Love, Lust, and Longing: A Conversation with Calum Scott

Calum Scott © Frank Ockenfels
Calum Scott © Frank Ockenfels
Calum Scott captures a plethora of entangled emotions in his highly-anticipated debut album Only Human, revealing his identity in a tense, intimate triumph.

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Calum Scott’s audition on UK talent show Britain’s Got Talent back in 2015 struck a chord with millions of viewers worldwide. Although his audience is diverse and international, they’re all connected by the affinity they feel for brutal honesty and emotion Scott displays in his work.

Only Human - Calum Scott
Only Human – Calum Scott

Calum Scott’s debut album Only Human (released 3/9/2018 through Capitol Records) approaches pop music in a refreshing, original way. Although every song evidently strongly relates to Calum’s personal life, the album’s relatability remains ever-present. He approaches heartbreak in such tender way whereby you can feel every ounce of emotion ooze from his voice.

This Human Resources employee turned pop star has already made a global massive impact, even before his album was released, with performances on some of the world’s biggest stages, a collaboration with Leona Lewis and a US tour.

Atwood Magazine sat down with Calum Scott to discuss his debut album, upcoming tour, and what the future holds for this talented soulful singer-songwriter.

Calum Scott © Frank Ockenfels
Calum Scott © Frank Ockenfels


Atwood Magazine: Your cover of Robyn’s track “Dancing On My Own” catapulted you to fame. How did you make the decision to cover the track?
Dancing on My Own - Calum Scott
Dancing on My Own – Calum Scott

Calum Scott: When I first came to perform the song, it was because I was a massive fan of Robyn, a massive fan of the original and very much related to the lyrics as a gay man. I was always falling in love with the straight guy. I always watched the relationship bloom between the guy and the girl and I was never part of it which came with all the heartbreak and the sympathy. But, you know, I very much related to the lyrics and that stayed with me so years later when I came across a beautiful piano rendition, I already knew the song and sang a little bit on there and recorded it. I Just really connected with the piano and connected with the lyrics in a different sense. This was slowed down, it was a lot more raw and you listen to it in a different way.

I didn’t want to rush putting it out straight after the show, I kind of wanted to take my time and find out what it is I wanted to do. You know, when we originally put it out, we just put it out for fans because they loved the rendition so much. I even remember my manager saying we’ll probably do 10,000 sales at a push, this is for your core fanbase, and you know we’ve done almost 7 million worldwide, so that isn’t bad.

Somebody said you got a new friend
Does she love you better than I can?
There’s a big black sky over my town
I know where you’re at, I bet she’s around
And yeah, I know it’s stupid
But I just gotta see it for myself

One of the things I’m most proud of is that I deliberately made sure that this was my version; I made sure that the lyrics definitely remained in the vein of being in a gay man’s perspective. “I’m in the corner watching you kiss her and I’m not the guy you’re taking home.” That was really important to me to keep that there, and the support I’ve had from taking that perspective has just been unreal.

Your follow-up track was “Rhythm Inside,” which feels both lyrically and sonically different. Was this your intention or did it happen naturally?

Calum Scott: I was definitely having to find my feet as a songwriter. I came out of the show (Britain’s Got Talent) and I hadn’t done a bunch of songwriting before. I used to do original writing in school and I knew I had an imagination. I knew I was creative, but I didn’t know how to articulate that into music at that point. My manager put me in all these different songwriting sessions to see if I could song write. As soon as I started writing very honestly and very openly about my sexuality with a song called “If Our Long Is Wrong,” it just turned a corner for me professionally, personally and I started becoming more honest with my songwriting and it felt just like therapy. I wanted to make sure with songs like “Rhythm Inside” that it showed a different side of me.

I’m not just the heartbreak and the lows in my life but the highlights and the electricity. “Rhythm Inside” is all about that internal process you go through when you meet eyes with that person across the room and you feel that and the butterflies. I think that’s just a cool look at what happens to you during that process.

I wanted to put it out to the fans, it was a fan track. I wanted to make sure the fans knew that I was working on an album and cracking on with original material, and that were different sides to me than just ballads.

I started becoming more honest with my songwriting and it felt just like therapy.

Do you feel that you've changed as an artist and songwriter during the development of your album?

Calum Scott: Yeah, of course. “If Our Love Is Wrong” turned a corner point for me as a professional and as a person, as for so long I repressed my sexuality and talk about that on “Only You” too. “Only You” is all about me sort of having a moment in time where I told my friends about my sexuality or was trying to understand it and they abandoned me for it. It came to a point where one friend who had helped me out of that and hand-held and helped me tell my family that I was gay and helped me become more confident as a gay man. “If Our Love Is Wrong” was one of those songs where it really opened the doors for me to be honest with my songwriting and to be open.

