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April 2020
Cover Feature

How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop

Chart-topping singles. Sold out tours. A social sensation.
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Published: 2:30 pm, May 13, 2019Words: Jamie Muir.
How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop

It’s Saturday night, and The Jonathan Ross Show is once again being beamed into front rooms up and down the country. It’s fair to say that it’s quite a big deal. Take tonight’s guests: there’s Danny DeVito and Colin Farrell promoting the big-screen remake of Dumbo, actual Olympic Gold medalist Nicola Adams, household comedy favourite Jimmy Carr, and recent Alan Partridge star Lolly Adefope. As Jonathan Ross kick-starts the show, they pan to another face…

“I tend to sweat quite a bit when I go on those TV things,” admits Lewis Capaldi. In a new world, he’s concerned that the basics might go awry. “I’m always like - do I smell weird? Danny DeVito just shook my hand, but did he smell like, an arsey smell while shaking it?

“I hope I don’t smell of piss. You don’t want sweaty palms or sweaty bollocks. It’s a family show, y’know what I mean? Nobody wants to be a stinking fucking bastard with sweaty balls.”

This is the life of Lewis Capaldi in 2019. Caught in the eye of a storm sweeping across the world, he’s become the most talked-about new artist in the country in the space of weeks, and beyond that, stands as one of music’s undeniable new entertainers. Red carpets, big-time performances, sold-out tour dates months and months in advance - he’s on course to get the world ‘Capaldi’ added to the Oxford Dictionary in no time. By that, we mean ‘Capaldi’ defined as ‘an absolute bloody legend laughing in the face of how ridiculous things are getting’. It’s a view we could all live by.

“One point I will say,” continues Lewis, thinking back to his recent TV shenanigans in a year that has truly taken off to places he never thought possible. “You know on The Jonathan Ross Show they always pan to that second room, and you’re thinking, oh - they’re in the green room, right? THAT’S A FUCKING LIE. There’s a TV there and a seat, and then there are all these people standing behind it. Absolutely shattering to everything I thought I knew about late-night television chat shows.”

Peeking behind the curtain and turning to the world as if to say, 'what the hell is this?', Lewis Capaldi isn’t afraid to say what he thinks and how he feels. In a matter of months he’s taken on the world of planet pop and become a new form of national treasure, one not afraid to post up every ridiculous moment happening to him for the world to see, and as a result, has become entwined in people’s hearts. From odd showers in New York, turning up to the BRITs wondering what on earth is about to happen, or being kept up late in a hotel by the couple next door getting up to, well, who knows what, it’s side-splitting gold that’s drawn everyone in. He's rewriting the rulebook, one Instagram Story at a time.

“From the start of the year, to be honest, it’s been this massive, massive…” Lewis pauses. As he speaks, ‘Someone You Loved’ has been sitting at Number 1 as the biggest song in the country for a month, and only getting bigger. “At the end of last year, we did a show at Shepherds Bush Empire. Two nights at the Barrowlands. We did the Live Lounge and stuff and did that all through November/December. I thought okay, this is as big or as mental as things are going to get, d’ya know what I mean? We found where we would fit in the landscape of everything and yeah, at the turn of the year it just kicked up a fucking gear and I was like - Christ almighty, this is next level! I thought I was busy last year!

“It’s been mad, but I’ve said it a few times - it feels like this is happening to someone else, and I’m just watching it. It didn’t register at first as like, happening to me, so I’m making an effort to enjoy it as much as possible. I don’t want to be six months down the line, album’s flopped, and everything else and I’m like - oh, I didn’t enjoy that all.”

If there’s one thing you can say about Lewis Capaldi, it’s that he’s certainly enjoying himself. His every move is pored over and shared, like a mate who’s suddenly ended up on this unbelievable rollercoaster. Instead of sharing videos of your mates from the night before, everyone’s sharing Lewis’ tales - primetime viewing every single time.

Lewis cracks and laughs thinking about it all. “This whole experience I’ve found, even before having the Number One, has all just felt really fucking stupid, like! You have to take that… if you realise that in your head, that this is all fucking ridiculous, then you’re in good stead, I reckon.

