Lewis Capaldi | Interview

From the 4-year-old boy singing “We Are The Champions” karaoke in France to being one of BBC Music’s Sound of 2018 longlisted acts following staggering success in the past few months, Lewis Capaldi is indefinitely one of the most extraordinary talents of this generation. With two sold-out headline tours and the recent release of his gorgeous EP “Bloom”, I had the privilege to explore the mind behind the authentically cathartic voice himself.

Lewis & I sat down in an empty VIP room above the main stage where we could hear Freya Riding’s angelic voice subtly interlacing the air – wearing a navy blue hoodie with the strings tied in a bow, he commented on how much bigger the venue was than he anticipated. Legs dangling over the couch, we began a dynamic conversation about the wildly fast-paced year that has gone by. Lewis still finds the astronomical success surreal following the release of his first single “Bruises”, a tune penned with James Earp whilst in London: “That shouldn’t have done as well as it did – best-case scenario, we were thinking somewhere in the 3 million mark.”

“Bruises” was simply a last-minute addition to the setlist when Lewis performed at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut earlier in January, one of the most celebrated music venues in the world. Truly proof of the saying “Last but not least”, somebody filmed the performance and posted it on Twitter – it went mini-viral with thousands of retweets, and it was only then when Lewis changed a few of the lyrics and released the final version in late March. The ballad subsequently destroyed Spotify, and it has also just been featured on the TV show, “Riverdale”.

“More people have listened to that song [Bruises] than there are people in Scotland”

“It feels like somebody’s gonna realise one day, like, “Oh shit, that wee boy shouldn’t be like, how did you manage to…” and then someone’s gonna tap me on the shoulder and go, “Right, you almost slipped through the cracks there, but get back to Scotland!” 

Millennials, like Lewis himself, are at the forefront in shattering the stereotype – that is, self-entitled, lazy, and useless – imposed on our generation through this kind of hard work and humility.

“I hate the fact we’re seen as the lazy, whiny generation, which is not the case at all. There are so many young people out there now doing such amazing things, and I think it’s just bubbling under a little bit. And in the next 2 to 3 years, we’ll really see our generation properly come into the room and do all these amazing things – I think it’ll push it out of the mainstream a bit more that millennials are useless.”

“I hate the fact we’re seen as the lazy, whiny generation, which is not the case at all – there are so many young people out there now, doing such amazing things”

We began discussing his incredible EP, “Bloom”, which consists of four beautiful compositions – predominantly (though unintentionally) piano-based despite being a guitarist, Lewis explains how hearing the blend of his voice with the keys “really stirred something in me”, and that “…the fact I don’t play it, that I don’t feel I have an understanding of the chords and stuff, makes it more interesting.” He describes how fulfilling and integral it is to progress as a songwriter, irrespective of external validation; exploration of instrumentation offers this individual path of discovery. And his favourite chords and/or chord progressions? Amy Winehouse’s “Addicted”, and the F major to F minor transition in the chorus of his own song, “Fade”.

Speaking of, “Fade” is Lewis’s favourite track off his EP – but not in terms of being better than the others. “It was the whole kind of: when it was written, who it was written with, how quick it was written…it was just all very indicative of how mad these past 6 months have been.” He draws out a mental timeline for me – age 12: walking. Teenage years: a gradual, slow jog. The period between 17 to 19 years old: running. Finally, hitting the age of 20: full-on hyper speed. Everything beforehand was merely a transitional warmup to implement all the knowledge learnt into the greatest showtime of his life, and he hasn’t slowed down ever since. I inquired how school fit into this chaotic schedule, and Lewis explained that before going to college for a couple years to study music, he was planning to study sound production, which required a B in Higher Mathematics.

“I was fucking shit at Maths; excuse my French. I was awful at it. So, I had a tutor.” Lewis goes on to explain the one time they had a lesson, and he had incorrectly answered what was supposed to be a simple calculation question. “…he [tutor] just lost the plot: “Look, if you’re going to be an idiot, I’m not gonna teach you anymore!” And just got up, and walked out my house!”

