Before He Was A Grammy Winner — A Conversation With Sam Smith Soulful singer Sam Smith swept the Grammy Awards on Sunday night. Melissa Block interviewed Smith about his album "In the Lonely Hour" in 2014.
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Before He Was A Grammy Winner — A Conversation With Sam Smith

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Before He Was A Grammy Winner — A Conversation With Sam Smith

Before He Was A Grammy Winner — A Conversation With Sam Smith

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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On this program last summer, we told you to get ready for a lot more of the moody, soulful voice of Sam Smith. And if you were watching the Grammy Awards last night, a lot of Sam Smith is what you got.


SAM SMITH: I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys.

SIEGEL: Four Grammys, including best new artist and song of the year for his hit, "Stay With Me."


SMITH: (Singing) I guess it's true I'm not good at a one-night stand.

SIEGEL: Last June, my colleague, Melissa Block, spoke with Sam Smith about this song and about his debut album, "In The Lonely Hour." We thought it's a conversation worth hearing again.



You know, when you listen to the songs on this album, I think you hear a theme running through of unrequited love or maybe, in the case of this song, unrequited longing?

SMITH: Yes, yes. I've never been in a relationship before, ever in my life.

BLOCK: Ever?

SMITH: Ever in my life. And I wanted to make a statement that I do know what love is. And that's what this record's about.

BLOCK: Well, what does love look like - or unsatisfied love look like from your perspective?

SMITH: Well, for me, it wasn't the prettiest. It was a lot of heartache and sadness. But there was amazing moments, and there was gorgeous moments. But it just meant that the low moments were really, really low, if you know what I mean.

BLOCK: And on this song in particular - on "Stay With Me?"

SMITH: Well, "Stay With Me," for me is - it's my own personal anthem to the walk of shame (laughter).

BLOCK: The walk of shame.

SMITH: The walk of shame that we have all gone through. And there's that feeling after a one-night stand of not wanting that person to leave, even if you don't love them and you don't even like them. It's about having that body there next to you.


SMITH: (Singing) Deep down I know this never works. But you can lay with me so it doesn't hurt. Oh, won't you stay with me 'cause you're all I need?

SMITH: I wanted to say from a guy's perspective, as well, because I think we forget sometimes that guys are emotional (laughter).

BLOCK: You know, you're talking about this walk of shame - a gospel choir gets woven into this song.


BLOCK: It's sort of an interesting contrast of message and the voices.

SMITH: That's not a gospel choir. That's all my voice.

BLOCK: That's all your voice? You are the gospel choir?

SMITH: I am, yeah. I went into the studio and just layered my vocal up.


SMITH: But I can think that kind of juxtaposes it - contradicts the whole loneliness, do you not think? I like how it sounds busy, but it also sounds lonely at the same time.

BLOCK: Well, you know, it's interesting, because I've seen the video for this song and there is a gospel choir in the video...


BLOCK: ...So no wonder I'm confused.

SMITH: I know, I know. It's my little secret that I tell a few people.

BLOCK: I know you've been singing since you were really young. Did you have singing icons when you were growing up, people you just kept listening to over and over, idolizing?

SMITH: Yeah, and do you know what? I still listen to them now over and over again. I loved things like Destiny's Child, and Amy Winehouse's first record came out when I was 11 years old. But as a young, young child, I was just surrounded by Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan - just massive, soulful voices.

BLOCK: Would you try to imitate each of those singers in their style? Could you do that?

SMITH: Yeah. I think especially female singers. I used to get very angry as I was getting older because my voice was breaking. So I try - this is why I've trained my voice so religiously through my teenage years, because I wanted to be able to hit the notes that those females hit. So - and I can, which is great.

BLOCK: Let's listen to a little bit of the song on your album, "Life Support."


SMITH: (Singing) I've been waiting for an answer because I build this bed for two. I'm just waiting on your answer. I built this bed for me and you.

BLOCK: So that soaring falsetto, Sam Smith, where does that come from?

SMITH: I just train every day. I look after my voice, and just don't drink too much, don't do drugs (laughter), all of that stuff.

BLOCK: Yeah. Does it - does it come naturally or do you really have to brace for its? I'm going - I'm going way up high here.

SMITH: It does come naturally, but I also work at it. You know, I try and make it look like it's effortless, but it's not. But that's the same as anyone, you know? You look at runners in the Olympics and watch the way they run. You think, I can do that. You can't (laughter).


SMITH: (Singing) Could you see that I am yours? So will you be my life support?

BLOCK: I mentioned that you're 22 years old, but do you think you're going to look back on these songs, written when you are young, and these songs of, you know, loneliness and longing and think, God, I was so young? (Laughter) I know so much more now.

SMITH: (Laughter) Yes, I am. I think I'm going to look back and think, oh my gosh, shut up about being so lonely.


SMITH: But do you know what? That's the beauty of it. When you look back on pictures of yourself as a kid - even me now when I look back at pictures when I was 16, 17, I'm insanely embarrassed of some of the stuff that I've done. But that's life. That's growing up. And I thought what a beautiful way to capture something that was so sad to me - something that I really sat - last year I really say by myself and felt sorry for myself that I'd never been in a relationship before. But I can only imagine how beautiful it's going to be when I've fallen in love and I can look back on this and think, you know, it wasn't that bad.


SMITH: (Singing) I don't have much to give, but I don't care for gold.

SMITH: Even now, some of the songs meant so much to me then. The person I wrote some of the songs about meant so much to me last year, and now they don't.

BLOCK: But you did tell him that these songs were about him, I think, right?

SMITH: I did, yes. I told him, and that was, like, a weight lifted off. It wasn't the best response I could've asked for either. I kind of - I knew - I obviously knew that they weren't going to fall for me, but I also - I think the person kind of enjoyed the fact that some of them are about them, yeah (laughter).


SMITH: (Singing) Pick up and leave everything. Don't you see what I can bring? Can't keep this beating heart at bay.

BLOCK: Sam, when you look forward, what's the future you see for yourself? Can you picture yourself 10, 20 years down the road?

SMITH: I'm really trying not to do that at the moment because it was only two years ago I was working in a bar. I was cleaning toilets in a bar. And I remind my myself of that every day at the moment because I don't want to take anything for granted. So, do you know what? I don't want to think about what I'm doing in 20 years. All I want is I want to be happy, and I hope my family are healthy, and that's all, really.

BLOCK: And maybe a little bit less lonely?

SMITH: A little bit - I already am, though. But yeah, a little bit less lonely. That would be nice.

BLOCK: Well, Sam Smith, it's been great talking to you. Thank you so much.

SMITH: Thank you.


SMITH: (Singing) And you will never know. But if I can't have you, I'll walk this life alone, spare you the rising storm and let the rivers flow.

SIEGEL: That's Sam Smith before he started collecting Grammy awards. He spoke last summer with my colleague, Melissa Block, about his debut album, "In The Lonely Hour."

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