The chart-topping songwriter talks Max Gayler through the songs that inspire him.
Taking over the world one pop-fuelled ballad at a time, Lewis Capaldi’s infatuation with lyricism is his secret weapon.
The Scottish songwriter’s prowess as a lyricist is unarguably one of his most alluring traits and as we talk about the songs that have formed his musical tastes it’s clear how much attention he’s paid to each of them. He recites their lyrics perfectly and without hesitation, a testament to the work that Capaldi has put into his craft as a songwriter.
He’s also had a fascinating rise to fame. Whether it’s his song ‘Someone You Loved’ battling global superstar Ariana Grande for the top spot of the UK charts - and eventually getting the coveted #1 spot in March - or his Twitter and Instagram accounts running as a standalone source of top-tier comedy, Capaldi is incredibly down to earth about his appearance in the global spotlight.
Honing his craft playing in local pubs, he released his debut single ‘Bruises’ in 2017, a raspy ballad that quickly made Capaldi the first and youngest unsigned artist to hit 25 million plays on Spotify. This led to being shortlisted for BBC’s Sounds of 2018, included in Radio 1’s Brit List, nominated for the Critic’s Choice Award at the Brits and most recently winning MTV Push’s Ones To Watch 2019. He’s about to release a debut album, Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent, a title which mines his fondness for understatement.
Capaldi has sold out every headline show he’s ever played and even managed to get his distant relative and Doctor Who alumni Peter Capaldi to appear in the video for ‘Someone You Loved.’ Yet regardless of the hype, there’s an endearing and heartfelt nature to his lyrics and music. One of Capaldi’s greatest strengths is a love of comedy and self-deprecation, which belies a very serious artist and throughout our conversation about the pivotal songs in his life it’s clear there’s one thing he’s truly consumed by; music.
Humble and more than capable of handing out compliments to the artists he loves, from Bob Dylan, Kanye West and The Maccabees, our conversation is littered with a fascination with vocal harmonies, hard-hitting choruses and finding lyrical inspiration in the accidental poetry of every day conversations.
“I first came across Donna about four months ago through this live session I found online. It’s just her, a guitar player and a drummer and it just fucking went off in my mind when I saw it. It’s been a while since I’d heard a voice that made me think "Fuck me..." and there's something about the way she performs that you can't help but be enamoured by.
“She’s absolutely wild. I went hunting through her live sessions because I couldn't believe how good it was, but she's note perfect every time. Her album This Time came out last year and all the songs are incredible. There's another song of hers called ‘Jupiter’ that's almost got a Drive soundtrack vibe to it.
“You can't take your eyes off her when she performs because she's overflowing with passion. She's got a voice that’s like being punched in the face in the best possible way, it's so powerful and it knocks you back. The whole album is incredible but ‘Keep Lying’ just does something to me. She’s one of the best voices around at the moment, 100 per cent. There's something to be said about a song that hits so hard every time you listen to it.”
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the album that got me interested in pop music. When I was growing up I was very much into ‘indie’ and ‘bands’, but I remember ‘Monster’ was the first song that I heard off that album, the one with Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z and everyone. That was the first song of Kanye West’s that I heard and I thought "Fuck me, this is amazing."
“I'd heard a few others on the radio, but I never really investigated them. I looked up the rest of the album on iTunes and the first song that came up was ‘Runaway’ and that was it, immediately I just couldn't believe how incredible it was. That four-minute instrumental section after the main part of the song just didn't make sense, but in the best way. Production-wise it's perfect and melody-wise it's unbeatable, even the music video is amazing, it's an iconic song.
“It's such an amazing piece of music. It's like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody', it's 9-minutes 40 seconds long and at no point am I getting bored of this.’
“For me, Aha Shake Heartbreak is the Kings Of Leon album, but my initial experience of Kings Of Leon was the whole ‘Sex On Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody’ era, and I wanted to look deeper into those songs.
“Those songs got a bad rap, but truly, they're fucking bangers. So I went through their discography and just got lost. There's something about ‘Arizona’ where you can imagine being pissed at a festival, stood in the crowd and it just being incredible. Caleb's voice could sing anything and it would sound like a great song. When I was younger and writing songs, I used to imagine Caleb singing it and if he could pull it off then I’d write it down.
“With those first four Kings Of Leon albums, that's my music. That raspy voice is such a big thing for me. It's something I grew up trying to emulate and I think I've damaged my voice irreparably trying to impersonate him.”
“When I first heard this song, it was right at the end of a mix by a Scottish DJ called Jasper James. It came out of nowhere and I was like "What the fuck is this?" So I think the way I found it through techno makes it special to me.
