When The Wanted announced it was going on an indefinite break in early 2014, Nathan Sykes felt there was still business left to do.
“I’ve got unfinished business as a musician, as an artiste, as a songwriter, as a performer, as a person. That was the first thing I thought of,” the 24-year-old singer shares the inspiration behind the title of his 2016 debut album, Unfinished Business.
For the uninitiated, The Wanted is a five-member British-Irish boyband formed in 2009 that managed to churn out hits like Glad You Came, Chasing The Sun and I Found You.
Sykes, who was in town for a dinner showcase with Ning Baizura recently, is the only member of The Wanted who has released a solo full-length album so far.
He talks about starting out again, reinventing himself and that time he was afraid he couldn’t sing again in this exclusive interview.
1. A lot of boy band members seem in a hurry to reinvent themselves and shed their boy band image when they embark on a solo career. What has your experience been like?
I don’t necessarily see people reinventing themselves for the sake of reinventing themselves. When you’re in a band, you’re one fifth of the band. You’re part of a collaboration that creates the sound that suits the band; that creates the identity of the band.
So when you’re 100% of yourself instead of 20% of a band, all of your influences are going to shine through more.
So I think what we’ve seen with Niall (Horan) and Harry (Styles) from One Direction, you’re listening to the influences they had growing up.
And that’s very much the case with me, I listened to a lot of soul, jazz and pop, so I kind of merged it all together.
2. You took some time before releasing your debut album. Why not capitalise on The Wanted’s success and strike while the iron is hot?
I didn’t want to rush it. I took two years to release my debut album because I wanted to reintroduce myself to people and make sure that they weren’t buying my music because I was a part of a band.
In a way, the idea was to almost introduce myself as a new artiste, which has been an amazing journey. I went away and locked myself in a studio and asked myself, “Forget Nathan from The Wanted. Who is Nathan Sykes as an artiste?”
That’s when I wrote More Than You’ll Ever Know. It’s bluesy, funky and soulful and this is who I am, this is the music. I want to make for the rest of my life. Every journey is different. For me, I’m just allowing my influences and the artiste inside to step to the front.
3. With The Wanted, you were able to perform at huge venues around the world. Tell us about the experience of having to start all over again as a solo artiste, performing at smaller venues.
When you’re performing in a band, you’re one of five, which means you’re not talking as much on the show like maybe once every five songs.
As a solo artiste, you’re talking a lot more. I love being on stage and being a showman. I love playing at intimate venues, there’s something special, an intimacy and a connection you can have with the crowd.
I wouldn’t have liked to have gone into the big venues (right away) because that would have been maybe jumping on the back of what The Wanted did and I didn’t want to do that at all. I wanted to start from small venues and work my way to the bigger venues.
4. There are so many male pop vocalists like yourself in the market now. How do you set yourself apart?
It’s just important to keep releasing good music. It’s very much about the music to me.
My music is very personal. I write all the music myself, it’s about crafting and continuing to surprise people.
Musically, I’m slightly different. I love a piano ballad but also I love those big brassy, jazzy, soulful moments, which I don’t think anybody else is doing at the moment. I think there’s room for it and I hope people who love that style of music will love it.
5. You underwent vocal cord surgery back in 2013. Were you afraid you wouldn’t be able to sing again?
Legally, the surgeon had to sit me down and say, “If this doesn’t go well, you won’t be able to sing again.” But he was like, “I’m very good, I’m the best you’ll find, so the chances of it going wrong is like 1%.”
It was a very big obstacle that I had to overcome in my life. I’m a big believer that a majority of things in life happen for a reason, and that absolutely happened for a reason.
I wasn’t singing correctly and looking after my voice properly. I wasn’t warming up before I went on stage.
As a vocalist, it’s like asking Usain Bolt to run 100m in 10 seconds without stretching his legs. He just wouldn’t do it. The vocal cords, they are muscles too, so why would we do anything differently?
That experience really opened my eyes on how to look after my voice properly. I learned how to sing again, how to breathe, what I should or shouldn’t eat before a show. Don’t have a big cheesy pizza before you go on stage, you’re going to sound terrible.
Little things like that, put together, has made me 100 times a (better) vocalist than I was before the surgery.