25/05/2018 SPILLERS WHARF, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
23/06/2018 SHEPARD'S BUSH, LONDON
29/06/2018 TRNSMT FESTIVAL, GLASGOW
01/07/2018 FINSBURY PARK, LONDON
06/07/2018 ROCK WERCHER, BELGIUM
08/07/2018 BARN ON THE FARM, GLOUCESTER
14/07/2018 LATITUDE FESTIVAL, SUFFOLK
15/07/2018 GUNNERSBURY PARK, LONDON
27/07/2018 STANDON CALLING FESTIVAL, HERTFORDSHIRE
29/07/2018 Y NOT FESTIVAL, DERBYSHIRE