Even if Mathematics isn’t his forte, Lewis excels at consistently making time to interact with people who enjoy his music on Instagram & Twitter – scroll through his page, and the genuine gratitude radiates unmistakably clear.

“…even just a thanks or cheers, it really pays off in terms of the community you build

“When I started out, one of my managers said, “Look, you should reply to these people.”  To begin with, I was a bit like, “That’s gonna take ages to reply to everybody.” But once you start doing it, you get these comments back and you’re reading through all the comments and they’re all amazing – you feel great by the end of it, you feel you’re having conversations with like-minded people, it feels like having conversation with your friends. It just seems a positive situation for everybody, to just kind of chat and talk.”

He also adds, “I don’t like the terms “fans”; I think it’s a bit…like putting yourself above. So I just say: people who listen to my music.”

“I don’t like the terms “fans”; I think it’s a bit…like putting yourself above. So I just say: people who listen to my music”

So, if I were to hand you a list of highly recommended texts to read, it would include: “The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Endurance” by Scott Kelly…and Lewis’s Twitter feed.

Naturally, I asked about the tweets regarding his pubes. Yes, that is plural.

“I was in with my label the next day, and I was thinking, “Oh no, they’re gonna be so raging because I’ve talked about my pubes!”, but they all loved it. It’s good to have people around you as crass as you are,” he says before bursting out laughing. But Lewis continues to explain the seriousness of being lighthearted and a bit absurd on social media platforms like Twitter.

“There is so much shite on Twitter; there is so much horrible, horrible stuff on Twitter. I think in some cases, like right now with the slave trade in Libya, it’s great to use Twitter to shine a light on that. But I’m talking about fucking Trump being a knob, and people arguing all the fucking time on Twitter. I don’t care about your politics, so long as you’re an alright person.

“I don’t care about your politics, so long as you’re an alright person”

“Everyone’s so serious on Twitter, and then you forget there’s 280 characters. You’re not really going to really solve the world’s problems in 280 characters. You can shine the light on important things like the Libyan situation, but it’s not the place for mass political debate. And I think it’s just good too start a conversation, but not end a conversation.”

“You’re not really going to really solve the world’s problems in 280 characters”

And this value Lewis so accurately describes translates into his music – contrary to the vast depths of his songs, he doesn’t take his music too seriously: “I’ve got a really weird thing referring to myself as an artist, or refer to what I’m doing as art. Those words carry a lot of weight, I think, and it makes it seem more very serious. And I’m just making my tunes, that’s all I’m doing. I’m a singer that makes tunes – that’s it for me. The main thing is that it should always be fun.”

Lewis eagerly leans in and quickly adds, “I should say, I do have happy songs. I have a lot of happy songs! I don’t want that to be indicative of me; “Oh, Lewis sings sad songs.”

Finally, I asked him about a beautiful (and simultaneously frightening) metaphorical lyric in “Fade”: It ain’t no wonder why we lose control/When we’re always heart attack away from falling in love.

“For me, it’s being so close to the edge of losing it all, that makes it so fucking exciting. Because I think as soon as you realise how much you’ve fallen for someone, immediately, that’s the moment you also realise that if you lose them, it’s gonna be fucking horrible. That precise moment when you realise, “Fuck, I’m in love with this person!” is also the moment you think, “Fuck! I’m in love with this person…””

“Because I think as soon as you realise how much you’ve fallen for someone, immediately, that’s the moment you also realise that if you lose them, it’s gonna be fucking horrible”

***

Lewis performed an incredible setlist later that night; interjected with witty lines and little anecdotes, the overpowering atmosphere was unlike any other – his visceral voice translated deeply personal experiences into this extraordinarily communal phenomenon; reading a powerful bedtime story for both the hopeful and the broken.

