PHOTO CREDIT: Sophie Mayanne for CLASH
The track, Hypersonic Missiles, is available via:
5th March, 2019
I have talked about artists from the North East before...
so I will not cover that ground when referencing Sam Fender. I will touch on his roots but, when considering him, I think it is important to consider personality and his natural charm; critics’ choices and whether artists live up to that acclaim; male solo artists in general and the difference compared to females; natural songwriting talent and a sense of conviction off the bat; bringing Alternative Rock to the forefront and helping to revive that format for bands – I will end by seeing where Fender might head and how his future will pan out. I listen to so much music and, at the end of the day, I stick with very few artists. This is not a shot but, when it is so busy and bustling, what defines those who will remain and those who will fade away? I do find that, in musical terms, there are a lot of like-minded artists and that can make things very difficult. The distinguishing marker is, for me, their personality. How they stand out and remain in the mind. Sam Fender is someone who is very natural and does not force anything. He hails from Newcastle and does not try to be anyone he is not. One gets this very organic man who is open, funny and interesting and, in a landscape where it is hard to spot interesting people, Fender does stand out. I know there are artists who compel and grab you with their personalities – IDLES and Lizzo spring to mind – but there are not that many that really grab you. I wonder why this is. Maybe it is that magic combination but, with Sam Fender, you get this artist who is pure and compels with his humour and intellect. Maybe it comes down to where he comes from and the fact there is no need for pretence. There are so many artists who put on an act or seem very boring and distant. That is fine but, when it comes to artists who remain and stay in the mind, there needs to be something extra.
In the case of Sam Fender, we have someone who comes across as very friendly and has no barriers. I have heard interviews he has given and he always seems very chipper and honest. There is no need to be guarded in his case because Fender wants people to know the real him and no hide. You do get artists who are always wary of what they say and come across as too cautious and safe. Fender has that natural sense of fun and playfulness but he is always compelling in interviews. In his music, he addresses everything from toxic masculinity to mental-health. Alongside other artists like IDLES, Fender is keen to tackle these subjects and provide something substantial. In this interview with NME, Fender discusses the themes and his experiences growing up:
“I remember specifically for me as a kid growing up or as a young teenager if I ever cried or got upset in front of anybody, I would be so humiliated. I’d be so angry with myself for being upset and then it would just become this catch 22 situation. It’s that attitude that stops men from talking and stops men from being like able to turn to each other. Me and my mates are very, very close. We all talk about our problems – especially as we’ve got older. But I don’t think a lot of people have that. Men just need to be open and not emasculate one another”.
It is a difficult time for all of us because of political splits and the fact there is so much crap happening. It is up to musicians to address realities and dig deep. Fender is important because he has a very approachable demeanour and, at the same time, discusses meatier themes through the music. This is the sort of artist we should be encouraging right now. I either find artists can be rather boring or unengaging or they do not do anything special with their music. I shall move on now but, if you want to get a better sense of Fender as a very warm and receptive artist, have a look at interviews online and see what I mean!
Sam Fender attended this year’s BRIT Awards but did not really need to worry. He had already won their Critics’ Choice gong and quite right too! It must be great attending an award show and knowing that you already have one in the bag. I watched bits of the ceremony but I recall Jack Whitehall (the host on the night) interviewing Fender and it being a rather laidback chat. The story goes that when Fender found out about the award he was in a car and got a call through. He then went to his manager’s house where he projectile vomited on the garden. Whether there was alcohol involved or it was the pure excitement of the moment I am not sure. When speaking with Billboard last month, Fender addressed the BRIT win and how it has changed things:
“It's nuts. [My] following on Instagram just shot up thousands the other day. That was insanity. All the gigs are instantly bigger. We're playing 2,000 cap venues and stuff, which is nuts compared to when we were only doing a hundred half a year ago. It's happened very quick. Just the interactions being mental. What always will be weird is kids asking for photos. I just had three there outside the bus and I was just like, this is surreal. The fans over here are really incredible. Especially when it's not your city. And the following is so mixed as well. You've got all the really young teenagers at the front and then the older teenagers slightly back, then it's [people in their] '20s and '30s and then '40s. And in the back I've seen some people attend and be like, "I'm 70 and I fucking love your tunes." And I'm like, this is so good. It's amazing because it's really nice to see such a mad mass of people. I'm just going to keep on writing songs that matter if I can”.
