Sam Fender is still a month away from releasing his debut album, but the 25-year-old singer-songwriter has been touring across his native England at such a relentless pace during the past two years — moving up from tiny clubs to massive festivals like Glastonbury and winning the Critics’ Choice Awards at the 2019 Brit Awards — that the only thing that earned him a short break was his right vocal cord literally hemorrhaging after a recent appearance on the BBC’s Radio One. “I won’t even get pushed onstage like that ever again,” he says. “They were like, ‘You have to do it. It’s Radio One.’ I should have been like, ‘Fuck off.’”
As a kid growing up in the hardscrabble, seaside city of Newcastle, England, such a dilemma would have been unimaginable. In those days, he spent his time obsessing over Bruce Springsteen records after his brother introduced him to Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born to Run. Despite their vast cultural differences and nearly 50-year age gap, he related intensely to the storytelling in Springsteen’s songs. “Newcastle is a coastal town that’s like a rundown theme park, like Asbury Park,” he says. “Boys drive their cars too fast and cause accidents we used to have a big mining industry, but the mines all closed in the 1980s.”
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Inspired by everything from Oasis to Joni Mitchell and, of course, Bruce Springsteen, Fender began penning his own songs at age 13 and playing busker nights at local bars. His model-like looks and natural charisma helped him land acting jobs on the British TV shows Vera and Wolfblood, but his career on the screen was short-lived. “I prefer music because you have more control over it and I’m a bit of a control freak,” he says. “With acting, unless you wrote the script, you are portraying someone else’s vision. You are given a script. With music, you get to write the script.”
The musical script that he’s created on his upcoming record Hypersonic Missiles is a fusion of Nineties Britpop and early 2000s indie rock along with Springsteen-esque lyrics about desperate people “forgotten by our government” trying to scrape by. His song that has generated the most attention is “Dead Boys,” a tribute to a close friend that committed suicide along with all the other Newcastle residents that have taken their lives recently as the city crumbles and despair settles in. “I met a guy that was going to kill himself until he heard the song on the radio and decided not to,” Fender says. “It’s almost as if my friend, in a way, saved that guy’s life in this weird butterfly-effect world.”
Another song, “Poundshop Kardashians,” takes aim at “Beautiful people devoid of emotion/Sterilized, pedicured, pedigrees and mankind/Thick as fuck and soulless.” The title may point to Kim Kardashian’s family, but he drew equal inspiration from Geordie Shore, a Jersey Shore-knockoff that films in Newcastle (yet another parallel with New Jersey) and has somehow run for 19 seasons since 2011. “Lots of people in my hometown look like the people on that show,” he says, “with loads of v-necks, muscles and fake tans. They can be very vacuous.” (The song appears on his 2018 EP Dead Boys, but not the upcoming album since he feels many people misinterpreted it.)
Fender’s recent vocal cord problems forced him to pull out of the Isle of Wight festival and rest his voice for, but he’s due back on the road whenever he gets cleared by a doctor and will stay there until at least Christmas. He’s only played a handful of American shows so far and he can’t wait to come over once the album is out. “I fucking love playing there,” he says. “We play small places and it feels like starting over again.”
He’s already started work on his second record and hopes that at some point he’ll be able to slow things down just a tiny bit. “I’d much rather sit at home and fucking play for the fun of it than keep going like this and break my voice,” he says. “I’ll teach guitar and make albums just for me rather than do that.”
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