In September, Lewis Capaldi was set to release his first new music in three years. Promo posters of him in his pants, sipping a cocktail, had been plastered across the country ready for an intensely anticipated midnight release. It turned out to be an undeniably historic day, and a memory hard to shake for Capaldi.
“Releasing a single the day the Queen died will definitely live with me,” he says. “That haunting fear of like, oh my fucking god, we’re bringing this song out and they’ve just announced the Queen’s died.”
Forget Me was still unveiled on September 8 – with more muted fanfare than planned – but not even the death of a monarch was going to interfere with Capaldi’s big comeback. “This is the thing,” he reasons, “you’ve got to press on. I’m sure it’s what she would have wanted.”
Plenty of people wanted it. Within 24 hours, Forget Me had been listened to two million times. The staggering facts and stats continue: Capaldi, now 26, is the first artist to sell out an arena before even releasing an album. That debut, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, became the best-selling album not only of 2019 but 2020 as well. It spent 87 weeks in the Top 10 of the UK album chart, and is responsible for over 25 billion streams worldwide. The ubiquitous hit Someone You Loved is the longest-running Top 10 single by a British act and has just become the most-streamed song in the UK ever.
So, anticipation is astronomical for Capaldi’s next release, and Broken by Desire to be Heavenly Sent is scheduled to launch on May 19 next year, come high-profile deaths or not. But does having enormous success – for example, here’s another stat: Someone You Loved is the fourth-most listened to song on Spotify – create targets Capaldi feels he has to beat, or do the figures provide freedom as there’s nothing left to prove?
“Oh, I’m terrified,” he says. “I don’t necessarily feel like I have to match it because – unless you’re fucking Ed Sheeran – that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I can’t see having another song that big, because it defies belief. So I try not to think of that. But I do feel pressure to at least release music that people who buy tickets to see me would enjoy.”
For his follow-up, Capaldi adopted the winning strategy of doing more of the same. Expect soaring, passionate anthems about love and loss powered by raw, honest emotion.
The more successful things get, I find I’m more insecure about my own abilities. Yeah, I’m absolutely shitting my jocks
“I like the music I’m making and I don’t think I’ve strayed too far from the path on this new record,” Capaldi says. “But it’s definitely nervewracking. The more successful things get, I find I’m more insecure about my own abilities. It’s a very strange position to be in. Yeah, I’m absolutely shitting my jocks.”
Speaking of Jocks, Capaldi puts the insecurity down, in part, to being Scottish. Born in Glasgow, the youngest of four children, he grew up in towns in the middle of the Central Belt. For most of his life he’s been singing and gigging, starting in pubs and clubs. No matter the record-breaking, arena-selling-out successes he’s had, there’s a feeling he could lose it all.
“It’s great to see that Forget Me did well but I’m a pessimist by nature. Even now I’m like, the new single’s not gonna do as well, the album’s not very good. It’s just the way I am.
“I think it might have something to do with being Scottish, which I love, I do. Pessimism is built into us. I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. It’s always good not to take anything for granted. I’m always thinking this might go away at any moment so I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as possible.”
If the Scots are pessimistic, does that also bring about the humour too?
“Definitely. Pessimism comes hand-in-hand with that sort of self-deprecation and that patter.”
The best way to describe this, Capaldi believes, is using the Scottish football team as an analogy. This year, of course, Scotland bravely boycotted the World Cup in Qatar by failing to qualify. It’s a similar story ahead of every major tournament. But during the moments before kick-off, there is a completely unfounded but resolute belief.
This flux state between hope and likely reality is where Capaldi finds himself. “You still try,” he says. “Even though you’re almost certain of failure, you still try.”
Though failure with such a massive fanbase is not an option, Capaldi is drawn to keep talking about it. He’s spoken about suffering panic attacks and being diagnosed with Tourette’s which causes him to twitch. Humour can often seem like a deflection tactic – not to take away from the fact that he’s hysterically funny, as 4.2 million TikTok followers and 5.5 million Instagram fans can confirm. Listening back to his songs though, there’s an undeniable seam of despair and self-doubt.
Mistakes, pain, falling to pieces, falling apart, going under, going to waste, fading away, losing control. On Maybe he sings: “How come I’m the only one who ever seems to get in my way?”
This is also what, no doubt, struck a universal chord in our fractured, pandemic-addled world. Emotional honesty mixed with a shot of humour has become Capaldi’s trademark. The video for Forget Me was a shot-by-shot remake of Wham!’s 1983 hit Club Tropicana. But an alternative video has also been released, the first in a series of shorts that will accompany new songs.