There will be many more awards coming the way of Sam Fender but I like that he has been humbled and moved by the win.
PHOTO CREDIT: MTV UK
It was a deserved win and one that will give him a booster. There is an album coming this summer, as I shall explain, and it is a busy time for Fender. There is always this debate whether artists marked out by critics are worth the plaudits. Look at the BBC and their annual ‘Sound of…’ and how artists who have won that fare. I always do feel that it is a bit dangerous following too closely to what various sites say. In the case of the BBC, they have picked some good artists through the years but they are not always spot-on. Fender was long-listed in 2018 and, to be fair, Sigrid, Jade Bird and Billie Eilish were also included. The most popular and appealing artists on the longlist – including Fender and Eilish – were not in the shortlist and, this year, there are some artists you know will do alright and those who might fade away. I know lists like this should be taken with a pinch of salt but I do wonder whether artists like Fender get overlooked. He should have been in the forefront of the BBC’s mind for this year’s essential sounds and, compared to artists like slowthai and Octavian (who were in the shortlist), I feel he has advantages. One of the past problems with critics’ choice rundowns is the nature of the artists included. There were a lot of male songwriters with a rather dull and commercial sound; too many artists who were comfortably primed for the charts and offered nothing in the way of depth and interest. I do think the BBC has strengthened in this respect but I do wonder whether a lot of the winners/nominated artists live up to their promise. The same can be said of the BRITs. Fender has that expectation and pressure now but last year’s winner was Jorja Smith – she has gone onto great things and looks set to be a big name indeed. Fender has a level head and confidence that means he will live up to the celebration and be one of those artists who thoroughly warrants the complete love and faith of the critics.
I have always marked female artists and highlighted them but I do think there are some male artists coming through worth looking out for. One of the problems with male artists is what they are writing about and the effect they have. I do find the best and most striking work of 2019 is from women. Maybe it is the fact many are being open with their music and tackling big themes that means they are standing out. I do think female artists in general are standing out and creating bigger waves. Maybe, too, male bands are more common than male solo artists or have greater scope. I referred to Sam Fender and how he has discussed mental-health and toxic masculinity in his music. Other bands are doing this but, in 2019, I feel it is vital as many people as possible step away from the commercial and love-based and get more serious. I often get this impression of the modern male solo artist and they are usually wearing a hat, strumming a guitar and talking about their love lives. Maybe this is unfair but I think a lot of the most interesting work is coming away from the mainstream and genres like Pop. Fender is an artist who can and will discuss his private life but he realises what an important platform he has. I often think about the deeper themes in music and who covers them. Maybe Hip-Hop, Grime and Rap are a bit more conscientious in that respect but, in 2019, many artists outside of these genres have been penning something rawer and revealing. I keep name-checking the likes of Julia Jacklin and Little Simz – part of this female revolution; artists releasing material of the highest order. Male artists are doing this too but I always feel like female artists are more conscious and bold regarding subject matter. Sam Fender could easily do what many expect of him: write about booze, girls and success and not really deliver anything with much depth and resonance. Maybe we all have a narrow view of what the male solo artist is and should be.
To be fair, when it comes to the mainstream, a certain type of male artist is fostered. You will always find something more interesting and promising outside of that realm and on the outskirts. Maybe the female dominance will continue – I hope so – but there are great male artists like Fender who are peaking my interest. I do think there are a lot of male artists who use acoustic guitar or are electronic. It is quite rare to see a solo act with an electric guitar whose music has a real sense of grit and meaning. I do think Sam Fender can change the tide and take attention away from the softer and less impactful male solo artists. I am interested to see how far Fender can go and what his future holds. He definitely has his head screwed on and is not getting carried away. One would forgive the man for having a bit of swagger and confidence but Fender is down-to-earth and grounded. There is no sense of arrogance and boastfulness when you hear him talk. His Dead Boys EP was released last year and showed what he was made of. There is more material coming and, with each step, there is this rise in confidence and ability. Fender is getting out there and performing and all of this feeds right back into his music. I have been worried about Rock and whether it is slowly disappearing. Consider years past when we had a load of bands that were producing this very physical and anthemic sound. Now, we have Post-Punk artists but not that many great Rock artists that summon memories of the past. I appreciate modern music is very diverse but it seems electric guitars are not as potent and needed as once was. Aside from the odd band/artist, other instruments and sounds are being used. Fender has this very solid and electric sound that makes me hope we see more artists pick up the guitar. I have nothing against acoustic guitar and synths but I do long for something grittier and more rousing in modern music.