“The way the key constantly moves up is so weird, but it’s fucking incredible. Just As I Am is one of the best albums I've ever heard and it would have been easy to choose other songs of his, like ‘Grandma's Hands’ which is the sample for the song “No Diggity”, but for me ‘Harlem’ is a special piece of music that has so much to say.
“The whole album has got this laid-back vibe that hooked me from the start. Bill Withers has this power to his voice that’s so strong and there's something cool about this song, something that’s inherently cool.”
“The first album I ever bought with my own money was a Bob Dylan compilation album. It was in this red case that just said "Dylan" on the front. I barely knew who he was, but I was only 11 or 12 and I bought it because I was a little prick trying to make people think I was cool.
“I went home and listened to it and I heard ‘The Times They Are A Changin’, ‘Blowin' in the Wind’ and the rest but it took me a while to find this tune. It maybe took up until a year and a half ago before I rediscovered ‘My Back Pages’ and I really connected with it.
“There's a part where he says, "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" and fuck, it just really stuck with me. It's such a cool lyric and then I read that the song was meant to be about him looking back on his younger self and recollecting how strong-headed he once was.
“There's a song that's going to be on my album called ‘Headspace’ and there's a line in there from when I was with my brother. He was talking about lifting weights and I remember him saying “I don't want the bruise.” I remember thinking that was an interesting line, so that led me to the lyric “I can take the hit / but I'm sorry, I don't want the bruise.” There's something interesting about what people say when they're not paying attention and I'd be interested to know if Dylan ever did the same thing.”
“The Maccabees are my favourite band. I saw them play at Barrowlands before they split and it was fucking incredible. This song in particular was the one that hooked me into their album Given To The Wild. I'd heard it when I was out and about and thought it was class, but I just kept forgetting about it.
“‘First Love’ was the first song that I'd really heard from them and I loved it, but when I eventually heard ‘Pelican’ I connected the dots and it clicked. Given To The Wild is wildly different to Colour It In but it really worked for me - the harmonies and the pace of the music are just beautiful and there are layers of production that makes it something so special. For a while I was just trying to copy this sound every chance that I got.
“Given To The Wild is the album that took them from being just another indie band into something more. They avoided the indie landfill and cemented themselves as a group that people will remember forever.
“I heard they really struggled to play ‘Pelican’ live because of the sheer amount of things going on there, but this song, fucking hell, it's one of those you just wish that you wrote. The lyrical content is sublime and very poetically written.”
“I saw this in the film Blue Valentine. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams sing this together and lyrically it's so cutting. “Take the sweetest rose and crush it until the petals fall / If I broke your heart last night it's because I love you most of all.”
“It's a very dickish thing to say to someone you know? What a cunt, but at the same time it's so true that you can take the people you love the most for granted, and how you can abuse the fact that they're always going to be there. Lyrically it's so engaging and again the harmonies on this just blow me away. There's something about the first part of this song where it's a little bit slower, I’d love to hear a full song like that.
“It would be incredible for someone like Adele to sing it. It works so perfectly with the film as well, so make sure to go and check that out.”
“I was listening to a lot of Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus before the boygenius album came out. It was only Phoebe Bridgers that I wasn't familiar with, but once I heard this single I just dived right in.
"I think it's Lucy Dacus that sings the first part of the song and the melody just catches you immediately, there's something about her voice that just pulls you in. There's not a bad song on that album and the way their voices mix together makes them such interesting songs. For me this release was very exciting, but I never expected to be this blown away by it.
“I always go through these periods where I can't be arsed to listen to any music. The last time this went on for two weeks and I just couldn't be bothered to try something new but eventually I heard this album and I couldn't turn it off. That first line, "I can't hear you, you're too far away" is just incredible.
“It's such an emotional album and the fact that three people could come together and do something like that means so much. Sometimes when singers and songwriters collaborate it can dilute how personal the songs are, but with these three they've somehow managed to keep the songs class.”
“I don't know much about Tammy Wynette other than the fact she's a world-famous country singer, but there's something about this song that's just “Wow...” When I'm writing songs I find it so hard to go from a really low verse to massive choruses, but it's growing up and listening to songs like this that have made me lean towards that style.
"Her voice is just magical though, the way she can get up that high and sound so smooth is incredible. If I go anywhere near that high I'm just shouting. There's something about the lift in the chorus that makes me keep coming back to it.
"Sometimes It's hard to engage with all of the lyrics in the song - “Sometimes it's hard to be a woman / Giving all your love to just one man / You'll have bad times and he'll have good times." - and then it goes "Stand by him” and you just think "Maybe not though?" I get the sentiment, but it's strange to listen to.
"I think there's something that makes you feel for her, you imagine this woman sitting at home while her husband's out somewhere, probably at the pub. It's hopeless love.”