English singer, Calum Scott was here in Malaysia earlier this week to perform tunes off his debut album, “Only Human”.
Fortunately, we got the golden opportunity to watch him perform not once but twice! One being an intimate performance at Sheraton Hotel, Petaling Jaya. The other being a special appearance at Samsung’s “Era of Live” event.
As we all know, Calum rose to fame as a contestant on the highly popular singing show, “Britain’s Got Talent.” During his time there, Calum was memorable for his cover renditions sang including Robryn’s “Dancing On My Own”, the song that launched his career.
Calum has come a long way since then. These days, he’s busy touring around the world promoting his debut album, “Only Human”. With the help of our friends at Universal Music Malaysia, we had the pleasure of speaking to him about his debut album, his approach to songwriting, his friendship with Leona Lewis, and also K-pop.
There was a big gap between the time you were in “Britain’s Got Talent” (2015) and the release of your debut album (2018). Why did it took such a long time? Were you just being very cautious with the market?
I don’t even think it was that strategic. I think it was just simply because I had an overnight success with my audition on “Britain’s Got Talent”. Let’s not forget I was working in Human Resources. So I was just like everybody else; loved to sing but had no idea on how to make an album or how to write a record.
Being signed to Capitol Records was a monumental moment for me in my career. But it meant that I really had to start working hard to be able to achieve where I am now. That meant starting from scratch with an album. So I had to learn how to become a songwriter, how to get my feelings down on paper, and ultimately to be able to write a record that people were going to listen to for hopefully years to come.
So, it took a little time to get that together, to get those skills working but I feel like I finally got there. But now that I am there, second album will be a lot more confident and hopefully, not take as long but then again Rome wasn’t built in a day. I didn’t want to rush this, writing songs that was going to relate to people ,and to save people’s hearts was my mission. So, I didn’t want to be stuck to a time frame or be told this got to be done by a specific date. Although it’s important to keep deadlines, it was incredibly important for me cause I only get one shot at writing a debut album. That probably explains the time but I promise it won’t be that long with the second.
How did “Only Human” came to fruition?
I started to go on a journey of writing songs that didn’t have a real order or real thought process. It was more of getting into the studio, sit with my co-writers, pouring my heart out, crying most of the time and just really getting things of my chest and using songwriting as a bit of a therapy. That’s when the songs start to take a real part or shape. I wrote 70 songs for the first album. So I have many many demos, not all which are great.
My mom hears my demos before anybody else. There were quite a number that were discarded before the label heard them. She’s just like “Hmm, not that none” and I am like “Okay, throw that in the bin.”
To really give the album a sense of shape and real depth and quality, I had to choose the songs that I felt best describe me as an individual and as an artist. I feel like I am at a position where I can do something I love but I can also transfer positive messages and try to inspire people, (as well as) make people feel comfortable and strong and happy with who they are. So I think once I had written the 70, out of those, there were a few golden nuggets, really, that made the album like this. I just hope I can write another 70 more.
Why was it important to write all of your songs on your debut album? [Side note: Only bonus tracks “Not Dark Yet” and “Dancing on My Own” are covers.]
I did write the majority of the songs on there because songwriting is incredibly important to me and being a part of the stories. Telling it from my perspective, I think it’s what gives the songs the edge. I think it also gives the humility. I think coming from a very normal upbringing, having a 9-5 job, and know what it feels like to get up at 6 in the morning and travel to work in traffic. And sit at a desk and do your job. Spending your hard earned money on the things you love to do. It comes across in my songwriting and that’s why people can really relate (to the songs).
What inspires your songwriting?
I take my inspiration literally from living my life one day to the next. And all the highs and lows of that. Missing home, falling out with people, making up again, falling out with them again, and making up again. So, that’s the basis of my songwriting.
During writing sessions, you are required to share deeply personal things. So, if it’s a stranger you’ve never met before, how do y’all warm up?
It’s hard. (laughs) It’s hard.
For me, songwriting starts as soon as you email to say you’re ready for the session. For the labels and the management side, they think that it’s when you step into the room and you say “Right, what do you want to write about?”. It’s just not simple as that when you’re trying to be creative. If you could bottle up creativity, then everybody would buy a bottle right? So I think for me, the relationship with the producer and co-writer starts as soon as you have that exchange.