“As soon as it becomes normal then you’re in trouble.”

How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
“Nobody wants to be a stinking fucking bastard with sweaty balls”
Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi was in Bordeaux, France when he first heard that ‘Someone You Loved’ was Number One. Touring Europe with Bastille, he found himself in a hotel room with nothing to really do - an exotic location to find out that your song is the most popular track in the country right now.

“You find out at 10-11 in the morning, y’see,” reveals Lewis. “I heard and was like, oh that was a bit underwhelming - just the feeling of, ‘okay there we go then’, ahaha. When it’s just on a piece of paper, you’re like, okay that’s cool. I was like, oh I’ll listen to the radio when they announce it - and when they announced it on the radio I was like, fucking hell this is a real thing! Holy fuck, I’ve got a Number One single.”

A Lewis Capaldi celebration kicked off, embracing the wild side of the music industry in a way only he could. “I had two half-pints of Heineken ordered to my room, had them and went bowling.

“Those dizzying heights could only be followed up by a couple of frames down the lanes,” bursts Lewis. “You can’t ask for much better! I think we did get a bottle of champagne. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried bowling alley champagne, but it’s pretty gross. Pretty bleak.” He stops and laughs - “bowling alley champagne, it’s basically my brand. If bowling alley champagne was a human being, that would be me.”

While shaking Lewis up and spraying him across a room may be out of the question, the sparkling bubbles he adds to the new batch of ‘singer-songwriters’ entering the fray makes him a cocktail worth toasting over and over. Something universal that has him beating the likes of Ariana Grande and Calvin Harris week after week - for a 22-year-old without a debut album out that must a surreal proposition?

“Oh it feels, it feels, it feels… stupid,” jumps Lewis. “I start getting texts through on a Wednesday that it looks like it might be Number One again this week and I’m just like, ohhhh fucking hell this is ridiculous now.”

What ‘Someone You Loved’ has done, is catapult Lewis into the mainstream. Fan accounts are cropping up all over the web; when you head to gigs and hear at the back of the room, ‘Have you seen what Lewis Capaldi has done today?’ He’s the talk of the town.

“It’s fucking so weird. You look at all the people below me in the charts at the moment, and it’s like Sam Smith, Ariana, Calvin with Rag’n’Bone Man and you’re like - what the fuck is going on here? Surely people must have better taste in music than to listen to me?” he laughs.

“There are so many amazing folk not only in the Top 10, but the Top 40, who’ve been around for a while and have been smashing it in terms of charts and all that. Some of the biggest musicians in the world and you’re like - oh, and there’s that wee chubby fucking bastard from between Glasgow and Edinburgh up there.”

Lewis is the first to say his music isn’t attempting to break bold new sonic ground, a self-deprecating crack to the stage he now finds himself. In the past, he’s described himself as a ‘melting hippo’, and the idea of the big glitz of the music world seemed beyond anything he could ever dream of. As Lewis saw it, a Number One single was “never, ever, ever, ever” on the cards for him.

“We assumed that look, the album’s coming in May, and that’ll be the focus here,” he tells. “I mean - a Top 100 single was never on the fucking cards for me! It’s such an alien concept, and to be in there amongst all of those names with a song where it’s just a piano and a vocal is pretty mad.”

Once you hear Lewis Capaldi’s voice, it’s clear why thousands upon thousands now flock to his every move and just why ‘Someone You Loved’ has taken on a whole life of its own. The sort of soaring pull that has you hooked, it sounds like a call from the gut that could take on skyscrapers - a secret weapon that you’d never know was lurking behind the joke-cracking Scottish smiles. It’s taken him to the very top, and now he can have some fun with it.

How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
“I got a punishment once in French because I farted”
Lewis Capaldi

Lewis has always been mischievous, a joker in the pack with a laid-back view on the world that finds him making light of a situation whenever possible. “I was definitely as much of a gimp back then as I am now," he says.

At school, he'd make the rest of his class fold over in fits of laughter regularly. "I’d know when to cut it before I got into real trouble,” he recalls, “but I was a bit of a nuisance sometimes. I got a punishment once in French because I farted - the teacher was teaching a lesson I went ‘SHHHHHHH’. She turned around and was like, 'what?' And then I farted and got sent outside.

