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Let’s rewind a bit, to when you started putting out music on YouTube. How important was that exposure in establishing you as an artist?
“YouTube was really good for building a kind of core, loyal fanbase. I didn’t want to be a YouTube artist, as such. I mean, there are people who are able to release albums and live off YouTube, but I felt – and not in an arrogant way – that I could be commercial and credible if I really put my mind to it. I didn’t want to be a YouTube artist and I didn’t feel that I suited that, in a way. I was very loyal to the fans that were loyal to me on there – and it was great to actually meet these fans and connect with them.
“Then the ‘BBC Introducing’ opportunity was great for me [recorded in April 2011 at Maida Vale], in terms of connecting what I did on YouTube to the ‘real world’. I got a manager, and I set up a label so I could release my own music independently on iTunes, put my own tours on sale and built it from there. It just got bigger and bigger each time.”
You sound very savvy to the business side of things, rather than a pure focus on writing or singing. Does that go back to the things you studied at college?
“Yeah, I get involved with everything, but looking back, I didn’t really realise I was doing them at the time. I’m really interested in the business side of it. Before I’d even started doing music or having opportunities with my own music, I was studying production and business and stuff anyway. I knew there were so many jobs within the music industry – songwriting or session playing or working at a label – and I was really interested in how it all works.
“I actually wanted to do a production course. I went to sixth form [at school], but I got bored and dropped out, so I joined the course [at City Of Bath College] late and there were no spaces left, so I went on to Popular Music and did that. At the time, writing and singing were things I did for fun, little gigs around Bath and so on. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I enjoyed it!”
People started noticing pretty quickly – when did it turn from hoping to become successful, to realising that it was actually happening?
“I stayed on my course while touring, and then it just became so busy that everything I was doing outside of college just took over: it took up all my time. But I was pretty oblivious to it, because it was building up over a number of years. It wasn’t a hit-in-the-face moment.”
Was there a hit-in-the-face moment, then?
“Things like not being able to leave the venue until the crowds of people have gone: that’s odd! And when I was in Japan recently, there were fans outside the hotel. ‘Hang on, there are people waiting at my hotel?!’ Those are the moments when you know that things are happening. But it’s not as if I’m Harry Styles or anything [laughs]. It’s still music-based, not celebrity-based.”
How do you feel about the other approach: reality TV – The X Factor – ever tempted for an audition?
“Oh no, no. No. It suits a certain kind of artist. You’ve got a massive voice and you want someone to write songs for you... If you wanted to be a big seller everywhere, instantly, it’s great. But I don’t really like that, y’know, I don’t think it should be about who I’m dating or what I look like. It should just be about my songs, and I want to protect that as much as I can.”
You’ve mentioned you like to help fund other artists – can you still do that now you’re on a major label?
“Definitely. When I signed to Parlophone, obviously I couldn’t release my own music any more, but I was able to keep all my previous releases. I couldn’t put that back into me, so I was putting it into other artists. I funded a few EPs and things; there’s a guy called Saint Raymond and we’ve just signed him to Atlantic, which is amazing. I’m also working with a girl called Hannah Grace, and she’s a singer-songwriter who has a wonderful voice.”
And you also ran a competition for new talent to win the support on your tour?
“I just wanted to do something cool. We’d chosen one support, but there were so many people coming to me, like via my agent or whatever, I hadn’t heard of these people, so I thought that maybe I could find some people that were even more under the radar. And we found some amazing people: a guy called Jack Williams in Bournemouth, and we actually got him back for Oxford. Amazing – played his guitar with loop pedals and so on.”
A lot of musicians of the generation previous to yours are really struggling to deal with the changes in the music business since physical album sales have decreased. Do you have a perspective on that?
“I guess you just need to realise that it’s gone elsewhere. People are buying fewer albums, but more people are going to gigs because that’s one thing that you can’t illegally download. And y’know, I haven’t had any problems with people buying my records. I think if you look after your fans... if people want to buy an album, they’ll buy it. I don’t buy loads, but I don’t think there’s loads of great music. Something really has to draw you in that much; nobody has any money, but if they’ll like it, they’ll still buy it. You just have to adjust, because [the industry] is changing.”
What does being on a major label bring for you?
“Parlophone is a proper heritage label: amazing. I mean, I had the indie label that I was able to chart with and do all these things with the resources I had, but I wanted for everything to keep progressing. I felt that I could do radio, for example, and there were other things I wanted to do but just didn’t have the funding. A bigger team around me means I can do more things, and I needed help. But what’s so great about Parlophone is that they didn’t change anything about me; they knew that what I was doing was working for me, so they took me on, and sent me off to make my album.”