Lewis Capaldi's manager Ryan Walter has revealed his ambitions for the singer's upcoming debut album, Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent.
Capaldi dropped his latest track, Hold Me While You Wait today (May 3), two weeks ahead of the hotly-anticipated LP. The Virgin EMI-signed 22-year-old has also sold out arena dates in London, Glasgow, Dublin and Cardiff for March 2020.
Here, Interlude Artists MD Walter delves deeper into the campaign in an in-depth Q&A about the UK's hottest breakout star, who appears on the cover of the latest issue of Music Week...
How much of Lewis' success over the past year was expected?
"I definitely had high ambitions from the start with Lewis. I spent six months on SoundCloud before I found him and I was looking for something that I thought had the potential to go all the way. I wanted something with broad, mainstream appeal and when I found Lewis I was like, 'This guy's voice, it cuts through'. But whether or not I expected it to go this way, I don't think so – just because of how difficult it is to break new artists now. Back in the day of more traditional media you would have your three singles, go to BBC Radio 1 and 2 and that would probably break you. Whereas now, even once you've had a hit, it almost feels like you're starting back at the beginning with your next song. I thought Lewis had the potential, but I was always worried that I wouldn't do him justice because of the times that we're in."
With Lewis, people seem to have bought into the artist as much as the songs...
"That's something we worked on really early. The first song we put out – Bruises – had amazing support from all streaming platforms globally. My background is in digital – online media is something I'm extremely passionate about – and my thing with Lewis was that if we've got the streaming [numbers], then we've got to make sure that other areas closely correlate. It's insane, you get people with millions of streams and they can't sell out 200 tickets. If you've got 20-30 million plays on a song you would expect to be able to go and do that in a market, so it was something that I wanted to work on from the get-go and it's incredible how his personality has come out."
His accessibility and relatability is resonating with people because they see a bit of themselves in him
He's perhaps not your archetypal pop star...
"Having worked at major labels for a number of years, the first thing is always, 'What is the artist proposition? What's the music? Have they got something to say?' Lewis always had something to say, it was just a case of to who and to what level people were going to be receptive to that. If you look at it now, the older audience loves the music, but might not ‘get’ him talking about his pubes on social media, whereas young people embrace the whole package. The more he was himself and the more we didn't portray this pristine image, the more people started to connect. It's his complete transparency that breaks through. Back in the day you had polished pop artists – that still exist – then Ed Sheeran, who was the first relatable everyman in the middle. Lewis is almost a step further in that. His accessibility and relatability is resonating with people because they see a bit of themselves in him. And his awareness of who he is – just absolutely no fucks given – I trust him implicitly on that."
Announcing an arena tour before a debut album release was a hell of a statement...
"It's a massive statement and it's a statement I felt we could back up with the demand. People are desperate to see him and it was something we wanted to do to be like, 'Imagine playing to that many people without an album out. Imagine the possibilities'... It's a very surreal thing for us."
Have you ever known an artist reach this level of ticket sales so early in their career?
"No, according to the agents Alex Hardee at Coda and Kirk Sommer, who does Adele, Sam Smith and The Killers at WME in the US, they have never put arena shows on sale pre-album. It's insane."
Does Lewis take much reassurance on that?
"We were talking about the arena dates and were going to put them up post-album, but I was saying, 'Look how quickly all these shows have just sold. I feel like we're having a bit of a moment. I feel we can go now'. And he was like, 'I think you're right, I think we should go now'."
How do you plan to follow Someone You Loved?
"We feel we've got another two or three really strong singles from this album, one of which is a song we've already put out, Bruises, which is on 120-odd million streams with no radio play in the UK. Seeing 14,000 people sing it [at a gig] when it hasn't been serviced to radio is a really good indicator that that song connects with people, so we're very excited to revisit it. But obviously [Someone You Loved] set the bar high and I’m scared of that! I was looking at Ariana Grande dropping another song when her album had only been out five weeks and I wanted to tweet about it, but I didn't want to offend anyone. The life cycle [for LPs] is insane now, and I feel like that expectation is a little bit unhealthy. People are already saying, essentially, that once you’ve put your material out on streaming platforms, you’re never going to get a big global look on another song off that album. So more and more, you’re having this conversation around, ‘Do we keep one of your best songs off the LP so that you can have another moment with it?’ In Lewis’ case, we just wanted to provide the best album possible for his fans."
Ed Sheeran got around that by releasing alternate versions of Perfect. Is that something you would consider?
"It's already been suggested to me. Lewis and I have A&Rd this whole album ourselves because the guy we signed to, who is a very good friend of mine – Daniel Lieberberg at Universal Music Germany – unfortunately left. As part of that conversation people have suggested, 'You should have blah blah on your song' or, 'It's 2019, you should be popping up on features all over the place' and that was something Lewis and I had a chat about and were completely on the same page in that we shouldn't. We did one feature – Jessie Reyez came onto one of our songs [Rush] – but it’s something we don’t want to do at this stage because we feel that Lewis’ core proposition shouldn’t be diluted. We've made a conscious decision to stay true to what he would like to listen to and what he feels comfortable doing. Someone You Loved is a 2019 representation of what I call honest, real music and that was another thing that came into play during the A&R process. I was like, ‘Can a real artist, singing a ballad achieve the critical mass you need to break through in 2019?’ Fortunately, the answer has been yes."
Finally, what are your ambitions for Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent?
"I want a No.1 album. I haven’t set a numbers target, but my target is for it to be as visible for as long as possible and for us to carry on creating opportunities around that. We truly realise that this is already wildest dream territory. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t aspire to go beyond that."