If Our Love Is Wrong” is all about where I was terrified of talking to the press about my sexuality. It was that argument that I had in my head: Should I tell them? Am I going to lose support? Am I going to lose fans? All this horrible trauma I essentially went through, but it came full circle and I started to read it, talking about that journey, and by putting that on the album and having that song there, it really did change my perspective of songwriting. I then became really honest and wrote songs like “Only You,” which is a song about that friend who helped me through that difficult time.

I wrote “Hotel Room” where I fell in love with a guy who didn’t end up being gay. So I’ve written all these songs, but it was through songwriting that I got that therapy, that allowed those doors to open. Songwriting goes deeper for me than just creating pieces of music; it’s changed my life.

Songwriting goes deeper for me than just creating pieces of music; it’s changed my life.

Your new single “What I Miss Most” is a definite highlight on the album for me personally as I’m living abroad, away from home. What’s special about your connection to your hometown that led you to pen the track?

Calum Scott: Well, you know what, I’m so glad that the album is out there now because I’m finally having that relationship with my fans where I’ve created a body of work. People are listening to this body of work and picking out the songs that mean the most to them. As a songwriter, one thing I hold in high regard is that relatability to my fans. If I can relate to my fans, then I feel like I’ve done my job. If I can write music where people go, “I know exactly how that feels.”

So, it’s really awesome to hear you say that you’re a long way from home and “What I Miss Most” stands out to you, because that’s exactly why I wrote these songs.

I’ve gone through those personal circumstances myself, but I know I’m not the only person has and I won’t be the only person who will. You know, for you to say “What I Miss Most” relates to you is awesome. Probably the same with you, “What I Miss Most” is about that nostalgia of relating back to your hometown, the streets and people you grew you with.

From the single I felt this indescribable feeling about how when people ask you what you miss the most, you can’t really explain it all.

Calum Scott: Yeah man, that’s so awesome to hear you say that because that’s what you do as a creator, you want to be able to share stories where people can go, “yeah mate, I’ve been through that.” It was exactly the same scenario that I was going through, I was away a lot in America and Europe, I was writing this album, I was going through the highs and lows of stuff. This song even opens with, “It must have been a year since I was thrown across an ocean far from home. Life is making no sense, riding in between the highs and lows.” It was exactly how I was feeling. Then it comes to the chorus and I talk about how I don’t know exactly what it is, maybe I’ll never know, but I just know that I miss home.

[My hometown, Kingston Upon] Hull is all I’ve ever known. I’ve lived and grown up in Hull since I was born up until 2 years ago, when I started going on these crazy, mad adventures. I think it’s important to tribute that because as we go through life for a lot of us, we do have to leave home and we do have to be away from our loved ones. I just think that it can provide you a bit of comfort in those times when you need it.

You recently performed to a huge crowd in the Philippines during your first time in the country. How does it feel that your music has such a huge global appeal?

Calum Scott: It was just insane. I went from advertising this gig at the Shangri-La Plaza in the Philippines. A country I’ve never been to before and I went there, and I knew I had a strong fan base because I see them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram hitting me up all the time. I knew it was going to be awesome, but my tour manager said were expecting maybe 400 people and 2000 turned up. It was just mental, I walked on stage and people were just losing their minds. It means the world to me to be half the world away and yet my music and the way I talk about the adventures I’ve been through and put that into song and articulate that into music is really resonating and connecting with people, not just in my hometown or in my home country but across the world. That means so much to me because it means my audience is listening worldwide and they’re all people. The good thing about Only Human is that it’s all about human emotions and really about everything, all the ups and downs and in between, that we all go through that. Music to me is the international language and I’m just so pleased that I can be one of those authors.

You’re about to set off on your own headline European and UK tour, what can fans expect from it?

Calum Scott: Well, I mean, I’m going to be there for a start. So, they can expect me, it would be pretty weird if I wasn’t there. But, you know, I’m going to be performing songs from my album. I wrote about 70 songs for this album so there’s definitely going to be songs on there that people haven’t heard before. This is a fresh band for me, a fresh look on things. I’ve been working hard over the last 2 years to perfect things to get my sound and I’ve really got a band at the moment who just get me. They get where I’m at. For me, it needs to be very musical and very much about the songs.

