When Lewis Capaldi’s debut single Bruises exploded in mid-2017 it seemed from an outside perspective to have all the hallmarks of an overnight sensation. How could this 20-year-old with a soul-wrenching voice that sounded like it had been hewn from granite seemingly emerge from nowhere with a song of such emotional depth?
A stripped-back and almost painfully raw meditation on love and loss from a writer who seemed like he’d already lived several lives and had the scars to prove it, within weeks it had racked up an astonishing 20 million Spotify plays and topped streaming charts around the world. “Once we got to 10 million, I was like, ‘Right, I’m going to stop looking at this because I’m happy with that,’” laughs Capaldi, sat in a Soho coffee shop in a rare bit of down time.
“People ask me, ‘How do you feel about everything?’ I’m confused, I’m like, ‘How the hell has this happened?’ I was happy to release something and then to just see it explode. People are telling me that they’ve heard it in shops in Thailand, they’ve been in Zante and Magaluf and Ibiza and they’ve heard remixes of it in clubs. It’s absolutely mental. I’m kind of always thinking that someone’s going to turn around and tell me, ‘Oh lad, we’re only joking!’”
Have a listen to any of the other tunes Capaldi has been stockpiling into a goldmine of songs and it seem very, very unlikely that anyone will be saying that. Capaldi is that rare thing: a writer who can take his own experiences and pain and craft them into deeply effecting, heart-bruised truths that resonate with anyone who hears them.
If Capaldi seems to have a maturity as an artist and a performer that goes beyond his years then that might be down to the fact that he’s had a bit of a head start. In fact, given the years of graft the West Lothian native has put in, he’d probably take umbrage at the notion that it was an “overnight” success.
“I picked the guitar up at nine, started writing songs at eleven and then was gigging from 12 onwards,” he states matter-of-factly, before delivering a bit of customary self-deprecation. “I mean, they were awful songs, but it was fun. I was always trying to get in places, playing at pubs. I’d show up and try and blag my way in. I’d have to hide in the toilets and then jump out and do my set as quickly as possible before anyone knew there was a 12-year-old in the pub.” From then on in Capaldi devoted every spare moment he had to writing and performing. Playing gigs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and anywhere he could find a receptive audience, he was constantly working on songs, finding his voice as a songwriter and honing his craft with unwavering dedication. All the while developing the rough-around-the-edges vocals that would make those songs soar.
“I’m constantly writing. Even now, if I’m not doing a gig or in rehearsals, I’m writing. It’s constant because you’re only as good as your next song,” he says, perhaps forgetting for a moment that he’s got one of the most acclaimed debut releases this year already under his belt. “A lot of my pals laugh because they’re roofers and electricians and they’ve got real jobs, and I’ll go, ‘Oh man, I’m so stressed out trying to write songs,” They’re like, “Shut the hell up.” I get it, but it’s a slog, man. It can be proper difficult at times.”
It’s a slog that has paid off in spades. With “hundreds of songs” crafted in the last year alone, Lewis Capaldi is already shaping up to be one of the British Isles’ most gifted songwriters. Preposterously, when it comes to the daunting process of picking a dozen for a debut album in the future, he feels that Bruises might not even make the cut.
“An album has to sound cohesive. So if Bruises still to me feels like it should be on the album at that point, then I don’t see why not,” he ponders. “I’m constantly writing, but then it’s the hope that every song will be better than the last one. It’s just constantly trying to better yourself.” Not a bad position to find yourself in, but if he feels the success of his first offering might be fading he’s sorely mistaken.
“Yesterday I phoned up the bank and the girl was like, “I’ll phone you back in ten minutes…” She phoned back in ten minutes and said, “Oh, I recognised your name, I really like your song”.’ He recalls with disbelief. “Things like that are just like ‘… Oh shit, that’s weird.’”
Much as he might currently find it strange, Capaldi’s success is only going to grow from here. He’d better get used to it.