[Interview] Nathan Sykes: someone I wrote a song about told me they liked it

© Forte Visuals for Universal Music Singapore

Nathan Sykes was sipping from a Starbucks cup when I enter our interview room. He told me: “Singapore left such a long-lasting impression on me during my previous visits that I remember every detail about it. I even remember where the nearest Starbucks is from my hotel.”

This was Sykes’ fourth time in Singapore (following his previous visits in 2011, 2012, and 2013) though it was his debut visit as a solo musician after his band, The Wanted, took a hiatus in 2014.

Last November, he released his first solo album, Unfinished Business. And he was back in town to perform in the intimate A Rooftop Affair concert, on 17 June at myVillage@Serangoon Garden.

I asked him how being a solo artist compares to being a member of a five-people band. Sykes joked: “The difference is there’s now a lot more room in the car”, but turned serious as he revealed: “I think I can fully express myself creatively now. Previously, in a band, I am thinking about the other people. But now, I’m writing through my voice and about my own experiences.”

But does it get lonelier on the road as a solo artist? Sykes didn’t hesitate in his response: “I genuinely believe my social life is better now. When you’re with four other people all the time, I think we all find ourselves going to our rooms to find a minute aside from each other. (Laughs)”

Sykes’ songs are very much autobiographical, and striking the balance between authenticity and accessibility is the biggest challenge for him. “Famous, the song I’m proudest of, was written about a very unique situation, that probably no one else would have experienced. I revisited it two or three times to change some lyrics around, so that I could keep it true to the situation it was written about but also allow other people to relate to it,” admitted Sykes.

Fans are wildly speculating who Sykes’ songs might be about (his ex, Ariana Grande, pops up frequently in their guesses). I asked if any of his song inspirations have ever contacted him about his music, to which he coyly responded: “Someone I wrote a song about messaged me to tell me they really like the song. And I was, like, that’s good, I’m so glad; gee I wonder who I wrote that about – they must have been horrible. (Laughs) But yeah, it’s always nice when someone tells me they like my songs, but I’ve never told anyone a song is about them.”

A scant few months after releasing Unfinished Business, Sykes is working on new music. “I’m finishing them up at the moment, on quite a heavy time difference — I’m not sure my producers love that too much! It’s so cool though, that I get to travel and perform for lots of people on the other side of the planet. I’m so lucky I get to do it.”

The humility might have seemed pretentious on anyone else, but it rang out from Sykes with endearing sincerity. “It has happened before that I sing along to a song on the radio or think the tune is nice, then realise, oh wait, it’s my song.  It’s always a surprise to hear my song on the radio and what the presenter says about it afterwards, and I never take it for granted.”

© Forte Visuals for Universal Music Singapore

Over the course of our interview, I discovered Sykes is a Manchester United football fan, so we briefly discussed the rumour that Real Madrid player Alvaro Morata might be transferring to Manchester United next season.

“When he’s given an opportunity to play, he will thrive. And hopefully, it’s going to be a really good and exciting season.”

He was commenting on Morata. But if one didn’t know better, one might have thought Sykes was talking about himself, on his own journey to explore his unfinished business.

By Kyla Jiayi Zhao