Interview: Nathan Evans

Owen Herman chats with Nathan Evans, the name behind the viral TikTok sea shanty trend and recent Polydor signee.

Owen Herman
4th March 2021
Of the many unpredictable events of 2020, few were more wholesome and positive than the sudden explosion of sea shanties on TikTok. I was fortunate enough to speak to Nathan Evans, the Scotsman at the heart of the sea shanty trend. Best known for his acapella covers of 'Leave Her Johnny' and 'Wellerman', Evans is looking to push on and carve himself a permanent place in the music industry.  

You’ve been putting music out on YouTube for around 8 years. Was this always the plan, to become a musician, or was it just more of a hobby?

A bit of both. It’s always been a hobby, I’ve sang since I was 6, played guitar since I was 8, but I’ve always said if something happens, something happens. I would’ve loved to have been out and gigged, but I was always working, so I just thought social media – it’s where everybody is at. I was uploading every so often to Facebook, to Instagram, and to YouTube as well. And then when TikTok came along that was when that took over for songs. So aye, it’s always been a hobby but if something came of it, something came of it.

Do you think there’s any particular reason that you became viral on TikTok, as opposed to say YouTube or Facebook?

I think it’s the way TikTok works. You scroll and if you’ve watched similar videos then it just kind of recommends videos. So, I think that’s quite helpful. But also, the fact that YouTube’s quite over-saturated now, where loads of people try to do the same thing, compared to like five, six years ago when it wasn’t as big, well maybe even longer ago than that now. TikTok is still quite new, compared to the rest of them, so I think that kind of adds to it as well.

With Sea Shanties in particular, do you think that’s made the perfect viral video?

Yeah definitely, especially with the nature of the song. It brings everybody together, it’s used to keep the morale high, put smiles on people’s faces, and it’s kind of took what the meaning of the song was for back then and brought it to now. Everyone’s stuck at home and a bit sad and a bit down and it’s put smiles on people’s faces and done the same thing as what it was meant for back in the day so aye, I think it’s perfect.

In the same vein, do you think TikTok has taken off in 2020 because everyone’s staying at home and looking for that escape?

Definitely, because when we were coming up to the lockdown and everything’s starting to shut down I started to upload a lot more. Loads of people I know my age hadn’t downloaded it until lockdown, and then that’s when the realised what it was, so I think definitely.

Have you at all changed your approach to making music since you went on TikTok? Were you slightly more focused on something that might be a viral hit?

No, I pretty much do what I like. So, if I want to upload a cover, I’ll do that, if I want to test the waters with a new original that I’m writing then I’ll upload that. If people want a sea shanty then I’ll give them that. I think it would be wrong to try and like force things to people if they’re not following me for that particular reason.

In terms of what your future plans are, I’ve seen your song 'Hollywood', and then you talked a lot about Ed Sheeran and Dermot Kennedy. Is that the kind of route you want to go down, in terms of the music you want to make?

Definitely. When I write songs that’s the route I go down. Ed Sheeran, Dermot Kennedy, Lewis Capaldi - that’s kind of the way I go. I’d say I’m relatively new to the song writing process, I’ve been writing songs for maybe a year so I guess that could change. But at the minute, definitely, that’s the way it seems to be going.

Do you think you might gravitate away from TikTok?

No, I still see myself as staying on TikTok and always uploading music and videos there. Like it’s good having a Twitter and Instagram as people can keep up to date and keep in contact with you that way, but I like TikTok because it’s a lot more personal. It’s a lot like Snapchat but for everyone that follows you. I like TikTok, I don’t see myself moving away.

I like TikTok because it’s a lot more personal. It’s a lot like Snapchat but for everyone that follows you. I like TikTok, I don’t see myself moving away.

Nathan Evans

Do you think it’s changing people’s appreciation of music? Because it’s a lot more focused on the 60 seconds.

Nah, I don’t know. I’ve definitely seen a load of people putting up music that you’re like “ah that’s really good”, but you find yourself going onto Spotify and you find the full song and it is about three minutes long and you’re like “ah it’s pretty good, I’ll add that to the library”. There are some songs where it’s just for that 60 seconds the song is really good, but the rest is not the best, so I know what you mean. I think it’s just a good way of putting your music on TikTok for a minute and that can take people to your Spotify or your iTunes or your Apple Music.

I was reading that TikTok said that they had 70 people sign deals in 2020. Is it something about the app that’s just really good at allowing people to become viral and also get them more recognised or is it attracting more talented individuals?

I’m not too sure, I’m not sure how the back end works, but for me, it’s like I’ll be scrolling, and I’ll come across someone who’s very good at art, who can draw and it’s like this person is just drawing in their bedroom but they’re absolutely amazing. It’s good because of the popularity of the app as well, so there probably will be higher-ups in different management companies that’ll be on TikTok and looking for people. I think it leads back to the recommendation thing because, on the for you page, it must run some algorithm that shows, after you’ve watched so many videos of a certain type, it must show you that kind of stuff. So, yeah if you’re in management and you’re watching loads of singing videos and it just keeps showing you them, then you will come across someone that you really like.

Yeah, it’s like an endless cycle of new content you can interact with.

That’s it. Exactly. Whereas like YouTube is more focused. You get a title, you get a description, you get a thumbnail, so if all these three things don’t add up, then someone might not watch your video. They see that it’s too long, they see that it’s too short, they might not click on it. Whereas TikTok you don’t really have a choice on what you see next, you just swipe up.

Do you think it is changing the industry at all?

It’s definitely not changing it, but I think it’s adding to it in way that’s helping management and record labels find new artists at a faster pace. X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, they were all doing the same thing, finding new artists and stuff like that, so this is like a social media version.

Would you say it’s more accessible, something that anyone can do?

Definitely. And I think If you’ve got a smartphone, you can do it. I think it’s very accessible. I think you can show off anything, any skill you’ve got, if you’re funny, if you can sing, if you can do art, if you can do a wheelie on a bike, whatever it is you can put a video and get it all uploaded. It’s not just for one thing.

Do you think there’s some longevity to it? Do you think everyone will still be on TikTok in five, ten years’ time?

Yeah, I think so. It’s kind of like Vine was about for ages, and then TikTok used to be and that was about for a while as well, so I think it’ll keep adapting and keep evolving.

What are your plans now that you’ve become viral?

We’ve just announced a UK tour. That’s for London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Dublin. I’ve just this morning put out a second date for Glasgow because we sold out the first one. Then hopefully I’ll have a couple more singles out in the near future and then an album by the end of the year, so it’s all looking very good.

Image credit: Instagram @nathanevanss.ig

Will sea shanties be part of that, or will it be going back to the stuff you were more interested in?

I think it’ll be a mix. I can do sea shanties, but I can also do other stuff. Kind of give everybody a bit of everything. See what they say, see what they like.

When things get back to normal, do you think there’ll almost be a resurgence in the kind of music that’s done well now that we’ve missed out on nights out or at concerts? Do you think all the stuff from 2020 will have another moment in the spotlight?

Possibly. But I think you need to take into consideration the new songs that will be coming out. Whether they’ll come back or whether the new songs will overshadow them and take the limelight I’m not too sure, but I definitely think they’ll play a part somehow.

Do you have a music video coming up for 'Wellerman'?

That’s been shot, just waiting for it to come out, which will hopefully be soon and everybody can see it because, by the sounds of it, it’s going to be amazing.

Follow Nathan Evans on Instagram, and be sure to check out his music on YouTube and Spotify.

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