Soho Rising: Sam Tompkins

a young man in checked sweatshirt on street in front of vintage car

We caught up with British singer/ songwriter Sam Tompkins to hear about his experience kicking off Soho Rising

By Gordon Glasgow

The brainchild of Dom Chung, Soho House’s UK and Europe head of music, the inaugural Soho Rising tour welcomed 22-year-old British singer/ songwriter Sam Tompkins to perform in London, Berlin, Istanbul and Amsterdam.

‘We’re launching Soho Rising as an incubator for breaking artists, offering exposure to new territories around the world where Soho House has a presence and introducing them to our members,’ Chung explains. ‘It’s an idea I’ve worked on since taking on this role at the beginning of the year, looking at how Soho House showcases acts just as they are about to break and creating a serious platform that’s safe for the artists – as it doesn’t rely on ticket sales – and supports them.’

‘When it comes to talent, the goal is simple: to handpick the genuine stars of tomorrow. I believe that with Sam Tompkins, one of Island Records’ most exciting recent signings, we have just that,’ he said of Soho Rising’s first act.

Tompkins’ soulful sound gives a nostalgic nod to 1990s R&B and he credits the likes of Amy Winehouse in influencing his style that, while catchy, remains fresh. Coupled with an impressive vocal range, his original music and covers have caused a stir online, clocking up millions of YouTube views and Spotify streams.

We caught up with Tompkins between studio sessions to find out what we could expect from his sets at the Houses and to discuss his musical style. 

How would you describe your songwriting process?
I try not to leave the studio after any session without having fully written at least one song. Even if it’s not great, it’s better to get it out in order to make room for the quality ones. It’s hard to start writing a song and then pick it back up three months later – you have to put it on the page there and then.

Is there a particular method to it?
It’s mostly instinctive and if something doesn’t sound right, I won’t put it in. I’m hard on myself. Writing is like my therapy and the songs where I really get into my own head are the best because they're honest.

Does honesty come easy?
As men, we’re taught to hold it all in. It’s a cliché but it’s true. My dad was always upfront with how he felt and that translated to his kids, so I’m lucky in that regard.

You mentioned being hard on yourself?
It’s more that I’m a perfectionist and it wouldn’t make sense to me to put any half-hearted shit out there. You have to be 100 per cent when you write all your own music, otherwise you’re not telling your story.
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How did your career in music begin?
When I was about 16 years old with open mic nights. In those circuits, you see people progress and it pushes you to work harder. Stormzy was one of the guys I met at the mics and he’s huge now. My voice took a while to develop. It’s clear when you hear people at those nights if they’ve been gifted from the get-go or have had to work really hard at it; I was the latter.

How have your busking videos on YouTube and Instagram helped you get noticed?
I busked a lot in Brighton and all over the UK and I’ll continue to busk no matter what. It’s the best preparation for shows. Technology and social media have been a great way to build a rapport with the fans I have and they can see that I go out and perform live as much as I possibly can. I think it’s cool when you build your following organically like that.

Does it help you perform, to know who you are on stage?
Absolutely. I’m one of those people who loses it on stage, I often lose my voice because I just get so fucking excited about it.

So, would you say that performance and writing are symbiotic?
Yeah, I can’t do one without the other, I just couldn’t. But I guess if I had to choose one it would be writing because otherwise, I would be sitting on a lot of emotions that would never quite reach the surface.

Images courtesy of Sam Tompkins