“I wasn’t one of those kids throwing chairs at teachers, it was light-hearted really,” he points out. “I was just a mischievous young man.”

He was quite happy floating along through school, admitting he probably would have done better if he had applied himself and studied a bit more - but had his mind on other things like having a laugh and playing music.

“Even in music I never got an A, I was just swanning through and having fun at everything.”

He ponders what his music teacher’s reaction would be now he has the biggest song in the country.

“Yeah, I’m going to go back and appeal my B! 'But I’ve got a Number One sir?' 'Fuck off!' God loves a trier though, eh?!”

That first glint of music came at an early, early age. Growing up in the small town of Bathgate, spread halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, to Scottish-Italian parents as the youngest of four children, it was on a family trip to a holiday camp at the age of four when he first took the stage.

“We got there, and there was this band up playing some song like ‘Be Our Guest’, and I got up and gave them a Queen CD with ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ on. I sang them on that stage and immediately I was like, can I do another one? I just experienced this weird rush. I mean, I was four so I hadn’t experienced that many rushes before, but it was this buzz and from there all I wanted to do was sing live to people. From that, my love of music came from this idea of - right, if I want to play live to people, I need to write my own songs. In my head, that was just what you did.”

“Everything I did was trying to facilitate playing live in front of people, y’know what I mean?” continues Lewis. “I picked up the guitar because I wanted to play the songs in front of people. Started writing songs, so I wasn’t just playing covers. At the time it was like, right, how do I get from Point A to B. It was learning all this stuff so I could get up on stage and play in front of people.”

By the age of eleven, he’d picked up the guitar, written his first original song and had begun gigging around various pubs and venues around Bathgate, Glasgow and Edinburgh. He caught the tail-end of a vibrant music scene with a range of bands playing a range of venues, but as his teenage years continued, those bands began to fade away, and venues started to close. It meant more than ever; he was heading to the likes of Glasgow and Edinburgh to get up on stage whenever he could.

“I would play pub gigs for money where I would go on stage and do a load of covers for like three hours. Mate, fuck, you name it, and I played it at those shows. ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Not Nineteen Forever’, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, anything by The Kooks. Remember The View? I basically did their whole back catalogue,” Lewis laughs. “Think of me as an indie music prophet, going from town to town spreading the word of these bands fucking from anywhere between fucking 2005 to 2012!”

In every facet of his life, music was there as a constant.

“I always see people in interviews say if you want to be successful in music and you really love it, you’d do it every single day - and I was like, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it every single fucking day, and I was doing gigs all the time. Looking back now though, I realise so much of my time that I didn’t even realise, in that moment, was doing music and playing gigs. All those formative things that didn’t even register, like my first underage drinking thing was when me and my mates would put on our own gigs and get pissed. It was, right, we’re 16 and 17 years old and we want to get drunk, how do we do that? Okay, let’s put on a gig. That was facilitating something else - my burgeoning alcoholism - but music was there as an important part of my life to make that happen, more than I realised at the time.”

Lewis pauses. “Fuck me, I did spend an awful lot of time playing in the dark.”

Throughout his journeying and drive to be a musician, his parents were hugely supportive. “If I was appearing to give it my all and was going out there to play shows and better myself, then they were fully supportive. They knew the score after having three other children before me.” Lewis changes his tone. “Look, we’ve raised three kids already - you’ll probably be fine. We’ve done this before; this isn’t our first rodeo,” comes his impression of his parents' philosophy.

“They weren’t as strict on me,” Lewis reverts back. “They must have thought, well, he hasn’t eaten glass once in his life so he’ll probably be okay so long as he doesn’t start trying to chew on a bottle of Irn-Bru.”

Rather than chewing on Irn-Bru bottles, Lewis went about working on and pulling together the songs that have come to define his past 18 months, uploading tracks to YouTube and slowly building a loyal audience. It was ‘Bruises’ that truly took things to a new level, a favourite that he had played live for years was released into the world and found a, well, decent response.

