It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Manchester’s Conrad.
The rising talent has evolved from busking as a student to selling out shows in London thanks to his powerful vocal talent and impeccable musicianship.
His trajectory has seen him sign a record deal with Twin Music/Kobalt, support Stevie Wonder at British Summertime in London’s Hyde Park, and draw praise from the likes of Complex and BBC Introducing.
The praise didn’t stop there. 2019 single Blue Blooded was even played by the legendary Elton John on his Beats 1 Rocket Hour show.
Last month he released his new single No God – a song that takes aim at mankind’s treatment of the planet but embodied in the form of a human relationship.
He was due to play London’s Omeara in March and play Hit The North, Live At Leeds and The Great Escape in May - but the shows were postponed due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.
With comparisons to Dermot Kennedy, and The Weeknd, and his debut earmarked for release in the summer, Conrad has it takes to make a major mark in the UK and beyond.
Daily Star Online caught up with him to find out more about his career so far, his musical upbringing, supporting Stevie Wonder and having his music played by Elton John.
Hi Conrad. How’s the past year been for you?
“The past year has been the most successful so far. In November I signed with Twin, and Kobalt for publishing. That was a huge step for me. I released a few songs before that independently but it got to the point where I needed some help to get the music out.
“I had the songs written and Twin’s Nick Gatfield came to my first ever headline show a year ago. That was at the O2 Academy in Islington.
“That sold out in four days. I was pretty surprised how quickly it sold out because it was the first show I’d ever done. I’d only had two songs out at the time. It was cool that people wanted to come and watch me play.
“The next day after the show he told me he was going to offer me a deal but it took a number of months to go through and get everything done.
“My next headline show was at the end of November at the Moth Club in Hackney. It was twice as big as the O2 show, which was cool. We managed to get 300 tickets sold without releasing any music for a while.
“The live stuff has been going really well. I played at the Stevie Wonder show at Hyde Park and a few festivals in the summer. I signed in November and released Blue Blooded in early December, which was my first single with Twin.”
So would you say it’s been a bit of a whirlwind?
“Yeah it has! I’m from Macclesfield originally and when I finished school I wanted to get straight into music.
“I started doing gigs and I really liked it. I was getting played on the local radio and I thought it was happening at that point, I was naive.
“But my parents said go to university and see how you feel in a few years after you’ve lived a little bit. I went to Newcastle Uni and did biology but spent most of my time busking on Northumberland Street, which is the main shopping street in Newcastle.
“As soon as I finished uni i moved straight to London. I had to get a full time job because London’s expensive and unfortunately I don’t have a very rich daddy that pays for me, like some people do!
“I did that job for a year and a half to the point where I could afford to go part time and focus on the music.
“It’s been a slow process - I’ve been in London four and a half years now and it’s only been this last year that’s felt like a whirlwind.
“There was a bit of a naivety when I first moved down that I’d be able to jump on an open mic and get signed. Without knowing what you’re doing it’s a tough one. My management have been really key to helping me develop and helping me find the sound I want to make, getting me in front of the right people.”
Do you think it’s a good thing it took a bit of time to get going in London?
“I feel like now, compared to a couple of years ago, or compared to someone moving down to London fresh trying to get into music, I feel like the experiences I’ve had over the past four years have put me in a more mature place to be go to and take the next step.
“I might have got overwhelmed in a few things you get involved with, like contract negotiations and pressures of having to make sure your music is doing well. Having now got a bit older, working a full time job, it gives me a slightly different experience than musicians do have in that scenario. They’ve not had to make sure they’re up, going into work and hitting targets. I was in sales. I have got a different experience in that way. Whereas some people don’t always have that attitude.”
When did you get into music? What age were you?
“My first gig was when I was 16 or 17. I’ve been playing music my whole life, playing the piano and singing songs. I was in a rock band when I was 14 but it wasn’t very serious.
“I’ve always been dipping my toe into music but it wasn’t until I was 17 that I was playing on my own. My mum wanted me to have lessons when I was about 8 or 9 and I hated it. My mum used to drag me down the stairs when the piano teacher came round. I don’t know why!
“The lessons didn’t really last that long and I then got into my own groove in playing instruments. I’m not very technical but I work out songs and chords based on how they sound.