Shell’s Story follows Shell Rowe, a young film student who was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma but went on to raise awareness and thousands of pounds, to prove, as the video says, “that there’s life after cancer”.
“It was an idea we floated, what can we do to shine a light on people like Shell,” Capaldi explains. “There’s so much shit going on in the world, you look online and it’s constantly negative. Obviously, Shell’s story has ups and downs, but in the end these are testaments to the human spirit.”
The Big Issue first spoke to Lewis Capaldi at that time, back in February 2019. He said: “I wanted to write a song not specific to relationship loss, which so far I’ve covered quite a bit – almost exclusively. I’ve never done anything like this before so it’s a very new thing for me as well. Plus, my previous video was me as a stripper so I thought this one should be a bit more serious.”
Now one of the biggest and busiest stars on the planet, it’s been important for Capaldi to take time out to catch up with The Big Issue once more. In this he’s echoing George Michael. The late pop icon was a great friend to The Big Issue and a supporter of charitable causes. A good example to follow.
“One hundred per cent,” Capaldi agrees. “You want to do something in some small way to pay it forward.”
As we speak, Lewis Capaldi is preparing to blast more positivity into the world. His next single, Pointless, is about to be released and for once, it’s not a break-up ballad. Nor is it about the popular daytime quiz show.
“It’s not about the TV programme unfortunately, though that would make quite entertaining listening,” he confirms. “I’m all about Richard Osman, even though he’s left. No, it’s a song about being in love, which for me is almost an alien concept. My songs are usually about falling out of love or being heartbroken or something like that. They don’t often lean towards just a happy love. Listen, we’ve got a song like Someone You Loved, which gets played at funerals. And it’d be nice to have a song like Pointless that gets played at weddings. Basically, it’s a cash grab.”
By the time you read this, whether December 2022 or five years from now, the romantic refrain that “everything is pointless without you” is likely to be on the radio right now. It’s been put together by a songwriting supergroup. Capaldi wrote it with Steve Mac, responsible for dozens of chart-topping records, and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid. Mac and McDaid shared a verse from an unfinished song they’d been working on with another mildly successful singer-songwriter, Ed Sheeran.
“Johnny and Steve said, ‘We’ve got this verse that Ed did if you want to try and have a crack at writing the chorus.’ They were kind of struggling. I heard it and I was like, it’s fucking great, tweaked it a little bit, put my stamp on it then wrote the chorus and middle-eight, and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a tune. But me and Ed were never in the same room to write the song. He did that verse with them, left, then got sent the finished song a couple of months after.”
Does that mean Capaldi owes Sheeran a verse for a song he can finish?
“I think he’s doing just fucking fine. I don’t think he needs my help at all.”
As soon as a short teaser clip of Pointless was released online, Capaldi found himself inundated with videos of happy couples using it to soundtrack their social media-packaged affection.
“I never expected to be bombarded with beautiful couples sharing exceptional moments together. But it is nice to see some stuff that isn’t doom and gloom. And even though it does make me feel doom and gloom looking at it, I think it’s nice to celebrate being in love.”
The steadiest and most reliable relationship Capaldi has is with his fans. Although understanding who these fans are is becoming more difficult.
“The longer we do this, the more it’s becoming hard to discern who the audience is because it’s becoming so broad. I go to shows and I see everything from three-year-old girls to burly 50-year-old-guys on shoulders singing my songs. I want my music to reach as many people as possible. We’ve been lucky that it seems to be doing that. With every new gig, for every bigger show we put on, people seem to come.”
Capaldi will spend much of 2023 on tour – all the UK dates sold out immediately.
“The touring’s the best bit,” he says. “That’s the whole reason I started making music, so that I could play live and you’re realising boyhood dreams. It’s instant gratification seeing people react. And I’m really excited because I’ll be playing new songs, ones that aren’t out, for the first time since 2018. I’ll be able to see the reaction from a crowd playing a brand-new song there and then. That’s gonna be pretty special.”
But again, the excitement is accompanied by trepidation.
“It’s amazing to think that we can play shows all over the world and fill arenas in Australia and America and Europe. So it is incredibly exciting on one hand, but then there’s ‘actually, I have to go and do this’. It’s a 50/50… no, I’d say it’s probably 75/25 me being excited versus me being nervous.”
Before then there’s Christmas. And this is the one time that Capaldi seems sure about achieving his ambitions.
“I’m gonna eat loads of shite and get fucking steamin’. That’s the plans.”