PHOTO CREDIT: PHOENIX Magazine
Before I get to reviewing Fender’s latest track, Hypersonic Missiles, I wanted to stay with this theme regarding sound and authenticity. I do like the fact Fender is able to cast his net and look at societal ills, unlovable types and tougher issues. In this interview he discussed his track, Poundshop Kardashians, and what it was all about:
“Plastic action men being like, ya Georgie Shore types, pound shop Kardashians being budget Kardashians. That’s what I’m talking about, I’m being a prick about ‘em. There’s a line later on where I say, ‘we idolize idiots, masturbate over sex tapes, we love them and we hate them and wanna see them fall’. But it’s kinda in this weird state where people are famous for the sake of being famous, like what are they famous for? They’re famous for being famous, it’s a very strange thing, it is what it is. I’ve got nothing against ’em! Got nought against the Kardashians, I do think there’s a lot of, like, kids idolizing these pumped up deities, and it does make me think what’s the drive to do anything, what’s the example it gives to kids? All my roles models were either really talented musicians or they were wicked at football, they were good at something! [Musically] I’m not really talking about answers, I’m just asking questions, what effect does that have on a kid growing up? I dunno. I’m not smart enough to change a thing”.
Like Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, here is a lyricist who can pick from the streets and the people around him but also look at social issues and wider themes. There is a lack of love songs but, seeing as the scene is packed with artists writing about that, is there a big need for someone like Fender to follow suit?
“I just haven’t released a love song yet, that’s all. People are kind of obsessed about this, ‘he doesn’t write love songs, oooh’, but I just haven’t released one! I find that, as a starting artist, it’s not gonna set me aside from anyone else on the planet, it’s a very saturated thing. And to write a good love song is f****** hard. We need love songs, of course we do. I’ve got some love songs in there that are coming out, so we’ll see”.
As he revealed in the interview with Bitter Sweet Symphonies, there is so much to his work. I have mentioned Fender having this great guitar sound but, as a live performer, there are a lot of different aspects to be found:
“Um, it’s not just an indie band, not just a singer songwriter, there’s a lot of things in between, a lot of little touches, I’ll play some solo stuff on the piano then do stuff that’s really thrashy. I think it’s a very mixed show in sonic terms, quite a jumbled up set. I hate that when you see bands where everything’s exactly the same, so it’s got a lot of different flavors, caters for a wide audience, and it’s sad and loud”.
I know Hypersonic Missiles has been out for a couple of week but I have not had chance to review it until now. The cool-looking, rather basic video for the song has a sort of D.I.Y. charm that gives the song extra gravity and boost. There seems to be a lack of trust and unrest when you hear Fender sing. He keeps his voice level and direct without the need to shout and deviate. Backed by firm and driving guitar and a percussion heartbeat, the hero addressed a sense of disconnect and confusion. He is feeding the corporate machine and watching films; reciting its line and living with wool over his eyes. At this early stage, you get the feeling that there is this aspect of propaganda, fake news and media control. Whether he is talking about American lies and ideals that are fed to us through films and the news, you are gripped by the song and its meanings. I sort of feel like there is this young man who wants truth and guidance but is being fed all these lies and messages. Maybe there is an ideal and ‘perfect vision’ of what the world is and how things are panning out. There are tensions rising and anger around whilst the hero seems to be out of it – he is quite numb to a lot of things and seems to be out of the loop. The video helps give context because we see images of those on the Internet and a man being arrested; a variety of scenes that show people disconnected from the world. In one scene, there is a man wearing a virtual reality headset and, the more I hear Hypersonic Missiles, the more I think the nature of engagement and how we interact is at the forefront. Fender is addressing all of this and looking around. It is high time for hypersonic missiles he says and there seems to be this fatigue regarding lies and the way the world is being run.