Like me, I am a very open book. I lay my heart on the line and sometimes it gets squash. That’s one of the downsides but I do that because I just wanna let people in and I think if I can do that then the songs that we are going to write is going to have real quality and a real sense that I am being honest and genuine. I think these days people can see past B.S. To put it plainly, people can see when something is being made to make money. I got in trouble with the label couple of times for saying to people “You know, I am not interested in making money, it’s more about the songs.” and they are like “It’s a little bit about making money.”
Obviously, it’s a business but I don’t see it as a business. I see this as almost diary entries that I am publishing online. I am putting my heart on my sleeve and I am saying “This is Me, this is what I’ve been through and I am not the only person who’s gone through that”. Let’s share this together in the form of music which let’s face it, is the language of the world. People might not necessarily understand the lyrics that I am singing but they can definitely feel the emotions I am trying to portray. Sometimes that takes a little time and a few cups of tea to get that conversation started but as long as I can be honest and they can work with that, then we usually get along fine.
Speaking about collaborations, which singers do you want to work with?
I feel personally that there is a real gap for a male duet. I think that a male-female duet is great. I think we had a fair share of female-female duets but there are not a lot of male and male duets that I can think of. I always take myself back to David Bowie and Freddie Mercury “Under Pressure” and I watched the YouTube clip with just their vocals. That is just insane and it’s two very characteristic voices working with each other. So, I would love to do something with Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Adam Levine maybe and just have a male duet.
Being in the position that I am, I would love to do something with my sister for my second record. My sister, Jade is such a massive part of my life. Without her I wouldn’t be where I am. So I feel like that would be really, really special too.
Who knows, maybe a BTS and Blackpink collab would be insane. I don’t wanna split fan groups but maybe something like that would be really cool. When I sang french, it was cool enough. So I love to do something like that.
Woah, we like that you’re open to K-pop. Do you enjoy K-pop music?
Yea. I really do. There’s so much energy in there. These guys (BTS and BlackPink) are doing incredible things all over the world. To be working with them, it would be an absolute privilege.
You worked with Leona Lewis for the remix of “You Are The Reason”. What is something that we would be surprised to know about her?
Leona is an incredibly special person. I think maybe one thing I could say – this might not be the last time we work together. It’s exclusive. So, don’t tell anybody. Me and Leona get on so well. She’s very like me. Had a very normal background and had worked very hard to get where she’s gotten. She’s acting now and she is also a massive animal lover. She has a charity foundation in the UK and US. So I know she’s working hard on that. She’s also coming up with new music. She’s writing the album. I haven’t heard anything yet. She’s very secretive about that but yea it might not be the last time we work together.
Do you see yourself doing acting in the near future? I mean, Ed Sheeran did it.
Yeah I saw him in “Game of Thrones”. He did a great job. I met him a couple of times. He’s very much a regular guy. I think it would be pretty hard for me because I don’t have a persona. I don’t have a front or a character, it would be strange for me to play somebody else. I will give it a shot though. I mean I have been asked a couple of times to have my debut with a couple of TV programs.
Before we let you go, what can you tease about album #2? Will there be more upbeat songs?
I have been asked a lot how come “No Matter What” wasn’t included as the second album and was released via a special edition. The answer to that solely is that “No Matter What” fits so perfectly under the umbrella of what “Only Human” is, what it stands for, about celebrating human emotions, about being true to ourselves and being confident and happy. But I think that it gives me the opportunity to write a completely new album for the second time around.
I am conscious that I have amass my fan base through what I’ve written already. So, the last thing I wanna do is go too left field or change direction completely from album #1. I look to people like Adele, who’s written three albums of complete heartbreak and we still buy them. We still listen to them. With her third album, it was bigger than any of her previous. It’s still heartbreak. It’s still about emotions. It’s still about yearning for the one. So, I think I am going to write more of the same.
Of course, I don’t wanna write an album full of sad songs. So, I will have tempo places but the most important thing for me is to take my audience on an adventure.