From appearing all over 2018’s tips lists to recently being snapped up by Polydor Records (home to current Dork cover star Maggie Rogers, buzzy faves Troye Sivan, Years & Years and Haim, and megastars Take That), Tyneside’s Sam Fender has had a successful year.
Speaking to him now, mid-bag of the Netherlands’ version of Doritos and full of cold, it’s no surprise that he’s still pretty chirpy. Having just sold out his third London date at Omeara, how could you not still have a spring in your step?
“It’s ridiculous!” he exclaims. “I didn’t think we’d sell out one… I’d have been buzzing with one. I’m completely overwhelmed.” It’s clear that this is completely true, too. It’s hard to miss the genuine surprise running through his voice.
He’s an artist with only a handful of singles, yet masses of fans prepared to sell out a venue three times over. “It’s really good that people are latching on to it now, I’m really excited… I have a lot more stuff to come.”
Ask Sam what his personal highlight of the year has been and he’ll tell you the tale of when the guy behind the counter in McDonald’s let him run wild with the Big Tasty sauce gun, always quick to make a joke and downplay his success, before honestly revealing that it’s “all of the stuff to do with playing to people who have actually come to see me, it really opens my eyes.”
Touring is something Sam is no stranger to, with a few UK stints under his belt and another one on the way followed by a string of dates overseas, including Australia. It comes as a bit of a surprise that the UK leg of the tour is the part he’s most excited for.
“Before, when we’ve done a UK tour, it’s been incredible, it’s been really special for the boys and me,” he enthuses. “I tour with my friends, like how Bruce Springsteen used to run his show.” He stops to explain how Springsteen is his idol; “I shamelessly compare myself to him,” he laughs.
“We’ve worked our arses off, so to see that people from the UK were resonating with my stuff, it’s the greatest confidence boost for writing new stuff and lets us see that we’re not fucking idiots and that this is possible… we’re not stupid for not going to uni and doing that stuff to become a miserable teacher like my Dad,” he laughs.
“So yeah, I’m excited to go and get a big dopamine rush off of that,” he adds. “There’s an EP coming halfway through or potentially just after; there’ll be new merch and videos as well. Lots of new stuff, I’m excited for people to see the vinyl for this too,” he reveals.
“This will be the ‘Dead Boys’ EP, there are six tracks,” Sam tells us. “It’s a pretty hectic ride through the six tracks and then calms down with ‘Leave Fast’ at the end. I’m really proud of everyone who’s worked on it; it’s all of our original team from before we signed to Polydor. Our half-Geordie, half-Cornish family.”
This will be Sam’s debut body of work. Having released seven singles over the past 18 months, it’s been a fairly long time for coming for this EP.
“We just had this formula of releasing singles; I have so much material, I didn’t quite know what to release first,” he explains.
“I spent a lot of time grouping the material and trying to figure out where I wanted to go; I didn’t want to rush anything. I just took my time; there wasn’t any strategy to it. I’ve just been cruising through the year.
“I’ve been really surprised actually. I’ve been blown away; I had no expectations with ‘Play God’ especially, but ‘Leave Fast’ and ‘Dead Boys’ were both a real surprise,” he says, noting that those two were the first releases with label support.
‘Leave Fast’ retained Sam’s raw lyrical focus with a bit more of a melancholic feel. “[It] was this slow, brooding ballad-y song about being stuck in a small town, radio pluggers were telling me that it might not do so well, because It’s a bit slow,” Sam explains.
“I’d accepted that, but I still wanted to put it out, and then it went and did better than all the others,” he says, bemused. “Then ‘Dead Boys’ went mental, it’s all go at the moment.”
Every now and again you hear a track that is a clear defining ‘step up’ in someone’s musical career. ‘Dead Boys’ arguably is that for Sam. “It’s pretty obviously about male suicide… I don’t beat around the bush, do I?” he asks, laughing.
“I’m not claiming to be an expert, it all just comes from my own experience. I lost a very close friend a year ago, and my manager had a similar experience,” he explains, revealing “the rate of suicide is super high in my hometown and it just really struck a chord with me, how could it not?”
Usually full of quick-witted jokes, this is perhaps the most serious you’ll find this Geordie lad.
“I wrote a lot of songs at my friend’s house. It was weird to write a song about him and then take it to people that we were close to and play it for them, release it and have all these people open up about people that they’ve lost,” he says, explaining how it made him research everything a bit more.
“I was staggered by how massive it is; it’s the biggest killer of men under the age of 30… it’s like 80-odd a week; I didn’t think it was that bad.”
Sam then tells us that even in the months of him releasing ‘Dead Boys’ there were two brothers from his hometown that took their lives, one after the other.
“Newcastle’s quite small for a city. I live on the coast, and it’s got more of a small-town vibe there, everybody knows everybody, so when something like this happens, it shakes the whole town, so much so that it can become a pandemic.”
“They say suicide is almost contagious in the fact that if you’ve been around it or had any experience of it, you’re more likely,” he adds, before quickly changing the subject back to his release.
“I never want to be preachy about it. I’m not on a crusade to make people talk about it, but I do think it’s important that we do,” he states, adding: “I’m not being overly wanky with the words. I just wanted to get the point across.”
Just how ‘Dead Boys’ is rooted in Sam’s own experience, the rest of the upcoming EP is set to be the same.
“The album will be mixed,” he explains, “but this is more focused on stories that are closer to me. There is one song which is just a bit of a rant about the state of the world and the kids I see on a night out in Newcastle, but then feeling helpless because you’re looking at the world and seeing that it’s a bit fucked but knowing you’re not clever enough to do anything about it.
“There’s a good narrative; they’re quite in your face, it’s visceral and a bit nasty at times, which I was quite excited to do. I’ve got some space to do this before the album.”
With his sights set on an album already, he’s planning for a summertime album release in 2019.
“There are so many avenues that I’ve wanted to go down, and I’ve reined myself in trying to find my sound, but I think I’ve struck a balance and tied it all together… hopefully, it’ll make sense.
“Once I’ve done these shows here I’m going home, and I’m going to get in the studio and get the album recorded, then hopefully when that’s finished I’m going to tour like a psychopath,” he says, laughing. “I’m gonna whip myself like the dancing monkey that I am!”
Taken from the November 2018 edition of Dork. Order a copy below.
Featuring Maggie Rogers, Sundara Karma, Kurt Vile, LANY, Parcels, Sam Fender and more.