Luke Sital-Singh: How panto steered him towards music
- 15 July 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh was included in the BBC's Sound of 2014 list and, as he prepares for the release of his debut album, tells the BBC about how pantomime halted a fledgling career as an actor.
"I was a natural born performer, I enjoyed performing even if it was being badly behaved at home. I'm the youngest of three brothers and I was the one who was always making a fuss. They put up with me, I was a bit of a petulant kid."
Luke Sital Singh is not so much in confessional mode but is rather explaining exactly when he first felt the thrill of performing, growing up in the south-London suburb of New Malden.
"I liked to be the centre of attention early on and that evolved into acting first, early on. I was interested in being an actor, my parents weren't particularly musical, I think I just latched on to TV and films."
But did this prodigal youth take to reciting film monologues in front of his mirror?
"It didn't get as far as bedroom mirror acting," he insists. "But I did a Saturday drama school.
"I ended up doing cheesy pantomimes and musicals, which was kind of a good way of taking all the cool out of it. Me, wanting to be Leonardo DiCaprio and dressing up like a genie for Aladdin."
Theatre's loss has become music's gain as the now-27-year-old has since released a series of critically acclaimed EPs which saw him featured on the BBC's Sound of 2014 list.
"It was a big boost, that's for sure," he says. "The moment the list was announced, social media stats were definitely spiking. I think it just put me on the map a bit more."
Some of the artists who have topped the list have struggled to live up to the expectations it brings. For many, a runner-up spot is arguably almost preferable to having the spotlight thrown on them so early in their careers.
For every Jessie J and Adele, there is a Bravery or a Little Boots or a Michael Kiwanuka.
"Sam's doing all right, I think," counters Sital-Singh, referring to this year's winner Sam Smith whose debut album topped the UK chart and landed at number two on the US Billboard chart.
Sital-Singh's first EP, Fail For You was released in 2012 and introduced his heartfelt brand of acoustic music to the world.
It led the Guardian's music critic Paul Lester to declare: "We were knocked out, and it felt as though he was breathing life into a tired form."
The title song from the EP even featured in an episode of hit medical drama Grey's Anatomy.
But it could have been different had he followed the music track he began on.
"I was 11 or 12 when I started playing guitar but it was just about making a noise with my friends, who were into nu-metal, like Limp Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot, System Of A Down - it was good laugh.
"A Slipknot gig is definitely something you want to do before you die, I saw them at Reading and it was hilarious. My dad took me, he didn't know what he was getting himself into but he was lovely and so supportive.
"As soon as I got there, I went off with my mates but he knew that Slipknot were my favourite band, so he got into the crowd and set up his tripod. There were some burly guys round him going: 'Are you sure you want to be doing that mate?'.
As soon as they came on, his stuff got chucked in the air, I'm surprised he didn't lose anything or get his cameras smashed, he just made a hasty exit.
"It's one of my favourite memories of him."
A major turning point for Sital-Singh was the release of Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice's debut album O, in 2002. The indie folk record, which included the frequently-covered song Cannonball, "blew me away", he says.
"I was 15 and I suppose ready for something that was emotionally honest.
"[I'd written] loud songs, I wouldn't call them songs, just loud distortion guitars and shouting down microphones but that record O really set me off on my songwriting path.
"Maybe I'm remembering it wrong but it felt like a road to Damascus kind of experience where i just sort of dropped everything. My brother had an acoustic guitar, so I stole it off him and learned the whole album."
The new musical direction prompted Sital-Singh to start turning up at open mic nights across London, mainly singing Rice covers.
"There were a lot of us doing that - it became a bit of cliche in the end," he smiles.
Luckily, Sital-Singh had already started experimenting with his own songs. "I was writing songs long before I started performing them.
"I remember my brother helping me record a little album of my songs and they all sounded like Goo Goo Dolls songs, it was horrendous. I don't think I ever performed those live, well, maybe I slipped a few in."
Sital-Singh's debut album The Fire Inside, is due out in August on Parlophone.
"The way the music industry is working for me is the old-fashioned way, sign a record deal, get given a chunk of money and live off it for as long as you can because you're not going to see anything else."
It's a slightly odd admission from the young singer, the fact remains that most of his fans will download or stream his album. Streaming in particular has seen a 40% year-on-year growth.
While several high profile artists have spoken out over the amount of money paid to an artist per stream - which now counts towards an artist's final UK chart position - Spotify says it has paid out more than $1bn since 2008.
Though Sital-Singh does not shy away from digital content, with his own YouTube channel and a presence on social media, he remains a vinyl aficionado and admits he had a "mini-fight to convince" Parlophone to release the album on the traditional format.
"I'd pay money for a quality purchase, a physical souvenir, something which stands the test of time, amongst the convenience of something like Spotify."
"But you don't respect free stuff, do you? I don't. I think: 'Well, I might listen to it. Might not. It's of no risk to have that on my Spotify list and not listen to it. There's a million other albums.'"
The Fire Inside is released on 18 August.