When we played with Emeli Sande, the sound started to evolve into a bigger production. I was supporting her on her arena tour and the sound was perfect for those arenas but I want to bring it back to this is a Calum Scott show and, fingers crossed, in the future it could be arenas, but I want to make sure the venues that I’m playing and the audiences I’m playing to feel that it’s intimate and that it’s personal and that’s it’s a story we can all be involved in. I think that’s the greatest thing about live is that you can just see the reactions that you’re having with the audience. Live is where I live, it’s all I’ve ever known, so it’s going to be a fresh sound, new band. It’s going to be songs from the album, songs not on the album and a couple of covers in there for a good show. Whether Leona is free or not might depend on whether she joins me, it would be great, so I’ll get my fingers crossed for that. I’m just so excited to get on the road and get into these venues and perform my very first ever headline tour.

“Give Me Something,” the album’s second track, is an extremely powerful pop track, that’s almost paradoxical to the album’s opener “If Our Love Wrong.” Could you tell us a little more about how those tracks came to be?

Calum Scott: “If Our Love Is Wrong” is placed first on the album because as soon as you’re introduced to it, it’s like this is one of the most suppressing things I’ve ever had to deal with and because it’s so liberating, it’s changed me in ways I’ve never even imagined. It had to be top of the album. The second track of the album is, “right – okay, you’ve given people that introduction; how are you going to follow it up?

This is one of the most suppressing things I’ve ever had to deal with and because it’s so liberating, it’s changed me in ways I’ve never even imagined.

Give Me Something” is a song that I wrote when I was going through some tough times with one of my friends, it was getting to a point where he was putting these walls up and just shutting me out. I was trying to interact with him and trying to resolve whatever problems we had.

I was just getting nothing. No response. Nothing to work with. I think it’s something that a lot of people probably relate to in relationships, friendships for sure, but in a relationship where there’s no passion and you sometimes feel like you’re arguing with yourself if that. Makes sense. You just desperately want to make amends and if that person is not giving you anything back and nothing to work with then it’s incredibly frustrating and “Give Me Something” is about that frustration, desperation and just wanting to make things right. Just Give Me Something, I don’t need everything I just need that little bit just to show me that you want to work this out.

As much as there’s the lovey-dovey stuff and all the heartbreak on there, I think there’s also things like that where it’s just the frustration and, almost, the anger and the power that has.

I spent a lot of time on my track listing with my producer Fraser T. Smith were we sat down trying to get the track listing right because it’s a journey and if people listen to the record in a chronological order it tells a story. So “Give Me Something” is in the place it’s in because it’s at a moment in the album where it brings that upbeat attitude and brings a different side of me that people won’t have seen before.

And finally, what does the rest of 2018 hold for you?

Calum Scott: The thing is with me because I have very humble beginnings and because prior to being signed I was a very normal lad from Hull, a small kind of city in the North East of England, and that was all I had ever known. So, when I got the opportunity to be signed in LA, it was the first time I had ever been there. The first time I had ever been to New York was to talk to labels. As you can probably imagine, going from a 9-5 job as a Human Resources officer for local government to then traveling the world and talking to the biggest labels in the world about creating my first ever album, it became a complete dream come true for me at that point.

It’s never really stopped. I’ve been a Brit Nominee, I’ve sold 7 million-odd records of “Dancing On My Own” and my new song is already going platinum in certain countries and the debut album is heading for top 5 this week. My face is just continuously aching from the smiling I do on a daily basis because it’s just such a dream come true, and I get so emotional and sensitive about it because I’m doing what I love and I’m doing it because I’ve got support from both media, fans, and everybody. It’s such a humbling experience. Even if the album flops and nobody likes it and is like “Calum Scott who?” I’ve had such an amazing journey that I can look back at this and just say what a whirlwind adventure it’s been.

Obviously saying that, I would love to carry on doing what I’m doing… If I have it my way, the goals and ambitions I’ve got are to have played a world tour and to have got my music into countries I’ve never been to. I want to start recording an album 2, I want to get in there and start writing that. I’ve also written songs with other artists that are due to be released this year, so that’s really exciting that I’ve got songs with other artists that I can shout about and it’s a new area of songwriting I’ve not been in yet. I’m reaching for the stars, I’m aiming for them, and you know I’ve just having such an incredible life so no matter what happens I’m having the time of my life.

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:: stream/purchase Only Human here ::

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Only Human - Calum Scott

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? © Frank Ockenfels

:: Only Human – Calum Scott ::

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