Sam Fender talks mental health, tackling ‘toxic masculinity’ and his new single ‘Dead Boys’

"There's this out of date idea of how a man should behave - I think that's what's killing men"

Rising singer-songwriter Sam Fender has spoken out about mental health, tackling ‘toxic masculinity’ and the inspiration behind his new single ‘Dead Boys’.

Recently signed to Polydor Records, Tyneside’s Fender’s latest track was named as Annie Mac’s ‘Hottest Record In The World’ when it premiered on BBC Radio One this week – and furthers his reputation for searing guitar anthems with an eye for ‘social consciousness and political awareness’.

“It’s a song about male suicide, particularly in my hometown,” Fender told NME. “I lost some friends very close to me because of that. This song came from that place, and I have been playing it to other people ever since. It’s raised a conversation and I realised how much of a present issue it is. Everybody that I spoke to from all different parts of the country have all got a connection to someone they’ve lost.

“It really opened my eyes to how much of an issue it is. If it gets to one person and they feel like they should reach out and talk to somebody, then it has done a good job.”

What do you think it is that holds people back from speaking out?

Sam: “I genuinely think it’s toxic masculinity and the idea of what a man is supposed to be. This really archaic, out of date idea of how a man is supposed to conduct himself. I think that’s what kills men, genuinely. I have personally struggled with that, growing up and being a young lad in 2018 in Newcastle. I think everyone does. There are a lot of challenges we are facing; like how you are supposed to react to emotional stress. I’ve got no shame in it. I was told not to cry as a kid. It’s that sort of backwards attitude, so when we feel bad we feel ashamed or we feel like embarrassed.

“I remember specifically for me as a kid growing up or as a young teenager if I ever cried or got upset in front of anybody, I would be so humiliated. I’d be so angry with myself for being upset and then it would just become this catch 22 situation. It’s that attitude that stops men from talking and stops men from being like able to turn to each other. Me and my mates are very, very close. We all talk about our problems – especially as we’ve got older. But I  don’t think a lot of people have that. Men just need to be open and not emasculate one another.”

What does it mean to have a track like this out there and received on such a huge scale?

Sam: “It’s pretty fucking overwhelming, to be honest with you. I’ve had messages on Instagram from loads of people who have come out and talked about their stories or their experiences. I expected there would be a little bit of that but I didn’t realise how much I was going to get. In the first night of it being out I had loads of people sending messages, saying ‘Thanks so much for raising the conversation’ and then being like ‘My brother or my friend or someone took their life and it’s unfair’. I don’t want to act like I’m on some kind of crusade because I’m not – but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s a problem. It’s OK to come forward and talk. Getting Annie Mac’s ‘Hottest Record In The World’ with a song like this means so much.”

Beyond this song, what would you say inspires your lyrics?

Sam: “It’s just what’s in front of me really. My favourite writers are always great storytellers like Bruce Springsteen, I adore Bruce Springsteen. I feel like he doesn’t beat around the bush and he doesn’t overcomplicate things. He puts things into layman’s terms and tells stories that anyone can understand. I still think a lot of his songs still speak to me. I’m not a lad from New Jersey in the ’70s, I’m a lad from the coast Newcastle 2018 and I still feel like it draws a lot of parallels. I like to write about stories and life experiences of me, the people around us and just the things I see on the telly without overcomplicating things. I’m not like a university educated scholar, I just sing what I see.”

Sam Fender tour dates and tickets

Fender’s upcoming tour dates are below. Tickets are on sale here.

18 August – Lowlands, Netherlands
19 August – Dockville, Festival Hamburg
24 August – Leeds Festival
26 August – Reading Festival
8 September – DCODE Festival, Madrid
29 October – Mash House, Edinburgh
30 October – Fibbers, York
31 October – King Tuts, Glasgow
2 November – Chapel, Leeds
3 November – Leadmill 2, Sheffield
5 November – Soup Kitchen, Manchester
6 November – Shipping Forecast, Liverpool
7 November – Thekla, Bristol
9 November – Rock City Basement, Nottingham
10 November – The Castle & Falcon, Birmingham
12 November – OMEARA, London
13 November – OMEARA, London
17 November – Newcastle University
3 December – Academy, Glasgow (w/ Blossoms)
13 December – O2 Academy Brixton, London (w/ Blossoms)

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