Luke Sital-Singh has come a long way from Slipknot
Hearing Damien Rice as a teenager nudged the Londoner on to a gentler path
Some people might view Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice through slightly jaundiced eyes, but there are thousands of folk out there that have been galvanised by his music. One of these is southwest Londoner Luke Sital-Singh, whose life changed at the age of 13, when he heard Rice’s debut album, O.
Sital-Singh, who up to that point had engaged solely with nu-metal acts such as Slipknot, Korn and Limp Bizkit, was watching television one evening when he heard a piece of music that stopped him on the spot.
“It was before I became aware of how to search for stuff on the internet,” says Sital-Singh, a gentle-voiced 26-year-old whose work has been gaining traction since his name appeared on the BBC Sound of 2014 longlist. “An advert for O came on, and Cannonball was the track being played. It just blew me away, and I immediately wanted to know what kind of world a song such as that came from and lived in.”
Bye-bye Slipknot face masks and Korn’s grinding guitars, hello scented candles and inward-looking acoustic songs. Sital-Singh picked up an acoustic guitar, soaked up the entire album, and began to appear at open-mic nights and school concerts where the only songs he performed were by Rice.
Does Sital-Singh remember exactly why the album affected him so much? “It was the raw humanity of it,” he says. “It was beautiful, emotive, melodic music that wasn’t cheesy. I was in my early teenage years, so it tapped into the phase of being angsty, melancholy. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the lyrics, because, quite frankly, most of the time I didn’t have a clue what he was going on about.”
Sital-Singh’s influences developed further in his teens, corralling other songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Josh Ritter, Neil Young and John Martyn. He has charted the often unforgiving course of the lone troubadour, but as the years passed so his confidence and creative range increased. There were a few shakes and shivers along the way: last December his debut album, The Fire Inside, was scheduled to be released in March this year, but received what Sital-Singh regarded as an ominous delay.
“I’ve got friends who are signed to labels,” he says, “and they’ve made their record, but things haven’t gone very well for them, so the album isn’t released. That seems like a nightmare situation for me, so I was very excited when the final release date came about.”
Was seeing his name on lists such as the BBC Sound of 2014 a pressure or a bonus? Both, it turns out.
“The way the music industry moves on so quickly is frightening. When the BBC list came out it caused quite a stir, but those excitable buzzes tend to die down as quickly as they arrive. There was a good spike in the social network numbers, and it did put me on the map. Hopefully there are still people out there who want to listen to the record. Hype? It’s something you’ve got to be aware of, but also not to take too much notice of. I just continued making the album I wanted to make, and got on with the work.”
What about the level of expectation? So many of the acts on these lists have been trumpeted (The Bravery in 2005, Duffy in 2008, Stooshe in 2012) only to fade into obscurity. Does it concern him that the business will always be something of a lottery?
“Thanks for that, mate,” he says. “It’s easy to get jaded and upset, of course. I have a few musician friends who I think are some of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard, and yet, for whatever reasons, no one will probably hear of them. Popular music is not necessarily the best. On bad days that depresses me, and I wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing. On good days, I just think it’s exactly like life – there are no guarantees of anything, are there?”
Would he like to think that a 13-year-old listening to The Fire Inside would have the same galvanising experience as Slipknot and then O once had for him? “That would be incredible,” he says, sounding taken-aback. “The amazing thing about art, music, whatever, is that it self-generates; it inspires people to make more of it. Art never finishes, does it?”
The Fire Inside is out now. Listen to a stream on irishtimes.com