When did you decide that a career in music was for you?
My Dad is a record producer and I can remember the exact moment. When I was 12 I went to visit him in Parr Street Studios in Liverpool after school just to say hi and he was showing me a little bit about how the desk worked. I’d been in there a lot from when I was much younger but I think I wasn’t really old enough to understand what a job was or the fact that music had to be made instead of just kind of existing. There was a couple of channels of lead guitar that he solo’d and then unsolo’d to make the rest of the song whack back in. I couldn’t believe that it was all so scientific and that something as magical as a song was put together so mechanically. That was magical to me in itself. That was when I knew that’s what I wanted to be part of, desperately. I can remember everything about that moment, where everyone in the studio was stood, even the smell. I got to hang out with bands a lot when I was a kid and I just thought they were the coolest people in the world to be around.
Who are your musical inspirations and why?
I love Jeff Buckley, Joanna Newsom, Arcade Fire, Elbow, The Beatles, The National, Coldplay, I suppose I could go on and on there. But really my inspiration comes from singing in the Cathedral choir in Liverpool. That building is unbelievably big and sometimes it was full of thousands of people, but most of the time you’re singing to 20 or 30 on a weeknight. But the thing that was really drilled into us is that no matter how many people are there you have to be as good and as professional as if there was thousands. I suppose because God is there all the time, but for me it’s because you’re honouring the dedication and hard work of the generations of people that built the building. That taught me to do everything as well as I possibly can, because if we all do that we’ll be ok. That’s how I feel about my music. Singing there also taught me that singing with people that are also giving it everything is the best feeling in the world.
Can you tell me 3 things about yourself that people might not already know?
Before music paid all my bills I sometimes used to work as an film extra. So technically I’ve been directed by Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and Brian Singer. There's 3!
What song of yours best describes you and why?
I have a song called Ghosts which is my oldest released song. I wrote it before I really thought I’d ever get to be a professional singer or songwriter so it’s probably the most honest and isn’t written with record labels or publishers or even a fanbase in the back of my mind. I wrote it to impress a girl really.
What has been the best gig you have done to date and why?
The last time I played in Montreal was pretty great. The gigs there are always super fun and I’d flown one of my best friends, Sam over from Liverpool to play guitar with me. There’s so much to do when you’re a singer, so much to stay on top of on stage that totally losing yourself isn’t always possible, or particularly advisable! There’s too many lyrics and chords to remember, you’re thinking of what you’re gonna say at the end of this song to bridge the gap from a guitarist tuning up before the next song starts, you’re trying to keep to the click blah blah blah. Sometimes, though, you get to just have a moment with people you love doing the thing that you love in front of lovely people and that was one of them.
If you could perform a gig at any venue where would it be and why?
Nearly all of my shows have been in North America and that’s amazing and such an honour that I get to do that, but I’d just love to do a gig at home in Liverpool with all my friends and family there. So anywhere in Liverpool, I don’t care where!
If you could perform a gig at any venue where would it be and why?
I just don’t really think like that to be honest. I don’t really believe on patting myself on the back because I don’t want to get lazy or less driven with things, and I don’t really believe in setting targets for myself. Just to do my absolute best and work my hardest all the time. I’ll figure out how well I managed it when it’s all over.
What has been your best achievement to date and what would you like to achieve in the future?
You know that no-one really prepares you for? The moment when you play the last chord, say goodbye and then leave the stage. It’s really horrible at first. All your adrenaline completely abandons you and you feel really drained. I hated it at first, after a while you get used to it. So, although this isn’t the question you asked I want to be the first to mention it for other people that are joining bands or are playing shows for the first time. Everything will be ok. You’ll feel sad and really really tired and quite far away from home. But it will pass. And you can do all the backstage shenanigans that this question really wants to know about.
What do you like best about being a musician and why?
It’s just being able to make peoples lives a tiny bit better even if it’s just for a second. At first you’re just trying to get somewhere, to be taken more seriously in the industry and to write some songs that mean it’s a bit easier to pay your bills. Once things become more secure though you get to think about who you want to be to people. How you can try to make things better for people. I wasn’t prepared for how lovely people are. I get so many unbelievably nice messages from people every day about how this song or that song has helped them and it’s such an addictive feeling to know you’ve made someone happy.
