Luke Sital-Singh has announced details of his third album ‘A Golden State’ and released new single ‘Los Angeles’. ‘Los Angeles’ is the third single from ‘A Golden State’, which is out on April 5, following the 2018 singles ‘The Last Day’ and ‘Love Is Hard Enough Without The Winter’. Fans who pre-order the album will get all three singles as instant grats.
‘Los Angeles’ is a song as warm and hazy as an LA morning, and writing it helped in Luke’s decision to relocate from Bristol to the city with his wife, illustrator Hannah Cousins. “Hannah’s wanted to move to LA for years but I’m not much of an adventurer, I’m a worrier and a pessimist,” he says. “But I do need something new. And writing the song crystallized my enthusiasm for moving there. It’s probably the most honest and open song on the album. There’s no metaphor or characters. It’s me and Hannah, let’s move to America, I’m scared, you’re not scared, so stay close, ’cause I’m gonna freak out along the way.”
Recorded in Portland’s Jackpot Studios, famously set up by Elliott Smith and where alumni include R.E.M., Stephen Malkmus, and The Decemberists, ‘A Golden State’ was produced by Tommy McLaughlin (Villagers, Soak), who also produced Luke’s last album ‘Time Is A Riddle’ (2017).
Luke and Tommy headed to Portland in August 2018, and were joined in the studio by a small group of musicians. Whereas the last album was largely recorded live, ‘A Golden State’ was the opposite. “We wanted it to be big and warming,” says Luke. “So we used vintage ribbon mics, which give this really smoky, husky sound. The vocal was the most important thing, I wanted it to feel like it was jumping out the speaker.”
Last April, Luke was invited to give a TED Talk at the official TED conference in Vancouver, and the event proved the catalyst for Luke to finish set of the songs he’d been slowly, painfully writing for the new album. ‘A Golden State’ he says has been the most difficult of his three albums to write. “Even though I think I say that every time,” he admits, convinced he also said it about his 2014 debut ‘The Fire Inside’. “But this one did seem to take absolutely forever.”
At its most basic, ‘A Golden State’ is album of California dreaming. The songs therein reflect a new chapter, and a new mindset for Luke. “Overall, there is this ethereal, positive vibe, without being too cheesy,” he says. “There is an Americana fantasy, of wanting to escape to this gorgeous place, but also about what I’m escaping from.”
The cover artwork, a four-colour lino cut of the Venice Beach canals created by Hannah, is taken from her upcoming art book, Coastline (pre-order at www.hannahcousins.com), which chronicles a two-week road trip Hannah and Luke took down California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and LA.
Luke Sital-Singh released his debut single ‘Fail For You’ in 2012, introducing the world his deft ability to craft songs with a mesmerizing, piercing emotional quality. The song went on to be featured in numerous TV shows including ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. At the end of 2013, Sital-Singh was featured in the BBC’s Sound of 2014 list and released his debut record ‘The Fire Inside’ later that year.
After a couple of years touring the world and opening for artist such as Villagers, The Staves, Martha Wainwright and Angus and Julia Stone, in 2017 Sital-Singh released his critically-acclaimed sophomore record ‘Time Is A Riddle’. The album’s lead single ‘Killing Me’ has had 10m plays on Spotify, and Luke’s combined streams since 2015 are at almost 120m.
‘Time Is A Riddle’ will be released May 12th on Raygun Records / Red Essential
SHANNON ST. CLARE
“I made an album that I was mostly proud of. But the process was hard and process matters to me. It colours the final work with a subtle significance. So now I look back with a bemused frown. Because all I remember is the process. And the process was too hard.
When it came time to move on, things needed to change. I wanted control of the process back. I wanted to be small again. Big can be good, but big can be brittle. And small packs a punch when you can be nimble.”
So wrote Luke Sital-Singh in July 2015. He typeset his words using metal type and an old printing press, each sentence on a new line, no full stops required. It was a pause, a moment of reflection on the events of the preceding couple of years, specifically the release of his “compromised” debut album, ‘The Fire Inside’, the slightly bitter fruits of an ill-starred major label relationship. It was also a personal manifesto, a quiet, internal rallying cry. And it was a nice bit of writing, thought through and pored over and carefully presented. That’s how he rolls. He rolls his own.
