Sam Fender on winning NME’s Album of the Year for ‘Seventeen Going Under’: “It means the world to me”
The North Shields troubadour talks us through what went into his triumphant second record, and his big plans for new music and moving home
Sam Fender seemed to arrive as an everyman hero with his 2019 debut album ‘Hyersonic Missiles‘ – a vivid picture of the frustrations of small-town life via working class struggle, young male suicide and living for the weekend. For his stellar 2021 follow-up ‘Seventeen Going Under‘, the North Shields troubadour pushed down even harder on his bruises – revisiting painful periods of his youth to make sense of them and recover.
- READ MORE: On the cover – Sam Fender: “This album is probably the best thing I’ve done in my life”
It was that built-in spirit of breaking free of the shackles of hard times that really captured the spirit of 2021, struck of with thousands of young listeners from a lost generation, and made ‘Seventeen Going Under’ NME‘s unquestionable Album Of The Year.
“It can be dour, and I think we’ve had a very dour year,” Fender tells NME on a Zoom chat as we tell him the good news. “It’s been a rough year for a lot of people, although the album isn’t about that. It’s not about the pandemic; it’s about growing up.
“I did a bit of therapy or counseling or whatever you wanna call it for two years, and that’s when I started writing the song ‘Seventeen Going Under’. That was the driving force for the rest of the songs that went on the album. Most of it is about my life and my upbringing. This was stuff that I couldn’t have articulated when I was actually 17-years-old.”
Finding the true voice he’s always been reaching for, Fender spoke to anyone still with demons to wrestle with or trying to fight through the noise of all the horror that surrounds us on the streets and on the news
“It’s not got any better – that’s the sad reality!” he continues. “But it’s been an honour to see how that’s connected. I wasn’t aware of that. I was just doing this album for my own catharsis, you know?”
Watch our full video interview with Fender above, and read all about his reaction to the news, his plans to leave his hometown, and his hopes for his new music.
NME: Merry Christmas, Sam!
Sam: “Merry Christmas, mate! How you doing?”
Pretty good! How’s yours going?
“Yeah, good aye. It’s just the final push towards the end of the year before I get a big break.”
Still a few weeks of touring left then?
“I’ve got a few bits and bobs left, yeah. A few shows and some promo stuff, but we’re almost there. Then when I say I’m going to take some time out, I’m going to sit in a studio. That’s time out for us, because I find it really cathartic and peaceful. It’s a good place for us to chill, you know?”
So you’ll just be having a Christmas sandwich at the mixing desk then?
“Honestly, I love it! Also, it’s better for my health. If I don’t do that and I just go back to Shields, then you just sit in the pub with your mates for weeks. By the end of it you’re just a big, fat, drunk mess. I’m going to do a little bit of that for Christmas, but I might have to bail out for New Year so I can get myself in the studio and focus on something.”
But you’re going to put on a banging Christmas party for the band though, yeah?
“Oh yeah! Of course.”
We saw you on Twitter celebrating that your song ‘Seventeen Going Under’ got to Number Four in the NME’s 50 Best Songs Of The Year…
“Yes! Thank you very, very much!”
Well, we also have the great pleasure to tell you that ‘Seventeen Going Under’ the album, is our Number One album of the year!
“Oh what! Wow! Oh thank you very much! That’s amazing. That’s nuts. It means the world to me because this album means the world to me and the boys. We poured our hearts into it and worked our arses off for it. We wrote 50 songs for this record, so it took a lot of whittling down, man! I’m really happy what that [result] though. How did that come about?”
It was voted for by NME writers, so you can put that on your CV now. That’s official.
“Oh nice, nice. I really appreciate that!”
What does it mean to have put so much of yourself and your life on to this album and see it connect with so many?
“It’s been wonderful. I ended up on TikTok because the label said so. That’s where everything is. Even at 27, I was like, ‘I feel canny old on this platform’, you know? I’ve kind of warmed to it, because it got us a Top 10 single – but also to see all of the kids who were using ‘Seventeen…’ as a soundtrack to them talking about trauma that they’ve overcome or abuse situations… I was so moved by these clips. I was like, ‘How has someone hit us in the heart in just 15 seconds?’ It was such a powerful thing to see, and there were so many of them.”