I cannot even begin to describe how incredibly humble and kind Lewis is. Like his voice, his sophisticated insight is full of strength, grit and resilience; so, here is a colossal thank you to Lewis for sharing your vulnerability, ultimately reminding us of the moments we live for: to celebrate, to forget, and to remember.

Lewis Capaldi
Post-Show Vibes | “My Mum would not be proud of this pose” – Lewis; “Same” – Me

Go stalk Lewis in a loving manner:

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©TMK

Tom Walker & Tors | Interview

My best pal and I stood in front of “The Exchange” in St. Nick’s Market, staring at the heavily barred doors.

“Google Maps said it’s here?”

One unanswered phone call and quick Google search later, we were frantically running at a 4:00 min/km pace through the dimly lit Castle Park to “Exchange”, the concert venue with a distinctly omitted “The” that almost cost me the night. We made it 8 minutes earlier.

The Interview

“Is this interview going to be video or audio?” Tom inquires as he pulls out a chair, sweeping some papers on the table into a vague pile.

“Audio, so don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll be using the iPhone voice memo app – very millennial-style.” He laughs before I press record, and we begin talking about the immense success he has had this year, from releasing his EP “Blessings”, touring the USA with The Script in a jam-packed leg covering 7000 miles in 22 days, and his smashing success across all social media platforms.

“Going on tour with The Script was absolutely amazing – they are proper gentlemen, and everybody was just so nice. I could have done that for a whole year, just on tour with them”

Tom is currently working on his new upcoming album with Jim Abbiss, renowned music producer who has worked on multiple smashing record successes including Arctic Monkeys’ “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” and Adele’s “19” & “21”. With nothing but praise for Jim, Tom gushed, “He’s a hero of mine…it’s nice to do things properly with loads of loud guitars and real drum kits.” Further emphasising the incredible musical journey he has made, Tom added on, “One of my first tunes, “Fly Away With Me”, I made in my bedroom on my computer in a basement!”

The discussion naturally lead into his songwriting process – like many songwriters today, the nifty iPhone voice memo app comes in handy. “I record loads of voice memos. Normally, I just leave it on in the car just while I’m driving about, and if something comes into my mind, I’ll sing something into it. So, they’re all really sporadic and when I go back and listen to them I’m like, “What the fuck is that?” So, does that mean he has a lot of awful songs he will never make public? “Yeah, loads, I got loads. I kind of think that 1 in every 10 songs is good, and the rest are just…*laughs*”

“He’s [Jim Abbiss] a hero of mine…it’s nice to do things properly with loads of loud guitars and real drum kits. One of my first tunes, “Fly Away With Me”, I made in my bedroom on my computer in a basement”

One must always wonder: chords or melody first? “I don’t start writing lyrics without a melody…I’ll always try to do the lyrics whilst doing the melody. So I’ll start with a little melodic idea, then try to fill that in as quickly as possible even if I change the words later, so I’ve got an idea of the structure and rhythm.” And even if Tom does dabble in jazz chords, it’s unintentional – “I did do music theory at uni, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s just all shapes to me on the guitar.” Tom further emphasises it is “all based on sound” using the unorthodox guitar tuning C#/A/E/E/A/C# in his gorgeous song “Just You & I” as a prime example. Because of his interesting chord usages in his songs, I inquired his opinion on mainstream pop music nowadays using the standard I/vi/IV/V (or some mechanical variation of that). Needless to say, it was fantastic to meet somebody with the same opinion on the issue – “It feels like a product,” Tom said. “Not something you’d invest in, like “Oh, look at the lyrics, they’re so sick!”

Tom went on to talk about how often creative exhaustion hits; “All the time. You run out of things to talk about, especially if you’re doing loads of music and loads of fun things, you need something fucked to happen to really write a good song.” And of course, a lot of his songwriting draws upon his personal life experiences – “Most of my songs are about something that has personally happened to me – either a really good situation or a really bad one. You can’t write a song about something being medium; it doesn’t really work. “Oh, I’ve had a very average day today and everything was really average.” It’s not really a great song.”

