Luke Sital Singh – Interview – 2014

From the birthplace of both John Martyn and Jamie Woon, New Malden's Luke Sital-Singh seems to be part of an unlikely tradition of singer songwriters from this unassuming corner of South West London. Certainly, he can't pinpoint anything about the water there ("There's not much to know," he laughs), although some older readers may recall the legendary TV comedy The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, where Perrin – not once but twice – uses New Malden as an excuse for being late for work, one of them being that a badger ate the signal box in New Malden…
But it was a combination of Brighton and Damian Rice that largely determined Sital-Singh's path to being a singer songwriter. "The thing that started me off before I was really into music, was that socially I was a metal head; nothing to do with what I do now, and it never meant anything to me. But the thing that first meant something to me was Damian Rice's album, O. That changed my musical outlook; a conversion experience! And, I picked up an acoustic guitar. That was the DNA I took to becoming a singer songwriter. I learnt all his songs, performed them at gigs. I haven't listened to that album for years, but it means a lot to me as a starting point."
As Sital-Singh developed as a singer and songwriter, a choice had to be made; music or another career, and after much thought he took the music route, enrolling at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM), where he was allowed the space and freedom to develop as an artist. "It was a real turning point in me to take it seriously and commit myself, because I was deciding up to that point whether or not to do that or go to a standard university and study English. I chose music – it was a big decision. It gave me a lot of time to focus on it and meet other musicians and just be in a community like that. While Brighton was a good place to play gigs. I probably learnt a thing or two in the lessons, especially in terms of business; what a major label deal looks like, publishing, management, that kind of stuff… to get a leg up on all that."
After three years of studying, Sital-Singh hung around in Brighton for another year before deciding to head back to the big smoke in London. "I did move back to New Malden temporarily, but since then my parents have moved to Bristol and I had no family left there. So, I now live in Islington. I like it here, although I can't really afford it – I'd love to spend less money on rent… I got married last year, and we tried to live in Tunbridge Wells for a year for some random reason, just to see if we could set up camp there, and travel to London when needed. But it didn't work out, it was just boring, lots of travelling on the commuter train with lots of suited gents. Me and my guitar… it didn't feel right."
With his unusual surname it comes as no surprise that Luke's background includes that of India, but Wales and Jamaica are also in the mix. "My Mum comes from Wales, my great grandparents were Indian. It's a bit of a complicated one, we don't even know the ins and outs of it, it got lost along the way. They moved from India to Jamaica at some point, and that was where my grandparents were born. The trail goes cold after Jamaica. I don't really know where my family comes from in India, it'll be interesting to find out one day. I'm due to go to India in November, for a festival, which will be really exciting as I have never been there.
"My ethnicity doesn't play a part in my life at all. Culturally, my Dad had no Asian culture and I'm just a guy with slighter browner skin and a weird name! That's all it means to me, although I would like to find out a bit more of my story…Even why I've got a hyphenated name."
Despite earning a degree in "Professional Musicianship', and graduating in 2010, things didn't gel for Sital-Singh until he moved back to London, and at one point he was contemplating giving it up all together. "I didn't release my first record until I moved back. It was one of the reasons I left Brighton; I fell into a bit of a rut, and nothing was happening, and I wanted a bit of a break. I had a dead-end job and it was taking my energy, and I could just see myself losing the will to do the music stuff. So, I went to London, slept on floors, and that was when I started working with Julian (Deane, his manager), and it all started to fall into place. I made the first EP, Fail For You, in 2012, and it started to develop after that."
The ex-Toploader guitarist, Julian Deane, first met Luke at BIMM, in fact before he had even started the course… "He auditioned me for my place there! And he gave me a place, but I ended up deferring my entry for a year, and by the time I went to BIMM he wasn't there anymore. But when I was in Brighton I fell in with a bunch of guys who ended up all being managed by Julian (and his Raygun Management company). I ended up playing guitar with Stars and Sons, who he managed (and which was effectively the moniker of Mike Lord, a very respected Brighton based producer and engineer). But we didn't officially start working together until I had moved back to London. Star and Sons never really got off the ground, but the record they made is one of the best records that no one will ever hear! it gave me a bit of experience…
BIMM was also the place that he met Ian Archer, former Snow Patrol member and outstanding singer songwriter in his own right, and who is making a name for himself as a producer, most notably with Jake Bugg with whom he also co-wrote 'Two Fingers'. "One of the people at BIMM teaching me was Iain Archer, who ended up producing my album. I was a fan of his artistic work before that, so that was like being taught by a hero. We struck up a relationship and that has culminated in my album, producing about 98% of it."
That new album, The Fire Inside, is being released on the esteemed Parlophone label, and features a mix of songs old and new. "It features some songs that have been on previous recordings, as well as the first two singles from the album, 'Nothing Stays the Same' and 'Greatest Lovers', plus some from the other EPs I've released, which I have re-hashed. I'd done 3 EPs, and 12 songs, and I could have boxed them up as an album, but I didn't want to do that; that felt lame and cheap and creatively unsatisfying. There are some corkers from those EPs which just had to be on it though. I think it's about half and half, to me a good balance."
With a rhythm section brought in by Iain Archer, and featuring the guitars of Sital-Singh and many vocal parts courtesy of both Luke and Iain, The Fire Inside is both a big and epic album of songs mixed in with some more intimate moments. When he goes for it, he sounds not entirely unlike Paul Young, but comparisons with Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver are just as favourable, particularly on the more hymnal numbers such as on Fail For You. His honest and expressive vocals are matched by some excellent songwriting with there being a general air of optimism throughout, The Fire Inside could be just the tonic we have been looking for in the overly maudlin world of singer songwriters. "Optimism, that's what I hope comes through," he concurs. I often joke about being depressing, but I don't write songs that are just down on themselves and it's all a bit shit. I am a glass half empty sort of chap, so there is bit of 'what's all this about' in there sometimes.
With the release of The Fire Inside, things are certainly hotting up for Luke. As well as performing at Glastonbury and Latitude this summer, he's just about to head out on a UK tour tour including a Brighton date, followed up by some European and American action and the day we talk Luke is on way to Manchester for a session with The BBC. The Park Stage (at Glastonbury Festival) was exciting. It was really really raining during my set, but there was a good amount of crazy people there standing in the pouring rain. It seemed an apt atmosphere for my music! Latitude was also very good, I really like that festival, it's the second year running I've done it. I did that with the London Contemporary Voices Choir, it's amazing to have a 20-30 piece choir singing along with your songs. It was very special. I've done a few gigs with them, and we've got a few coming up. I'm trying to find more ensemble things to make the gigs feel more unique and interesting, grand and epic.
"For this tour it will be just me and a bass player – Paul Steel – Another of Julian' artists. He is a bit of wizz on bass… It's nice to do the stripped back thing; intimate and raw. We tried it with a band, with drums, and it isn't working just yet… so we have gone back to basics. I'm looking forward to coming back to Brighton"
Jeff Hemmings