Eighteen months on – he wasn’t going to rush – comes ‘Time Is A Riddle’, that second album Sital-Singh was determined to make solely on his terms. No interference, no scheduling issues, nor elaborate musicianship, nothing big or brittle. Just care, and effort, and time well spent – values he shares with the Slow Movement to which he subscribes, and with the crafts people up and down the country with whom the musician has some special projects planned. It’s a lovely record of self-written songs, a crafted distillation of the ideas and tastes that have been percolating through Sital-Singh since he was a teenager in suburban southwest London, listening in awe to Damien Rice, since he was a rapt fan in the audience at a Ryan Adams gig in Brighton.
Recalling the music that made him, Sital-Singh – a singer with both soul and grit in his voice – says: “There was something about acoustic, singer-songwriter music that seemed more meaningful, and beautiful. I only like music that I feel like I can call beautiful. And to me that’s slow music, and more downbeat music. It’s a running joke amongst my friends that I’m a grumpy git,” he admits (and admits cheerfully). “But I’m not actually depressive. I’m just fairly introverted, quiet and pessimistic – but I’m happy being that. And songs are always the things I’ve been interested in, not the bells and whistles around the song. It’s purely about the song in its simplest form, and trying to craft that with just a guitar or just a piano. I’m obsessed with that.”
Sital-Singh is a student of words. “I was brought up in a fairly religious family, and there were quite a lot of philosophical, theological discussions around. So there was always this thing in me about exploring inner things. So before the songs there were woe-is-me, slit-your-wrist poems,” he smiles.
And he’s a student of notes, the youngest of three musical brothers. He was first a childhood violinist then an adolescent guitarist who attended BIMM Brighton music college before graduating from the London open-mic scene. Self-released EPs led to Proper Record Deal led to Difficult First Album. “Spent too much money, lost too much money,” the now Bristol-based musician recalls without rancour. “This time I was determined to do the complete opposite.”
Having written a brace of songs – simple songs that moved him – Sital-Singh followed his long-held artist’s dream: he escaped to a remote studio, Attica Audio, in Donegal, with nothing on his mind other than making the record of his life. The studio’s owner, producer Tommy McLaughlin (a member of Villagers’ touring band, who Sital-Singh has opened for) pulled together a small group of musicians. Well-used to playing together, the band slotted together effortlessly for a series of recordings over ten days.
“There were big windows looking over the hills of Donegal, and it was raining the whole time, which was perfect for me. We were playing and singing at the same time in this lovely big live room, with so much bleed, just the way records used to be made. So much fun. These were simple songs that just need to be recorded nicely and played well with a good band with nice instruments in a nice room. We don’t need weird stuff going on. We needed me to feel inspired by the performance to sing a good vocal. And that’s what I was.”
‘Time Is A Riddle’ opens with ‘Still’, a song Neil Young might have left behind on Zuma Beach.
“It’s a song about wanting to remind everyone that I’m still here – and also reminding myself that all this shit goes on, but it can just blow past, and you’re still here. It’s not quite ‘I’m Still Standing’,” he smiles of the Elton John belter. “But I hate our obsession with newness and following trends. So the idea of someone still there, still doing their thing, I think is a nice sentiment to start the record with.”
Another cornerstone track is the album’s title track. “I was listening to a lot of Feist and thought she was great,” he says by way of explaining a song with heavy chords and quiet drama. “And that’s what her music is: quiet drama. Some of the production is quite bombastic, but there’s a gentleness around it as well. That’s what I was trying to get to.”
Then there’s ‘Innocence’, a song glowing with echoey wonder. “It’s fairly up for me,” Sital-Singh grins with typical self-deprecation. “I’m really proud of that one. That was a song that took as long to write as it lasts for. I was watching telly with my guitar and it just came out, pretty much fully formed. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I guess it’s about this idea of being born, losing innocence, people coming in and out of the world, changing as they go.”
The first taste of ‘Time Is A Riddle’ is the heart-shivering, spine-tingling ‘Killing Me’, accompanied by an evocative, home-made, typically personal video.
“It’s me singing as my grandma, and addressed to my grandfather, who died ten years ago. She talks about him every day. When I think about it too much it just breaks my heart. So one day I just sat down at the piano and it’s probably the most emotional song I’ve ever written. I almost didn’t include it – I thought it might be too much to release. It’s so sensitive and so close to my heart. Then I thought maybe people will connect with it…
“But then when it came to the video, I definitely didn’t want to be singing this song, prancing around in slow motion. Then by coincidence I took delivery of these digitised cine films that my wife’s late grandfather shot in the Seventies. They were only sent to us because her parents were in the process of moving to Vancouver. And when I watched them, the nostalgic nature and the parallels with both our grandparents, it just felt tonally right, and a little note of serendipity. So I just edited them together and that’s what we’ve got. It’s definitely the most personal song on the record.”
