We spoke to Calum Scott about making the album and why his struggles with his sexuality have inspired so much of his new songs...
It’s taken singer Calum Scott quite a while to release his debut album.
He first appeared on our TV screens back in 2015 when he entered Britain’s Got Talent, but it wasn’t until 2016 when his cover of Robyn’s tender hit ‘Dancing On My Own’ that things really heated up.
He released the track independently with little or no fanfare, but by the time social media got involved, the track shot up the charts, eventually peaking at Number Two in the UK Singles Chart and selling over one million copies. It earned him a record deal with Capitol Records and a debut album, Only Human, which arrives today.
We spoke to Scott about making the album and why his struggles with his sexuality have inspired so much of his new songs...
Did you have a clear idea in mind about how you wanted the album to sound?
“Not really. This is my first album and I just knew that I wanted to write as much as I possibly could and get as much off my chest as I could. I knew my writing would be personal and shaped by my experiences. I didn’t have a concept going in, I just wanted to be honest and I wanted everything open to suggestion and interpretation.”
How many songs did you write for the album?
“I wrote about 70 songs for the album and from then on we started to focus on what shape the album was going to take, finding which songs meant the most to me and best reflect me as a person. I wanted it all to fit together neatly.”
How did you get 70 songs down to a manageable number for the album?
“I looked across the songs I’d written. That 70 range from really early ones, even the tracks where I kept talking about ‘Going to the club’, which isn’t really my vibe anymore. I tried to put as much as I could into the songs and I’ve kept the songs that really celebrate human emotion. Those 70 were quite quickly whittled down to the 13 I wanted to stand by. All 70 are my little babies, but these are the ones that are appropriate for the album.”
Who helped you decided on what songs to pick?
“My producer on the album was Fraser T. Smith. He’s basically worked with everyone, Adele, Ellie Goulding, Sam Smith. He helped me with everything, the title, the tracklisting, all of it, he was there for it all. He came to me after he’d finished working on Stormzy’s album and he gave me a lot of time. He’s a sweetheart.”
Can you talk us through some of the writers you worked with on the album?
“I spent a bit of time in Sweden with the gangs who work under Max Martin, I went to work with Cutfather, Corey Sanders, I worked with him a lot, he’s an insane songwriter, he gave me so much. I did a track with Kodaline too, they were great. One big moment was working with Diane Warren, who wrote ‘Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ for Aerosmith, one of the biggest songs ever! That was amazing!”
How did you find the experience of working with so many different writers?
“So much of this album has been discovering who I worked well with, lots of them are people I wouldn’t have chosen but I wanted to be pushed and to go outside the box. I’ve learned so much and I’ve got the gist of who I am as a songwriter. I am a new writer, I didn’t go in with any preconceptions, I didn’t spend a long time studying listings and only working with people who’ve written with Beyonce. You can’t bottle that inspirational juice, you can be sat with one of the world’s best writers and get nothing, you can’t force creativity, you can’t store it for later. I was terrified in a lot of the sessions, little old me from Yorkshire with these hugely successful people, but they were so welcoming. It was thrilling.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“For me, the album is just very honest and sincere. It’s a very heartfelt record. I was working in an office job for eight years, dreaming of doing this, so to actually be doing this is very surreal. I wrote the album from that perspective, a grateful and lucky perspective, I think that comes through, how genuine it is. The songs from come circumstances good and bad.”
Were there any topics you wanted to take on?
“My sexuality is definitely something I wanted to write about. I want to inspire people. I want people to be happy with themselves, who they love, who they want to be and to be a bit more compassionate. Michael Jackson is a hero of mine and he always talked about writing music to change the world, changing people’s minds and beliefs, it was a beautiful idea and one I definitely had in mind.”
Was the album always called Only Human? Or were there other titles in the mix?
“The title was, at one point, was If Our Love Is Wrong. My sexuality is the biggest struggle I’ve had in my life, especially my in teens and my only 20’s, I felt afraid and I know I was disliked for my sexuality. It told a while for me to come to terms with it, writing this album has made me happy and made me feel empowered to live as a gay man. Two years if you’d asked me if I was gay, I would have said no. Saying that now, that’s just scary. I know I’m not the only one who has felt like that. If I can help anyone who's in the same boat, I’m so happy.”
Why did you decide to change it?
“It was a bit of a head turner. It did feel controversial. But it’s an album about sexuality and about coming out, even if it’s not a coming out album in specific terms. I just hope people can use it for positive means. I wanted to take people on a journey and I spent such a long time on the tracklisting, almost being scientific about how the songs flow. I know The Beatles spent a huge amount of time on their sequencing and how you were hit with the highs and lows of a record, I wanted to do the same."
"It’s more than a collection of songs. Everything is how I feel. Heartbreak, jealousy, sadness, optimism, every human feeling. I love the phrase Only Human, we’re people, we’re not programmed, all these feelings are normal, you can’t help how you feel.”
Finally, how’s your live set coming together?
“I’m hoping to perform all of the album live. I’ve got those 70 songs, so the set will definitely have a few that aren’t on the album. I want to take people on my journey, to give them the highs and lows, that’s what I want.”
Calum Scott’s debut album Only Human is out now and available here in hmv’s online store.