Written by Jourdan-Reiss Russell
We had the privilege to interview singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh just before he went off on tour around Europe. He’s written numerous hits and one of them was used in Grey’s Anatomy. Read on to join in on the conversation we had with Luke as he tells us about his musical journey and signature sound.
Credit: TV Series & Movie Soundtracks
F21: What is your name and where are you from?
“I’m Luke Sital-Singh, I’m a singer-songwriter; have been for over 10 years now, and I’m from London originally, but I now live in Bristol.”
F21: It’s interesting how many creatives seem to be born in London and move away into the other parts of UK [where you have more creative freedom?] and I know that Bristol is a nice place [for that reason].
“Yeah, I think it’s probably just a money thing (laughs)…I mean it’s a nice place, I don’t wish I was back in London but I was torn; because I was born in London I don’t mind it too much, but there are bits of Bristol that I really like, it’s more chilled out and has more of its own character whereas London is a bit too mental [sometimes].”
F21: So how has the move to Bristol affected your music? Has it become more mellow as a result?
“Potentially…just thinking about it, I think I feel more relaxed. I moved to Bristol at around the same time as I stopped working with [PLG UK] – so it was kinda tied to the fame thing where I felt more freedom and all these creative voices, that were trying to get in my mind, were gone. Also, I’m in a new place, I felt away from the pressures of London which is sort of ‘Big Time’ where everything has to be big and successful, and that didn’t align with my artistic values which are more subtle. So [in] writing the new album in my spare room in Bristol, away from the London music industry’s craziness, it was back to how I used to write songs – not thinking about anything other than pleasing myself, basically.”
F21: I think that’s the most important thing, isn’t it? Making sure you, as a creative, are satisfied with the music you’re making.
“Yeah I think so – there are other people, but I’d agree [with that].”
F21: How would you describe, then, the music on the [now-released] album and your ‘signature sound’ as a whole?
“If you use words like ‘singer-songwriter’, ‘folk’, ‘pop’, you’d be imagining the right thing – it’s very vocal-based, pop music based around acoustic instruments. I find it hard to explain; not because it’s changing any rules, it’s just when I say it like that it sounds so unimaginative (laughs). The whole ‘singer-songwriter’ thing gets a lot of bad press, because it’s so vague – you could be anything – but people just put you in one corner [of the music world], which is fine as it’s my favourite kind of music. My music is quite emotionally charged; I don’t try to write summery pop songs, they’re more angsty. I’m not afraid to make people cry. I like beautiful, slow ballads – that’s the kind of music which makes me want to write music, so that ends up being what I write.”
F21: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because there are a number of artists that sound like they’ve influenced you – you’ve covered Radiohead in your earlier work, for example. How would you explain the impact that your influences have had on you?
“Yeah..I don’t think about it too much. There’s been a few people along the way that are ‘bookmarks’ – when I’ve heard them and thought, “Right, that’s a change of [my] sound.” Initially, it was Damien Rice that was the biggest influence when I first started – I was still into Nu-Metal as a kid, and I heard a Damien Rice album on a TV advert and I wanted to be like that. I had never listened to singer-songwriter music before that, so it was pretty big; I learned all his songs, went to open mic events. Then it progressed to more Americana, like Bryan Adams; he’s a massive god to me. His music had more of a dark edge to it, more morose. I remember seeing him perform in Brighton, and it was so amazing – just him on his own for 2 hours, and he captivated 2,000 people. It was a similar thing with Damien Rice; I never saw him live but I watched some live videos online and he had a way of standing onstage and demanding attention with just a guitar. I’ve always been attracted to that, and everyone I’ve enjoyed has been a really good solo performer, and I mainly perform on my own now. I’ve seen a lot of bad acoustic singer-songwriters, so I don’t think it’s as easy as people may think, to just stand onstage with a guitar and make a night out of it. More recently, people like Justin Vernon’s sonics and approach to harmonies [have been an influence on my sound]. Also, I went back to classic singer-songwriters. My intro was Damien Rice and then I moved toward with Bryan Adams, so I went back and listened to a lot of Neil Young and Nick Drake, James Taylor, etc.”
F21: It seems a really zig-zag way to do it; to reach from the present to the far past.
“Yeah, because I was never really brought up on much music. Music wasn’t a massive thing in the house; my eldest brother was playing a lot of Radiohead around the house. Although I wouldn’t say that Radiohead or Thom Yorke were big influences, because a lot of it being played around the house I’m sure there are elements of their music [in mine].”
F21: Due to the lack of musical background growing up, how did that affect your musical identity, and up to now, how do you make yourself unique with that identity?
