- 06 Sep 21
Seventeen Going Under is out next month.
Ahead of the release of his highly anticipated second album, Seventeen Going Under, on October 8, Sam Fender has treated Hot Press to a sneak preview of the record, as well as a behind-the-scenes commentary on some of the tracks.
The acclaimed singer-songwriter, hailing from North Shields in England, has rapidly become of the most hotly tipped artists to come out of the UK in years – winning the Critics' Choice Award at the 2019 Brit Awards over Lewis Capaldi and Mahalia, and debuting at No.1 with his first album, Hypersonic Missiles.
Like his debut LP, Seventeen Going Under finds Fender embracing an incendiary, guitar-heavy sound that will once again earn comparisons to the best of Bruce Springsteen. Unlike Hypersonic Missiles, however, the new album finds the 27-year-old artist taking his songwriting in an increasingly personal direction – as evidenced by the release of the title track earlier this year.
"I'm really proud of it," he says of Seventeen Going Under. "I’m actually more proud of it than I am of my first one. Normally I write about things that are going on in the world – and as we all know, not much has been going on in the world for the last two years... But nobody wants to hear about Covid-19 ever again – so I wasn’t going to write a song about Covid! The whole album became very personal. A lot of it’s about growing up and about the self-esteem issues that we carry through to adulthood, and how it affects our lives as adults. But it’s more of a triumph over that, and a coming of age story.
"I think I’ve got better at writing songs," he reflects. "With Hypersonic Missiles, I was still figuring things out, and I was quite terrified to write about my own life. The only time I ever did that was a song called ‘The Borders’ from the first album, and that became my favourite song off that record. And it became a fan favourite. ‘The Borders’ sort of unlocked the door for that kind of writing style and that’s where it all started. And I think I’ve been a lot more confident. I’ve learnt a lot more and my team has learned a lot more. My producer is a better producer now. We’re all better musicians."
His next single, 'Get You Down', is a radio-ready belter – showcasing Fender's trademark ability to combine a pounding, feel-good energy, with introspective lyrics. The track, out this week, will arrive alongside a b-side, 'The Kitchen'.
"I basically wrote about sixty songs for this album over the course of the last year and this year," Fender explains. "Which is obviously a fuck load of songs to whittle down. We picked the more personal ones, the ones that made sense for the story of the record. But after that, we were left with an abundance of songs that we still loved as a team, and wanted to get out there. And a lot of them were good live rockier songs.
"One of them, ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’, is out, and it's just a two minute punk song which goes down crazy live at the gigs,' he continues. "We played it at Leeds the other day, and we had about six different circle mosh pits. It was just absolute carnage the whole day. We’re trying to bring that sort of Easter Egg hunt back for fans, where we have all these B-sides with every single so it’s like a secret song for people to find."
'Long Way Off', another unreleased track from the album, finds Fender exploring a much more expansive soundscape.
"When I was making my first record I was still sort of learning," he remarks. "But this time there were a lot of tricks I had under my sleeve, that I could pull out. Subsequently we’ve made this album which has strings and horns all over it. It’s like an orchestra of stuff.
"This one, as far as audio files go, is the biggest track I’ve ever made," he says of 'Long Way Off'. "It’s got like 160 tracks of audio. It built and built and built, and became this huge orchestral track."
The track also finds Fender reflecting on "political polarity", and being unable to identify "with any of the political parties" in the UK.
"I think it’s quite a unanimous feeling in a lot of places at the moment," he resumes. "A lot of working class people in England feel displaced by it all. In my hometown as well. It was written around the time when all the Trump supporters were storming the Capitol Building. It’s about the fact that I feel like we’re a long way off from sorting out the mess that the world’s in..."
Although Fender certainly wasn't afraid to get political in his songwriting before, he states that, once he hit 25, he lost some of his fearlessness, and realised that he "didn't fucking know anything at all."
"The only thing that I kept coming back to politically is the thing that annoys us the most – the disparity in wealth," he continues. "That’s where ‘Aye’ [a previously released track from the album] comes from. These two songs are where my head is at currently. The rest of the album is more personal."
He goes on to discuss the album artwork, which features a photo of Fender taken by Jack Whitefield.
"He walked around my hometown, and we just captured a load of shots," he recalls. "We went to a load of places where I had memories attached to – loads of anecdotes of silly things that happened when I was growing up, or sad moments.
"That back lane was a lane I used to go down and smoke weed when I was about 15 with a bunch of tearaways," he says of the album's central photograph. "And that back lane leads into an estate called Meadow Well, which is an estate that had 80% unemployment. There were a lot of riots there for most of the '90s. It was practically on fire for the whole of 1991. Parts of it were basically just a wasteland for teenagers, and that’s where we used to sit and hang out. It felt like a good place to take the shot because I always remember walking down that back lane as a kid."
Of the previewed tracks, the currently unreleased 'Spit Of You' is a tender highlight – describing Fender's relationship with his father.
"Me and my dad had a five-year period where we didn’t really get on," he notes. "He lived in a different country. And then we came together and as things have progressed in my career, I've started hanging out with him a lot more. The song’s essentially about the father and son relationship, and the inability to talk about anything other than DIY, music or alcohol. If anything, it’s just a declaration of love for my old man. Funnily enough it’s his favourite song. It’s a pretty special one and now we’re closer than ever, which is great."
Although he assures us that there will also be high-energy tracks on the record, Fender reveals that the new album will have "a lot more grander, slower, big, epic tunes" – and that he's been listening to plenty of Pinegrove, Big Thief, The War On Drugs, Craig Finn, Gang of Youths and The Killers recently. In fact, he's set to open for Brandon Flowers and Co. at Malahide Castle in Dublin on June 14 and 15 next year.
"Apparently Brandon Flowers wants to write with us," he grins. "That’s what he said in an interview. So we need to chase him up on that!"
Seventeen Going Under is out October 8. Listen to the title track below: