Some of the true musical greats the world has produced over the last century can’t be whittled down to a genre, and West Lothian chap Lewis Capaldi very much exemplifies this.
Despite having only been around a short while, the more of a Spotify enthusiast you are, the higher the chance that you are already pretty familiar with the prolific Scot given that he has cropped up on pretty much all the playlists that boast large subscriber numbers.
In terms of sound, Capaldi almost exists as an anomaly as far as what you might expect from a meteoric-rising pop star is concerned. It would be all too easy to describe him as a singer-songwriter, but these elements only form a part of his artistic persona. He remarkably produces lyrical content that seems far beyond what his age would suggest he’d be capable of.
Other key points alluding to Capaldi’s uniqueness largely revolve around the man’s fondness of the piano, and a mountain top-worthy set of pipes all mixed together to make pop ballads that you probably wouldn’t mind either being wedded or buried to.
This unashamedly pop application started rather recently for Capaldi. In fact, he released his first ‘proper’ single, the piano-led crooning number Bruises, in 2017, which seemingly overnight earned him a rapturous fanbase with millions of plays and topping streaming charts around the globe. It seemed to be spelling out an overnight success story, not least of all resulting in his name ending up on the much-coveted BBC Music Sound Of 2017 longlist.
‘My eldest brother is six years older than me’, he told Metro.co.uk in an exclusive chat. ‘He started playing guitar age fifteen, and obviously me being nine, I was like “well, if you’re going to play guitar then so am I!”.’
‘I think the reason I started was mainly due to fear of missing out. My brother then started gigging, so again I didn’t want to miss out so I followed. I think emulating what he was doing at that age really helped me, because by the time I had reached fifteen I had already gigged loads.’
Capaldi also acknowledged his local, yet ever-changing music scene in his native West Lothian as a strong basis for honing his live craft – as well as reminding everyone of the importance of small venues for under-18’s in order to produce the next generation of quality live artists.
‘The music scene I come from seems to go in waves,’ he said. ‘When I first started, there was this wealth of amazing local bands and I remember there always being a gig at this 14+ venue called Harley’s. It had shut down by the time that I had started gigging properly, and all the other venues were 18+ so I had to go to Glasgow or Edinburgh to get a decent gig. Right now I feel the scene is better than ever, there are loads of amazing bands from the area so I feel it’s on the up.’
Listening through the available music that Capaldi has released thus far, you’d have to be pretty cold-hearted to not realise the strong emotive undercurrent. However, he doesn’t think this is necessary for aspiring artists looking to follow suit, but rather they should be themselves.
‘I don’t think I started writing about myself and my experiences really until the Bruises single last year, but I don’t think that negates anything I wrote before that,’ he said. ‘If you don’t feel comfortable talking about really personal things in your music, you shouldn’t do it. There’s plenty of other things to write about. I used to write about films I had watched, for example!’
Spotify, undoubtedly, has played a significant role in Capaldi’s fast-paced success story in more recent years.
‘They’ve been really important, think nowadays there’s so many ways to get music out there whether, moreso than ever before probably,’ he explained. ‘The streaming thing has been a bid mad for me, every day there’s thousands of new people getting in touch saying they’ve heard one of the tunes in a playlist somewhere and liked it which is a humbling thing to hear – not only did they hear the tune, but also wanted to get in touch letting me know how much it means to them.’
‘I played a hometown show at the O2 ABC Glasgow a few weeks back,’ he added. ‘That was really special. It holds 1400 people and it was completely sold out. To do that in a venue I’ve grown up going to see bands in and sell it out with four songs online is mental, so surreal.’
Capaldi, given his hunger to create, doesn’t strike anyone as the sort who would just rest his laurels, and more recent offering Rush sees him flexing his more collaborative creative muscles teaming up with Jessie Reyez.
‘I had finished up Rush with this amazing producer/writer called Malay, and having lived with it for a month I thought bringing someone else to sing on it would be amazing, if we could get it right,’ he revealed. ‘Being a massive fan for a while of everything Jessie has done, I asked my managers to reach out to her. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if she would be up for it but she got back to us really quickly and then we were in LA in Malay’s studio with Jesse writing and recording her part.’
Despite his initial feelings towards his worthiness in such a collaborative exercise, in a way that we’d imagine someone only of Capaldi’s character would given his rather modest musical upbringing, he’s not at all holding back with his ambition as far as further co-writes are concerned.
‘I would love to do something with Bill Withers just because I think he’s next-level, just so so class! In terms of artists in the charts right now, someone like Khalid or Frank Ocean would be amazing. SZA is another I would love to work with!’ he said.
Capaldi went further to elaborate on how he draws influences from other popular contemporaries, despite that they don’t sound alike at all.
‘I count any music that makes me go “fuck, I want to go write a song right this minute.” It’s not very often that the music I listen to sounds like mine; for example, I don’t sound like Kendrick Lamar at all, but when I listen to DAMN, almost instantly I’ll want to go and make music of my own. So I think I take inspiration from all genres, I just don’t implement all of it into my own music.’
The sheer humble nature in which we find Capaldi basking in with his knee-jerk acknowledgement of just how lucky he is makes it all the more enjoyable to witness his rise continue.
‘Getting to see the world, that’s been the biggest thing for me out of all of this,’ he told us. ‘Like, I’ve been to Hong Kong to play a festival. How the fuck has that happened to me?!’
The live platforms of course continue to grow exponentially, not least of all manifested in Capaldi and his band sharing some rather huge stages when he embarked on a tour with king-crooner Sam Smith, during which fans are likely to have witnessed an all-new live experience from our guy.
‘We’ve got this new three-piece set up which we’ll be trying on on this tour, so it’ll be cool to build on the songs a bit more from the usual stripped-back set we end up playing without having a full band. But yeah – otherwise expect to see a wee chubby guy singing sad songs for half an hour!’
Clearly, it hasn’t been easy getting to this point, with all the same gut-wrenching lows that may seem ironed out by the soaring highs he is currently taking in. He certainly hasn’t forgotten the processes involved, and is mindful of others playing to the gallery, as it were.
‘I think you just have to be yourself instead of catering your sound to a specific audience, make the music you want to make and the audience will find you,’ he offered by way of advice to other aspiring artists. ‘Also, don’t think anything is beneath you, especially when you’re starting out. For eight years I played any gig that would have me before I met my managers and met some amazing people who help get my music out there, I still try to play any and every show I ever get asked to play!’
So. Millions of streams. BBC Sound Of 2017 Longlist. Topping charts all over the proverbial shop. Legions of fans. Sold out shows. A festival in Hong Kong. Is this as good as it’s going to get for this wee chubby guy singing sad songs?
‘There’s loads of unbelievable stuff coming up that I can’t talk about now,’ he said in a suitably cryptic manner that typically alludes to one who’s ascent is not quite done yet. ‘This year is looking unreal – loads of new shows in places I’ve never been before and loads of new music coming!’
Rush ft. Jessie Reyez is out now. Lewis Capaldi supports Sam Smith on a European tour starting 20th March.