What would you be doing if you hadnt gone into music?
I honestly don’t know, I was training to be an engineer in a recording studio so I’d hope it would be something like that. But there are less and less studios these days so I don’t know how viable that would have been. I don’t know. I always knew I’d be doing this really. I don’t mean to sound arrogant about it, I just knew somehow. Sorry if that’s a bit gross!
What has been the best gig you have been too as a fan and can you tell us about it?
I used to go to Roskilde festival with my friends, it’s in Denmark and is absolutely wonderful. The first year we went on the first day it rained solidly. Like non stop. I remember the feeling of rain running down all my fingers at once in 10 little waterfalls while we were stood waiting to watch Bjork headline that night. There was a bit in that show where she played a song called Joga which has a really lovely string part. As that part came in I remember feeling totally totally happy. Stood there with some of my friends that I love most in the world, in a sea of people all experiencing the same thing in the soaking wet darkness. I think there was something about all being soaked and having to go through a bit of an ordeal for that moment that made it all totally worthwhile and I still get that feeling every time I listen to that song.
What would your ideal festival line up be and why?
I just want to be at Roskilde festival with my friends please. I don’t mind whose playing. I actually have a bet with my mate Tim that if I ever play Roskilde and do 5 keepy ups with a football on stage he has to give me a thousand pounds. So maybe I could be on the bill at some point.
What would you say is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
To do your best with everything you do. If we all do that we’ll all be alright.
What things make you happy and what things annoy you?
When Liverpool score a goal. When the other team score!
What things do you like to do when you are away from music?
I watch and think about football a lot. Too much really! I read a lot of books and I really like movies. I find it hard to listen to music in the way it’s supposed to be listened to, emotionally almost uncritically. When you make music day in day out it’s very hard to not deconstruct it, to break it down into it’s constituent parts to see how a song works, to listen to a specific production technique or a chord progression. It can be quite exhausting really so it’s a little hard to do it for pleasure. So I really like movies because I can appreciate them without knowing exactly how they’re put together. And I read a lot to help turn my brain off.
Do you think social media and the internet are a good thing in the music industry?
Good or bad is a very tricky thing to quantify here isn’t it? My career so far is built using the internet as my main distribution network so it’d be mad for me to complain too much because I’m very happy with my life at the moment. I don’t know what it was like before the internet so it’s tough to comment. What I do like is that it’s possible for anybody to record some music and put it out for a fraction of the cost that it traditionally would have. Clearly it helps from a distribution perspective to have a big record label helping you but it’s not the be all and end all that it once was. Professional recording equipment is so much cheaper now, you genuinely could make a great sounding record in your bedroom. It’s not easy but it’s doable. Before the internet you got picked up by a record label and had a shot or you didn’t and that was that. Fundamentally everybody has an opportunity. It’s a slim one, obviously. A career in music always has been and will always be very very hard to achieve but it’s an opportunity. Everybody has access to a youtube channel, a twitter, instagram, TikTok account. And with those tools the potential to reach a worldwide audience. So there’s a positive there. There’s so many sides to the argument, so many grievances with modern business models that it’d take forever to address though and that’s for another time!
How important do you think you look and image is when it comes to being in the music industry?
It’s huge, of course. There are so many great songwriters, so many great songs. How do you get people to listen to your songs? You have to present yourself as something that they can be a part of, something they can identify with, something they can emotionally invest in. It’s such a strange psychology isn’t it but we’d all struggle to enjoy a song, to really emotionally invest in it if we hated the singer!
Can you tell me about any tattoos you have and what they mean to you?
Yeah I’ve got 2. One is a Liverbird, which is the symbol of the city of Liverpool and of Liverpool Football Club, and the other one says “through the wind and through the rain” which is paraphrased slightly from you’ll never walk alone. Which is…unsurprisingly the anthem of Liverpool FC. But it’s about not giving up, to keep going when things get hard. Both of my tattoos remind me that I am an ambassador for home, that I am a representative of the people to some extent and to always be mindful of that in how I treat people and how I live my life.
If you run the country for one day what would you do and why?
