How did Sam Fender’s upbringing affect his songwriting?

  With his chart-topping debut album and sell-out arena tour in recent memory, Sam Fender is an indie legend in the Geordie world. As a kid who grew up in North Shields, it is inevitable that his youth has impacted his songwriting significantly, and he has made clear the effect this upbringing has had by […]

Finlay Holden
14th October 2019
Image: @sam_fender on Instagram

 

With his chart-topping debut album and sell-out arena tour in recent memory, Sam Fender is an indie legend in the Geordie world. As a kid who grew up in North Shields, it is inevitable that his youth has impacted his songwriting significantly, and he has made clear the effect this upbringing has had by the sheer amount of name drops he gives his hometown during interviews.

However, some of his tracks display this influence more easily than others; some being explicitly spoken through lyrics, while others just show shadows of the impact that Tyne & Wear has had, which is hard to see unless you have experience of the area.

As perhaps the most obvious example, 'Leave Fast' is a direct ode to escaping home, which in Sam’s case would be the North East. The line ‘intoxicated people battling on the regular in a lazy lowlights bar’ seems to directly reference his experiences during his time working in the Lowlights pub in North Shields, where his talent would eventually be discovered.

Image: @sam-fender on Instagram

Although the lyrics to this song seem to harbour negative feelings towards the area (turfed off by the council, forgotten by our government’ etc), they are really just a reflection of the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in your childhood home for too long. Sam even spoke out about this himself in a recent video interview with FFTF where he says “the lines leave fast or stay forever, I’ve chose to fuckin’ stay” and he highlights how Leave Fast highlights how he felt frozen in his town when he was 17 and “didn’t know what I wanted, didn’t know where I was going”.

'Dead Boys' is another fairly explicit example of Geordie influence and how Northern boys are expected not to speak their true feelings, but instead, just drink it away and suffer in silence, so when people do commit suicide it comes as a huge shock. ‘We close our eyes, learn our pain, nobody ever could explain all the dead boys in our hometown’ indicates that local attitudes are to internalise feelings, whereas we all tussle with the black dog, some out loud and some in silence. Everybody 'round here just drinks 'cause that's our culture shows that unhealthy coping mechanisms exist. 

The good thing is that the existence and success of this song helps people dealing with those issues and spreads the word that it is more than okay but in fact beneficial to speak out, and Sam is also discussing this in interviews. This song being written was a direct result of Sam losing a friend to suicide, and the North East in particular has the highest suicide rate of any region in England. 

'White Privilege' seems to be more of a reflection of the world Sam seems around him, and in interviews he has discussed this song alongside heavy political observations, and yet he recently also stated to Radio X: “mainly, it is about just acknowledging that In know I’ve been very, very lucky.” The lyrics ‘My generation was duped, the youth were left out the loop, lies on both sides of the fence left me completely bereft’ signify a frustration about misinformation in the current age, and so maybe it is the times we live in that influence this song more than the area specifically, but also specifically the way he was born and raised; “with my success, I wonder would it have been the same had I not been a white boy with a guitar? Probably not.

'Two People' tells the story of a young couple raising children of their own and the domestic violence that is occurring in that relationship; ‘two people under bedsheets, two children raising children, the same mistakes keep building, it's a mess of a one-horse town’. Sam says he wrote this when he was younger, living at home and could hear everything in all the homes around him, including incidents such as this and the helplessness he felt - that he was unable to do anything to prevent it. North Shields is certainly not the only place issues like this arise, but exposure to it through cheaply built housing seems to be what lead to this beautiful but tragic song.

These are only a few of the influences on the songs on this record, but they are a true showcase of how an artist can draw on what they see around them to make music that, without being pretentious, discusses vital issues.

Sam Fender’s debut album 'Hypersonic Missiles', as well as his EP' Dead Boys', are great examples of gritty indie music rising out of the North East. Let us all hope that more such future stars will be inspired to put themselves out there while we wait for the sophomore record.

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