This is very much Finn Askew’s world, and he knows it. With a shrug of the shoulders, he taps into the sounds that are one step ahead of the moment – it’s as natural as a reflex.
His carefully curated Instagram account speaks volumes about his flair for arresting your attention; it’s something that bleeds into his music, trying on genres for a hot three minute before throwing them aside, in a restless pursuit of that perfect fit.
The nineteen-year-old’s success has been meteoric: his sky-gazing indie sound, washed one moment in a rosy hue of pop and the next polished to a high, RnB sheen, has racked up streams in the millions since his debut track “Roses” dropped last year. “It’s just that Finn Askew thing, you know what I mean?” he smirks. Confidence is the ace up his sleeve, and he plays it well – but he doesn’t need you to tell him that.
“I remember all the kids growing up, being like, ‘Finn, you’re fucking cocky’ – and honestly, I know it sounds cocky when I say it, I really do know that,” he assures me, “but I knew I was gonna make it. I’m not one of those people who thought it was always going to happen but still had their doubts. I never doubted myself for a second. I knew I was sick.” That’s why, he explains, he doesn’t allow for much time to bask in the success of being signed to a major label; nor the fact that he has, at last, dropped his first major body of work: the Peach EP. “This was all bound to happen. That’s all part of the journey.”
With tracks with titles like, “Nicotine”, “Buttercup” and “Peach”, his candied indie-pop would fit on your 2014 Tumblr dashboard, where pink sunsets, smudges of grunge and being in-your-feels are pinned side by side. “Every song stands out,” says Askew. “They don’t sound similar, at all. They all belong to a different genre and shit, but they all fit in the same universe. I don’t know how – they just do. I make it work.”
The concept of genre is something he finds uncomfortable, like an itchy hand-knitted sweater he wears just to please everyone else. “I don’t ever want to be defined by one genre – I’ve always said it from the beginning,” he insists. “I want my EP to showcase that. I feel like early on, it’s really important that you don’t put yourself in a box. I can’t think of anything worse: being stuck in one thing forever.” He says, matter-of-factly, “It's definitely just about showing that I can do what the fuck I want. I don't care.”
What does that look like? “I think I was just trying to capture youthfulness,” Askew explains. “I was just going through the maddest year of my life, as a teenager. It was a completely different ball game.” Two years ago, he’d never been in a studio at all, writing songs at a desperate speed, like a fever he couldn’t sweat out. Now, he calls me having just returned from London, where, in the orbit of pop alchemists, he’s already sprinting towards a second EP, backed all the way by Universal. “I’ve grown a lot as an artist, like, in a lot of ways,” he acknowledges. “I’ve been finding people along the way, and they’ve all shaped me.”
He toys with the idea of his music being a “kinda audio oxymoron”, at times. His track “Same Old Love” is a synth-inflected, offbeat earworm, and yet, if you take a moment to really listen, you realise it’s far from your typical love song. “The song is basically about me saying that the girl is gonna miss me, but I’m just living life, and I’m fucking sick without her,” he says. “Because if I did a classic pop song, where I just said, ‘Oh! I love her! And she’s the pengest girl around!’, people would be like, ‘Ugh, it’s just some pop kid, some little dickhead.’ It makes my music a lot more interesting, and I do it a lot.”
For Askew, song writing isn’t so much about charting the world around him – it’s about creating one of his own. Fantasy is his sharpest instrument. “I just come up with random shit – my head is just a mad place,” he explains. “But a lot of it is personal, obviously. I’ve had ups and downs, and I’ve been through a lot.” Writing songs, either from a place of escapism or catharsis, comes instinctively. “I mean, there’s definitely a sense of getting things out you’ve kind of been bottling up. I find it so bloody satisfying. It just feels really natural. If I don’t write in a long time, I get shaky – well, I don’t get shaky, but I get worked up – and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I need to write something.’ It’s kind of like, to keep me mentally well, I need to write. I just fucking love it.”
Hard to pin down, Askew admires the elusive lyricism of Frank Ocean. “Some things just don’t make sense in his writing, but it makes sense to everyone else,” he explains. “And that’s kind of the way I write: as long as it paints a picture, it doesn’t really need to make sense. I feel like a lot of people nowadays are like, ‘It’s all got to tie into each other’, ‘It has to make sense’, ‘There’s got to be a story’ – and it doesn’t. It doesn’t need to be shit. If it means something to someone, then it’s calm, you know what I mean?”
