Lewis Capaldi on ‘Soundtracking the Worst Year of Many People’s Lives’

“I’m a two-hit wonder — officially,” crows Lewis Capaldi, who, last year at this time, was actually using “one-hit wonder” as his temporary Twitter handle. “The jury is out on three and four, but one and two are in the bag.” Those would be “Someone You Loved,” a No. 1 song from 2019 that has gone on to again be one of the most consumed songs of 2020, and his follow-up, “Before You Go,” which was a chart-topper in the UK before going No. 1 at the Top 40 and Hot AC formats this year and reaching at least the top 10, if not the top, in most global territories. The global verdict on Capaldi: Hello, he mustn’t be going.

“It’s genuinely overwhelming, especially this year, to know that through all this shit that has been happening, people are listening to my music through it,” says the 24-year-old Scottish sensation. “Whether or not they wanted to — maybe someone was listening on the radio and they went, ‘This shit is fucking terrible, turn that off’ — they listened to it. I’ve soundtracked the worst year of many people’s lives. That’s quite a feeling!”

Of “Before You Go,” he says, “I actually prefer it as a song to ‘Someone You Loved’ — I’m much more proud of the lyrics in that one, just because of how kind of personal it is to me.

And the response that we’ve had back ultimately makes it my favorite one.” He co-wrote it as a very belated, very adult response to the suicide of his aunt when he was a boy. “That’s something that, as you get older, it plays on your mind a bit more as you learn more of the situation.” He also thought of schoolmates and friends of friends who’d taken their own lives. “You can overanalyze every interaction that you may or may not have had with that person, and every little thing that you may have heard them say in passing that if it was completely innocent. … That means more to me than the songs I wrote about an ex-girlfriend that I had when I was 19 or 20. You get over a relationship, but coming to terms with the death of a loved one is something you carry with you your whole life.”

But he’s more than fine with most people hearing it as something less grave, noting that in the writing it “naturally started flowing in that sort of love song-y way. I want it to be as universal as possible and people to be able to relate to it in many different ways. And I don’t want to be too dark. I tread lightly with (the suicide theme), because I don’t want to overstep the mark and have people think I was exploiting the situation — which I guess technically I have,” he laughs.

“Before You Go” wasn’t on the original edition of his blockbuster debut album, “Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent.” “It was something that we had written around the same thing as ‘Someone You Loved,’ and we thought, you know what, let’s hold this back for the cash grab of a deluxe edition.” Actually, he admits, it was a label exec who thought the then-unfinished song didn’t merit recording. By the time he finished it, he could imagine it being sung back by massive crowds — which was happening in March, as he played two sold-out nights at London’s Wembley Stadium just days before a national lockdown put a halt to his world tour.

“I love writing songs,” he says. “I do think for me it was something that was born out of necessity. I needed to write songs so that I could go play live. When I’m writing songs, I don’t imagine hearing it on the radio or it being in the top 10. Not to say that that is not something I enjoy getting. It fucking pays the bills — I love it! Some songs that really go down amazingly live are not radio hits, but I do think that in the Venn diagram, you find there’s a lot of crossover between what goes well live and what gets played on the radio. So for me, I imagined me on stage singing it, and how it would feel to hear that back.”

The man who, more than anyone since Adele, has proven Elton John’s maxim that sad songs say so much is now at work on his second album. “Surprisingly, a global pandemic is quite good for inspiring you to write depressing songs. Who would have thought it?” He believes there’s “a natural progression,” taking heart that he must be improving as a craftsman because “the last two songs I wrote for the first album were ‘Before You Go and ‘Someone You Loved.’” But, he says, “I joke about all the time about ‘Well, I’m going to do exactly the same thing for my second album’ — which I have every intention of doing! The sound isn’t going to be massively different. I’m very much a one-trick-pony guy. It’s going to be depressing shit.”

 

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