Interview: Lewis Capaldi Talks Debut LP & “Someone You Loved”
Lewis Capaldi is shaping up to be one of the breakout stars of 2019 thanks to a ballad called “Someone You Loved.” The gut-wrenching breakup anthem has already topped the charts in the UK and Europe, and is a fairly safe bet to repeat the feat in America. (Streaming and download data suggests an imminent debut on the Billboard Hot 100). And there are more hits where that came from. The 22-year-old Scot released his amusingly-titled debut LP, Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent, on Friday (May 17) and it’s jam-packed with raw, emotional gems.
I recently caught up with Lewis during a promo visit to Los Angeles and he opened up about the occasionally arduous task of compiling an album. It seems the newcomer is passionate about writing songs and performing them, but can take or leave the rest. Other topics of conversation included the appeal of documenting heartbreak over happiness, channeling his inner-male stripper for the mesmerizing “Grace” video, laughing off bad reviews and what comes next. Get to know Lewis a little better in our Q&A below.
Did you know “Someone You Loved” was special when you recorded it?
I felt it was special. But we were very focused on “Bruises,” which was my first single. I wrote “Someone You Loved” at the end of 2017. It was the last song I wrote for the album. I had been sitting on it for like six months, which is really annoying because if I knew it was going to explode everywhere, I would have released it then. It would have saved a lot of time and effort.
You could be Ed Sheeran by now.
Exactly. Fucking hell! But seriously, I was sitting on it for six months. My manager and I were really, really pushing to have it song on the EP. I mean, it was quite late in the day and the EP had already been pushed back so much. We were like, “This song has to be on the fucking EP! Put it out.” Obviously, it wasn’t pushed as a single at first. All the effort went behind a song called “Grace.” I love that song, but then “Someone You Loved” just took off on its own.
Why do you think the song is connecting with so many people?
I’m not really sure, I couldn’t tell you. When we were writing it, I made the decision… I didn’t want to make it so much of a “me” song. I wanted to share my feelings about loss and losing someone, whether it be through bereavement or a relationship ending. I wanted to keep it quite open, in the sense that I wanted people to be able to find their own affinity with it. With all of my other songs, you can tell that it’s from my point of view. It’s very specific to my story. Do you know what I mean?
As I said before, it was the last song I wrote for the album. I was bored of writing about myself. I was just bored of writing about the same relationship that broke up two years ago. At that point, I was kind of over. Do you know what I mean? A good way to get over a fucking breakup is to write a song about it, every day for about two years. “Someone You Loved” was a happy accident. I was just a bit fed up about my very linear story. I wanted to open it up and start thinking about other people.
It’s interesting that you say most of the songs are about a breakup because the album is not exactly upbeat. Have you been miserable for the last couple of years?
It has actually been the best few years of my life. What’s interesting about being sad and sadness is that… when you’re happy you don’t think, “Fuck me, I’m happy!” You just are happy, you’re having a great time. When you’re sad, you have this tendency to get in your own head and think, “Why am I sad?” You start to really think about it and you can let it fucking sit and stew in your mind a bit. I think it was more interesting for me to write about being depressed than when I was happy, which was the majority of the time. It didn’t make for interesting songs.
We have to talk about the extremely sexy “Grace” video. You can really work a pole.
Thanks, mate. I just thought it was about time people saw the real side of me. I had been in so many meetings and had so many video treatments sent from directors with things like “Lewis falls in love with a woman in a meadow.” From the song, I can see how they would think that’s what I wanted. But I’m not good at being serious in a video. I feel really awkward. Someone at the label asked what I wanted to do and I was like, “Stripping, strippers.” I just thought what if we do something that’s as stupid as possible.
I just wanted to do the most fucking ridiculous thing ever. The music can stay as serious as possible, but screw everything else. I’m just going to have fucking fun. What better way to do that than to have a video of me stripping? So we got a director involved, his name is Louis Bhose. He’s fucking brilliant. He phoned me and said, “So this idea you’ve got… I think it’s good.” He helped to put more of a story around it, but I just gotta say that the dancing I did was all improvised on the day.