His tastes in music are far-flung: a Gen Z graduate of the school of Justin Bieber, who worships at the altar of The 1975, with jagged streaks of SoundCloud emo pop in the vein of Lil Peep. But it was his dad’s vinyl collection, served up at the table for breakfast before school, which proved to be his gateway drugs: Green Day, The Smiths, Nirvana, The Beach Boys, stirring up an appetite for his all-you-can-eat approach to music. He jokes, “I just remember waking up in the morning, going downstairs to get ready for school, hearing ‘Surfin’ USA’ – and I’d be on the table, riding that wave, you know what I mean?”
Askew bears all the hallmarks of a frontman: an unwavering self-belief and a fierce individuality. His attitude is larger-than-life; he is acutely aware of his own appeal – and despite what your mother might have warned you, Finn Askew is proof that you can never be too confident. It was plain to see, right from the start. “I never really speak about this. I always forget to talk about it when people ask, but my earliest memory of music – well, not really a memory, because I have no fucking clue about this - but my mum told me she used to take me to a music for toddlers group, and the guy came up to her and said, ‘Your son has a great tempo – he’s definitely gonna be a musician.’”
Little wonder, then, that when he began guitar lessons, they were soon jettisoned. “I just don’t really like people controlling me, I guess,” he shrugs. “To be fair, I just hate getting taught, in general. I like to teach myself because there’s a lot less pressure, and I teach myself better than people can teach me – I know myself better, I know how I work, even though they were better than me.” Reared under the hothouse lights of the internet, Askew knew from an early age that there was no limit to what he could learn – empires could be built from his bedroom. “In music lessons, they’d just try to teach me the James Bond theme songs on a couple of strings, you know what I mean? I don’t want to learn other people’s songs. I’ve always hated covers, and shit. I just want to know the chords so I can write my own. That’s the way I’ve always been. It just wasn’t for me, sat in a room with a bloke, playing a guitar. I just thought, ‘I can’t be fucked with this.’”
Through a process of trial and error, he learned to master his instrument. “It’s good to start off with guitar lessons, at least,” he admits, “but once you’ve got the technique, and you know how to strum and place your fingers down, you don’t need a person to teach you how to play chords.” In a bizarre twist, after hearing his son cut his teeth as a musician, his dad decided to pick up a guitar, too. “I got my dad into music, so he does play guitar now too, and stuff. He’s quite good at it. He’s got loads downstairs. I started playing, and he got jealous,” Askew boasts. “He was like, ‘Finn, that’s fucking sick‘, and I was like, “I know…’”.
"Matty Healy is my god... He’s just the fucking coolest guy on earth – a pure artist."
When it comes to the artists who fixed his sights on a career in music, Askew confesses, “It’s a bit of a curveball, I can’t lie to you… but I would genuinely say Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.” Ed Sheeran’s early sound encouraged Askew to meld his voice and the guitar together, and Justin Bieber’s acoustic remix album of Believe, he says, is the reason he can riff. “Honestly, that was the maddest album,” he enthuses. “It was just like, oh mate… I don’t know, that album just slapped. It was the first album I ever bought, and it kind of shaped me. Everyone always thought Justin Bieber was just a cringey kid, but I saw him as someone my age, going ham, playing the guitar.” But in general, he struggles to call to mind records that have changed his musical trajectory. Why? “A lot of the time, I just listen to my own music, to be honest with you. I'm writing songs that I like, so if I want a happy song, I'll just go and write one, you know what I mean?”
Even so, his finger is always on the pulse. He’s hooked up to the classics on an intravenous drip, almost, choosing for the “Peach” music video to blanket his bedroom walls in posters, from Forrest Gump to Superbad and The Smiths. For the observant, you can also spy a poster of The 1975 because, he says, “Matty Healy is my god.” Like any nineteen-year-old, the band’s seminal debut album was a cultural awakening. “He’s just the fucking coolest guy on earth – a pure artist. I mean, his mind is so incredible. I just fell in love with them. He’s always going to be an idol to me. I remember when I first saw them live, and it was one of the first gigs I’d been to. He came out, and his presence was just… so sick,” his mind drifts. “He walked out, and I burst out crying.”