“I regret it because I wish I was more technically minded with the way I play instruments. For some reason, maybe I didn’t think it was cool I just didn’t enjoy the lessons when I was longer. I’ve been playing it for a long time now but I’m not massively technical.”
Did the voice come first? Did you always know you could sing?
“The voice came first. I was in a musical when I was five years old. My mum got me to do singing lessons when I was younger and I got to Grade 5. My voice broke and then I stopped doing lessons. I was doing classical singing.
“For your grades you have to do quite old style music. I’ve always been involved in music and it took me a little while to take it seriously I think.
“When you’re younger you love football, all my pals loved football, and none of them thought singing and playing music was very cool.
“That’s just how it happened. Until you get a bit older and realise this is pretty cool you sometimes don’t take it seriously.”
Was your grounding as a musician in Macclesfield? What’s it like growing up there?
“Yeah, I was born in Manchester but lived in Macclesfield my whole life until I was 18. It’s a small town. It’s not far from Manchester, you can easily get in and be part of the scene they’ve got there, and go to gigs and be involved.
“Manchester has got such a historical music scene. At the same time there’s not a huge amount going on in Macclesfield which is why I left at 18 and haven’t been back, apart from to see my parents.”
Did you immerse yourself in Newcastle’s music scene?
“Yeah. I would say I should have focused more on my studies but that’s not necessarily how it happens. I split my time up with music, I became a nightclub promoter and uni came third. Music was always what I was doing. I didn’t go to as many lectures as I should have!
“I did a lot of YouTube covers, wrote songs, went out busking and played gigs around Newcastle. That was when I realised this is what I want to do. I moved to London with my best mate who I lived with at uni.”
What’s your new single No God about?
“It’s a double meaning. The original concept was trying to write a song about the one sided relationship we’ve got with the Earth.
“I didn’t want it to sound like that, I didn’t want it to be a big preachy 'we treat the world awfully' kind of thing. I didn’t want it to come across like that. I wanted it to come across as a humanised song.
“We tried to marry the original concept in to what we would talk about if this was a real human relationship. Talking about myself and someone else and also the world.”
What is your usual songwriting process?
“Typically I spent a lot of time thinking about concepts rather than specific lyrics.
“I try to come up with conceptual ideas for what the whole song would be about. I spend a lot of time typing out in my notes on my phone, sat on the Tube, or sat at home. From there I usually take those ideas into sessions with a producer and often with another songwriter.”
This is all building up to your debut EP this summer. Is it still due to come out? What can listeners expect from it?
“We won’t let the coronavirus situation get us down. We’ve been working on this a long time now and it was always planned to come out now.
“I feel like at this point people need new music to consume. I don’t want to push back the release when it’s the perfect time to give people new things to listen to.
“I’ve got a fairly mixed and eclectic love of music. I don’t just listen to one type of music. Across the EP there’s a mixture of different genres and I like to keep it that way. I like so many different things from Coldplay to Dave and Stormzy and Eminem, and then The Weeknd, there’s so many different people that influence me.
“We’ve managed to pull in a load of different pieces and sounds from artists that I really like.
“Overall I would say if you wanted to label the sound I would say it’s probably alternative pop soul, it’s a mishmash. I think the songs are great and I’m really looking forward to seeing what people think of it as a body of work.
“Historically, all I’ve done is put out singles and songs out here and there, with no real connection in the lyrics or the sound. These next five or six songs actually intertwine. I did them with the same producer. The actual sonics of the songs do connect. I’m looking forward to getting them all out.”
Was it always the ambition to get an EP and album out?
“It didn’t start as that. My management put me in loads of sessions. When I first met my manager I’d never done a session like I do now.
“Going into a studio with a producer you’ve probably never met or a songwriter you’ve never met. You go in and are expected to come out with a song at the end of the day.
“It’s kind of weird, especially the first time you ever do it. But they put me in loads of sessions. Two or three years ago I didn’t know what I wanted the record to sound like myself. I had to experiment and work with some different people, throughout different vibes and ideas, until I came across a few people I worked really well with.
“Initially it was I needed to find what I want to sound like. The first session I found that was when I wrote Blue Blooded. I came out thinking this is exactly what I wanted to find. We started doing more sessions and eventually after six months we had the EP.”
Speaking of Blue Blooded, it has had thousands of streams to date. What does it mean for an emerging talent like yourself?
