Calum Scott made his way to the Austin360 Amphitheater on Saturday, July 28. We had a chance to talk to him about his new album, his inspirations, and more. Calum was a contestant on “Britain’s Got Talent,” where his rendition of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” during his audition automatically passed him on to the competition. Calum released his debut album, “Only Human,” in March and is currently on tour all over the world. If you’ve never listened to his music, you’re in for a treat. It’s a mix of Adele and Sam Smith, but very uniquely tied to Calum and his story. His lyrics are personal and relatable, and he’s bringing the power ballads back. Calum was in Austin back in 2016 and played at the House of Blues!
Can you talk a little bit about where you grew up?
Calum: I was born in a town called Hull, England. My dad moved to Canada when I was two. But my grandparents, aunts and uncles became my close-knit family. I had a big group of friends, went to school in Hull and went to work in doing IT, like a computing type of job. Four years into that that my sister discovered I had a voice and she entered me into some local competitions.
You said your sister discovered when you had a voice. When did you discover that you had a voice and did you know you had one?
Calum: Not really. When I was younger I was a drummer. I took music as one of my studies and did really well in it. I got a shield at the end of it for outstanding performance in music. I never really thought about vocals. I could hold a tune, but never really considered singing. My sister was always the performer in the family, so I would go to the performances that she was doing. I would be so proud of her, thinking, ‘I don’t know how she has the guts to stand there.’ I would sing when no one was around in the shower and didn’t really think anything more of it. My sister heard me singing in the bedroom one day and decided to take it upon herself to push me forward and enter me into a competition without me knowing. She kind of forced me into that first competition. I remember it vividly that I was terrified but at the end of the song, it was like a second life. I’ve never felt a thrill like it. I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Many people have seen your audition video on “Britain’s Got Talent,” then the raw emotion after your sister was eliminated and then you went on and blew everyone away. Looking back, can you talk about what that experience was like?
Calum: I went from being a very normal guy working in my office who was chasing a dream of singing. I never thought I would ever get to the heights it’s gotten to right now. I had applied for another teen competition in the UK called “X-Factor” in 2012. I didn’t get through. I said, ‘okay I’m going to do it the natural way.’ I’d given up on that path. It was my sister who was like, ‘”Britain’s Got Talent” is coming on the TV soon, let’s apply for it.’ I was like, “Jade, I’ve kind of done that.” She was like, “Yeah, but let’s just see. It can be good life experience.” So, I kind of did it for my sister.
I rehearsed my song, she rehearsed hers, and then we rehearsed a song together in case we were asked to do a duet. We got there in the morning and didn’t get seen until the evening. My sister was a lot more nervous than I was and when she went on stage I could see that she just wasn’t ready. The nerves were getting the best of her. Simon was kind of cruel when he delivered his critique. And they said no to her. She came off and she was really upset. Me, being the big brother, was instantly protective of her. I only had like a minute or less to deal with that and I had to go on stage and perform myself. So you can imagine I was angry for my sister. I was nervous as hell for my own audition. There was a range of human emotions in there and I think that’s why it made the audition as special as it was.
You’ve been open about your sexuality and the struggle growing up and how songwriting has empowered your journey through the struggle. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Calum: Growing up was always difficult because I knew I was different from my friends from a young age. Living in the northeast of England was probably more difficult than if you lived in London. The North has a mentality of just kind of sucking it up and being strong. Obviously it’s difficult, because if you’re going through something like that you want to rely on someone and spill your heart out. I told my mum and she was incredible about it. I told my best friends and I was completely abandoned. And that kind of made me suppress my sexuality for the better part of my life. I didn’t meet a friend until Dan, who’s one of my best friends now. He helped me deal with my sexuality and helped me come out to those closest to me.
It wasn’t really until I was in the public eye where it really became a problem because I had to open doors to the world. The world was going to want to know about my personal life. By this point my dad still didn’t know. It was a tough journey, but songwriting definitely opened those doors for me. It made me more honest and more genuine. I feel like writing those songs and putting them on the album – especially “If Our Love is Wrong,” which is at the top of the album and which is my coming out song to the world – it empowered me and made me feel strong and feel like I could use my sexuality and the issues and the experiences I’ve come through for the better. To try and inspire the kids or people facing that conflict in themselves. I had a new purpose with my songwriting and it wasn’t just writing songs anymore but trying to make medicine out of my music. Now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve written songs that will hopefully service as a tool of inspiration for people. It all comes from just being brave enough to talk about. That’s why I’ve put people in these conversations out there to try and inspire other people to be open.
Can you talk about “Only Human”? There’s a little bit of everything on here, which I love.
Calum: I wrote them from personal experience. I wrote them in a way that it becomes relatable to anybody else. For example, “You Are the Reason” is one of my favorite songs because there’s so many ways that it can be interpreted. It’s a love song, but not only the love you feel for your significant other, but love for a mom and dad, granddad, your siblings or your friends. Anybody who helps you get through life and is your reasons for getting up in the morning and taking that breath. My personal tribute was to my grandma, who was massively involved in my of growing up and I guess the reason that I am the gent I believe that I am today. I had couple of people send in that their family pet was their reason.
There’s all these ways it can be interpreted and what makes music so beautiful. The whole reason behind the album, “Only Human,” is that we all share emotion and the common themes between all people. Gay, straight, whatever race you are. Human emotion is present in all of them. And that’s what we all share. So that invisible tie is what the album is made of. I want people to walk away and just put their headphones in and listen to me whichever way they want. Whether that’s remembering a loved one or bringing their loved one a little closer. Or remembering home, remembering family. I even wrote a song about being jealous. Being angry. Being envious. I think all those things, good and bad, all exist in life so that’s why the album is “Only Human,” because it’s the most relatable thing I can talk about.
What are some of your musical inspirations? Where and whom do you draw from and then how do you adapt it to make it your own style?
Calum: Growing up, my mum would always take us places. The seaside or camping trips. She would take us to swimming lessons every week. She would play her favorite songs and her favorite albums. That would be people like Whitney Houston, Queen, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Tina Turner. All of these huge power ballad singers. How about that. Consciously, that’s kind of what has given me the style and music I sing. That childhood nostalgia of just feeling very emotional about these songs and very attached to them. Growing up and getting my own style. I was born in 1988, so I’m technically a ’90s kid, so in the UK it was the Spice Girls, NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys and Westlife and all these boy and girl bands. As I gained my own style I again pulled back more ballad stuff is like Adele, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. I think they have definitely shaped who I am as a songwriter.
I didn’t know how to write songs after “Britain’s Got Talent.” I had to go through a discovery process: how to write who I was as an artist, what inspired me. As soon as I started writing it became therapy. I started writing and eventually I think I had written about 70 songs because it just became like a counseling session every time I did the songwriting. When I looked at the song, the common thread was just how human I am and that must exist for millions and millions of people. My songwriting has been inspired by life itself. I wanted this album to be a true reflection of me as a person and artist and what I was capable of. I’m definitely, now especially, influenced by different artists, different genres, I’m just a lover of music. I’m continually inspired so there will be a second album if the people want me. Inspiration is a personal thing so I try and live as much as I can and try to be inspired every day.
Calum is currently on tour in the States. For more information on where to find Calum next, visit www.calumscott.com.