Lewis Capaldi is having one hell of a year, and he has “no f—ing clue” how it all happened.
The 22-year-old Scottish singer might be a bit flummoxed by all his recent success, but to the rest of us, it’s pretty clear why his music is climbing the charts and he’s selling out gigs. Capaldi’s breakthrough single “Someone You Loved” spent a staggering seven weeks at the top of the U.K. charts this spring, became his first entry on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, (spending 15 weeks climbing before peaking at No. 11 in late August), and was the eighth most-streamed song, globally on Spotify this summer. His debut album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent has found similar success, peaking in the U.K. and Ireland, becoming the fastest-selling album of the year, as well as outselling all of the top 10 combined in both countries. Before the record was even released, Capaldi had already sold out a worldwide tour supporting it — in one second.
From listening to his raspy vocals and heartbreaking lyrics, it might be hard to imagine they belong to such an effortlessly funny, giddy, and grounded guy, but within 20 seconds of talking to the singer, it’s clear he’s not here to brood or boast. Indeed, he’s constantly pinching himself — or, perhaps more accurately, looking around, declaring “this is f—ing mental!”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve been singing pretty much all of your life. Looking back, was there one defining moment where you realized this was what you wanted to do as a career?
LEWIS CAPALDI: The first time I ever got on stage and sang was when I was 4 years old. I was on holiday with my parents in France; we used to go caravan-ing and one night there was a cabaret band playing. At the time I was really obsessed with Queen. There was a CD you used to get free in the newspaper and this particular one had “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” on it. For some reason, I was just obsessed with those two songs and kept listening to them over and over again. Then the cabaret people asked us if anyone wanted to come up and sing. I’m sure they were expecting probably some parents or some newly-divorced people trying to find themselves — I don’t know what they were expecting, but they got me. I got up and I sang “We Will Rock You.” Before I even knew what music really was, or being a musician was, I remember just really enjoying the feeling of being up and singing in front of everyone and them seeming to enjoy it. So I went back up and asked if I could sing another one. It was just one of those things, where I didn’t even know necessarily what I was doing, but I liked that feeling of being up on stage. To this day, it’s still the most fun I’ve ever had, pre-puberty. The thing is, even if I was s—t, they would’ve had to just clap along because I was 4 years old.
Who else besides Queen did you look up to or want to be like?
I was never really like, “Oh, I want to be this person.” I just always found people’s voices very interesting, people like Freddie Mercury and even Bob Dylan — there’s something unusual about his voice that when I came across it, it pulled me to him and then later on his lyrics as well. There’s a Scottish artist called Paolo Nutini who I’m a huge fan of; he’s f—ing incredible. Then I remember the first time I ever heard Joe Cocker sing. It was a cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles. That was when I realized, okay, I want to do this raspy voice thing. I want to try and sing like that with that power behind his voice. At this point I’m 14 years old. I’m at a very early pubescent stage and didn’t really have a deep voice. If you go back and look at videos of me when I’m 14 to 16 or 17, it sounds f—ing awful. I’m trying to do this gravely voice and I sound possessed. It’s shocking. But we got there in the end; there’s some sort of gravel now, but I’ve probably done irreparable damage to my throat in the process of getting here.
Let’s talk about your first album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent. Can we start with the title? Because it’s amazing. Where did that come from?
Basically, I’d written a song called “Figure It Out,” which was all about the ups and downs of being in music. It was all about being unmotivated to do anything. The first line in that song goes, “Broken by a desire to be heavenly sent/ Divinely uninspired to a hellish extent.” I thought it was going to be the first song on the album. When it transpired the song wasn’t going to be finished in time, I still liked the idea of having a really negative album title…. The whole line “broken by a desire to be heavenly sent” is like, I want to be good at something so badly and I feel like my ability hasn’t caught up with the ambition. That was where I was at and at that point, I did feel “divinely uninspired to a hellish extent” — just because that one day I had a bit of writer’s block. I was getting really down on myself and I forgot all this amazing stuff I’d been working on — not amazing, that’s quite crass for me to say — [that] I was really proud of.
“Someone You Loved” has been this massive breakout single. Why do you think it was that song that really resonated with people?
I couldn’t f—ing tell you. I don’t know. The thing is, I love the song, as well as the album, but, like, if I had to tell you why that one in particular struck a chord? I’ve got absolutely no f—ing clue what I’m doing. What I know is that I write songs that I enjoy writing, but in terms of what makes a f—ing quote-unquote hit? I don’t have a f—ing clue. I’m surprised that any of the songs have done well anywhere let alone that song being what it was globally. It’s one of those things. I don’t know how, but I’m not going to question it. I’m just going to keep the f—ing head down. I’m looking side to side thinking, “Is anyone else wondering what the f—’s happening?” I’m almost suspicious of myself. But I’ll tell you what, I’m f—ing happy, because maybe I can move out my parents’ house soon!