In the press release you joked about the album having a couple of stinkers. Is absolutely filler free or are there some songs that you would still tinker with?
To me, it’s not filler free. There are probably two stinkers on there. I’m joking… but I’m not. I don’t know how people are going to react to it. I personally love every single song on it. I’m very proud of it, but no one thinks every song on an album is fucking good unless you’re Kendrick Lamar or Beyoncé. Every song can’t be a banger. I love every single song on it and I’m really proud of it… but I mean, people are probably going to think a few songs are shit.
Do you read reviews?
Oh yeah! I think anybody who says they don’t is a liar. Of course you do. I just don’t take it seriously. But of course I want to know what people think about it. Whether it’s just a tweet or a fucking whole article. I want to know what people think. I hope people like it.
Do you pay more attention to the good ones or the bad ones?
The bad ones. It’s funny, I have a family group chat and the only things they text in it are the negative things. It’s the opposite of people’s mothers cutting out newspaper clippings of them in the newspaper. My mum just sends me all the shite and goes, “Look at this.” How we show affection is taking the piss out of each other. I just think the negative reviews are funny. Like someone has thought so deeply about how much they hate my album or hate my song or hate me. It’s all a laugh. It’s all to be taken with a pinch of salt.
In your legendary presser, you also said that putting together an album isn’t exactly the most fun process. Can you elaborate on that?
I love writing, but it’s when you get into the nitty and gritty of recording… I’m recording the same fucking vocal line 27 times just decide that the first one is the best one. It makes me so fucking mad. I’ve never liked recording ever. I’m not a perfectionist. If it were up to me, I would write a song, record it on my phone, put it on Spotify and just try play it live as quickly as possible. You go from loving a song to hating the song because you hear it so much. Recording is essentially trying to capture that initial magic that you had when you wrote the song.
You don’t get bored of performing the same song over and over?
I can not get enough of it. I think you just have to write a song that you like. You better hope you like it because if it goes, you’re going to be singing it for a long fucking while. It’s a privilege to get to do. It’s a privilege to write these songs and record them and play them live. The only thing I hate is the tinkering, but it’s a necessary evil. You’ve got to do it. When it comes out well, at the end of it, you’re so glad that you put yourself through the stress and the bore of it.
What are your expectations for the album?
I don’t know if it sounds like I’m lying or not, but the success of “Someone You Loved” was a massive surprise. I was always very focused on the album. An album was the goal. I never saw myself as someone who was going to have a big single or a top 40 single. So I’m very surprised and it’s always nice to be surprised. For me, I hope the album goes top 10 in the UK. Yeah if I get top 10, I’ll be really pleased. For me, the thing that matters most is the tickets. Playing live shows. I got into music to play gigs.
There seems to be something of a singer/songwriter revival with guys like yourself, Tom Walker, Dean Lewis and so many more.
I think it has always been there. Since the dawn of time and to the end of time, there will be a wee guy with a guitar singing. Someone with guitars singing will be a thing forever. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say there’s a renaissance or a revival because Ed Sheeran has been kicking around. He’s definitely one of the most popular singers in the world. So I wouldn’t say a revival, but there are definitely a couple of new faces coming in. It’s definitely good news for me, anyways.
Have you already started thinking about your next project?
I want to just keep going. The song that the album is named after was supposed to be on this album. I would like to release that song. I was really gutted when it wasn’t on the album. But then I kind of like it. I like the idea of just following the album with more music, so I want to get that out as soon as possible. I don’t want to wait 2 or 3 years or something. I’m not going to stop writing. At no point am taking a break from writing. I want to just follow it up quite quickly and just keep going and keep going.
I can’t wait to hear more. Good luck with the album!