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Sam Fender on First Mercury Prize Nomination, Summer Festivals, and “Bawling” Over Bruce Springsteen

"I'm absolutely freaking out at the moment!" he says of his wonderfully hectic year

sam fender interview
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    It just keeps getting better for Sam Fender, one of England’s biggest songwriters. With his second album, the brilliant and personal Seventeen Going Under, released in November 2021, Fender cemented his place in the pantheon of great British songwriters, earning praise from Adele, Elton John, and many more in the process.

    And it didn’t stop there — since the release of Seventeen Going Under, Fender was awarded the prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting prize for “Best Song Musically and Lyrically,” supported The Rolling Stones at a show in London’s Hyde Park, headlined dozens of festivals around Europe, and, most recently, was nominated yesterday (July 26th) for the Mercury Prize, which awards the best album released in the UK.

    It’s clear that the personal and therapeutic direction of Seventeen Going Under struck a chord with Fender’s audience — just take a look at the heartfelt and deeply sincere praise in the YouTube comments of “Seventeen Going Under.” Not only was the title track’s iconic line “I was far too scared to hit him/ But I would hit him in a heartbeat now” a TikTok trend for several months, but thousands have rallied behind Sam Fender and his poetic working class stories, earning him the colloquial title of “Geordie Springsteen.”

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    Fender’s identity as a Geordie — a nickname for people from Newcastle and its surrounding towns in the north east of England — is a major part of lyrics and persona, but his music itself is directly inspired by Springsteen’s detailed canon, complete with barnstorming tenor sax lines, expansive and anthemic chord combinations, and lyrics that address hardship and epiphanies.

    Fender admits that Bruce Springsteen still looms large in his overall connection to music, nostalgia, and stories. “I saw him in Manchester and I just bawled my eyes out the whole show,” he tells Consequence. “Every song just means that much to me. Every single one of his songs is attached to a memory I have in my own life.” But unlike his fellow Springsteen worshipers from America (looking at you, Jack Antonoff), Fender seeks not just to emulate the cathartic sonics of The Boss, but to bring those ideas to a more modern, urgent place.

    Take, for instance, the first lines of “Seventeen Going Under,” where Fender reminisces on his adolescence, crooning, “I remember the sickness was forever/ I remember snuff videos.” Already, within two lines, there’s an image of terminal illness followed by an image of violence, images that are both hyperbolic and far too real for a young boy to experience. The rest of the album follows suit with a myriad of personal epiphanies, reflecting on the various ways in which boys are urged to hold their own emotions hostage, the damage it inevitably does to the psyche, and the ways in which he’s rebuilding himself.

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    These concepts are dealt with heart and soul and led by Fender’s angelic, deeply expressive voice. And though Fender mined such a traumatic, personal space to create songs like “Seventeen Going Under,” he’s still extraordinarily proud of getting to share it with audiences around the world. “It’s one of the few things that’s remained permanently enjoyable in my life,” he says. “Even when my mental health is bad, when I have moments of depression, the one thing that’s kind of a constant in everything in my life is when I finish writing a song, there’s that feeling of it being therapeutic and cathartic.”

    After playing his biggest headline show to date this month in London’s Finsbury Park — with 45,000 tickets sold — Sam Fender continues his global victory lap this summer with a short stint of festivals and headlining shows in the United States, before joining Florence + the Machine on her 2022 tour. And through it all is a sense of gratitude and purpose that Fender vows to never lose sight of — after all, Sam Fender is just getting started.

    Below, Fender discusses heading back to the states, his love for Bruce Springsteen, seeing Big Thief while on shrooms at Glastonbury this year, and much more.


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