I want society to develop to a place where we see someone saying “I don’t know” as a positive. We’ve become a population of people that are not experts on a subject acting as though they are. So many people on social media arguing over things they don’t understand, we’ve been encouraged by certain newspapers to not trust experts. We see a politician performing a “u-turn” as a weakness, but that’s the exact opposite of what it is. If a politician is able to take advice from an expert, to change their mind and change direction because of better information that should be massively celebrated. But it’s not, we call it “flip-flopping” which means often politicians will drive ahead with a policy in the face of expert advice because they don’t want to seem uncertain. We all should learn to say “I don’t know” more often and ask the people that do actually know. We should encourage it in our leaders ad in each other. It’s not a weakness to not know, it’s a weakness to pretend you do.
Can you tell us about your experience with Lockdown?
I just can’t wait to be able to go outside. I just want to hug people. I want to watch Liverpool play football and hug my friends.
I’ve been very lucky. I had set this time aside for writing songs so I didn’t have any shows cancelled. I also make nearly all of my income from songwriting so financially I’ve been very lucky too. So many people I know are facing very uncertain futures and it’s heartbreaking. I am also perfectly happy being by myself. I also feel very fortunate that it’s so easy to stay in touch with people over the internet, I talk to my friends and family every day so although I haven’t touched another human being in 6 weeks I haven’t felt lonely at all. It’s also been pretty productive, I wasn’t expecting to be able to write songs over Zoom but it’s totally doable and by the time we all get to go outside again I’ll have a load of new songs ready to go which is the most exciting thing in music. I’ve also got a fitness app that I signed up for so although it’s totally horrible I’ll be in pretty good shape too I think. I do think there’s something very special about how we are all connected by a shared experience, that we can all share an empathy with one another. I don’t know if we’ll ever have that again and even though I’m desperate for the world to get better and for everyone to get their lives back I think I’ll miss sharing something with everyone like this. We are all, genuinely, in it together.
What would you say to your fans and what do they mean to you?
I do genuinely appreciate them. I really do. There’s a thing on Spotify where you can see how many people at that moment in time are listening to your music, it fluctuates in real time and I’ll often just watch that and think about how I’m in that moment sharing an experience from someone probably thousands of miles away. It’s mind-blowing to me and genuinely makes me feel full of love for them. I get messages every day and they’re just the nicest people.
What was the first song that you ever bought and why?
I had HMV vouchers and the first record I bought was the lightning seeds greatest hits. I listened to it the other day. Still rad.
What would you say to someone wanting to get into the music industry?
It’s really really really really hard to do. Physically and emotionally. And there’s nothing glamorous about it whatsoever. So if you’re getting into it for the glamour or to be famous or whatever don’t even try. Because it’s not going to work. You need to know it’s going to be tough. All the people I know that are successful in music are the hardest working people I know. So if you want to get into it because you love it, because you it’s the only thing you were made to do and to that end you’re gonna keep going and going when it get’s really hard then go for it with everything you have. Because it’s totally possible. And it’s the best, most rewarding thing in the world because it was hard. Whenever people ask how to get into it I tell them 3 things. Work hard, be good to people and take every opportunity even if it seems small or inconsequential.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
I love Guy Garvey of Elbow. I’d love to spend a day with him.
If you could have written one song from history which one would it have been and why?
Let It Be by the Beatles I think. Some music is so simple and perfectly realized that you can’t imagine it being created. Like a tree or the wind. Like it was never not there, there wasn’t a time before it because it’s so natural somehow. I think that’s one of those songs.
What things make you uncomfortable?
Hearing my own talking voice. I don’t like looking at pictures of myself. I don’t like watching interviews back, I can’t stand watching my own music videos back either. When they’re being edited is the absolute worst!
If you could write a book about your life what would be in it ?
Honestly I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’d really struggle to inflict myself upon myself like that, whilst writing it, let alone the rest of the world. So no thanks! It just feels like such a self important thing to do, somehow. “You know what the world needs? A whole book of me!” I think the great thing about music is that you can let it do your talking for you. The things you write about are the things that are important to you so let that be your biography.
What has the rest of the year got in store for you?
I’m writing a book about myself so hopefully……nah not really. It’s hard to say what the rest of the year looks like isn’t it? I’ll keep writing and releasing music. I see absolutely no reason to put that on hold and I think people need music more than ever to get them through. So I just released an EP and I’m getting a few songs finished at the moment so hopefully we’ll come up with a plan for getting them out over the next few months.