If this doesn’t work out, I’ll just be that bloke who’s sitting in the pub who’s toured with everyone. That old guy where everyone’s like, ‘Shut up man, you’re talking shit’.” Sam Fender is hypothesising about the failure of his music career. Sat in the airport waiting to fly out for a late-summer festival gig, the 22-year-old rock‘n’roller from North Shields is just messing. Fender has been honing his emotionally charged indie rock on tour pretty much all year long, and has more dates planned for next month, with a new six-track EP coming soon too. A couple of months ago, he stopped releasing his music independently to sign with Polydor. His current single Dead Boys, a powerful rumination on male suicide, is the apex of his career so far and has united fans up and down the country.
“It’s been amazing,” he continues. “So many people have come forward and talked about their experiences. I got one message off a guy from my hometown and he said he’d attempted to take his own life and got sectioned. But in the end he came out and is alright.” Fender is palpably moved by the reaction. “It’s made people come together and talk about it so it feels less lonely, less of a taboo subject. That’s what I wanted.”
The singer and songwriter took two years out to write (“I was going through a very gnarly part of my life”) before the release of debut single Play God in 2017. Now, he says he’s “absolutely shattered, but ready for it, man”. He’s had little time for reflection, but Fender does have a simple theory to explain why his music is connecting. “Good songs,” he offers. “I wrote some good songs, I think I’ve got better in me, but they’re just good tunes so far. I believe they’re good, people are singing them back to us and it’s as simple as that, really. Good tunes will connect. I’m not going to over-flower things.”
This honest, no bullshit approach is the product of Fender’s upbringing in the North East, surrounded by family and friends who “grafted all week in different jobs and played music at the weekends”. Fender’s bristling sound was informed by a range of influences from “old soul” and Steely Dan, to Nirvana, Oasis and NWA. “Music was always the thing that was part of the narrative of my life, I was surrounded by people playing in bands,” he explains. “That led me to write about that and the people around me. It comes from a very normal place, for want of a better word.” All that and more has seeped into Fender’s current output, and as we wrap up, he’s dreaming of exploring different genres, once his debut album is out of the way. So much for being that sad old ex-muso in the boozer. “My ultimate ambition is to still be writing stuff that’s good when I’m 50,” he says. “That’s the dream…”