“You need something fucked to happen to really write a good song”

His most recent single, “Leave A Light On”, which has already amassed an astounding 3.3 million views on YouTube within 2 months, is one of many fantastic examples of Tom’s ability to turn the personal into universal – an incredibly hard-hitting song, he dedicated it to his family & friends, explaining, “If everything’s going down the toilet and it’s all fucked, then you can talk to me.” Upon inquiring who his light was, Tom immediately replied his girlfriend, Annie.

On Thanksgiving Day, he very appropriately performed in his hometown, Manchester, performing a sold-out show – “I actually went for my first ever legal beer in there when I was 18 with my friends, so to sell it out was fucking cool.” This nostalgia burrowed back into the beginnings of his musical journey, from his first ever record, “Bob the Builder” (what a classic), and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the first song he remembered ever listening to, remarking: “It was spooky as fuck listening to it as a kid! It’s really, really eerie…especially the guy laughing at the end…”

However, Tom’s musical journey all began with a violin. “I always had a really shit acoustic when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what I was doing with it,” Tom reminisced. “I then went to this primary school music open day, and I wanted a guitar but my Mum wouldn’t let me have one. And they were like, “Oh, you should play the violin ’cause he’s tiny and his hands would fit on a violin!” And I was like, “Nah, I want to play guitar!” I played violin for 2 years, and then eventually, my Dad bought me a guitar for Christmas one year, brought that home, and I completely stopped playing the violin.”

His determination to pursue music only grew exponentially – purchasing a drum kit (“I became the next annoying neighbour”), a bass with an amp for £50 (“I’ve still got it, it still works, it’s fucking unbelievable!”), and a mini keyboard. Tom had to become the whole band himself as a kid, tediously recording tracks separately. Surprisingly, he didn’t begin singing until 18 years old – “I didn’t think I could sing. Ah, fuck, I couldn’t sing. It was 3 years of me being like, “Yep, definitely not singing.”And then I just kept going and going and going. Then one day, it was all good.” It sure was, Tom.

“My parents are super awesome, they definitely helped me out – they would never buy me a PlayStation, or an Xbox, or anything really, apart from music equipment; it was sweet”

So, how about music theory? I used Sibelius as a passing example, but the frustrations that arose with the mention of the software on Tom’s face was hilarious. “I can’t tell you how much I fucking hate Sibelius. I did 3 years of fucking composition, I still don’t know music theory, I just did it at the time, and never put it on my instrument; I just did it in my head. I can tell you the notes and scales, but it means nothing – just shapes on my guitar.” 

Nonetheless, he expressed mad respect for those who are adept at music composition, wishing he perhaps paid more attention but simultaneously emphasised , “You just gotta pick what you want to do, and just do it – you can’t be doing everything, it’s impossible”, and Tom being the more “sit-down-and-jam-out-on-the-guitar kind of guy.” He does a lot of improvisation on stage with the same spontaneity vibe, “If it sounds good, then buzzin’ – if it doesn’t, then lose it”, but upon asking if he passes the solos around to the rest of the band, “If I asked my bass player to do a solo, he’d be like, “No.” If I asked my drummer to do a solo, he’d be like, “No.” *laughs*” 

“I’m more of the sit-down-and-jam-out-on-the-guitar kind of guy”

Talking about his collaboration with Kogey Radical on their song “Sun Goes Down”, Tom profusely compliments how wickedly talented he is, and how much respect he has for the independent pathway Kogey is blazing in the music industry. “He’s sick, he’s a next-level guy who’s making a proper go at music exactly how he wants to do it and I just have so much respect for that.”