Then again, personal is stamped on and through everything Luke Sital-Singh does. Head to iTunes to listen to the very funny ‘Idiot Check’ podcast, recorded by him and a couple of mates (don’t worry, it’s free). Head to Spotify and you’ll find a lovely selection of covers of songs from films, including Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sound Of Silence’ from The Graduate and The Shins’ ‘New Slang’ from Garden State. Storied songs by storied bands from storied movies, but he makes them all his own.
Likewise a new selection of covers recently uploaded to Soundcloud: songs as diverse as Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’, The Faces’ ‘Ooh La La’ and Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ sound reborn and rebooted.
What it all has in common is care, effort and dedication. It’s Luke Sital-Singh’s way. It’s what makes his music breathe and his songs pulse. “I like things that are well made – things that love has been put into. And not throwaway shite. It’s why I like the Slow Movement. It’s why I like vinyl.”
It’s also why he likes Hannah Cousins, his wife (although presumably that isn’t the only reason). She’s the artist responsible behind the vivid sleeve artwork for ‘Time Is A Riddle’.
“Hannah’s an illustrator and printmaker, and we’ve worked together on most of my artwork. She helped set the tone for the initial three EPs, which then Parlophone bulldozed over for the album art for ‘The Fire Inside’.”
The image on the new cover began as a photograph of a wind-bent tree in Donegal, “which wasn’t just the place I recorded the album – it became a symbol of escape and refreshment”. Cousins, a skilled linocutter, then set patiently to work. “The lino process is one of painstaking craftsmanship, where an image is carved in reverse in a linoleum sheet, which takes hours and hours. In this case it took Hannah two days. She then carefully inked the lino with an ink roller and pressed it onto paper, using an Albion press from 1881.”
In the same spirit, Sital-Singh is finessing a series of special filmed performances in the studios, workshops, foundries and ateliers of a host of crafts people he’s connected with up and down the country. Watch this (bespoke) space for collaborations with a ceramicist in Glasgow, a knife-maker in Derby and a stained glass designer in Devon.
But for now, here’s ‘Time Is A Riddle’. A record where you can smell the graft, see the joins and hear the sweat on the frets – and the occasional live-recording misstep. It’s that real. Luke Sital-Singh wouldn’t have it any other way. As he said in that summer ’16 letter, “the effort was justified. Like a long run up a steep hill.
“I’ve reached the top now. I’m catching my breath. My heart is pounding. And as I look back down, I am proud of each and every step that it’s taken.”
‘Time Is A Riddle’ will be released May 12th on Raygun Records / Red Essential
plus special guest…
Save for a vote of confidence from his primary-school headteacher, who gave him a lead role in an end-of-term production on the strength of his vocal audition, Luke Sital-Singh wasn’t exactly showered with praise for his singing during his childhood and adolescence. This may strike you as surprising (it strikes me as outrageous), given the crucial part Luke’s voice – sometimes tentative, vulnerable, sometimes visceral and emotionally raw – plays in his music. Yet, time and again, the 26-year-old was knocked back – even, on one occasion, by his eldest brother (no filial loyalty there, then). “He was helping me record some songs once,” Luke recalls, “and I remember him saying: ‘That song’s really nice – until you start singing.’” He met with similar rejection when he auditioned for the school concert at sixth-form college. “I was going to do this duet with a girl called Lauren of a Sarah McLachlan song, and we had to perform it for the music teachers first. And one of them said: ‘Yeah, it’s good, but I think that only Lauren should sing it’. I was playing in bands at that time, and had a good bunch of friends. And this petition went round the school, saying ‘Let Luke Sital Singh’. It didn’t work, needless to say.” None of this is said with a trace of bitterness. Luke’s own take on his brother’s verdict is refreshingly free of pride, and characteristically full of wry humour. “He was right,” he says, laughing. “I had this weak, nasally voice.”
