Q&A: An Intense & Honest Approach to Songwriting - Calum Scott Debuts ‘Only Human’

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Meet Calum Scott: the UK singer who made waves with his cover release of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” in 2015. Fast forward one billion streams later (yes, we said billion), and Calum Scott has just released his debut album, Only Human. A record filled with lyrical gold, Only Human reveals an intense and honest vulnerability to songwriting. 

Wholesome and hopeful, Scott elegantly transforms pain into beauty. Soulfully unwinding his personal life throughout the album, he exposes coming out as gay to his father through “Dancing On My Own,” delivers awe and confusion over a man he thought was gay on “Hotel Room,” and captures adolescent isolation on “Only You.” Capturing pivotal and often silenced realities, Calum Scott has crafted an album that speaks for the silenced. 

Like many creatives, Scott had no intention of pursuing a career in music. In fact, he immediately entered the workforce after high school. Four years later, Calum recalled,

“I’d gotten incredibly sick of making photocopies and cups of tea, I just knew it wasn’t what I was meant to do with my life.”

It was then, in 2015, that Calum joined Britain’s Got Talent, emerging as a semi-finalist which would jumpstart his newfound career in music.

Only Human, Calum Scott’s Capitol Records-released debut album, places him on our Ones To Watch radar with its lyrical sobriety and Imagine Dragons-esque sound. We anticipate Only Human to be one resonating record, resting on all who listens. Listen to Calum Scott’s debut album, Only Human, and get an inside-look on the creative process from Calum, himself, below: 

OTW: Your debut album has officially been released — how do you feel now that it’s available for the world?

Calum Scott: You have no idea! It’s still so surreal - it almost feels like we have leaked the album! I am so incredibly happy now though to finally release these personal stories out there for the world to hear them, whenever they want! It’s been so nice watching people picking their favorite songs from the album, people relating my songs to their own lives… truly the most humbling feeling! The strangest thing is happening even right now… I have just put my nephew down for a nap and have sat down in silence to answer these questions and faintly I can hear my neighbors playing my album!! So crazy! I am literally beaming like a Cheshire Cat right now!! 

OTW: How long did you spend making Only Human? Were you recording songs specifically for the album, or did you have a larger collection already and select from there?

Calum Scott: It’s difficult for me to give you an idea of how long Only Human took to make because once I started learning to write songs, I became addicted to the process; the therapy that songwriting sessions became, watching the ideas, stories and messages that we had dreamed up, come to life in music! I wrote around 70 songs for this album and it wasn’t that I had the album in my head as the goal, it was just writing great songs. I was writing for the record for about a year and a half but literally, from scratch. I had only written a handful of songs prior to being signed by Capitol Records and after that, I continued to write until I was told to stop! There was a natural pause in writing at the end of those 1.5 years, at which point we looked back at my catalogue and was like “I think we have the album” – that felt awesome. 

OTW: Tell us about the producers and collaborators on the album — what was that creative process like?

Calum Scott: I am still pretty blown away by the sheer amount of talent I got to work with during this album. Right at the top of the list is Mr. Fraser T. Smith who from day one, has been the most supportive, understanding, and most wonderful producers and human beings I have ever had the opportunity to work with, let alone incredibly gifted. I got to write with a young songwriter called Corey Sanders for most of the album which really helped me express my feelings cohesively. Another collaboration to note was working with Kodaline on a song called “Only You,” they helped me tribute my best friend and people really seem to be resonating with that song. The other incredible writers and producers are individually thanked on my album inlay – I have got to say it is a genuine pleasure to have worked with legends who have helped me tell my story on my first ever album. 

Titled Only Human to encourage self-love and positivity — what was that journey like for you? How did you get to this point?

Calum Scott: The journey has been difficult, but is only reflective of life’s ups and downs. I have drawn from personal experiences in order to write this album; good and bad, love and heartbreak… I consider myself a very normal guy doing something I absolutely love, and the best way I can connect with my audience is to tell stories that are relatable and come from a very real place. On the journey to being who I am today, I had to write the tracks that are on my album. Some of them I debated whether they were too personal but seeing how my music affected people, I knew I must give parts of my heart and soul to people in order to share theirs with them. 

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OTW: What would be one sentence of advice to others going through the same self-discovery process?

Calum Scott: It will happen when you’re ready – I cannot stress that enough. I wished I had discovered who I was much earlier, but things happen for a reason and I wouldn’t change it. I’ve found true happiness and that has taken time, but all good things do. 

OTW: If you could pick a single song from the album that you think best embodies that message, what would it be and why?

Calum Scott: I think “Stop Myself (Only Human)” really carries the message of the album through a question, “How am I supposed to stop myself from loving you?” The cruel irony is that you cannot. There is a saying that I have heard many times throughout my life, typically when I have been upset and have apologised for being so emotional, to which I have been reminded, “Calum, don’t worry, you’re only human” and this resonated with me deeper than I could’ve ever imagined. I knew the thing I shared the most with my audience is how human we all are and this shaped the concept of the album. And if I thought hearing my neighbors play my album next door was awesome, as I type this, I am hearing this very track through the walls! You couldn’t write this stuff! 

OTW: There are a few covers of other songs on the album — what makes you decide, “I want to put my spin on this song?”

Calum Scott: As a music lover and a singer, it’s just natural for me to hear a song, connect with it and want to make it my own. Music is a universally understood language and even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can tell in tone and delivery what the songwriter was trying to get across. “Dancing On My Own” I completely related to which made me want to interpret it in my own way. This was made ever more personal by specifically not changing the pronouns to ensure that my interpretation of the song was from a gay man’s perspective which brought me an overwhelming reaction especially from the LGBT+ community. “Not Dark Yet,” which also features on the album, was more of a happy accident, but one that has given the album “full circle.” 

OTW: When you hear other artists covering some of your songs, what’s your reaction?

Calum Scott: Considering my start in music, hearing other people cover my songs is the most humbling feeling ever. I remember covering Robyn’s track when my bubble of who and what I knew resided wholly In my hometown, Hull, thinking, “I wonder if she will ever hear it.” Fast forward a couple of years and I am witnessing people taking the time to cover songs I have written myself! I always try and reach out and let these people know how grateful it makes me, to hopefully inspire the change that happened in my life. 

OTW: You’ve made an effort to move towards more personal songwriting instead of trying to please others with your music — has that made the creative process any different, and if so, how?

Calum Scott: In the very early days of my songwriting, I started writing about going to the club and partying in order to try and write what I thought people wanted to hear. It’s a beautiful thing to have gone through the terrifying and daunting process of coming out to the world and writing very personal songs to then see that actually, these are the songs people want to hear – the real life relatable songs. It changed my attitude to songwriting not just to be creative, but to inspire! 

OTW: If this chapter of your life can be summarized as Only Human, what will be the next?

Calum Scott: I have no idea. I don’t want to box my creativity into a specific concept. Only Human was born just from wanting to write very sincere songs from the heart, album two will likely be born from the same idea. 

OTW: Who are some of your Ones to Watch artists? 

Calum Scott: I really am loving SIGRID right now, great voice and incredible vocals and also a young guy called Khalid. There is a lot of talent coming out right now, it’s an exciting time for music!

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