- Photography by Mr Andrew Vowles
- Styling by Mr Tony Cook, Junior Fashion Editor, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Peter Henderson, Senior Fashion Writer, MR PORTER
It is a relentlessly cold, grey day, and Mr Luke Sital-Singh is being shot in a draughty West London studio. The windows overlook one of the largest cemeteries in the city, and a flurry of late-March snow is starting to fall outside. From the far end of the room, Mr Sital-Singh's extraordinary voice fills the air. He is being filmed performing "Bottled Up Tight" for MR PORTER, and suddenly there is a collective sense of rising emotion. It is an oddly beautiful moment. Shortly after, the 25-year-old British singer-songwriter (today wearing selvedge denim jeans and a V-neck sweater) tells me, "Even if just one person gets moved by my music, it's all worthwhile." Today he has succeeded in that, but in truth Mr Sital-Singh's accomplishments are much greater. His debut EP, Fail For You, came out last year to great critical acclaim, and an almost unprecedented level of radio support, while his second EP, Old Flint, was released last week. With a current headline UK tour, and a full record in the pipeline, things are only looking up for this rising star, whose sound has already been likened to a British Bon Iver.
How would you describe your sound?
With difficulty. Not because it's particularly complex, but because it's quite simple. It's just me and my guitar, singing as honestly, interestingly and emotively as I can. There aren't many bells and whistles really. I just try to write good songs.
How did you get to where you are today?
I didn't study music until I went to university, because I had been at a crossroads of whether to carry on with acting or not. Previously I had done a lot of amateur musicals and things like that, which was my first training in terms of standing on a stage and performing, but something didn't feel quite right about acting. I think it's the pretence you have to put on: I wanted to do something that felt a bit more honest. When the first Damien Rice album was everywhere that was the first time I'd really heard singer-songwriter stuff, and I realised that was the route I wanted to follow. That's how it started really, just me on my own with my guitar.
Is songwriting a cathartic process, or are your influences more external?
Whenever I have an inspiration, I just grab it quickly. Sometimes it's based on things that have happened to me, and a feeling of needing to get something out, but other times it's completely conceptual and I'm really trying to put myself into someone else's shoes or make up a situation. I think my best songs are the ones that combine these two approaches.
What does your creative process look like?
Largely it involves sitting around watching TV [laughs]. That's a joke, in a way, but there's an element of truth because everything seems to happen quite subconsciously. I collect things all the time. I don't really keep a notebook or anything like that. I've tried to, because you read these things about how to write effectively, but it never really worked for me. Things just lodge in the back of my head, where they'll be churning away subconsciously until the right moment comes.
Mr Sital-Singh's second EP, Old Flint, is out now
You're just back from performing at SXSW in Texas. How was that?
The US was mental. It was good fun, but it was absolutely berserk. South by Southwest was like nothing I have ever experienced... relentless noise, relentless drinking and relentless partying. I had to do nine or 10 shows, so it was full-on and definitely a working week. I also went to LA to do a couple of shows, and to the Facebook HQ to do a gig, which was great fun, and a bit surreal.
What was Facebook like?
It's basically like a university campus: they've got a doctors' surgery, cafés, restaurants, a gym... pretty much everything is in there. Apart from beds apparently, which is probably a good thing.
Has being a musician changed the way you dress?
I think I used to leave the house without even looking in the mirror, but I can see that my wardrobe has changed. I would love to say that I'm completely non-conformist, because that sounds cool, but at the same time fashion isn't something that I'm overly conscious of. I'm really into things with a story, which are handmade and crafted: that whole artisan movement really appeals to me. My girlfriend is a printmaker, and she does my artwork, which is all done by hand and everything. It's really inspiring to see that kind of skill.
Do you prefer playing in big venues, or more intimate shows?
I really like the intimate gigs, but when I can get the right kind of silence from the audience at the big ones it's just amazing, because you can feel that everyone in the room is on the same wavelength... especially when I play on my own, because there's all that power [laughs]. It's just so nice to be able to sing into the space, and use it, because when you're in a band you've got to play in time, but you can really kind of twist the songs to emphasise the quietness when you're solo.
Are there any other songwriters you're into?
There are a few songwriters who I absolutely adore. There's a guy called David Bazan who used to be in a band called Pedro the Lion, who was part of that Seattle scene back in the day, and I think he's one of the best writers in the world. Josh Ritter, too, who's an Americana kind of writer. And I still think Ryan Adams is one of the best writers around, and also the latest Leonard Cohen writing is the sort of stuff I love.
You once said that "good music should lock your feet and jaw to the floor". What do you hope to achieve with your work?
I don't have any kind of grand aspirations for the music itself, like I want to change people's lives or whatever. Ultimately they're just songs - but at the same time I think there is something really important in singing songs that help people connect with their emotions, and let them escape, even if it's just for three to four minutes. If I can do that, it's great. Even if just one person gets moved by my music, it's all worthwhile.
For tour dates see lukesitalsingh.com
By Gant Rugger