The power of fandom is more than familiar to Askew. Take a look at the comments on his music videos, and you’ll see floods of Korean and Thai. The top comment garnered 11,000 likes alone, saying, “Who is here after Taeyong said he likes this song??? <3” A stroke of luck led to a goldrush, for Askew, after a member K-Pop kingpins NCT played “Roses” to his millions of fans on a live stream. The track now has 11 million streams and counting – the speed of his success was whiplash-inducing. “I think the way the song sounds fit into that dreamy, K-Pop world,” Askew says. “You know how these fans are, once their idol likes it they'll just hop on it. Yeah, it just fucking went mad from there - loads of people like checking it out and all of their fan pages we're sharing it, and ever since then, it has just blown up - it's still growing and growing and growing.” While he doesn’t consider himself a part of the K-Pop world, and never has, he says, “I respect it very highly. The fanbase in Korea is mad – when I’m out there, it’s gonna pop off.”
The world has opened up for Askew, and it’s a far cry from his isolated upbringing in Somerset. “The scene, especially where I am, is so dead,” he laughs. “There’s no venues – the nearest is in Exeter, which is fifty minutes away, unless you want to play a pub or community hall, which I have done many, many times…” When he started posting videos of his songs on YouTube, he was the only person he knew who was striving toward being a musician. “I was the only kid on the block doing that sort of things, and it was sick – I could just do my own thing and grow at my own pace. It’s a lot less complicated. Coming from where I’m from, it made me want it a lot more.”
"When you’re younger, you’re not going to write about deep things - you’re going to write about love, because it’s super fucking easy.”
You can comb the four corners of the earth, and the chances are you’ll be hard-pressed to find an artist who can stand by their earliest work – let alone like it. “They’re not actually shit,” he insists. “I mean, I’m not trying to gas myself up, but if you listen to my earliest songs, they’re not even bad at all – they’re full-on songs. Mate, honestly, they’re gas. I must have been good from the get-go.” He hasn’t worked particularly hard to hide them: a quick YouTube search can yield a thirteen-year-old, guitar slung over his shoulder, winning regional competitions with his own material, which, admittedly, is of a quality beyond his years.
“They were just very acoustic, lovey-dovey songs,” he says. “I mean, because when you’re younger, you’re not going to write about deep things - you’re going to write about love, because it’s super fucking easy.”
Like any Gen Z artist, Askew knew that social media was the most fertile breeding ground for creativity without borders. “I was always on social media from young – especially with my music,” he explains. “I was always kind of one of the popular kids, so I started using social media before I could sing, taking selfies and all that sort of shit. But when I started singing, word got around. I feel like when you’re in a popular group at school, all the popular groups from other schools merge, and I got a lot of traction from that.” Going through a number of secondary schools, Askew proved to be a big fish in a small pond, and his name was familiar to everyone. At one of his local pubs, droves of his friends packed out his gigs – while there was no music scene to join, he was more than ready to create his own. “I mean, social media really is key, though,” he says. “It doesn’t even matter where you’re from now – you could be in the deadest place, but as long as you’ve got service and you can upload, you’re good.”
“I did well with that I got. I took every opportunity that was given to me. Any pub gig, I’d take it. I busked every weekend.” He started posting at around twelve-years-old. Askew is keen to emphasise that his success was far from the case of hitting the jackpot overnight. “I’ve literally been grinding for, like, seven years. I started so young, but for a lot of people, they get into music at eighteen, and then finally start to get a little bit of attention at twenty-five, or something. It’s all about time. It doesn’t matter when you start – you’ve always got to put the time in.”
"I have 150 songs in the bank, probably more. I’m living comfy. But the plan is to just slowly take over the world and be number one."
His growing success is something he considers as inevitable, simply a matter of time. Following the well-trodden path to university, he believes, was not even an option. “My mum always says, ‘Finn, what if it all falls through, and you won’t have anything?’, and I’m like, ‘It’s not going to fall through.’” His cool self-assurance gives rise to an appetite for more that rarely allows him the chance to take it all in. But something that still astounds him is the fact his music is actually taking him around the world. He travelled to Copenhagen to meet record labels earlier this year. “There was a moment when I first landed, and I was like, ‘This is all because of my music.’”
Finn Askew’s ambitions for this year – much like himself – are, of course, incredibly modest. “I’m in a position where I’m not worrying about what track’s next – I have 150 songs in the bank, probably more. I’m living comfy. But the plan is to just slowly take over the world and be number one. That’s what I’m here for. I want to go down in history. I don’t care how long it takes,” he grins. “It is what it is.”