The video shows people on webcams and lovers kissing; Fender cycling down a street and a feeling that there is hope. We get a contrast of scenes. From desolation and isolation to the purity of lying in the sun and being in love – maybe some things are going to crap but there is simplicity and purity to be found. Fender realises that the world is heading in the wrong direction but the hero will give his everything. Maybe he is speaking to a lover or friend when he talks about faith and devotion. Fender is not pessimistic and glum but, instead, there is a pragmatic view that many of us share. He watches the T.V. and film; he sees the way politicians lie and cheat and he is growing weary. One feels like he wouldn’t mind something ballistic to reign down and sort it all out. Rather than destruction and wiping people out, I get the feeling Fender just wants change and some truth. His voice has gravel and power but there is a sense of passion and vulnerability as well. There are not many singers who have these blends and I think it gives songs like Hypersonic Missiles an edge. The song does not have too much compositional pressure. We have the drum and guitar working away that gives the song its sense of anger and movement. I listened to the track a few times to get to the bottom of it. The first time around, you get a sense of what Fender is saying but you might need to come back a few times. The song ramps up and gets hotter as it goes towards the end. It is almost Bruce Springsteen-like when you hear horns come in and blare. At its heart, Hypersonic Missiles is about togetherness and trying to pull through. People in power do not have our interest at hearts. It is the common people and those out there in the real world who have the greatest power and influence. The silver suits and “cartoon tongues” that rule Fender’s world are causing distress and feeding lies. It is an experience we all have and our hero wants an end to it. There is this pining for change and revolution. Fender’s emphatic voice makes the words strike and stand out. He has this clear passion and, when you listen to any of his songs, you buy every world and dive into the music. Few artists can do that so easily so, if you are not familiar with Sam Fender, then make sure you check him out. All of his tracks are different and he has not really put a foot wrong so far. This all bodes well and I can see Fender recording quite a few albums in his time. The man has plenty of might and talent and it is great having him in the music world!
Fender is a busy man right now and will be touring around Europe for a few months at least. Look at his social media feeds and you can keep up with Fender’s movements. I am glad there is a lot of attention coming his way and the northern star is growing in stature. As this article from Rolling Stone highlights, there are not many chart acts writing their own music at the moment. Look at the Pop acts around and what is popular in the mainstream and how many of these acts actually write their own stuff? I do think we need to promote those artists who pen their own music because it is much more meaningful and personable. If you have musicians singing someone else’s words then does that create as big a hit compared to someone who is controlling their own music? Make sure you catch Fender on the road and see his fantastic live set. There is an album coming in the summer and I am sure there will be big U.S. date approaching. It seems like Fender has the world at his feet and he can do no wrong. It is quite rare to find a solo artist who writes their own stuff and brings in something electric and direct. I do think he has a golden future because there is no ego and agenda. Fender is always very engaging and interesting in interviews and he is a songwriter that does not shy away from harder subjects. He is opening eyes and minds but not doing it in a very heavy way. Instead, you have this artist who can splice humour alongside pathos and create this wonderfully rich and substantial sound. I will round things off now and come to an end but I want to encourage people to investigate Sam Fender and what he is doing. These are still early days but the man has a long career ahead of him. There are a lot of dates coming up so I hope he gets chance to unwind and recharge at some point! Everyone wants to see him and there will be a lot of buzz around his debut solo album. Keep your eyes on Fender’s social media channels and watch him explode. I did mention how some critics pump up acts and it can be rather short-sighted. So many have been elevated and tipped and not really lived up to that promise. In the case of Sam Fender, he will fulfill these predictions and become a huge star. He, of course, has his feet planted but, before too long, he will be headlining festivals and rubbing shoulders with the greats. Rather than be arrogant about it, the young artist will be graceful and humble. In a world where we need honesty and someone we can rely on, Sam Fender is here to provide that comfort and…
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PHOTO CREDIT: Daria Mohammed for The Mind Map
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