'I want to sell out a show at St. James’ Park before I die'
Written by Rory Mitchinson
With a week to go until the release of his eagerly awaited debut album, Geordie singer-songwriter Sam Fender spoke to United’s official website about a whirlwind couple of years, going for a drink with Alan Shearer and one or two of his biggest ambitions…
It’s all happened pretty quickly for Sam Fender.
In a little less than two years, he has figured on the BBC’s influential Sound of… list – alongside Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi and Sigrid – picked up the coveted Critics’ Choice award at the BRITs and garnered approval from Elton John, Stormzy and Sting – the latter, of course, another Tyneside native. Throw in a string of sold-out tour dates over the summer and an appearance on last season’s FIFA soundtrack and it’s little wonder that the anticipation surrounding Fender’s debut album, Hypersonic Missiles – which drops in seven days’ time – is at fever pitch.
Hailing from North Shields, 25-year-old Fender lived on a council estate with his mother following his parents’ split and, after leaving school, took a job in the town’s Low Lights Tavern on Brewhouse Bank. There, having been encouraged by the pub’s landlord to “fetch his guitar and play something”, he was discovered – in true Hollywood fashion – by Owain Davies, the manager of another BRIT Award-winning artist, Ben Howard. Admittedly, it took a bit of time for Fender to hone his craft; indeed, in one interview this July, he reflected on coming across as a “budget George Ezra” as he sought to make a name for himself in the industry.
Where Hypersonic Missiles is concerned, though, such concerns have been cast firmly into the shade. 13 songs and 48 minutes long, Fender’s guitar-fuelled indie rock appears very much arena-ready. The album’s title track captures that sentiment perfectly, as does the soaring Will We Talk? – already a signature tune for the hundreds and thousands who flock to see the young Geordie strut his stuff live. But Fender can be poignant, too; the haunting Dead Boys – which he was compelled to write after losing a close friend to suicide – has amassed widespread acclaim for its handling of a delicate subject matter. And, throughout, Fender exhibits a knack for storytelling, inspired by his own Tyneside roots as well as his hero, Bruce Springsteen.
A boyhood Newcastle United fan, Fender caught up with nufc.co.uk just a couple of days after sharing a stage with Stevie van Zandt – a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band. “Look out! Here comes Sam Fender,” van Zandt wrote on Twitter, following the gig at the city’s O2 Academy. “You’re gonna hear from him!”
Fender and his band pose in replicas of United's famous 1995-97 home shirt.
Hey Sam. You picked up the Critics’ Choice award at the BRITs in February and your debut album is about to land. How would you sum up the year for you so far?
Unbelievable, Jeff! It’s been absolutely mental – I can’t believe the speed that things are moving at. We went from playing little 100 capacity shows to selling 40,000 tickets within an hour all in about six months!
For nufc.co.uk readers who are still just getting to know about you, how would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’m just a normal lad from North Shields. I write songs about what I see; that could be about anything, from my hometown to the stuff that I see online in the news or on the telly. If something stirs me up enough to write about it, I’ll go and write about it.
You were brought up just along the road in North Shields. Can you tell us a little about your childhood?
My childhood was pretty normal. I went to John Spence High School – where the Longstaff brothers went! I just liked playing my guitar, knocking about with my mates and terrorising the Linskill Community Centre in a silly attempt to get chased.
Lyrically, there are moments where listening to your music can conjure up a strong sense of place. Can you describe exactly how growing up on Tyneside has influenced your work?
We’re proud people, the Geordies. The North East has a great community that endures whatever is thrown at it. Growing up here made me relentless with my music. I decided when I was about 13 that this was what I was gonna do, and I just stuck with it.
It would seem that the area has never really left you, and – ultimately – neither have you left it. Indeed, Hypersonic Missiles was recorded and produced in your own studio in North Shields…
I would get lynched if I forgot where I came from. I’m a North Shields boy, forever and always, amen. The album was recorded in a warehouse space near where I live that we turned into a studio, and it was produced with a friend. We did it ourselves.
There are 13 songs on the album but there are many more which didn’t make the cut. How did you go about deciding what to include?
It was really tough – I’ll tell you that for nowt. I wanted to pick the songs that chronicled the journey from when I was first picked up by my manager whilst working down at the Low Lights Tavern when I was 18, to now. So it’s a really mixed bag to listen to. A chocolate selection box of an album. A ‘classic’ debut in the sense that it showcases almost six years of evolving material.
Now that it’s about to come out, what’s the overriding emotion? Pride? Excitement? Apprehensiveness?
All of the above, but I would say mainly excitement. I’m over the moon.
There’s one interview in which you talk about how you tried to write “bluesy, crappy songs” around the time you were 18, as that’s what you felt you needed to do to kick-start your career. You’ve obviously come a long way as a songwriter since then, but how do you think that’s happened?
I was on the dole, and my mam was getting hounded by the DWP. I watched her go through three tribunals in court – over buttons, basically – while corporations paid next to nothing in taxes. I guess I just grew up and saw the world for what it was. So I started to write about these broader subjects as opposed to just writing songs about myself.
You’re mentioned in the same sentence as Bruce Springsteen – who once played at St. James’ Park – quite a lot. We know he’s a hero of yours, so how do you feel about that?
My godfather was at that gig; Bruce donated a lot of money to the miners’ wives when Thatcher closed them down. He’s a true hero of mine, and a real honest man of the people.
You’ve also said that you rarely, if ever, take a day off. What is it that motivates you?
It’s not quite so hard to do it every day when it’s something you love. There are worse things I could be doing, for sure.
Let’s talk a little about football! You’ve joked in the past that you were ‘sh*t’ when it came to playing it, so did that pretty much stop you from ever kicking a ball around?
No, I still love a kickabout. We used to have our little footy spot in Shields called ‘The Docs’. We played football there most nights. I was sh*t like, but it was a good laugh.
What does the club mean to you?
It’s the lifeblood of the city and it’s where heroes are born. I want to sell out a show at St. James’ Park before I die.
You linked up with Alan Shearer on Twitter a few months ago and he said that the two of you should go for a pint. Have you managed to arrange that yet?
I was on the blower to him the other day. It’s gonna happen when we’re both off with some spare time.
Can it be tricky to stay on top of what’s happening at the club when you’re on the road so much of the time?
It can be. I get my daily updates from (drummer) Drew Michael. He’s properly Toon mad.
Speaking of being on the road, you opened for Bob Dylan and Neil Young at London’s Hyde Park just the other week. You’ve supported a number of other big names in the past but, still, that must have been really exciting for you?
It was utter madness – it doesn’t get much better than that! What a day. I’m playing a show with Liam Gallagher in a couple of weeks, too. It just doesn’t stop with the ‘pinch yourself’ moments at the minute.
You’re off to the US later this month, Europe in November and then it’s back to the UK and Ireland for another 20 shows, including four at Newcastle’s O2 Academy…
One of my proudest moments is setting the record for the fastest sell-out of four nights at the Academy. I cannot wait for the last night in the Toon – it’s gonna go mental. Tynemouth Castle was properly buzzing in the summer, and these are going to be even better.
Lastly, what does 2020 hold for you, Sam?
Hopefully something along the lines of world domination. Fingers crossed. Up the Toon!
"I can’t believe the speed that things are moving at. We went from playing little 100 capacity shows to selling 40,000 tickets within an hour all in about six months!"