“He’s [Kogey Radical] sick, he’s a next-level guy who’s making a proper go at music exactly how he wants to do it and I just have so much respect for that”

Tom goes on to talk about the ease in discovering new artists nowadays, but the relatable inevitability of lacking investment into the songwriters themselves – “I love Spotify because you find loads of new stuff each week, but I’m kind of guilty of listening to new stuff and adding it to a playlist but not really diving into what the artist is about. Whereas back when I was growing up when it was CDs, you’d open up the CD and look in the contents page – I know that’s super outdated, but I kind of miss getting really invested into artists.” I commented on how the number of plays on his Spotify is the same as the population of my hometown, Thailand; “Big shoutout to Spotify!” Tom added on with a laugh. We ended the interview discussing the eclectic mix of sounds in his upcoming album, and he hints he’s got two songs left up his sleeve (“I don’t know what they fuck they are”).

I stopped recording, and we talked for a bit about the opening act, Tors, performing tonight. And my +1, who also hails from Manchester, made great conversation with Tom about their hometown (“It’s nice to meet somebody from up North down here”), before he turns to me and asks,

“Whereabouts are you from? You are obviously from America!”

“No, I’m actually from Thailand!”

“Thailand? Wow, I would’ve never guessed!”

We talked for a bit longer, and then wished him best of luck with the show before heading downstairs to the bar.

Concert Experience

Needless to say, the concert was insanely electric. The opening act, Tors, performed such uniquely written songs with an immaculate three-part harmony, including a beautiful composition dedicated to their grandfather who has dementia. Needless to say, I was enraptured by their talent – Matthew’s ability to seamlessly transition between low and high notes; Jack simultaneously playing the electric guitar, the drum pads and sing into the microphone; Theo’s wicked guitar riffs combined with the flawless higher harmony vocals. Before playing “Seventeen”, Matthew asked if anybody was in love – the silence was devastatingly loud albeit two measly cheers, to which he responded, “Fuck me, only two people!?” They ended with charming humbleness, and I immediately proceeded to download their music straightaway.

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Meeting the lovely Tors!

And then, Tom Walker came on – his set was stunningly powerful; his voice is one you cannot forget. With the brilliant opening line, “Bristol, fuck me, it’s hot up here!”, his band proceeded to perform. And boy, did they deliver – beginning with “Fly Away With Me” and the iconic finger-picking guitar intro, he followed it with his gorgeous song “Just You & I”, and it was no surprise when the crowd knew every word to “Blessings”. He then performed his new song, “Angels”, which really got the bassist grooving along, before the masterfully vengeful “Karma” with some seriously edgy glissandos strewn in there. “Heartland” was an incredible crowd-pleaser that showcased his uniquely husky voice, and Tom got a little therapy session going with the feisty “Rapture”; Tom did this awesome guitar solo, the drummer went fanatical, and the entire audience went ballistic with the band. And finally, Tom ended with his most recent single, “Leave A Light On”  and in that moment, we were all just screwed-up misfits banded with hope in this screwed-up world.

The show left us in a daze, and we went first to directly thank Tors for an amazing performance. Upon asking how old they were, Jack casually replied, “I’m 22, and Matthew here is 87.” Theo joined in, and began chatting about how they were on tour with Clean Bandit before.

“Yeah, they were sick, it was really great!” Theo enthusiastically described; we asked what being on the road was like. “Imagine being on a tour bus with four other dudes – it was gross,” he remarked whilst scrunching his nose, before adding on, “And sad.”

“Story of my life,” I said, which elicited an initially polite laugh followed by one of full comprehension of the statement. After saying our goodbyes, we then went out to see Tom Walker holding a beer, and complimented him on such a fantastic performance to which he immediately replied, “The flu fucked me!” before laughing.

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Tom Walker & Tors are all such ridiculously talented musicians – I highly admire how exceptionally humbling and down-to-earth they all were, which radiated profoundly through their songs and just as people in general. It was a massive privilege to have met them all, and I cannot urge you more to check out their music. Thank you so much, Tom Walker & Tors – until next time.

