Sam Fender on First Mercury Prize Nomination, Summer Festivals, and “Bawling” Over Bruce Springsteen

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The post Sam Fender on First Mercury Prize Nomination, Summer Festivals, and “Bawling” Over Bruce Springsteen appeared first on Consequence.

It just keeps getting better for Sam Fender, one of England’s biggest songwriters. With his second album, the brilliant and personal Seventeen Going Under, released in November 2021, Fender cemented his place in the pantheon of great British songwriters, earning praise from Adele, Elton John, and many more in the process.

And it didn’t stop there — since the release of Seventeen Going Under, Fender was awarded the prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting prize for “Best Song Musically and Lyrically,” supported The Rolling Stones at a show in London’s Hyde Park, headlined dozens of festivals around Europe, and, most recently, was nominated yesterday (July 26th) for the Mercury Prize, which awards the best album released in the UK.

It’s clear that the personal and therapeutic direction of Seventeen Going Under struck a chord with Fender’s audience — just take a look at the heartfelt and deeply sincere praise in the YouTube comments of “Seventeen Going Under.” Not only was the title track’s iconic line “I was far too scared to hit him/ But I would hit him in a heartbeat now” a TikTok trend for several months, but thousands have rallied behind Sam Fender and his poetic working class stories, earning him the colloquial title of “Geordie Springsteen.”

Fender’s identity as a Geordie — a nickname for people from Newcastle and its surrounding towns in the north east of England — is a major part of lyrics and persona, but his music itself is directly inspired by Springsteen’s detailed canon, complete with barnstorming tenor sax lines, expansive and anthemic chord combinations, and lyrics that address hardship and epiphanies.

Fender admits that Bruce Springsteen still looms large in his overall connection to music, nostalgia, and stories. “I saw him in Manchester and I just bawled my eyes out the whole show,” he tells Consequence. “Every song just means that much to me. Every single one of his songs is attached to a memory I have in my own life.” But unlike his fellow Springsteen worshipers from America (looking at you, Jack Antonoff), Fender seeks not just to emulate the cathartic sonics of The Boss, but to bring those ideas to a more modern, urgent place.

Take, for instance, the first lines of “Seventeen Going Under,” where Fender reminisces on his adolescence, crooning, “I remember the sickness was forever/ I remember snuff videos.” Already, within two lines, there’s an image of terminal illness followed by an image of violence, images that are both hyperbolic and far too real for a young boy to experience. The rest of the album follows suit with a myriad of personal epiphanies, reflecting on the various ways in which boys are urged to hold their own emotions hostage, the damage it inevitably does to the psyche, and the ways in which he’s rebuilding himself.

These concepts are dealt with heart and soul and led by Fender’s angelic, deeply expressive voice. And though Fender mined such a traumatic, personal space to create songs like “Seventeen Going Under,” he’s still extraordinarily proud of getting to share it with audiences around the world. “It’s one of the few things that’s remained permanently enjoyable in my life,” he says. “Even when my mental health is bad, when I have moments of depression, the one thing that’s kind of a constant in everything in my life is when I finish writing a song, there’s that feeling of it being therapeutic and cathartic.”

After playing his biggest headline show to date this month in London’s Finsbury Park — with 45,000 tickets sold — Sam Fender continues his global victory lap this summer with a short stint of festivals and headlining shows in the United States, before joining Florence + the Machine on her 2022 tour. And through it all is a sense of gratitude and purpose that Fender vows to never lose sight of — after all, Sam Fender is just getting started.

Below, Fender discusses heading back to the states, his love for Bruce Springsteen, seeing Big Thief while on shrooms at Glastonbury this year, and much more.

Seventeen Going Under was just nominated for The Mercury Prize! How does it feel?

I’m absolutely freaking out at the moment! Seventeen Going Under is a very, very personal, important record for me and the boys, so to have it be recognized this way is insane. A lot of my favorite records won that prize — I actually discovered so many artists because of it. Young Fathers I think I found because of The Mercury Prize, and I was blown away by them, I’ve been a fan for a long time, so it’s just an absolute honor and I’m chuffed. Fingers crossed, we’ll see what happens… but even just to be nominated is an honor.

Ed. note: Fender answered the above question after the initial interview took place.

I’d love to hear about this Finsbury Park show in London this month. What was it like playing one of your biggest shows to date?

