Redbrick Music Writer Daisy Kirkaldy caught an electric show from Sam Fender and also got the chance to sit down with him back stage
The evening of the 10th of November felt especially cold, so it was nice to be holed up in such a cosy pub like the Castle & Falcon. It promised to be an excellent gig, due to it being a sold out event and with the level of hype surrounding Sam Fender. Upon walking in, the kebab-shop-themed merchandise stand immediately caught my eye, with t-shirts aptly rolled up in foil and red and green neon signs flashing ‘OPEN’ every alternating second.
Sam Fender is an upcoming alternative rock artist, most known for powerful tracks such as ‘Dead Boys’ which draws upon the issues of toxic masculinity, suicide and mental health, whilst maintaining the haunting melody which has made it his most popular track to date. He has become an advocate on these issues due to the track’s success, hopefully paving the way for other male artists. This is something I had the chance to talk to him about backstage at the gig, after some other important questions and one thing he was determined to clarify:
Sam: I wanna clear up that I’ve been grossly misquoted in this BBC interview the other day. I did not say that all guitar bands are rubbish. I made some joking comments about Ed Sheeran but they just got taken way out of hand. I said: ‘Quite a lot of guitar bands that are making it aren’t very good, and loads of the best ones I’ve ever heard are just flying under the radar.’ Now I’m getting loads of hate comments online. The people who message me directly are really sweet, the ones who actually like the tunes, they’re all wonderful. I’m getting loads of backlash from people saying ‘what an arrogant prick.’ The article makes me out to be really awful. I’m not an arsehole, I’m pretty approachable, and I’m so scared of saying anything now. I spoke for like 45 minutes about music and I spoke about ‘Dead Boys’ and everything, and the only thing the article is about is me slagging off Jamie Oliver, Ed Sheeran, other guitar bands. I was just having a bit of a laugh and it’s just fucking backfired.’
Is Fender your real surname, because it seems too good to be true?
Yes, it is, it’s my actual surname. I’ve got my wallet here. [Shows me his licence] See? Fender! Samuel Thomas Fender, that’s my full name.
Do you think your surname has helped you in the music industry?
I think it’s probably been as much of a hindrance as it’s been a help, because I think everyone always thinks, that’s a shit stage name, that’s not real, so yeah it’s probably been a bit of both really.
What did you dress up as for Halloween?
I used to be a vampire like every year when I was a kid, so other years I’ve been that kid from American Horror Story, Tate, when he does the mad face painting thing. Just various offensive characters really.
What’s your favourite song of yours, and why?
Released? Out of the released songs, probably ‘Dead Boys’, just because it’s important and because of what it’s done, it’s been wonderful. That and ‘Leave Fast’ I think.
Is there a song you get nervous to perform, either because of difficulty or because it just means a lot to you?
Um, not really, I’m always nervous before a show anyway. I think I’m just nervous to play, not one song in particular. I think that’s kind of good thought, means you care.
What can you imagine yourself doing if you weren’t a singer?
I’d probably be teaching guitars and working a bar. Last time I was teaching guitars, working in a bar and working in a call centre, so that was pretty depressing. But I think, had I of gone to university, my Dad wanted me to be a teacher so I might have ended up doing that. I’m really glad I didn’t as I don’t think I’d have been very good.
What university do you think you would have gone to?
I don’t know, I didn’t apply for any. I was gonna try and apply to one of the ones in London just because I wanted to be in London. Probably fucking music at Goldsmiths or something like that.
Goldsmiths is quite cool, quite edgy. Too edgy for me!
Yeah a bit too edgy for me too, I’m quite into my meat and I don’t know if the vegans would accept me.
What would you say the main influences were for your upcoming Dead Boys EP?
Just my hometown really. The whole EP is a bit more of a snapshot of my life at home and my life at the moment, I suppose.
What’s your writing process like and does it vary from song to song?
Sometimes a song will just fall out of the sky, like I’ll just be sat noodling around on the guitar and in five minutes I’ll have a song. Sometimes I’ll be writing some shit on my phone or I’ll write a poem and I’ll shoehorn that into some guitar chords. Or, I’m sat there sometimes for bloody days on one song, just slogging. I tend to have really prolific periods where I get loads out, and I’ll write like ten songs or something, and then I’ll just go on the lash.
What was the first song you listened to this morning?
I listened to a song called ‘Rings’ by Pinegrove. You should check them out, they’re sort of alternative, country, sort of rock, sort of whiny, emo band. He’s dead cool, he’s got a proper American twang, it’s really good. Really good lyrics, very self-deprecating and inwards looking but enjoyable nonetheless.
For someone who was being introduced to Sam Fender, what song would you recommend they listen to first?
I reckon ‘Play God’ or ‘Dead Boys’, they’re kind of the staple go-tos.
When you were writing ‘Dead Boys’ did you know it was going to be as important as it is now?
Well, I wrote ‘Dead Boys’ because I lost my mate to suicide, and I wrote it as a reaction and as a way to put it to bed. I didn’t even know if I was gonna release it, I thought ‘Oh it’s a bit dark, maybe a bit too close to home’ so it just sat there for a bit. Then we thought: let’s bring it out, it’s a beautiful song, it’s pretty. Then we brought it out and it just went massive. I had to brush up on my statistics about suicide because it raised a conversation, which is wonderful. It used to be quite a sad song for me to sing but now when I’m singing it I’m thinking about the way it’s affected people in a good way. It’s amazing when that happens.
When you release a song, are you already thinking about the music video? Or is it an added extra?
The music video’s a separate thing really. All of my music videos have been directed by people with their own treatments of the song. They come to me and I decide whether I like it or not but I’m not gonna take any credit for the music videos. It’s a lot of amazing, talented people who have done them. It’s a collaboration of artists, that’s the beauty of being in this industry. I’m a very lucky boy, and it’s all just sort of happened as a happy accident.
The room Fender performed in was narrow and felt small, making for one of the most intimate and personal gigs I’ve ever been to. The band strolled onto stage to the accompaniment of the Stranger Things theme tune, puzzling but somehow appropriate to the millennial theme of most of his music. Guitars were picked up, drumsticks were chosen and the first song started, fittingly called ‘Millennial’, a short but rowdy song and one perfect to start the set.
A good mix of released and unreleased songs were played, with Sam pausing to chat to the audience in his heavily Geordie accent from time to time. His stage presence was cool but excited, giving a massive grin at the cheers erupting after every song. He showed intense versatility by playing both upbeat and melancholy songs to an amazing standard, and I’m certain everyone was as captivated by him and his voice as I was.
Fender’s undeniable talent was evident from the first song and throughout. During the slower songs, an echo was added to his vocals, making the sound fill the entire room and create an intense atmosphere. During ‘Dead Boys’ the bassist snapped the thickest string on his guitar, causing what would have been an awkward pause if it had not been for Fender making light of the situation and having a chat with the audience.
His set ended far too quickly for my liking, and I am now eagerly anticipating his upcoming Dead Boys EP being released on the 20th of November. His passion for music and the raw feelings behind some of his songs made for such a powerful gig, one that I would without a doubt attend again. Fender seemed effortlessly cool, and genuinely seemed to enjoy himself on stage, despite playing some very emotional tracks, and with his keen attitude towards mental health and raising the conversation on toxic masculinity, I can only see good things in his future. And with a surname like Fender, it seems Sam was born to be a rock star.
‘That Sound’ is available now via Polydor Records. Tickets to see Sam Fender are available here.