Editor's Note: This story first appeared in its original format in the new issue of Variance. Click here for the full version.
British soul-pop singer-songwriter Sam Smith has been taking listeners “to church” recently with his out-of-this-world vocal range and electric persona.
The 21-year-old was earlier this year named BBC’s Sound of 2014 and Variance caught up with him the day after another big win, taking home the Critics’ Choice trophy at the U.K.’s BRIT Awards in February.
Although Smith has been working at a career in music for a few years already, his first break came with his feature on Disclosure’s 2012 single “Latch.” Following the track’s success, reaching No. 11 on the British Official Singles Chart, Smith began sharing his solo material.
While first single “Lay Me Down” quietly showcased Smith’s incredible vocal range, his subsequent offerings continued to blow fans away, one track after another. But despite his indisputable superstar talent, the young singer is still taken aback by his swift rise over the past few months.
“It’s unbelievable and actually overwhelming,” he says. “And because it’s so insane, I need to stay focused and keep working hard. [But] I’m certainly having fun,” he adds.
With great success has certainly come great opportunities. But Smith admits his roller coaster calendar has been a challenge, given his preference for having a routine. Of course, that shouldn’t be a concern for long, as he just hit the road again, including multiple dates in North America.
“I love touring,” admits Smith. “You wake up, go to the venue, you sound check, you have some dinner and then you perform. I love that. I like that routine. It’s nice to have that.”
Despite his youth, Smith’s work ethic is apparent and it shines through in his music, both in writing and performing, as many attendees of his live performances have been quick to attest. It’s something that “comes from training every single day,” reveals Smith.
“I’ve worked really hard on my voice,” he recalls. “Believe me, when we wrote and recorded ‘Latch,’ it was so painful to sing… But I’ve been singing it so much this past year that I’m used to it now.”
Having been propelled to center stage by fellow rising stars Disclosure and Naughty Boy as a ‘featured artist,’ some critics have suggested Smith may ultimately surpass his peers. But when it comes to comparisons, Smith is quick to dismiss such chatter as apples and oranges. “I’m grateful for the work I’ve done before with other artists, but ultimately, every artist is on their own journey. And this is mine,” he says.
Although he earned the spotlight for himself with collaborations, there won’t be any guests when it comes to his own album, In the Lonely Hour, which arrives June 17. Instead, “it’s just me,” he says. “And it was important for me to do that, just because I’m coming off two features and I wanted to put myself out there and—to be honest, the album is a body of work. And I’m not sure how I feel about collaborations on bodies of work.”
Beyond musical style, Smith has also received kudos for his signature sense of fashion. “It’s definitely different because I didn’t get this kind of attention before,” he says. “When people compliment the way I look or say flattering things, it’s new to me.” But according to the singer, part of that is thanks to a weekly cut from Knightsbridge (London) hair stylist Paul Edmonds, who keeps Smith’s hair looking fresh.
“I think it’s like this for anyone. Getting compliments makes you feel good. But I don’t think I’m blatantly a good-looking person,” he confesses. “I was very surprised when I started getting comments like that.”
With such success not even halfway into the year, Smith has thus far remained sincere in his efforts and seems genuinely grateful for all that has happened to him. And he still has a ton of things to look forward to for the rest of the year as he solidifies his status as one of the year’s biggest stars.
“I’m looking forward to traveling and seeing the world a bit, seeing as many people as I can. That’s what motivates me the most right now,” he admits. “Especially when you’ve got so much going on leading up to the album and the tour, that’s what makes it worth it, knowing I’ll soon get to see the fans and meet all these people who have been supporting me.”
As Smith’s debut quickly approaches, the singer says he’s trying to remain modest with his expectations. But having an undeniable connection with his fans, the singer says he hopes people “feel a little less lonely when they listen to this album,” he says. “I just hope it helps them as much as it’s helped me.”