What is it about that track in particular that had such an impact?
“That song for me is about being with my mother when I was 17. She wasn’t fit to work; she had fibromyalgia [a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body] and she was suffering with her mental health. She was getting hounded and taken to court by the DWP. She got taken to court three times to prove that she wasn’t fit to work. This is someone who had worked as a nurse for all of her life. She wasn’t a ‘benefit cheat’ or whatever, which they so liked to portray her as. I was so frustrated as a 17-year-old because I couldn’t help her – but I was old enough to understand what was going on. With the pandemic, everything that’s going on in the country and the state of the country, there were a load of younguns on TikTok who were going through different things but resonate with that now.”
So it’s taken on a new life?
“You see 10,000 kids singing it back to you. You watch back that Ally Pally video and some of these kids are screaming it. You know it means something to them and it belongs to them now, as far as I’m concerned.”
What do you do next? How do you top the album of the year? Make another album of the year?
“I’ll fucking try my best! Someone just asked me if I felt more confident now and I was like, ‘Absolutely not!’ It’s actually gone the other way now. I’m like ‘Fuck, I’ve got to do that again!’ I’ll do whatever comes out. You can’t force that moment or level of connection. You can’t force a good song. Songs either come out of the sky or they don’t. You’ve got to keep at it and fish for it. I heard Noel Gallagher say it once, but I think it was Neil Young who said it first – that songwriting is just like fishing: you’ve just got to keep turning up and then eventually you’ll catch something. I totally agree with that. Hopefully in two years’ time I’ll have another record that’s listenable.”
So it could be our Album Of The Year 2023?
“I’m going for it!”
Is there anything you can tell us about what direction the new songs are taking?
“I never really know where I’m going with it until I’m there. You kind of go in with an idea and then it becomes something completely different. That’s normally the case. It’s rare that you go in an it becomes something you exactly imagined it to be. The only time that’s ever happened actually was ‘The Dying Light’, the last track from ‘Seventeen Going Under’. I hear it back now and it’s exactly what I was hearing in my head when I was lying in bed thinking about it. I’ve got songs. I’m writing songs now, and I’ve still got a shit-ton left over from ‘Seventeen…’ as well. Some of them are well worth exploring and some I didn’t quite finish.”
Lyrically, will those songs be treading similar territory?
“There are so many stories from that kind of place that I’m not finished talking about yet. I’ve got a lot of stuff from home. I’ve lived in Shields for 27 years. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m going to move away for a bit, just because I think I need to. I need a bit of time away. I love home; I absolutely adore it. I’ll always have my place there and I’ll always come back, but it’s quite hard to sit in the pub when you’ve got to do like 30 selfies. I can’t even chat to my mates. I’m sat there with a pint while trying to keep people happy with selfies. I think I need a bit of quiet time from that to think again.”
Where are you thinking of heading?
“I think I’ll do a little bit of time down here in London, just because Fontaines DC, Declan McKenna and loads of my mates are down here. I’d just like to bounce off loads of my pals down here; and just spend some time in the studios. Also, we might go record the third record in the States – potentially New York. We were actually going to go and make the second album in [Jimi Hendrix‘s famed studio] Electric Lady, but thank God we didn’t because I wouldn’t have written the album that I did. I’m not thanking the pandemic, but if it wasn’t for that time stuck in my house at home, doing therapy and talking about my past while walking through the streets that reminded me of my past, I wouldn’t have written the album that’s just got me the top album in NME!”
We’re also excited to have you playing the BandLab NME Awards in March! Are you excited? Are you ready for the hangover?
“Haha! I didn’t have a hangover the last time I went! I was a good boy. I went and I had like one beer. I might not be getting mortal, like. If I’ve got gigs in a couple of days, I’ll probably be a good boy again. Who am I kidding? I’m not gonna say anything or put pressure on myself. If I say I’m not gonna drink but then turn up and get rat-arsed then I’m going to look like a fool, so we’ll see!”
– Check out NME’s 50 Best Albums Of 2021 in full here.
– Sam Fender will be performing alongside Griff, Rina Sawayama and many more at the BandLab NME Awards 2022 on Wednesday March 2. Tickets are available here.