I was very happy when I came on stage. It was our biggest headline show yet, so it was 45,000 people in a park in London, and it was just absolutely insane. It was so beautiful, it was such a beautiful day, and the sunset, it was a perfect orange sunset, and everyone was in such a great mood, the crowd was so lovely. I was really proud that they were our fans, do you know what I mean? They seem like good people, which is nice.

That’s the most you can ask for, I feel like. Were you a little bit nervous before playing since it was so many people?

Oh yeah, just shitting myself [laughs].

You also recently supported The Rolling Stones at a similarly-packed show in London’s Hyde Park. Was that a surreal moment for you and the band?

It was crazy, that was a strange experience. Backstage was Brian Johnson from ACDC, whom I love, he’s a Geordie, from my hometown, so I and him are good pals anyway. So him and I were just sat chatting with him and his wife Brenda, and Jimmy Iovine was behind us and I was like, “What the fuck?”

Jimmy Iovine, Jimmy Fallon, and Richard Ashcroft from The Verve were there, there were just so many fucking crazy famous people there that I was just like “what the hell?” But it was a great show, it was great fun. The only thing is you got the tiered VIP sections, so the people singing my songs were like miles away, but yeah, it was good.

You’re about to head back to North America for your first run of dates in a few years. Are you excited to be in America? I know it’s been incredibly hot in England the last week, so are you looking forward to getting out of your apartment?

Yeah, it’s been… I’ve just been sat in the backyard, just cooking. It was insane, it was almost as hot as Mad Cool Festival in Madrid. I was sat in the backyard going like “this is insane, this is the Northeast of England.” But yeah, it was not lovely. I’m so excited for America, I can’t tell you.

You’re set to play a few more festivals here in North America, including Lollapalooza and Osheaga. Do you have any good memories from the last time you were doing festivals in the United States?

Yeah, I remember seeing beavers? Or did I see squirrels or something? There were these strange-looking rodents in the park, and I was like, “What the fuck are those, I’ve never seen them before.” Obviously, there are so many more interesting animals in America, like you got fucking bears and shit, you know what I mean? So I was really bewildered by that, I was like, “Woah, what the fuck is that thing?” I don’t know what it was, it was a beaver or something. I was really excited by it and all the Americans and Canadians around us were kind of going like “what?” And I was like, “What is that, that’s amazing!”

That’s how I felt when I saw how many foxes were hanging around in England. But agreed, the wildlife is more interesting here in North America.

Yeah, we had bears a thousand years ago. There’s a load of deer and big fucking stags, that’s all we got up here [laughs].

I read that you were here in New York City in the last year working on some music at Electric Lady Studios. Did you ever get around to recording anything?

We didn’t actually record there, we just planned on doing it, but we haven’t caught around to doing it. I made a visit to Electric Lady and I just thought it looked amazing. I love the idea of doing it at Electric Lady, but now that I’m coming to it, I don’t think the room’s big enough. I love it, it’s got a great sound in it, but I think I would love to do a really big room first to do the actual album when we’re all there. I’m not sure where we’re going to go as of yet but New York as a city, I would love to go live there for a little bit. I’ve got a plan to move there at some point and at least get rent or something and try it out for a little bit or something.

Do you feel like there’s a lot of creative energy in NYC?

I think what sold it for me was when we went to this place called Arthur’s Tavern in the East Village, and there was just this old dude like fucking crushing it, playing the gnarliest jazz music, and I was thinking… there are jazz clubs and stuff in London and I normally think about Ronnie Scott’s, the famous ones, and you kind of get your ticket and go in and sit down and it’s a bit more formal… whereas this one was just so informal. I just walked in and got a beer and there were just these four old dudes in their seventies and fucking crushing it, it was so good. I sat there just like “wow.” If I want to go for a beer, this is where I want to go for a beer. And honestly, that place alone made me want to go to New York.

There’s a big spirit of performance in New York City.

I think that it is beautiful. And New York has a big Irish presence as well, and I fucking love the Irish. We recorded our last album in Ireland. I love Guinness, it’s one of my favorite drinks, so I know that there’s got to be good Guinness wherever I stay. When I was in New York and I had a Guinness and I was like, “This is alright!” So I thought that that would be one of the things that I demand everything I need for a place that I live. There needs to be good Guinness and good music, so I think I’m sold on New York.

I know you’re a big Bruce Springsteen fan, and I feel like I didn’t realize how important he was until I moved to New York. People idolize him in a really profound way. And I feel like they’re really connected to that kind of music here in New York City, which is really interesting.

