Fresh from unleashing a row of smashing sets at Splendour in the Grass and a couple of packed venues in Sydney and Melbourne, British pop-punk heartthrob Sam Fender slowed down to chat about his debut album, Hypersonic Missiles.
A six-track EP, multiple late-night TV performances, a coveted BRIT Award (or as Sam calls it, the ‘Vocal Hemorrhage Award’, due to the unfortunate illnesses of past winners Sam Smith and Adele) and a string of incredible, emotion-filled singles such as ‘Play God’, ‘Will We Talk?’, and ‘That Sound’ have gathered Sam international attention over the last two years. Finally dropping on September 13, the 25-year old’s much-anticipated release is a “selection box” of songs, as he puts it.
“Not one of these songs are the same,” Sam tells me, “Some of these songs I wrote when I was 19… but so much changes between 19 and 25 – if someone doesn’t [change], there’s something wrong there, or you’re just not fucking learning anything, are you?” His bluntness reeks of a mature, self-actualised persona, carefully grown and crafted throughout his youth.
“I think I’m more aware of myself at 25, where at 19 I wasn’t. I think I’m almost at the level where I’m uncomfortable with it, I’m a bit self-conscious but I think that is a natural progression of growing up.”
This level of introspection runs deep throughout the album, as Sam deals with themes of masculinity, relationships, death and even environmental dangers like climate change. Its title, named after the lead single, is a unique one…
“I read a paper and the headline was ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ – it’s a Russian missile that is so fast that it hits targets within 6 seconds of launching and can’t be shut down by American satellite defense systems… It kind of terrified and excited us at the same time,” he sounds excited, passion rising in his voice, “I wanted to write a song about a tin-foil-hat-wearing idiot who gets completely strung by social media, who’s terrified of the world and believes in conspiracy theories – but is also in love… there’s a string of hope that runs through the song.
“I wanted to write it about climate change, but it’s not that sexy, so I wrote it about nuclear missiles,” he laughs. Across the globe, its message is clearly radiating with fans.
“It seems to have caught a thing with everybody. Everyone seems to sing along with it, which is wonderful.” Naming his debut album after this track seemed like the obvious move.\
Aside from political activism, Sam admits to being influenced by many artists and figures in the world today. Musically, it’s a real mixed bag, reflected by his subtle balance of genres across the album.
“Pinegrove, Big Thief… just anything weird, alternative, sort of sad, evil country rock. I have a staple diet of The War on Drugs, Kendrick Lamar – anything by that fucking genius, I want in my ears. He will ‘Play God’ and I’m fine with it.”
Sam expands on influence: “I’m inspired by a lot of things. I’m inspired by people, any sort of interesting or inspirational person… Greta Thunberg – that kid who’s kicking up about climate change, she’s incredible!” he beams, fitting for a singer so vocal about the environment.
We get chatting about Greta’s age and the idea of sacrificing childhood for a greater cause – something Sam admires immensely. For him, the memories of teenage life are distant, but clear. He didn’t have a smartphone, allowing him to escape all the noise and mess of the digital era.
“I feel like the internet has entered into our brains…” he drifts off.
It was this ability to switch off and escape that led him to pursue music.
“I was around it all the time. My dad was a musician, my brother was a musician, my friends are all musical… the two guitarists in my band are friends from my childhood – I found my people, and now I take two of them on the road.”
Hailing from a small town in the UK, Sam jokes at how quickly he and his friends have grown in popularity: “I walk down the street in my hometown and people that used to punch us in the face at school ask us for selfies.”
The surrealness of a rising fame isn’t lost on Sam. Only a few years since his debut single was released, he’s now playing huge festivals and shows across the world, to audiences aged 15 to 50.
“When you see a 15-year-old kid screaming a song that you wrote hungover in your underpants, on a Tuesday morning watching Jeremy Kyle… that’s crazy. When the crowd sings along, when you’re singing back, then you know you’re truly connecting. That is not a fucking cool thing to say… but it’s true.”
Sam Fender has skyrocketed to international acclaim, well ahead of his debut album’s release. His honest, empowering songwriting and unmatched vocal talent has resonated with fans young and old, as he paves his way forward in this messy, confusing world.
Sam is buzzing when we talk about the release of ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.
“I’m dying to get it out! I’m dying to start recording my second one!” And another Australian tour? “I’ll be back here as fast as I can.”
Release: Hypersonic Missiles will be released tomorrow, September 13, via Dew Process / Universal Music Australia.
Written by Zach Edwards