“I woke up on the day ‘Bruises’ came out and it was Number One on New Music Friday in America. Like Kendrick Lamar’s ‘HUMBLE’ came out that week and I was above him... Christ,” exclaims Lewis. “I was still doing those gigs in pubs, but I think that was a big shift in perception. It was mental, and all happened quite quickly. I look back on it as the peak of that time in my life - a peek into what’s happening now with ‘Someone You Loved’, except, of course, this is even more ridiculous.”

With ‘Bruises’ he became the fastest ever unsigned artist to reach 25 million plays on Spotify and it had him snapped up in no time. “For so long after, we never had a song do as good as ‘Bruises’ which was a pain in the fucking arse. I felt like, ahhh fuuuuuccckkiiinnggg hell we shouldn’t have let that song go out there first.”

“It was never meant to be as big as it got on streaming,” notes Lewis, taking a deep breath. “I mean, neither was this one! I think that’s what’s good about streaming in general though; people decide what they’re into. You can have the song and take it to radio and do a big video - and trust me, we’ve done a few of them over the past couple of years - but if people decide if a certain song is the one, then they have the power to make it huge. Personally as an artist…” Lewis stops and cracks a laugh, “fucking hell, an artist! What on earth! As a singer, I think a lot of the music industry is saying, like, well this is an exciting time - none of us know what the fuck is going on! I sound like a politician, but I think it’s a good thing that the power is back in the hands of the people.”

How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
“Putting an album together was the most stressful and boring thing I’ve ever done in my entire fucking life”
Lewis Capaldi

‘Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent’ isn’t the sort of bravado-led title you’d usually see on a debut album, but when you chat to Lewis Capaldi you understand exactly why it’s perfect for a man whose penchant for wild shades might make Elton John look like a dinosaur.

Raw and unequivocally honest, it’s an album that practically makes itself at home on first listen to record players, music libraries and radio airwaves. Every generation will connect to it in some form, but Lewis still feels some apprehension in what lies ahead - that worry of what could happen from here.

“There was definitely a moment where it was like, oh we’re going to have that one big song on streaming, and then the next three songs aren’t going to do that. There was kinda this apprehensiveness. I was very conscious of becoming this one song thing, and what’s nice about ‘Someone You Loved’ is that it seems to have opened up those doors for people to come and listen to more than just one song. People will come up to me and say oh, I’m listening to this song and this - and I don’t know if it’s given me confidence because I’m still pretty nervous about everything, nothing’s guaranteed in music these days.”

He’s a strong believer in “you’re only as good as your next fucking song. You can’t get complacent and put out any old shit. People are smarter than that. This song isn’t good enough; see you later,” and how important playing live still is to him. The recording process on the other hand...

“Ahhhh,” breathes Lewis. “Putting an album together was the most stressful and boring thing I’ve ever done in my entire fucking life. Everyone will tell you about this fucking mad little journey they went on with recording the album, and for me, I was like fucking hell, I want this to be over so I can just play these fucking songs live.

“The actual writing of the songs? Loved doing. The arrangements of the song? Loved doing. But when it comes to the actual recording process where you sit there playing the same fucking guitar part 47 fucking times to go back to the one you started with in the first place? Drives me fucking insane.

"I've never really enjoyed recording or being in a recording studio because you're simultaneously really bored and also really stressed and nervous, like - this is like a really boring process but also I want people to really like this, and I want to do these songs justice.

"If it were up to me I’d finish a song, put it on a voice recorder on my phone, put them on Spotify and then fucking go! I always want to get from writing a song to playing them live as quick as fucking possible.

“The guys I recorded with were brilliant, but I’m not the fucking best guitar player at the best of times, so, like fucking hell it was something. I’m doing the same line over and over, and it's still fucking awful!”

Thankfully for Lewis, it all came together in a week of recording with tracks he’d been working on from the past 12 months.

“In the last three years it’s been go, go go. You want to play this gig? Yeah, cool, whatever! You want to do this tour of Australia for a couple of weeks? Sweet, whatever! And then they’re like, fuck we’ve got an album to make, and we haven’t left enough time here,” he laughs. “I like working with a time constraint because otherwise, it’ll go on forever.”