At a time when Luke was listening to bands such as the Offspring and Korn (“It was a social thing,” he protests, “and I would probably have gone along with anything my group friends was into”), he changed course when he discovered Damien Rice’s album O. It was like being struck by lightning, Luke says, “this sound that seemed to find me, at the right time, when I was 14 or 15; it connected more intimately than anything else had, and it’s never really left. It was the first time I’d ever heard that sort of music, or consciously flagged it, at least. I learnt the entire album, every word, every chord; I could play it from start to finish. And it was such a big album at that time, you could go to any open-mic night, and one or two of the acts would always do a Damien Rice cover. And I’d stand there and think: ‘That’s not right. You don’t understand it. You’ve missed the thing that makes him good.’ That was incredibly arrogant, of course, but I really felt I’d got his number. And through that, I started writing songs.”
Damien Rice led Luke to Ryan Adams, to Ray Lamontagne, to Josh Ritter and, eventually, back to Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. “The elitist in me thinks that it’s maybe a bit naff to say the Damien Rice was my guiding influence,” he laughs, “when most people will mention The Beatles or The Stones, or Bob Dylan. I definitely have that way of thinking in me. But the truth is, I didn’t grow up with anything good, musically. Everything was handed down to me by my eldest brother, he was the first of us to really get into music that our parents didn’t listen to.” Home was New Malden, an area in southwest area that was, Luke says, “not the strangest place to grow up in, but it is a bit of a non-place. There’s not much going on – there isn’t even a cinema, and there aren’t any music venues either. Me and my friends would have to put on gigs in church halls and coffee shops.” The guitarist John Martyn was born there, a fact, Luke says, that is often raised in interviews. “People say, ‘How did that influence the area?’ and I’m always like: ‘It didn’t.’ Because nobody there knows about it. It’s not like there’s a statue of him on the high street. There should be.”
Luke’s two elder siblings – “both high achievers, with proper jobs now” – got into the “good” school. Luke didn’t. “And that was the moment,” he says, “when I realised: ‘Ok, I’m on a different path here.’” That path took him to college in Brighton as a 19-year-old, to study music. Which is where serendipity enters the picture. “The evening before the first session,” Luke says, “I wrote a song in my grotty bedsit, and I brought it in on the first morning. And the first lesson, by coincidence, was three hours with Iain Archer [the producer and songwriter, who has collaborated with Snow Patrol, Jake Bugg and Fionn Regan, among others], who was teaching there at the time. And he said: ‘Does anyone want to play a song?’ Everyone was very sheepish, but for some reason – and this isn’t like me at all – I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go’, and put my hand up. And I performed the heck out of that song. From that moment on, Iain took an interest in what I was doing. At college, you could book one-on-one time with tutors, so I booked every minute of Iain’s time that I could get. That was total serendipity. Another of the visiting tutors was this brilliant woman who was an A&R and had signed Josh Ritter, and I think I was the only one in the class who had any idea who Josh Ritter was. And I booked all her time, too, and a year later, she got me opening for Josh Ritter on tour.”
Fast-forward to two years ago, and plans are being made for Luke to record his first EP. Luke and his new manager are discussing producers. Got anyone in mind, the manager asks. Yes, as it happens, I do, says Luke: Iain Archer. He’s a friend of mind, says the manager; I’ll get in touch with him. The first fruits of the reunion between student and tutor was 2012’s ‘Fail For You’ EP, whose four tracks won rave reviews, with Luke’s music compared to everyone from Bon Iver to Neil Young. Two further EPs last year – ‘Old Flint’ and ‘Tornados’ – only deepened the sense that Luke was limbering up for a sensational debut album. And now the wait is nearly over. ‘The Fire Inside’, produced, as were the EPs, by Iain Archer, is an album of extraordinary power and brutal candour, its songs riding a rollercoaster of emotions – the hard-won optimism and rousing, never-say-die chorus of ‘Nothing Stays the Same’, the almost unbearable heartache and fragility of ‘Fail For You’, the strummed, confessional intimacy of ‘Cornerstone’ – and switching suddenly between bare-bones finger-picked guitar and propulsive, massed-harmony euphoria. And, at the centre of it all, carrying the songs, giving them devastating emotional heft, is Luke’s voice. No, it’s not weak and nasally. It’s beautiful, tender, bruised, tremulous, defiant. Those school-kids handing out that petition were onto something after all.
Luke’s different path has led him to here. He’s still having to get used to that fact, he admits. “I was listening to the album on the train this morning. I think I do like it,” he says, as if still trying to convince himself. The rest of us will need no convincing. We were never going to miss the thing that makes him good. No, make that great.