From Sneaking in to Play Pub Gigs to Touring Alongside Sam Smith: A Q&A with Lewis Capaldi


From the onset of his musical journey, Lewis Capaldi operated by the tried-and-true mantra, "Let's just see what happens." With zero expectations and unwavering intentions, the young songwriter successfully went from sneaking in to perform small town pubs at age 12 to preparing for a European tour alongside Sam Smith at age 21. So what happened in between?

Lewis Capaldi was born in Bathgate, Scotland, where a playful rivalry with his older brother led to picking up a guitar before he even entered double digits. His mom and dad would escort Capaldi in to play quick sets before his brother's rock gigs, leading to several years of relentless gigging through Edinburgh. After a few years with no luck as his family grew more concerned over his future, Capaldi finally caught his big break. That break was "Bruises," a song which would have remained unreleased had it not been for the massive reaction it garnered at Capaldi's first headline show in Glasgow. Since then, "Bruises" has acquired over 50 million combined streams, initiated the subsequent release of Capaldi's debut EP Bloom, and led to Capaldi being named 2018 Vevo Dscvr Artist To Watch, FMQB's February 2018 Artist To Watch, BBC Sound Of 2018 longlist, and Breakthrough Artist of the Year honors at the Scottish Music Awards.

The latest in Capaldi's growing list of accolades is his collaboration with fellow Ones To Watch artist Jessie Reyez, an unlikely pairing that capitalizes on both artists' uncanny ability to convey the most raw, real emotion in their lyrics and passionate vocals. "Rush" was written with and produced by GRAMMY winner Malay (Frank Ocean, Lorde, Sam Smith), who initially established a clear synergy with Capaldi on "Fade" from the Bloom EP. Capaldi shared on the universal post-breakup feelings embodied in the new single,

"'Rush' is all about heartbreak and the weird headspace you occupy after the end of a relationship where you feel like absolute shit and, if you're being honest with yourself, you hope the other person feels just as bad. Of course, the flip side of that is you obviously still care about this person, so really you hope they're not experiencing the shit because you know how bad it feels and wouldn't want that for them. So the whole tune is this internal conflict you're having as you think about the situation."

We sat down with Lewis Capaldi just before his first headline performance in Los Angeles, as the humble artist shared more on his rapid growth, what to expect on his upcoming tour, and more.

OTW: I read that you started sneaking into pubs when you were 12 to sing? 

Lewis Capaldi: Yeah, yeah. My older brother was always in bands and played more like heavy rock music, but I started playing guitar at the same time as him just because I was like, "Well if he's getting to play guitar, I want to play guitar." And then, "If he's getting lessons, I'm getting lessons." And then it was, "If he's going to start writing songs, I'm going to start writing songs."

OTW: Would you consider him your role model?

Lewis Capaldi: Yeah. I don't even think it was a role model because he's only six years older than me. So I was almost just like, "Well he's not getting to do that if I'm not getting to do that."

OTW: Oh, so a little bit of competitiveness.

Lewis Capaldi: Yeah, just being like a child, which is still how our relationship operates today. And then he started gigging at 18, when I was 12. So he helped me out getting shows at these small pubs – sometimes I'd get on and sometimes I wouldn't be able to play it. But for the most part, I'd have to hide in toilets so I didn't get kicked out.

There was a time my mum and dad took me to one of the shows, because they were like, "Fuck it, we'll take you." But my mum can't lie. She's a terrible liar. So we go in - I must've been about 16 at this time. I've got another brother; he's two years older than me, so I was using his ID to get in to clubs. We kind of went in from the back of this venue and sat there so I could play one quick set. Then the guy came up and was like, "Sorry I have to do this, can I just check your ID?" So I was like, "Oh, here you go," and it said my name is Aiden Capaldi, 18 years old. So he said, "That says your name's Aiden" and I said, "Well, I don't want any of my friends to know. Lewis is my stage name." And then, I was on my feet thinking, "You've fuckin' nailed that, yeah you smashed it." And he looked at my dad and goes, "That him?" and he's like, "Yeah," stone-faced. Then I looked at my mum and my mum is just fuckin' crumbled. So it was like stuff like that. But for the most part it was just getting in, playing, and trying to fuck off before anyone knew I was there.


OTW: So was the musician brother the same brother that gave you the McDonald's application as a joke?

