INTERVIEW: Lewis Capaldi talks touring, anxiety, and his new album

Lewis Capaldi interview
Photo credit: Alexandra Gavillet

Scotland’s own Lewis Capaldi has finally released his debut endeavor. His album, Divinely Inspired to a Hellish Extent, out now via Capitol, is a 12-track masterpiece of heartbreak and recovery. We sat down (over phone) to discuss touring, his new LiveLive program, and of course, the new album. He’s coming to me from Cincinnati, Ohio having just finished some “radio stuff” and promo for the new album, And for someone with one of the most emotional #1 singles of the year, he’s quite the laugh.

Substream: Hi Lewis! Nice to have you here chatting with us! How has your day been so far?

Lewis: It’s been great! We’re in Columbus, did some radio stuff there, and then we were in Cincinnati, then we’re going to Chicago in the next few days, but I woke up, ate some food, got some things done, now I’m talking to you, and that’s pretty much how it’s went!

Sounds like a fun few days! But to start off: this is a variation on the ‘What got you into music?’ question, but was there ever a specific artist that you heard growing up, or saw live and were like ‘I want to do that”?

L: I saw Green Day live when I was a child and it just really blew me away. I can’t remember what tour it was— maybe it was the ‘American Idiot’ one or the one just after that— and it was just amazing. They did this whole thing where they would bring people on stage and do things with the crowd— it was very crowd-inclusive— and I remember just being blown away by them and the stuff that they did onstage. The only other person I can remember watching that wasn’t so much seeing live, but very early memories of looking at Freddy Nash and being blown away by his voice and just being able to captivate a whole crowd the size of Wembldon. Those were kind of the very early memories I have of [music] and those sparked me on. For me, the live aspect of music was the whole reason i got into it. I never got into music to sit in a studio for 6 hours and record; I got into music because I wanted to play live.

So I know your full UK tour is about to start soon, and I know that you have a new LiveLive program inspired by your own anxiety—

L: Livel*i*ve! [editor’s note: The first “Live” is pronounced like “live your life,” the second as in “see a band live”] Yeah, so thats the most confusing fucking name I’ve ever come up with and I probably should’ve named it something else—

So I know that it’s inspired by your own battles with anxiety and it’s supposed to help fans with anxiety at concerts, so I must ask: do you thoroughly enjoy touring or do concerts give you yourself anxiety?

L: Yeah I love it! I do love being on tour. I don’t really get anxiety when I’m up on stage, it’s like at various points and random times I’ll get [anxiety]. It’s not really brought on by playing live- I’ve only had a panic attack on stage once, and that was when I was on tour and I thought I had appendicitis, and I started having this pain while I was singing and I was like ‘Woah, what is that?!’, but there was nothing wrong with me. It was ridiculous. So my anxiety stems from health and stuff like that and I’ve always had it from a young boy— but I didn’t know I had this anxiety. I was [always] a hypochondriac because my dad had it as well, and I think that’s where I got it from… But for tour, I love tour. I think it’s the most important part of music, and I don’t know too many people that get into music without imagining playing live. I can’t imagine someone getting into music— I mean I suppose it’s probably more common now for people to do music because they want to be on TV, but for me live music was just— that’s all I can even think of now. And what I really love about playing live is the fact that musicians always say … the way they consume music is so different now because of streaming, but what I quite like is the playing live and touring has remained the same through all of that … I just like to meet people who are effectively keeping me in a job, because without all the people buying the tickets, I would be unemployed. So it’s nice to come see them and play for all the people. But I love it and I think thats why whenever I listen to me on recordings, I always think “I wanna do it live”. I feel like there’s definitely something to be said for hearing something live versus hearing it on an album.

Since we’re on the subject of touring, is your songwriting ever influenced by being on tour? Do you ever feel super creative at that time, or is it the opposite because maybe you’re so tired?

Oh absolutely fucking not. I can’t do it. I just want to sleep. Between playing shows and doing promos and stuff I’m not very active in terms of songwriting. I’ll get little notes and stuff, but I really like to separate the two in terms of writing and recording— and in hotel rooms it’s not really [the environment]. I mean I think it’s good to get experiences out of being on tour to write about, and I’ll write some stuff down and record stuff in my voice notes, but I think to really get a song together I have to be in that space where I’m like “ok, I’m going to write a song now” and I think me sitting in my hotel room and between shows or on a day off or something- Well a day off’s probably a bit better, but they’re becoming few and far between at the moment— but I’ve got a very loud voice. I don’t want someone thinking that there’s someone being attacked and I’m screaming.

So walk me through your debut album: where did the name come from?

The name? You mean the most ridiculous name known to man? It was from a song. I wrote a song… it’s not on the album, but I wanted it to be and it was supposed to be, but it just transpired last minute and wasn’t going to make the deadline so we had to get rid of it. And it’ll come out eventually, but basically that song was written when I was feeling quite… disillusioned, if you will, [with] just the state of things- I was just getting a bit down on myself. One day everything seemed to be going great and the next day there were like all these [obstacles], and the next day things were good again, and I was just getting caught up a bit in the up-and-down nature of the whole thing and I was taking things a bit too seriously. But, the whole line that the album title is from is: “Broken by desire to be heavenly sent // Divinely uninspired to a hellish extent”. That’s meant to say that: I so wanted to be good at something – in this case music – and that was something of that desire to be good at something, and in the pursuit of doing something good most of the time you feel like you’re shit at it, or you feel like you’re fucking awful and you’re failing at it. And it’s not just in music, like it could just be in day-to-day living. A good example is going to the gym. When people think like “I want to lose a bit of weight, so I’ll go to the gym” and you go there for 4 months and the majority of that time you’ll think like, “I’m shit at this, I’m never going to lose this weight. I’m awful.” And eventually you tone down and you’re like “well, fuck! Look! I’ve lost that weight.” I was making the album and I was very stressed, and I was also very bored, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and making the album— if you couldn’t tell from what the album is called– is stressful, and just being in that room I was [trying to balance] what I wanted to do and what will they like, so I think the process of recording can be quite a bit uninspiring at times. Also, I thought it’d be funny to give my album sort of a negative title and watch how the label tried to market it, but I think they did a really good job so far, so that backfired slightly… [laughs] I just thought it was funny to have a title that’s so negative, and so long, and so stupid. I didn’t want to call the album ‘Lewis Capaldi’. or some bullshit thing like “The Whale” or something that there’s probably 900 albums of– not to disrespect anyone, but just no one is gonna have [my] album title. And if they do, I’ll fucking sue them.

Catch Lewis Capaldi’s latest release, ‘Divinely Uninspired to A Hellish Extent,’ out now via Capitol Records.