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“I’m on a path of self-discovery and trying to heal.”

In spring 2020, Sam Fender had nowhere to go. When the first lockdown descended, an existing health condition required him to isolate and shield inside his home for three months. It was a frustrating turn for a BRIT Award-winning singer-songwriter who’d drawn inspiration for his debut album, 2019’s Hypersonic Missiles, from lives and conversations around him in his home of North Shields. When you can’t go out, you eventually look in, and Fender’s songwriting began to dig through memories of his childhood, analysing his internal wiring and reflecting on behaviours and insecurities that troubled him. “Writing was therapy before I got therapy,” he tells Apple Music. “That was always my starting point. A lot of things that you pass off as insignificant parts of your life end up becoming very significant parts of your character. Therapy gave me the tools to articulate what was going on in my life as a kid and to understand how that has affected me and why I am the way I am in certain situations.”

Fender has too much empathy for Seventeen Going Under to be entirely introspective, though. The pandemic also exposed the struggles and poverty faced in towns such as North Shields, and his ire at the government’s handling of COVID and Brexit—as well as his dismay at an opposition party that seemed to have abandoned working-class communities—burns through “Aye” and “Long Way Off”. Forthright in message and poetic in delivery, his words are set to a sound that continues to explore Americana and indie rock, funnelling everything through big-hearted choruses. “I feel like it is a celebratory record,” he says. “It’s a triumph over adversity. Celebrate the loves and friendships that you have over the journey of your life and celebrate those who aren’t here anymore.” Read on as he talks us through all of the album’s main tracks, plus some of the extra songs on this deluxe edition.

“Seventeen Going Under”
“It’s completely autobiographical. When I was 17, my mother was being hounded by the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions]. She had fibromyalgia and she was suffering from other ailments and mental health issues. But she got sent to court three times to prove that she wasn’t fit to work. This is a woman who’s worked for 40 years of her life as a nurse. She’s not a liar and she’s not a benefit cheat. She was a hard-working, fantastic, empathetic, incredible woman. And they dragged her through the mud and made her ill. I saw how the government was treating good, honest working-class people who have fallen on their back. They ripped apart every safety net for people in that position. I was old enough to understand what was going on, but I wasn’t old enough to be able to do anything about it.”

“Getting Started”
“I had my outside life as a kid, and then I’d go back home and see my mother in turmoil. ‘Getting Started’ is about a conversation between us, me going like, ‘This is shit, but I need to just be a kid, to go out and live my life. I’ve just turned 18. I want to go out to the pub, to see my mates.’ I needed my escapism. These stories, they’re mine, but that frustration with the DWP—how you’re trapped as a person who’s fallen on a hard time by your government—is a unanimous story for so many millions of people in this country.”

“Aye”
“On the first album, I talked about politics as if I knew what I was talking about, but I realised I don’t. This record, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I fucking hate those bastards over there who’ve got the hedge funds—whose taxes I’m paying, who come after my mum, who come after the disabled, who come after all of these people, plunging them into poverty and plunging kids out onto the streets. Yet they’re getting away with that tax-dodging.’”

“Get You Down”
“It’s about insecurities, how jealousy and feelings of emasculation and low self-worth can really, really destroy a relationship—and had done with my relationships. The worst thing about it was I could see the way I was acting, and I knew why, but I couldn’t stop it. That’s why I started doing therapy. I was coming back home after being started on by a bunch of lads but not doing anything about it because I was on my own. So I’d punch walls and stuff. I used to do that all the time in my early twenties. It’s toxic behaviour. You can’t do that. I’m on a path of self-discovery and trying to heal a lot of that.”

“Long Way Off”
“This is about political polarity and how the working classes feel, or how I felt, abandoned by a lot of the left wing. There’s a sect of snooty liberalism in the media world that completely alienates working-class people. Blyth Valley [a constituency a few miles from North Shields] went Tory [in the 2019 general election]; it’s been a Labour seat since its inception. That’s not good, but we’re in a dangerous, dangerous place, politically. It was the arrogance and incompetence of politicians thinking that they could sail through [Brexit]. They’ve fucked the country completely. There should be trials—for the lies, for the deception of a nation. My family members who voted for it voted for it because they thought that they were going to get money for the NHS. They’d seen their mothers pass away in the arms of people who worked for the NHS. They’d seen their family members on wards suffering. And they thought, ‘I’m going to vote for that.’”

“Spit of You”
“It’s about my dad. It’s about our inability to communicate about emotions because of the way we were raised. Our inability to have an argument without wanting to kill each other. It’s toxic masculinity at its finest. But it’s also about how much I love him, how I saw him as a son. My grandmother was a really small woman, and when she was dying, she looked like a child. He kissed her. I was reminded that I’m going to be that person one day—saying goodbye to him, potentially with another young kid behind me looking at me thinking the same thing.”

“Last to Make It Home”
“At the beginning, I’m talking to the Virgin Mary, a Mary pendant. I’m realising I need to get ahold of myself. In the second half, Mary becomes personified. She becomes just some girl on Instagram. It’s that like desperate, horrible shit line of ‘Hit the ‘like’/In the hopes I’d coax you out of my derelict fantasy.’ In the hopes that I’d be noticed. It’s really an anthem for losers—because we’ve all been a loser once. I’ve been a loser hundreds of times.”

“The Leveller”
“This is about depression and rising out of it. It’s a fighting song. But the leveller is the lockdown itself. It levelled everything.”

“Mantra”
“You find yourself in the company of sociopaths in this business. And you sometimes worry that maybe that means you are too. And I don’t think I’m a sociopath. Got too much empathy for that one. I think I’m a vulnerable narcissist at worst. This song’s about figuring out that you can’t pay so much attention to these people who genuinely don’t care about you and they’re only there to bolster themselves. I’ve had low self-esteem for a long time. I’ve always tried to seek validation from people that aren’t actually that nice.”

“Paradigms”
“It’s a round-up of all of the things that I’ve thought about in the album. So it’s a self-esteem rock song. People shouldn’t live miserably, they shouldn’t have to. I lost another friend to suicide last year. And I got all of my friends from home, some of them who knew him as well, to sing that last line, ‘No one should feel like this.’ It’s a choir of people from Shields. I think it’s a really powerful moment.”

“The Dying Light”
“This is a sequel to ‘Dead Boys’ [2018 track examining male suicide]. It’s in the perspective of somebody who’s actually thinking that they might take their own life. I wanted it to be the triumph over it—in the moment when you decide, ‘No, I’m not going to do this, or I can’t leave those behind.’”

“Better of Me”
“This is about somebody you thought you were over coming back in your life. It’s very dramatic. That was because someone came back into my life and it was like, ‘Oh, fuck. I’m not over you at all.’”

“Pretending That You’re Dead”
“‘Pretending That You’re Dead’ is about my relationship when I was 16. It’s that feeling when you’re a teenager, when you have that breakup and someone’s cheated on you. You’re so dramatic. Your world comes crashing down after your first relationship. It’s like, ‘The only way I’m going to get through this is if I pretend that she’s dead.’”

“Good Company”
“It’s live. It was one take. It’s a summary of who I think I am: ‘Sometimes I’m good company/Sometimes I’m a curse/But every time it’s you that gets the worst.’ And it’s about that relationship.”

© Apple Music