Lewis Capaldi: Yes, it was the same brother. He stopped doing music; he's doing electrical engineering stuff so he's doing well and he's carrying on.

This time last year I had no money – I was just writing. And the running joke was, "When are you going to fuckin' do something?" I had to keep saying to my mum and dad – "Trust me, we're going to release a single and we'll see what happens then." This time last year it was kind of hard for my family to kind of see that.

OTW: Got it. Did you ever have any doubts or were you surprised when "Bruises" took off? Can you walk us through how that happened?

Lewis Capaldi: Sure. So originally I had the song called "Something To Want," and "Bruises" was originally called "Something to Want Pt. 2," so it was like a part two of that song. I wrote it on my 20th birthday. But because I was writing so much, it kind of fell through the cracks a bit – it's good as just piano/vocal and the only reason it was only piano/vocal was because we didn't have production at the end of a session. And we only had like a day or so, so it was like okay, let's just leave that one there and move on. 

Then we came up to this time last year when I played my first headline show, which was in Glasgow, and we added that song in the set. I sent my best friend every single one of my songs, and when I sent him "Bruises," he was like, "That's a special song." But I was kind of like, "Nah." So I sang it at the show, and it was the only part where it was just me and the piano. And it wasn't something that I thought would explode, but the reaction was just ridiculous. So between me and management, we kind of thought alright, maybe we should put that song out next. So we changed the name to "Bruises," and it ended up going kind of viral online. 

In terms of doubts, I have doubts now, and I had doubts then. Do you know what I mean? I was always like, "I'll just see what happens." My managers were just doing everything they could, doing what every new artist is trying to work something with Spotify or streaming in general. We stayed up till midnight the day "Bruises" came out. Usually I'd wake up, and I'd send 8 messages to my Facebook fans like, "Can you listen to this song?“ And back then, only a handful of people replied to the message. But then the three of us woke up, and "Bruises" was above "Humble" when "Humble" by Kendrick Lamar came out…

At the time I still didn't know – I couldn't grasp the idea. It didn't make any sense. And I've just been kind of riding the wave ever since. Spotify has my massive gratitude for genuinely changing my life, like that sounds like cliche, but fuck it. It's just true.

OTW: So obviously I think your main strength lies in the fact that you put such strong, raw emotion into every single song. What do you think about when you're writing?

Lewis Capaldi: I don't know; I'm just writing. Do you know what I mean? Obviously I'm writing them from experience, but some of them just happen, like "Fade." "Fade" just kind of happened when Malay started putting his chords in the song.

OTW: What did you learn from working with Malay?

Lewis Capaldi: Yeah, I've got a lot of work to do.

OTW: Is there more coming with him?

Lewis Capaldi: Yeah, we've got a couple joints together. He's amazing, but it's just like seeing how he works – I want to get to that level. He's so amazing and so chill as well, which is really cool.

OTW: Totally. So the EP is obviously is pretty sad, but it's called Bloom – what's the connection?

Lewis Capaldi: It's called Bloom because for me, it's like the first thing that I'm doing. Hopefully this is the beginning, and it might change – I may add more elements in and stuff. Also, whenever you break up with someone and write a love song, it's like I'm back to like square one. You know what I mean?

OTW: Yeah, like a total rebirth. Makes sense. So who are some of your Ones To Watch artists? 

Lewis Capaldi: There's a band in Scotland called The Snuts that I really like. A friend of mine called YUNGBLUD – he's amazing. I really like Jesse Reyez. A rap collective over here called BROCKHAMPTON that's unbelievable. I fucking love BROCKHAMPTON. Who else? I really like Daniel Caesar's record.

OTW: Great picks! Can you tell us what's coming up with you?  

Lewis Capaldi: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm on tour with Milky Chance in the US. And then back to the UK for a UK headway tour. Those rooms are like a thousand capacity. And then it's Europe, a couple shows in Europe and then back to LA. If I get my way, we'll be coming back to LA in March/April to record the album.

OTW: And lastly, for fans who aren't lucky enough to see your debut tonight at The Moroccan, can you give a little visual of what they can expect when you come back?

Lewis Capaldi: Hopefully I'll have more people on stage. Right now it's just me, piano player and the guitar. I've got more songs coming that are a bit happy.