“I don’t really know. You get into conversations with some [music buffs] who’ve been brought up on music like The Beatles and The [Rolling] Stones and had gone through their parent’s music collection, having that kind of education for their whole lives and now have an encyclopedic knowledge, which I never had. And sometimes, you feel like you should and I felt that I should know more about [music history]. But then you realise it doesn’t matter; I feel content about what I know, and who cares? At this point, I’m writing songs unconsciously; I’ve done my years of exploring and working out who I want to be and writing songs that sound just like [my] influences. Way back when, I was really into the Goo Goo Dolls and I made my first album in my bedroom, where every song sounded exactly like them. When you’re starting out, that’s what you do; you have all these influences but you end up copying them. After you keep going, you find an unique angle between some of these influences and come across a sound that doesn’t sound like anyone else, something that sounds like me. It’s a subtle thing to explain – that’s not something you realise on one day, it just happens. And I feel like that’s where I am now, I don’t think about it anymore, I don’t think about where I fit or anything like that. I’m just making songs that I like, which I’m sure is taking cues from lots of stuff, but I’m not consciously aware of it anymore. People may come afterwards and say “Oh, that reminds me of [another song]” and you realise it may do, but that could be because I was listening to a bit of [a certain artist], that’s probably got in there a little bit.”
F21: That’s interesting, because there’s that divorcing of the identities of people you love and their sound and you focus on the latter rather than the former. When you have that sound, how does that translate to how people perceive you; how does it feel to have creative autonomy, not making music that sounds like your contemporaries and your current place in the industry?
“Fairly unstable, I guess! (laughs) It kinda becomes a whole different thing; the creative element of writing songs is one, and you can either choose to take your own [creative] journey and worry about audience later or you let the industry and the audience’s expectation feed into your creative process. And I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other; I would say on my first album, I was paying more attention to what would work. It wasn’t always from me, it could be the major label saying “We need a song that could be played on Radio 1”, or “This wouldn’t get played on Radio 1”.”
F21: “We need 100,000 downloads by this point.”
“Yeah, and I think some people can make it work even if they don’t enjoy it, or others really enjoy the outside pressure, but I didn’t. It ended up ruining my enjoyment of it all, so on this album, these are my first set of songs where I’ve ignored all of [the external pressures] and just made music. And on [the release], we’ll see what happens – we’ll see how it’s accepted. And it all seems positive, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the third album. Will I freak out and make it sound like the second one? Will I be comfortable to do whatever I want again? Because I was just following my nose on this album, it feels a lot more natural, a lot more me. And I can imagine being comfortable making another album with a similar tone, because it’ll feel like me anyway. But, I don’t know when I’ll make another album, I could’ve changed a lot since. I do overthink these things, but I just try my best not to worry about the outside world, because you can’t control any of it. I just try to creatively please myself, and hope that other people enjoy it. And if not, I’ll just give up, maybe? (laughs) I feel like I’ll just carry on until I don’t have an audience anymore.”
F21: So what’s the music you’re currently listening to on a regular basis?
“It changes a fair bit…there’s quite a bit that’s come out recently which is quite exciting. I’ve been listening to a lot of Feist’s new album, which I haven’t been enjoying but, as a fan, I want to like it and I’m trying to understand it. Maybe it’s because I am an artist that I think “I wonder why they’ve made these decisions”, and you trust that, because [Feist] is so good at writing songs, even if I don’t like these songs, they must be good because [Feist] wrote them (laughs) and I wanna know what’s going on here. I’ve also been listening to Spoon’s latest album and today I’ve been Mac Demarco’s latest album (This Old Dog). [Re: Spoon] I never would’ve listened to that kind of music in the past; I listen to a lot of solo artists, and there’s a big difference between that music and music from bands, and it’s worth trying to open my mind to music from bands. Since their last album, I’ve been listening to Spoon loads. There’s something about their sound I really like.”
F21: Lastly, if you were a cocktail, what would you be and why?
“I would be a negroni. It’s quite classic, but it hits you with an emotional punch. It’s quite drinkable, but you’ll get very drunk quite quickly. (laughs)”
F21: And where can people find you?
“Online, there’s lukesitalsingh.com, and you can google my name – there’s only one of me in the world – and I’m on tour [since 11th May] around the UK, should be really fun.”
(Since the interview, Luke has begun his tour, his next date is the 18th May at Leeds.)
He has come very far in his musical career. Be sure to look out for his tour dates, give him a follow on social media and check out his music to show some support.
Check out some of Luke’s songs:
Credit: Luke Sital-Singh