“It’s amazing. I had never had a song over 100,000 before. 250,000 happened on Blue Blooded after two months. That’s down to the support we had from Apple Music. They placed it on a load of cool playlists. In America it got placed on number two on the Breaking Pop list, which is a massive playlist there. One day it went up 30,000 streams in a day - that was more than my songs had in two years! It’s really cool.
“The problem in music is you constantly want more. It’s amazing and it felt great but I’m still looking at other artists that I look up to and I’m still miles away from where they are at. It’s still a case of constantly building and picking up more people and engage with them. I really want to hit one million streams. I’ve just gone over 500,000 total streams. My big goal this year is to get a million on one song and we keep moving from there.”
What’s it like having an icon like Elton John champion your music?
“I wasn’t expecting it or expecting him to come back and hear Elton is going to play it! It’s a nice thing - just to have a little pat on the back from someone like that to say what you’re doing is good. It gives you momentum to think “that’s the first song on the EP, Elton John liked it, I’m pretty sure the rest of it should be good as well!”.
“There’s a lot of times in music as songwriters that you doubt if something is good or not good. You spend so much time in these studios writing songs that you love in that moment, sometimes you end up second guessing yourself.
“To have a great reaction from Apple and then Elton John, you think what I am doing is good and people are reacting really well to it. It’s a great confidence boost.”
You also mentioned the show at Hyde Park with Stevie Wonder - what was that like sharing the bill with a music legend?
“That was really cool as well. There was Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie. They are two of my dad’s biggest idols, so my dad came down for it, backstage and all that. He got to see them backstage. That was a really nice moment for me. My dad’s been one of my biggest supporters over the years. I used to do loads of gigs, sometimes two or three in a day and my dad would come to all of them, even if I was playing the same set. I was really nice.
“The way British Summertime is laid out they have different stages at different locations. When there’s not music on one stage, there’s music on another, so people can move between the stages. That’s how the support slot works. Because no one is on the stage before you there’s no one at your stage when you start. But by the end of my set there was 5,000 people.
“That many people had bothered to stop and listen. That was a nice feeling and quite a lot of them have come to pretty much every gig I have done in London. I did a little acoustic set at Yamaha music and loads of people from British Summertime came to that. They came to the next gig and booked tickets to my Omeara show, which has unfortunately at to be rescheduled."
What does the rest of the year have in store?
“It’s a tough one. I bought on a great agent in December and the plan was to do loads of live shows, starting with Omeara, which will hopefully go ahead at the end of July.
“I was scheduled to do the Great Escape in May and was booked in to appear at Live at Leeds and Hit the North, which are two similar festivals for emerging music, but they have been moved to October and November.
“We’ve got the rest of the EP to come out. I will try and do alternate versions of the songs. We’re looking at May for the next single and keep trying to put out music and content over this period. It’s the only thing we can do. Until we have a bit more clarity on the live situation, we’ve just got to keep out pumping out content for people. We’ve been thinking about making it a six-track EP because we do have one extra song that I wrote in LA a year ago. It didn’t have any production on it. Until two weeks ago it didn’t fit the EP and so we’ve had a bit of down time over the last three weeks I managed to get into the studio just before the lockdown situation. We rewrote a lot of the song and I love it.”
During the whole self-isolation situation, are you finding that you’ve got more time to write?
“Yes, I’m finding I’ve got more time to try and get better at the piano. Things I’ve been trying to do forever. Actually sit down and learn songs that are a bit more technical and watch “how to” videos on YouTube, which I couldn’t do before. That has been the nice part about it.”
Have you got an ultimate goal of where you want to goal?
“My main goal is to maintain a serious career from playing and writing music. I want to be able to sustain a good life and play to people who really enjoy the music that I’m doing.
“One of my main goals was to play at the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, I’m a massive festival head. Playing at festivals is always a big thing on my agenda every year. I want to get to a point where I am being asked every year to play at massive festivals and play to huge crowds.
“It’s a bit of a hard one because if you put too much pressure on being a global superstar then you might never be happy with the scenario where you’ve got amazing fans and play to reasonably big size audiences and you can live a great life off the back of something that you love.
“I think there’s multiple goals within that, checkpoints along the way, that I think I would be happy with a number of them. But ultimately I want to be able to engage as many people with the music I’m making and build a big fanbase that support me and support the music I’m putting out.”