Chris Simmons is an acclaimed and rapidly rising UK singer songwriter and it’s no surprise that he will be supporting huge names like Paloma Faith and Simply Red over the Summer, having already supported the likes of Sir Tom Jones and Passenger in the past. The Times have called him “a breath of fresh air” and predicted that “this young man is going to be very big indeed”. Living legend Jackson Browne called him “a truly great songwriter with an incredibly distinctive voice” and so with praise like that still ringing in his ears, he has released an upbeat and inspiring new single called ‘Home’ of which he says:
“I wrote it in Lagos, Portugal, at a friend’s holiday apartment. I had just come out of a long relationship and wanted to get away from everything familiar and soak up some new experiences and environments. I had a great time. After a couple of weeks, during a phone call home, I suddenly became aware of the feeling that wherever I am in the world, whatever the distance, the closeness I feel to the people I love would never diminish. It became more and more evident as I was writing the song that, to me , home wasn’t a physical destination. I wrote it for my parents, but in doing so I realised that home can be a feeling, a person, a memory. It is permanent and can also be transient. I think there is something comforting in that”
The song allows us to get the full range of Chris’s distinctive vocals and to appreciate what all the critical fuss has been all about, but possibly more important to that, it is that rare thing that makes great songwriting important; it is a glimpse into another’s soul and in so being is something that touches ours too. I was honoured to get the chance to ask the artist some questions, as I’m sure it won’t be long before he will be one of our major stars.
EP: Your new song ‘Home’ was written in Portugal and expresses something distinctively Portuguese. They have an expression ‘Saudade’ which is almost untranslatable for us as it gels together many emotions. It is sometimes poorly translated as homesickness but it is so much more; it’s a longing, a melancholic feeling of yearning for home that gave birth to a whole genre of music in Portugal; Fado is akin to Portuguese blues. Your single seems to draw upon many of those deep seated feelings about the meaning of home that can be down beat but also have a very positive element that essentially we can take that feeling of home with us. ‘Home’ is so much more than a place. Tell us about the inspiration for your beautiful song?
CS: I absolutely love Portugal and I think it all stemmed from this first trip, where I wrote the song. I had just come out of a relationship and wanted some space, and a friend suggested I join him in Portugal, which I did. I fell in love with the pace of it, the atmosphere, the warmth of the people. I wrote ‘Home’ really quickly actually, in like 15 minutes. It just fell out. I wrote it for my mum and dad and it was born from the feeling when speaking on the phone that Home isn’t a place. It’s people. It’s a feeling. Distance is totally irrelevant. In regard to Fado, that is interesting because since writing that song I have visited Portugal many times and played a few shows there. My favourite show was in the Azores where I stepped in at the last minute for Andy Burrows. I met some incredible Portuguese artists there who your readers really should check out. Please point them to Benjamim, Romeu Bairos, Sara Cruz, Dan Riverman and Sonia Oliviera. All so good!
EP: The scene for the song is wonderfully set by blues harmonica artist Will Wilde and Squeeze’s Simon Hanson on drums for your distinctive, emotion rich vocals. Did it take you long to decide on the production and style of the song or was it always going to be how it sounds?
CS: This is the 5th version of Home that I have recorded, and I am happy that it is finally done! Tracking this version was a mish-mash really, I laid down parts at Josh Renton’s studio in Brighton, we added the drums during a different session at Brighton Electric with Simon Hanson (which was a really great day – more to be revealed soon!), some at my home set-up before the final parts and mixing at Luke Buttery’s studio in Enfield. There was a guitar solo in there but it didn’t feel right. I sent the track to Will Wilde and he sent me his harmonica part and man… I got goose bumps straight away and knew the missing piece of the jigsaw had landed. Really proud of how it has turned out.
EP: You have toured with some amazing artists including Sir Tom Jones. James Bay, Passenger, Gaz Coombes, Suzanne Vega and Kate Nash. Who if any do you think influenced you the most or have you been a musical magpie, picking up shiny morsels from them all?
