On to a sure thing

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If you own a radio, chances are you’ve heard TCTS’s You on which Londoner Sam Sure provides vocals – the track was BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac’s Next Hype. Sam’s own music – a mix of musical styles – features heartfelt, honest lyrics (“I try to say the most amount of things in the fewest amount of words and touch the most amount of people,” he told Glass) and minimal electronic sounds. He’s currently working on new material, and a single which will be released later this year. Glass caught up with Sam to talk music and the art of saying something that’s been said a million times before in a new and refreshing way.

‏Have you always wanted to create music?
‏I wouldn’t say I’ve always been drawn to creating music, but I’ve certainly always been creative in one way or another. Writing words is something I’ve always been interested in – like, not at school… so much; not in an academic way, I mean – just being creative and writing lyrics is always something I’ve loved doing. I sung at primary school before my voice broke. I guess it didn’t really start until I was 16 and was getting into hip hop; it’s then when I started writing raps and hip-hop stuff. I met a guy, Giacomo, and started making music with him – that was just for fun.

I only started taking it seriously when I started working with my older brother, who had been making music his whole life. With him, I realised you could take it quite far – even make a living out of it – and excel at it like he has. I’d enjoyed singing – regardless of whether I’d been chasing it as a career or not. Now I can’t think of doing anything else.

‏Do you write all your own lyrics and do you have a favourite one?
‏Yes, I write all my own lyrics. My favourite lyric? I don’t think I have a big enough ego to say what it is; I don’t even know if I know what my favourite lyric is. I feel like, every now and then, when you write something and you nail it: you get exactly the sentiment that you wanted and you get it off your chest, you don’t ever need to process it ever again, [writing] processes that feeling or emotion for you, it’s great when that happens. I write to touch other people; I think there should be some ambiguity with lyrics and so I think that my best lyric will be individual to each person. I try to say the most amount of things in the fewest amount of words and touch the most amount of people.

I guess if there were any formula, that’s the formula I’m following. But I don’t really think about it when I’m writing. I did write a song about my dad that took me about two years to finish, but I wouldn’t say it was my favourite set of lyrics, it just was poignant because it took a long time and was intricate and difficult to write. It was a very staggered experience; I would go keep going back to it and wouldn’t force it; I would analyse each word to make sure it was saying exactly what I wanted it to say.

Have you always written rhymes?
‏I’ve always written raps. I’ve always written things down –most of the time just writing on walls doing graffiti when I was growing up [laughs]; I’ve always been writing on something.

How does it feel seeing the counter rising on the number of people listening to the music you’ve been involved in? You received 24,000 plays in one day, it would appear.
‏It’s crazy, isn’t it? The internet is kind of… well I kind of don’t process it. Just hearing that and thinking about 24,000 people listen to my song in one day, that’s quite mad. It’s probably just my mum listening to it that many times, though [laughs] – she’s a big fan. I’m trying really hard to enjoy that sort of thing, I’m clearly not succeeding, because as I hear your question I’m thinking, “Wow, I didn’t really think about that.” You don’t really enjoy it; views or plays or hits at this stage dictate how far the record is going to go, in terms of radio or the marketing push from the record label. With the numbers, there’s an obsession with statistics of it rather than the concept that there are people around the world listening to it. I think i should try to enjoy that more. This question has helped me a bit with that. Yeah, 24,000 in one day, it’s wicked.

Where can we see you performing?
‏I’ve jumped around and played a few pop-up things in London this summer, but the live aspect of my act is kind of not a priority  because I’m getting all my songs together – it’s a priority for me, but it’s not a priority for the plan of the project, if you know what I mean. I want to play live as much as possible, but it’s just about getting it right, getting the songs right and the record finished, and then going out and playing the songs as they sound on the record rather than just playing the demo versions.

‏Which is your favourite venue to play at?
‏I’ve played KOKO before and it is the best venue in London – and I’ve played at a lot of venues in London; it’s just got a bit of magic to it. Camden has also got magic to it – if you don’t live there, I think … I have exhausted Camden at all; I’m not indie, so I haven’t been hanging out in the Hawley Arms, wearing my sunglasses in winter, you know? I haven’t exhausted the coolness of Camden. KOKO is such a brilliant venue – it feels really real when you’re on stage there.

‏Would you say the music you create is particularly English sounding?
‏I think it is. I think my accent is distinctively southern and Kentish, and I use very colloquial English words.

What themes do you address in your songwriting?
‏My themes are everyday mundane made to sound as beautiful as possible, and heartache, love and all the stuff people have been singing about since the invention of music. I definitely want to say things that haven’t been said. I don’t necessarily think you do that with subjects, you can do it with honesty – because one person’s honesty is different to everyone else’s. I try to get my view of whatever subject I’m tackling across quite concisely and honestly, so that it’s different and something new.

‏Is there a science behind how you approach songwriting?
‏There is no science other than trying to make it as meaningful as I can within whatever the subject is. That doesn’t mean that I can’t make fun, floor-filling records for dance halls; it doesn’t change the fact that I want the music to mean something – even if the meaning is ‘fun’ to some people. Whatever emotion I’m trying to invoke, I want it to be the strongest form of that. Technically, I don’t stick to BPM. I play up to house-music tempo if that’s what I’m feeling that day, it’s nice to play songs live that have a good house beat because people start dancing – and it’s electric when people start dancing. I suppose I’m comfortable in generic hip-hop tempos, at around 90bpm, but it’s nice to step out of my comfort zone.

How does it work in the instance of TCTS feat. Sam Sure with You? It’s not like being in a band where you know who you’ll be collaborating ?with from month to month, or is it?
‏TCTS is a great guy and he’s very creative. Now, with You, we’d probably approach it differently. You  was my first time working with him and we didn’t really know if it was going to be a Sam Sure song produced by TCTS, or a TCTS song featuring me. We started it and it very quickly became an organic collaboration that was very equal in terms of input. There was a lot of vocal work, though not a lot of lyrics, but there’s not a lot of beat either (not to do him a discredit; he’s amazing at being subtle) and it quickly became a TCTS project, really. I enjoyed it.

It took pressure off me as I don’t have to analyse it in the same way. It doesn’t have to resolve itself; dance music has different rules that I have very title understanding of. You go into these sessions and you work with someone maybe for one day, or a few sessions over a month. With him, we nailed it in one day and then we had some agonising days to make it better before realising we’d reached the pinnacle with that song, or rather we’d reached a place where we were happy to say, ‘You know what? This is the song and I don’t think we need to change it.’

Sometime you just catch a moment and there was definitely a vibe in the studio that day in east London, we knew straight away that we’d made something quite cool-sounding. It’s not like being in a band, though. When you’re in a band, you all rely on each other for support and encouragement, whereas TCTS works really well without me – maybe even better – and I work well without him as well. So when you collab you get two people who work well individually coming together to put the best bits of their creative personas together. It worked, it doesn’t always, but this time it did, happy days.

by Natalie Egling

Images by Justin van Vliet

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Glass contributing travel editor

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