"I listen to my music so f**king much!" - In conversation with Niall Horan's best mate Lewis Capaldi
The Scottish troubadour on harsh critics, not being a pop star and why he's his own favourite artist.
Lewis Capaldi would like to make something quite clear.
The Glaswegian singer-songwriter is a candid fellow, quick with an answer and blessed with a determinedly self-deprecating manner.
He's confident, too, even in the wake of some especially horrendous recent criticism. We'll get there, but first, a matter of clarification.
Having enjoyed a hometown opening spot for Niall Horan last March after the latter slid into his Instagram DMs with an informal invitation, the 22-year-old now counts the Mullingar sensation as a friend.
But just how close are they? Pretty tight, you'd imagine?
"Yep, yep," nods Capaldi.
"Good friends. Best friends, even. He’ll love me saying that. We’re best friends."
Sounds legit. Might Horan dispute that intense level of commitment, though?
"We’re best friends, no matter what he says," Capaldi reiterates with a shake of the head for good measure.
"Ah no, he’s smashing. Irish people and Scottish people get along very well, regardless. He’s just been fuckin’ brand new. Sometimes big singers like that might tweet about you or share one of the songs and they follow you and that’s it.
"And that’s cool, that’s fucking amazing, but Niall just went, ‘Alright mate?’ and asked me to support him. He’s a good lad and if he wants to do a song together, gimme a shout because I would like that money."
Glad we got that cleared up.
— Lewis Capaldi (@LewisCapaldi) November 30, 2018
Per the above Twitter exchange, Horan can rest easy. Capaldi didn't end up claiming the BRITs Critics' Choice award, information he discovered shortly before his appointment in the JOE office.
Sam Fender took that honour instead - "the most deserving winner," according to his magnanimous counterpart - but this is a chalice that was nonetheless previously poisoned.
As noted, Capaldi is a sanguine sort. He muses at pace, peppering the conversation with liberal use of profanity. A regular, chatty bloke - perhaps too regular for some.
There has long existed the idea that a musician, particularly those who operate in the unforgivingly superficial world of pop, must boast high aesthetic values along with, or sometimes even in place of, a deep well of talent.
Again, this is nothing new. It also generally doesn't affect male entertainers as prominently as female ones, but they're not necessarily immune, either, not even in increasingly progressive times.
Post Malone was recently the subject of an overwritten takedown in the Washington Post that instantly took aim at his appearance, gleefully labelling the Texan rapper "a rhinestone cowboy who looks like he crawled out of a primordial swamp of nacho cheese."
The author went on to compare his target to a Halloween costume - a rental, because his taste is cheap, you see - before surmising that Post Malone generally "looks like he just got clubbed over the head by a cartoon peacock" and chucking his age in for the hell of it.
Many people enjoyed that one. Hit pieces can have nutritional value. I've written a few of my own. It's generally good practice not to cross personal lines if you can avoid them, though.
On that, it's worth noting that nobody is perfect in this world and we hopefully learn from our mistakes.
That article doesn't feel like a misstep, though. It reads like calculated revelry.
Five weeks later, what remains of the New Musical Express ran down the candidates for the aforementioned BRITs Critics' Choice Award, where the objective did indeed seem to be to run them down as hard as possible.
In the case of Capaldi, he was likened to Keane frontman Tom Chaplin's "attic twin" which, while the kind of acidic volley that may well provoke a legitimate reaction, is not really on, is it?
"I don’t blame the NME," he begins. "It’s just one writer and they have also written nice things about me in the past but yeah, the boy is just a bit of a gimp, that guy.
"That’s all I can say, he’s a bit of a gimp. Do you know what, he’s probably an alright guy but he said I look like Tom Chaplin of Keane fame’s ‘attic twin’ or that someone in NME said that, which is cool, I guess. If my bank balance looked like Tom Chaplin's, I would be a very happy man.
"I was fine with it. I shared it. I was laughing at it, thinking, ‘This is fucking funny’ and then people were mad about bringing my looks into it. My mum was raging and I think it’s because I look like her. And if he says I’m ugly, it means she’s ugly and all."
Levity plays a vital part in such matters, but not everyone has the ability to walk off such pointed barbs.
"For someone else who isn’t as thick-skinned as I am and who doesn’t take it as a laugh, that can be really detrimental to their mental health," Capaldi offers.
"It’s nothing new. I get it very, very lightly compared to how most women in the industry get it. Being a female musician must be so much harder. I’ve got it in a very light way. It doesn’t bother me, but on a wider spectrum; who cares what a person looks like?"
A great many people, it would seem.
"I don’t think there’s an article about a female singer or actor that doesn’t mention their appearance," Capaldi considers.
"It’s got nothing to do with the music. I do call myself a chubby sad boy but that’s because I can say that. You can’t fucking say that. I think people might think because I’m quite self-deprecating - that’s just who I am, I have a laugh - that maybe it’s a bit easier to take a shot at the way I look.
"Again, with me, I don’t care, but it sets a very bad precedent if people are slagging people’s looks or what they’re wearing. Again, who gives a fuck?
"But there are industries based on people slagging people’s appearances or people ridiculing the way people look; there are fucking magazines who have ‘worst dressed’ columns. It’s a weird one. If it’s got fuck-all to do with the music, don’t mention it."
Clip via Lewis Capaldi
As for the music, Capaldi has been involved since he first picked up a guitar at nine years of age. His stock in trade may not be all that revolutionary - wounded white man with a six-string - but he's adept enough to stand out from a bustling crowd.
Just don't call him a pop star. He may have done that himself during our conversation, but that was strictly an accident. Honest.
You put it to him that someone in his position should own such a tag, but he's having none of it. You cite the example of Matty Healy of The 1975, a frontman currently courting, owning and occasionally apologising for being the personification of excess.
"Yeah, but he’s fucking amazing. He can do what he wants as far as I’m concerned," Capaldi shrugs.
"He’s got free rein. That works for his whole thing, as well. He’s so fucking talented. And I suppose Beyoncé is not going to say that she’s not a pop star.
"Someone of that ilk is a pop star but if I was to go around going, ‘Yep, pop star for a living, that’s what I do’ in a serious context, people would definitely tell me to shut up."
Would he ever consider following in Beyoncé's footsteps and change his name to 'Lewis' or something?
"If I was to drop one name I’d drop the first name and just go with Capaldi," he says, taking the time to acknowledge that he might run into a 'The Great Capaldi'-style magician scenario.
"Prince did a symbol. I’ll just be a symbol. I just won’t have a name and that’s my thing."
Fair enough. He has his own unique form of self-indulgence to tap into, anyway, having recently noted that he threw on one of his own songs in order to let the emotions flow.
"A good song is a good song no matter who’s singing it," he affirms.
"I know Spotify did that Wrapped thing at the end of the year. I’m definitely in my top artists, for sure. I haven’t looked but I’m 100% in my top artists. I listen to my music so fucking much.
"There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t listen to one of my songs. Some of that might be unreleased stuff but I’m definitely listening to it far too much. People ask me what my music taste is - me!"
Lewis Capaldi plays support to Bastille at Dublin's Olympia Theatre on Sunday 27 January. He also opens for Picture This at 3Arena from March 27 - 31