- Words Liam Cattermole
- Photography Vicky Grout
- Photography Assistant Rosie Alice Wilson
- Fashion Aliesha Vian
- Fashion Assistant Phoebe Scott
- Grooming Tracy Walls @ Creatives Agency
- Production & Location Studio Notion
Perfecting a winning formula in his forthcoming single “See Me”, Sam Tompkins speaks connectivity, kinship and settling into a new sonic era.
There is nothing so fulfilling as interviewing an artist who’s at the top of their game. Even more gratifying, however, is when they project themselves with the level of passion that pulls through their music. This is exactly how Sam Tompkins appears over Zoom on an otherwise unassuming Friday in February. He’s in a special period of his career, where the stars are aligning and his creative strides are extending. Embarking on a new sound, in January the singer-songwriter released “Die For Someone”: an anthemic track with a pop edge and his trademarked vocals. Energetic and emotionally delivered, it possesses all the traits that Sam’s faithful love him for, whilst offering a sonic evolution to broaden his fanbase.
If you follow his social media, you won’t be surprised to hear that the fans mean everything to Sam. In a video posted to Instagram last year, he surprises Josh, a dedicated follower who’d been having a hard time, meeting him in the pub and letting him hear the single “Lose It All” before anyone else. In our conversation, he frequently refers to the mutual kinship he feels with his audience. “I’ve built a fanbase for a reason and they gravitate towards what I speak about,” Sam tells me, “That’s why I want to make an effort. I want to be an artist that people go to, to feel less alone”. Equally, he realises that their relationship can’t compromise his own artistry, although, when “Die For Someone” came out, he admits feeling nervous about how people would receive it. The Brighton-born artist needn’t worry. It’s racked up millions of streams and been remixed countless times on TikTok.
Since Lil Nas X went viral with his Billboard-topping “Old Town Road”, TikTok has become an essential promotional tool for musicians, and Sam’s used it to his own advantage, cultivating a fanbase through elaborate busking videos and stripped-back covers. Performing in front of historical monuments, they encapsulate the essence of Sam’s eight-year-long music career. Although the “TOO THE MOON” singer has accumulated fame this way, he’s aware it doesn’t replicate the human interaction he craves from his audience. “Living in this era of social media, the connection between artist and listener has never felt closer but also more distant”, which is why he loves playing shows: “Being able to see people dance or be moved in any way by the music is a really validating feeling and it’s something that you can’t get from a like or a share. It’s the best part about my job.”
It was in Brighton that Sam realised he had a knack for performing. Infatuated with music from childhood, on his 16th birthday he was dared to busk on the streets of the south coast, and he hasn’t looked back since. A bubbling city simmering with creative spirit, it’s become a musical hub where the likes of Nick Cave and Fatboy Slim seek refuge. “The most important thing that Brighton has taught me is freedom of expression,” Sam explains, repositioning a trademark baseball cap that conceals his forehead. “It’s so telling that you can walk down the street, see someone in the most outrageous outfit and not even bat an eyelid. That’s the coolest thing about Brighton and it makes me more confident in who I am.”
With no musicians in the family, Sam forged a career from his own ingenuity. Growing up, he listened to early noughties R&B, like Usher and Justin Timberlake, taking inspiration from the CD collection of his sister Jenny. On the flip side, he’s always been interested in singer-songwriters, which is why he releases live remixes, removing the drums and adding acoustics to provide new meaning.
“I would never say that I’m being ground-breaking, but I’d like to think that I’m not just doing the same stuff” he contemplates. “I want to be free thinking but when you take everything away and do a live version, you realise that the song works well, because they’re all originally written on a guitar or a piano”.
Becoming the choice collaborator for many American musicians, Nicki Minaj and Yung Bleu recently sampled his song “Whole” on their single “Love In The Way”. Warping his heart-felt falsettos underneath their poignant verses, the track’s drifting afrohouse and ama piano rhythms soundscape the story of hopeless romance Sam projects.
Closer to home, Krept & Konan are fans, as is Jaykae, who came onstage at one of Sam’s recent headline shows. Although, if there’s one hitmaker whose support has meant the most, it’s Justin Bieber: an artist that Sam’s grown up listening to but would consider a dear friend today. “I got the Justin Bieber comparisons when I was younger” he affirms in a reflective pause. “When people complimented me in that way, it didn’t feel like it knocked my artistry and rather felt like something genuine. We’ve become close friends now”. Has the pop virtuoso ever visited him in Brighton, you may ask? “No, but he says he wants to come to my mum’s house for sausage and mash. We’re going to make it happen.”
Despite the major cosigns, it’s Sam’s fanbase that he still seeks validation from. Continuing the release of back-to-back tracks, in anticipation of a debut album out later this year, his new single “See Me” feels even more monumental than previous releases. Putting all his cards on the table, the track touches on Sam’s darkest insecurities: dulcet and endearing, it evokes a feeling of solitude, which shines through when he opens up to me about its creation. “It came out so quick, it’s like I’d needed to write it my whole life. I’m glad that I have now and hope others can resonate with it.”.
As for what’s next, Sam turns our conversation passionately in the direction of what matters to him most, spending time with the people that he loves and “being happy”. He illuminates these simplicities in his own music, helping the listener to look at life’s bigger picture. “I would like to think that people are emotionally evoked when they hear what I’m doing. That’s why I think I’ve managed to make a career out of this, because people can resonate” he reveals ardently. “And that’s been my goal from the beginning, making people feel seen or less alone through my music.”