Artist Profile: http://nathansykesofficial.com/
You know the story. Teenage lad joins boyband, soars to international, multi-platinum-selling success and plays to millions of fans across the globe. After three hit albums the band goes on a break, as bands like that tend to. And you know of course what happens next: the solo career. So you’ve heard this story before, but you haven’t heard anything quite like Nathan Sykes.
Nathan’s debut album, recorded during 2014 and the early part of 2015 with a handpicked role-call of tunesmiths including Babyface, Harmony Samuels, Diane Warren, and LDN Noise, showcases an extraordinary diversity of music and emotion. At the album’s heart: a voice that will surprise many with its range and versatility, across songs that take in R&B, pop and the jazz-inflected tones of artists Nathan obsessed over as a teenager. Incredibly, this is a voice that soared only after major throat surgery that threatened to end Nathan’s career back in 2012. Not for the last time, he bounced back stronger, more focused than ever before.
“Every song is written about experience; it’s either about someone or about something I’ve gone through,” Nathan explains. “Sometimes, in real life, I feel I’m not amazing with words. If I was to tell someone to their face how I really felt, I’d just be a complete mess. I’ve always been like that - until the moment I get on stage. So it makes sense for me to put my feelings into songs. Sometimes it even feels like I need to.”
For Nathan, who’s been working towards this moment since he was six, this album had to be personal, or there was no point. “It would have been a disservice to the amount of hard work I’ve put in since I was kid to stop when I was twenty years old,” he reasons. “I had so many great times with the band, but I feel like I haven’t yet had my moment.”
As Nathan looked forward, he also found that he was looking back - to the jazz and R&B artists he listened to as a teenager, before The Wanted even came along. And while many will be surprised by the depth and intensity of Nathan’s music, few may be quite as surprised as Nathan himself. “As I started writing the album, I found I could do new things,” he smiles. “I could hit new notes. I could find new ways for songs to go where I wanted.”
This is partly down to the creative freedom Nathan was afforded for this album. His label, he reports, just told him one thing: “Go and write the album you've always dreamed of writing.” When Nathan came back with a wish list of collaborators, they all said yes, largely on the strength of his performance on ‘Almost Is Never Enough’, a song he recorded in 2013 with Ariana Grande. It was to be a song that influenced Nathan’s debut album in more ways than one.
At the age 11 he was able to attend Sylvia Young’s stage school, thanks to a full scholarship. Within a couple of years he was singing with Gloucester Youth Jazz Orchestra. “I’d get up at 5am, be on the train at 6 to Sylvia Young’s, and be back in Gloucester at 7pm,” he remembers. “Then I’d go straight to band rehearsal, get home at 9, and be up until 2am doing homework.”
One day, Sylvia mentioned some upcoming auditions for a boyband. Nathan wasn’t keen. “I was thinking of air-grabs and all being dressed in white,” he laughs. As it turned out, The Wanted were supposed to be an alternative to all that. It also helped that they had some cracking tunes, which went on to become hits around the world. ‘Glad You Came’ sold 3m copies in the US alone, but Nathan’s time in the band presented a steep learning curve. In the early days, producers were reluctant to let him sing on songs. One even refused to bother recording his vocals. Another told him that he was just too young. “It was hard to hear that,” Nathan remembers. “He just told me: ‘Your time will come’.”
His time did indeed come when The Wanted’s label were trying to get a guest vocalist to perform on ‘I Found You’. Nathan was adamant he could deliver and the producer agreed to him giving the vocal a shot. So he went in to the vocal booth. When he emerged, the producer’s response was a stunned: “Wow. Where did THAT come from?”
Just as Nathan started defining his role in the band, disaster struck. On tour in the US, he developed flu on the day he performed at Madison Square Garden. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to play at such an iconic venue he took to the stage unaware of the consequences. Despite feeling unwell and to avoid disappointing fans, he continued touring and subsequently damaged his vocal chords. The severity of the situation hit him hard. “When they told me, I was calm,” he remembers. “But as soon as I walked out of the Doctors office, I was a mess. I just broke down.” By the time the operation came, Nathan knew his career was hanging in the balance.
After the successful operation Nathan underwent intense vocal therapy, and was surprised by what happened next. “I learned to sing again,” he says, “and it was the most incredible thing. But I also felt like I grew up a lot.”
These were instincts he knew he had to follow when The Wanted decided to go on that break, and that leads us to where we are today, with Nathan standing on the precipice of solo stardom with an album that demands - and deserves - to be heard. Recorded over the last year, the album’s been given space and time to take shape at its own pace. “Having been out of the public eye for a while, I’ve been able to think about what I want to do musically, who I want to be as an artist,” Nathan smiles. He is, understandably excited about what’s to come. “I’m so proud of this album,” he reflects “It’s time people got to know 100% of me, rather than 20% of The Wanted”.
So the story - boy joins band, man leaves band, solo career ensues - may be familiar, and the personal nature of Nathan’s debut album may not be a big surprise. But the contents of this album - and the quality of these songs - may well win round even the doubters. We’re all told, when solo artists emerge from bands, that superstars are coming, but the law of averages suggests that one day, these claims might just be true. And talent doesn’t come much more true than Nathan Sykes.