So then you made the video for “Someone You Loved” and had your second cousin and former Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi appear in it. How did that come about?
So I didn’t know Peter until last year. I’d never met him. He came to my show last February and I was like, “Oh f—, that’s Peter Capaldi!” I came down and met him, and he chatted away and said he liked the music and everything and I thought that was it. Two months passed or whatever and it comes to November when we originally released “Someone You Loved.” I’d had this idea for the video to raise awareness for organ donation in the U.K. and one of the things the label suggested was, “Look, if you wanna drum up as much awareness and get as many eyes to it as possible, you should get someone who’s been in something, like an actor who follows you on Instagram or whatever.” I flippantly said, without really looking up, “Well, what about Peter Capaldi?” And everyone’s like, “Oh, f—, do you think we could get him?” Then I’m like, Oh f-—, I don’t really know him that well, he’s going to say no, it’s going to be really embarrassing! Then my manager just f—ing emailed his agent — sorry for saying ‘f—ing’ so much — and she came back and said, “Peter’s free these days, what’s the situation?” We’re like “Oh, cool, f—ing let’s do it!” Thank God he did it out of the goodness of his heart because we didn’t have that much f—ing money left. He was amazing. That really helped, having someone like that put a stamp on it and be like, “I like this guy and I like what he’s doing.'” Nepotism, some may call it, but I call it respect.
It might be working with Peter, but do you have one highlight from this year? Or a moment where you just stopped and thought, ‘How the f— did I get here?’
Wait, Ruth, are you Scottish?
Yeah, I’m from Glasgow.
Oh, f—. Do you know the first half of the interview I thought you had an American accent. I’m like, “Am I just f—ing making something up because I’ve been away from Scotland for so long?” F—ing hell, there you go. I was like, “Hold on a f—ing minute, Is she fae where I’m fae?” And I apologized for f—ing swearing too much! I rescind that apology. Brilliant! But yeah, most memorable thing was definitely when I went for lunch with Elton John. That was f—ing wild. It was one of those things where I went over and I was just like, “Are you sure we’re going to have lunch with Elton John?” It was just f—ing lovely. We sat there and had a chat about music and how he loved my music and he knew the songs by name. I was like, This is f—ing wild. You’re f—ing Elton John! I just watched a film about you two weeks ago! The lunch ended with me and Elton — I don’t know if I can call him by his first name — showing each other music on an iPad, just stuff that we liked. I was playing him Joe Cocker, and I was just like, This is what I do with my pals in a McDonald’s car park and I’m sitting there with Elton John doing it!
The other thing is just the size of shows as well. It’s f—ing mental. It’s just so bizarre. I never thought I’d get to this point. I’m f—ing doing an arena tour next year in U.K. and Ireland! Just when I think, this is f—ing mental, it gets a wee bit more mental, then a wee bit even more mental.
So you’ve got your arena tour coming up back home, then dates in the U.S, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand too. Is there somewhere you’re really excited to play or go back to? I mean Glasgow, of course…
[Laughs] Obviously Glasgow. I’m dead excited to do the arenas next year. Dublin is always crazy and Cork as well. I love playing anywhere in Ireland. Last year we played New York and it was f—ing incredible. It was at Irving Plaza and the crowd was like…it was like playing somewhere back home. It was so mental. I hadn’t known an American crowd to be that loud singing along. On this next tour in America, we’re playing a lot of places we haven’t played before; we’re doing headline tours in Texas and stuff. It’ll be cool, man.
Are you already thinking about new music or just concentrating on touring this album first?
I’m thinking about it for sure because I’m like, Oh f—, how am I going to follow that f—ing song. I’m like, for f— sake, I wish it had done a little bit less well. But, yeah, I’m thinking about it. We’re hoping to release a little bit of new music at some point this year — not like an album, just, I’m working on a couple of songs that I’d really like to get out there. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’ll see what happens. I think it’s just important to keep writing because if you stop and just do the tour, it can kind of dry up the muscle a bit. I’m always writing and I’m definitely thinking about a second album because I’m like, F— it, here we go, let’s try this again. I think what’s important for me, is just writing tunes that I like. Whether or not they f—ing bomb commercially doesn’t matter because I enjoyed writing them.