Yeah, my hometown is kind of like New Jersey, it’s seaside. We’ve even got a “Geordie Shore,” which is like the Geordie version of Jersey Shore, but it’s kind of the same blue-collar town, really bad towns. But a lot of stories, kind of industrial ones, like Bruce Springsteen songs, remind me of my dad and life. Obviously, a lot of his songs were about his dad’s life, so I think it really does resonate. So that’s another one. I would love to go to a place that has a mutual appreciation for Springsteen because I fucking adore the guy.

Did you see he’s going back on tour?

I’m definitely going to get tickets to that.

Maybe you’ll get a chance to sing a song with him.

I would just cry. I saw him in Manchester and I just bawled my eyes out the whole show. Every song just means that much to me. Every single one of his songs is attached to a memory I have in my own life.

Now that you have been doing so much touring in the last several months, singing those songs, especially big songs like “Seventeen Going Under,” do you still feel that power of the discovery when you had finished writing that song? Do you still feel that pride in being able to deliver that special message?

Completely. It’s one of the few things that’s remained permanently enjoyable in my life. Even when my mental health is bad when I have moments of depression, I kind of lose enjoyment for everything I used to enjoy, and the one thing that’s kind of a constant in everything in my life is when I finish writing a song, there’s that feeling of it being therapeutic and cathartic. It’s like a celebration, it’s an important part of my life, it’s who I am. I love it.

You’ve also just released a brand new song, “Alright,” a couple weeks ago. What was the impetus behind putting it out now?

I’ve had that song for fucking ages. It was one of those early Seventeen Going Under tracks that I wrote, and as I wrote the rest of the record, the record became the record, and that one fell beside the wayside, but should never have really have fallen by the wayside, because I love it. It was such a hard job picking the songs for that album because I had like sixty tunes, so what’s leftover from that time that I could release, recorded already as well. Some of it’s already been done. There’s a whole other album there, which isn’t the next album that I’m writing. There’s another album, but I’ve got another album that just hasn’t seen the light of day.

You also just played a triumphant Glastonbury performance. The show itself looked amazing, but did you get a chance to see any other bands or artists while at the festival?

I stayed for two days and got absolutely fucking fucked up. I took so many mushrooms. I was just tripping the whole time, it was so good. Just loads of mushrooms, I had this big crazy Tommy Lee wig on. I was kind of looking like this crazy ’80s person, which was good. And then I went and saw Big Thief, they were incredible. I was tripping while it was happening. When “Cattails” came on, I was just like, “Caroline!! Caroline! Never could leave you to struggle!”

And I was just so high, but from the music… but also, they all looked like — I don’t know why, but in my head — they all looked like they were painting houses. They all looked like they were going to do a house job. I don’t know if that was the mushrooms or what they were wearing, but they looked like they just walked out of someone’s van and they were going to do maintenance on someone’s house. I just loved it, they were brilliant. I saw a bit of other stuff, but most of the time I spent walking around, getting lost, it was crazy. It’s like a city, man, that festival.

The themes in your music are very universal, but they also feel specific to England and where you grew up. What is your relationship then to American music and culture?

I feel like Britain is… our whole life as kids growing up, a vast majority of the things that we consume are American products, whether it be movies or cartoons that I’ve always watched, like all the Hanna-Barbera ones. Everything from that neck of the woods was absorbed by me as a child. Obviously, the music as well. Even so much so that my school started doing prom. British schools never did proms, and now every school does proms — when I first went to high school, there wasn’t a prom, but by the time we finished, we had a prom.

I think it’s always been there but the music… I think Green Day… Green Day got us on about [George W.] Bush when I was about nine. I remember listening to Green Day and “American Idiot” and being like, “Woah, this is fucked up, man.” And then obviously, I remember when [Barack] Obama got in and I remember all the kind of hope and how much of an exciting time that was to be a young person, I think. And that didn’t go as well as everyone wanted it to. I remember when he first got elected, the first Black president, I was like “fuck yeah!”

I always feel like America is the most… to a British person, it is the most familiar yet alien country on the planet. Because I come over, we speak the same language, we have the same phrases, a lot of the time have similar fucking humor and similar religion, similar everything, all of that stuff align. But then on the other hand, there’s so much stuff that makes us completely opposite as well. So it’s so familiar, yet so alien. I always feel like that when I come over.

Note: You can grab tickets to Sam Fender’s 2022 tour here.

Sam Fender on First Mercury Prize Nomination, Summer Festivals, and “Bawling” Over Bruce Springsteen
Paolo Ragusa

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