CS: Yeah, I am very lucky to have shared a stage with these people. I would say all have inspired me in one way or another but the shows that changed my life and altered my perception of performing live were the ones with Passenger. He is just one man and a guitar. It is so impressive and watching him night after night was a valuable lesson in stagecraft and pacing a set. He is so underrated. I think he is up there with Paul Simon and the greats. Sir Tom Jones were massive shows too and his voice and stage presence were something else and actually, those shows really helped in terms of my UK audience growing. I’m just grateful that I get the chance to play shows like this.
EP: You will be supporting Paloma Faith this Summer. I bet you can’t wait? An artist we have supported for some time at EP. Katie Kittermaster, is also due to open for her at some events this year and I know it’s a dream come true for her! Where will we get to see you play this Summer?
CS: Yes I am beyond buzzing. Paloma is iconic and to be on the same bill as her is just… Well, it’s mental really. I am good friends with a band called Vintage Trouble (who, if you aren’t aware, are possibly the best live act on the planet – SEE THEM LIVE!!) and they have opened for Paloma before and said how warm and wonderful she is. I can’t wait really. Just going to try and soak the whole thing up as much as I can. I am also very lucky to be going on tour with Simply Red this summer, with the first show the day after I play with Paloma so again, mental! Lots happening this year so keep ’em peeled!
EP: I remember the first time I heard your music was when I heard ‘The Deepest Wound’. It perfectly encapsulated the feeling of loss I felt when I lost my father. I know your Brother’s tragic passing was the inspiration. Did you find it cathartic writing that song and is there a similar cathartic element to ‘Home’?
CS: Oh I am sorry to hear about your dad. I think as songwriters we always tap into what is happening in our own lives and yes, it is very cathartic. It is a cliché but it is very much like therapy. In regards to ‘Home’.. no there wasn’t really a cathartic process at the time of writing it.. but since then I have lost both my parents. Looking at the lyrics now is comforting to me as it seems like a tribute to them and the way they made me feel. These are the first batch of recordings I have ever released that they never heard, and that does sadden me, as I know they would have loved them.
EP: I know you’ve toured with fellow Brightonian, Passenger and I think there is some synergy in the way you write and sing. He seems to have edged towards Country music, or Americana, every now and then, is that a genre of music you’ve ever looked at as it edges closer towards Pop?
CS: Yeah he is just ace at what he does, as i said above. Whatever he does, he does it with conviction and does it perfectly. I have always loved Americana and American alt country, yeah, and I guess ‘Home’ would fall into that category. It’s a folk song too and a singer songwriter. Man, there are just too many ways to say it! In terms of Americana, Counting Crows were HUGE in my life in my formative musical years. I played ‘August and Everything After’ for like 2 years straight!
EP: The plaudits from critics and fellow artists have been numerous and very positive. You’ve captivated huge live audiences over the years and your song writing is universally respected. What’s the next step for you as an artist? Do you crave commercial success or is the almost universal industry respect enough?
CS: I think every artist wants their songs to be heard by as many people as possible. It’s a shame that post BREXIT our entry into the EU has been hampered, as prior to the lockdown, I was building a good audience there. It was great to be selling out shows in Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland etc but now the costs are prohibitive so there will be a lot more focus about building here in the UK. But to answer your question, yes I want to play bigger and bigger shows in this country and am pleased to see this start to manifest itself. Onwards and upwards!
EP: I have spoken with many artists that found the period of lockdown to be a very productive song writing time. The enforced hiatus allowed them to really drill down into the artist they wanted to be. Did you find the time to be productive or were you climbing the walls, itching to be back in a room playing music?
CS: All I did in lockdown was drink, eat Sports Mix (please send me free Sports Mix) and get fat. I played some weekly online shows for everyone who follows my socials and they went down really well actually. I got lots of touching messages about how households would look forward to it, plan their day around it etc. I had a great turnout and loved seeing all the comments. In terms of writing, I wrote probably 3 songs.
EP: Finally, with the new single coming out and the Live show with Paloma Faith announced, can we expect an album this year at all or is that more likely to be in 2023?
CS: Keep ’em peeled!