At just 22 years of age, Sam Fender has already established himself as one of the strongest up-and-coming voices in British music. Songs such as “Play God” and “Dead Boys” have amassed over a million plays on Spotify alone, while he and his band have spent most of the year touring around Europe and the UK. Fender brings his live show to Australia for the first time over the new-year period, performing at Falls and opening for his friend Dermot Kennedy on sideshow dates. Ahead of that, we spoke with Fender himself to learn a little bit more about where he’s coming from, where he’s at and where he’s headed.

How did music factor into your childhood and growing up?

I was quite lucky. My dad and my brother are both musicians. I was raised in a family where there was music all the time – even when my dad was cooking. We’d be listening to classic soul and rock & roll albums all the time. My brother got me into stuff like Oasis and Nirvana, and then when I started high school I had some friends there that got me hugely into hip-hop. I’ve always been surrounded by music, no matter where I go. It’s been an intrinsic part of my life growing up. I picked up the guitar when I was about 10 years old. I kept playing for three years before I kind of realised that this was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 

You grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne. For those that aren’t familiar with the area, how would you describe it?

Newcastle’s a very industrial town. It’s very working class, with lots of different communities that have come together in that area. In the 70s and 80s, my dad used to work as a musician in the men’s clubs. It’s always been a very communal musical environment – whether they were dad’s friends or my friends or my brother’s friends, we always had musicians coming and going from the house. It was a good place to grow up – it’s a very down-to-earth place. 

Do you remember the first time you ever played live?

I played in a bar with my friend Dean Thompson, who actually plays guitar in my band now. It was for his uncle’s birthday. We just played loads of early Kings of Leon songs – we were awful! [laughs] I would have been about 13 at the time. We totally sucked. I hadn’t written any songs at that point. It was still good fun, though.

Obviously, the shows you’re playing now are a pretty far cry from those days. How have you found life as a touring artist thus far?

Touring can be amazing. It can be brilliant. It can also be quite hard. It’s a strange beast, I’ve found. There’s a load of mad things that have happened since we started touring. It’s something we’re just kind of taking in our stride – we’ve only been together about a year so far. The fact we’ve been on the road ever since is crazy, man. It’s been non-stop. I’m out playing shows now more often than I am home.

What can you tell us about your backing band? Are they other friends of yours, like Dean?

Dean and I have known each other since we were 12, but the other two are just guys in bands from the area that I just stole. [laughs] So, there’s Drew [Michael], our drummer. He was playing in a band down in Brighton, and I’d heard that he was good – he was in after a couple of rehearsals. Then, there’s our bass player Tom [Ungerer]. He was in a band called Them Things at the time, and he left to come out on tour with me. I’ve got a couple of bands that don’t like me now, but I don’t care [laughs]. We grew as a band altogether – I barely knew the other guys when we started playing together. It’s been all about building things up organically. 

With the EP out, what are you working towards next?

We’ve got an album. That’s been completely written. As a matter of fact, we’ve got too many songs. [laughs]

It’s a good problem to have.

I’ve got a bunch of songs that we’ve had going for a while, but I’ve been writing at such a rate that the older ones are already being replaced by the fresher ones. I don’t know what it is – they’re just falling out of me right now! I feel very lucky to have had such a run of inspiration. I think the plan now is to just get the original songs for the album down so I can get the next batch ready to go as soon as possible. That’s the entire plan – just get more stuff out.

What do you feel has driven the inspiration behind the new songs that you’re writing? Are you sensing any sort of linear through-line between them?

I just write about what I see, mate. I try not to overthink it or complicate it. I write about things that are important to me, or that have stirred something in me. Whatever has conjured up any kind of emotional response, good or bad. I write about the things that have made me want to do something. I write about everything from government surveillance to sexual harassment to toxic masculinity to male suicide. There’s loads of shit going on. It’s what I’ve been surrounded by. If you’re a good songwriter, there needs to be an element of honesty in what you do. If you write with conviction, you’re doing the right thing. I’m coming from a real place.

You’ll be arriving in Australia at the end of the year for your first-ever run of shows. Do you have any idea what to expect? Have you visited before?

I’m so excited, mate. I can’t wait. It’s going to be so cold over here – I can’t believe I’m gonna be out in the sun over there! I’m gonna dodge the English winter entirely, which couldn’t work out better for me. I’ve never been to Australia before, but I’ve got friends that live in Melbourne. It’ll be great to see them. I have absolutely no clue what to expect in terms of the places we’re playing and the shows we’re doing. I’m sure I’ll figure it out. [laughs]

You’ll be playing with Dermot Kennedy while you’re out here. What’s your relationship like with him?

I’ve done a full tour with him. I’m really good mates with him. We get on really well.

Have you ever tried writing music together?

Nah. We drink together, though. [laughs]

Sam Fender will be joining Dermot Kennedy on the road this January playing a handful of Falls Festival sideshows this Jan. Check out the touring dates here.

Interviewed by David James Young