Tom Walker

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© TMK

Shawn Mendes: Illuminate World Tour | Review

Yes, so straight after the pesky finals, I hightailed it into London straight after to watch Shawn Mendes with my best friend. It was such a beautiful day, but incredibly hot for London weather (we speculated it was because Mendes was there).

I’m just going to list a few things I noticed/enjoyed about the concert:

Shawn talked about his mum and aunt being there that night, and said, “I want you all to make some noise, to show that family is where it’s loudest at. Can you do that?” It’s funny how musicians mention their families at their shows, because isn’t family the symphony of your life?

His melismas. His vibrato. There’s something about Shawn’s voice that is segmented – each note he sings has its own boundary; a scenic, rustic, white picket fence freshly lacquered. And then there’s the vibrato, incredibly rhythmic and reliable like the ocean waves, a very well-defined pattern of lull and peaks. Almost like the familiar stairs at home. I really, really like it. It just seems to imply he’s this sturdy rock you can rely on. He’s improved vastly from the boy on Vine, and it’s odd knowing I’ve heard him grow.

He looks tired. I gazed at his broken watch moving erratically as his slender fingers played the chords to “Castle On The Hill”, and I tried to imagine the boys on my course doing what Shawn does as a living – could they pull it off? Could they handle the pressure? Maybe initially, but in the long-term, I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody can with ease. It’s a matter of resilience. Being a singer is also being an entertainer and a performer. So when I saw his glassy eyes, passing like a ghost over the ecstatically wild crowd, it hit me that this was his job. He is meant to deliver and meant to perform; I suddenly felt a little afraid.

Singers use that tactic of pulling away from the microphone to let the audience sing the high bits – I saw that excessively with Calum Hood from 5SOS when they performed in Bangkok (mind you, I haven’t watched too many concerts, but that was extremely prominent and obvious). Perplexingly enough, Shawn pulls away during catch phrases of his songs, which were all varied in pitch, and there was definitely no pattern in always letting the crowd sing high parts. Because, this is Mendes everybody! He can hit the high notes like a bullseye.During “Never Be Alone”, I found it hilarious when Shawn asked the crowd to sing the iconic “Woah-oh-ohhhh-ohhh-oh-ohh-oh-oh-oh” part (sorry I wanted to make it realistic) because he attempted to do heavenly melismas/riffs over the top of it, but when he did, the crowd probably thought they had to sing what he was doing and most of the crowd simply trailed off thinking they weren’t supposed to sing. So Shawn kept going, “Come on London, sing it real loud now! Woah-oh-ohhh….” and then would try to quickly switch to those riffs, but the crowd didn’t really get it and once again got a bit derailed. Soon after many “Alright sing with me!” ‘s and “Come on, scream it! Woah-oh-ohhh…” ‘s, he did pull off some very great melismas with the backing track of the finally cooperative crowd, and it sounds great on film. I just found it funny hearing the hesitation and confusion of the crowd initially. Just me? Okay.

My favourite performance was “Ruin” – my friend begged to differ because the interactive portion apparently was extended too long but that was exactly what I adored. It was spacious, it was tranquil, it was bucolic. Very John Mayer. In Shawn’s words, the song was timeless. I cannot say enough how beautiful it was – “Do I ever cross your mind?” was on repeat, and it basically embodied every unrequited lover’s mantra (too real).

His piano-playing was…pretty good for somebody who learned it in 8 months (correct me if I’m wrong). Of course sweat makes your fingers slip and you’re performing in front of 40,000 people, so I can’t blame him for little mistakes I heard. It made me admire him even more (if that’s even possible), because it reminded me he’s just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary life.

Alrighty, I could go on, but it would then require full-blown Vancouver referencing. Overall, it was so devastatingly amazing and it is easy to say the concert topped One Direction & 5SOS (if we’re comparing pop artists here) – go, and experience the incredible talent of Shawn Mendes.

©TMK