Across the album, Lewis delves deep into the soaring hooks that have taken him to the big leagues - dripping with open emotion and never shying away from it all. The amount of tears that might be shed to this album is in the millions, that’s for sure.

“When you’re sad you definitely think about things a lot more - you’re thinking about those factors and reasons why you feel like this, so it’s a lot easier to put that into words because you’re constantly thinking about it.

“When you’re happy you’re only thinking about… I dunno, having sex and eating crisps.

“I had a breakup at the start of the year before this all kicked off and what I found was interesting about everything going on wasn’t oh, I just met Danny DeVito on a couch on The Jonathan Ross Show. What was interesting was my own insecurities I was still feeling while I was having these experiences. An imposter syndrome almost, with my own ability and stuff like that; longing for the feeling and simplicity of being back home.

“You’re getting to do this thing and play these amazing shows, and it’s fucking amazing, but I’m still thinking about my ex-girlfriend and certain situations, or my own insecurities. It was just a present need of while all these things were happening; I wondered what I would say to myself or my ex-girlfriend and friends about all this.”

Underneath the hilarious videos and ridiculous situations he now finds himself, that longing and human connection is ten-fold - an album about rising back in the face of it all.

“I hope the album does well,” he notes, taking a moment to think about what lies ahead and everything he’s poured into it. “I hope people like it, and like the music, and like the album.”

How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
How Lewis Capaldi became the most unlikely ruler of Planet Pop
“When you’re happy you’re only thinking about… I dunno, having sex and eating crisps”
Lewis Capaldi

For his most recent headline London gig, Lewis Capaldi employed topless male dancers and crotch-activated fireworks. Now ahead lies Lewis’ biggest shows to date, sold out in mere minutes and constantly in demand. The figures and chart positions are now bringing themselves to the fore in the space he first got into songwriting for, to play live to as many people as possible, to feel that buzz. It’s no longer ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ - Lewis has his own anthems to blare now.

“To watch those tickets fly out in seconds was fucking mental,” he jumps. “You think back to all your favourite bands and sitting there waiting on Ticketmaster for tickets, and they sold out really quickly, and you’re like ‘fuck me’ but at the same time you thought, how fucking mental is it that you can’t even get a ticket for them? It’s weird to be in the same position as the people you used to go and see and try and get tickets for.

“It’s very strange but definitely cool, and it also means I’m definitely going to get paid some money.”

He laughs about saving as much money as possible on the stage show, potentially bringing back some of that bowling alley champagne he first celebrated his Number One with - “It sounds like a band from Brighton, right? 'We’re Bowling Alley Champagne, and this is our Burberry Acoustic',” he cracks - as well as fairy lights and a cardboard sign with ‘L E W I S C A P A L D I’ scribbled on it. You can guarantee the sold-out rooms would be loving it either way, but it’s pretty clear there’s something up his sleeve there.

“It was never meant to get this far,” Lewis reflects. “I would have been happy playing those cover gigs for a while and playing my own gigs at the weekend.”

He stops.

“So this is a bonus, really.”

Breaking hearts, smashing charts and enjoying the rise - Lewis Capaldi is the figure pop needed right about now, and you can guarantee that we’re all invited along for the ride.

“I just kinda want to see how far we can push it before people go ‘right you, you fucking prick - that’s enough. You’ve had your fun’.”

He’s planning on taking full advantage of the here and now. He wants to headline an arena at some point, potentially in Scotland, and tour the US along with the rest of the world. “I just want to get the music to as many people as possible, and I mean - there’s quite a lot of fucking people over there."

Most importantly for Lewis though, his goal is to not to embarrass his mum. “As long as my mother’s not embarrassed, then it’s all good.”

Stay glued to your social media accounts. In the ridiculous world of pop, Lewis Capaldi is taking over. That’s no joke. 

Taken from the May issue of Dork. Lewis Capaldi's debut album 'Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent' is out 17th May. He’ll play Barn on the Farm, Truck and more this summer, and a UK headline tour from 21st November.

May 2019
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