It’s been a little over six years since vocal powerhouse Nathan Sykes first burst into the music scene with his British-Irish mates The Wanted, who in just three years went on to release three studio albums, two EP’s and ten singles – their biggest being global smash “Glad You Came,” a tune.
In January of 2014, The Wanted announced that they would be taking a hiatus after their Word of Mouth Tour to to begin pursuing solo endeavors for a while, but that they would work again together in the future. And while that remains to be seen… over the last year, we’ve seen Nathan – the youngest of the group – emerge as a confident, more refined musical act in his own right with a variety of single releases – from “More Than You’ll Ever Know” to “Kiss Me Quick” to “Over and Over Again” to “Give It Up” – embracing a more mature, R&B-soul-meets-pop sound. All leading up to release of his debut solo album, the appropriately titled: Unfinished Business, a impressively sophisticated collection of songs brimming with throwback-influences, soul and personality dressed up with the right kind of 21st century production to hold radio’s attention.
I got the opportunity to speak with Nathan during the site’s hiatus, and he’s a complete sweetheart, and one of the more down to earth artists I’ve had a pleasure of meeting. We spoke about Unfinished Business, his producers, his sound, his time in The Wanted, and that time he almost lost his voice. Check out the full interview below and Enter To Win your very own copy of Unfinished Business below!
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Got the opportunity to meet and speak with @nathansykes during the site's hiatus, and he's a complete sweetheart… His debut album #unfinishedbusiness is officially out today (November 11), and so is my interview with him. Head over to the #JonALisBlog to read it in full and enter to win your very own copy of #unfinishedbusiness! (Link in bio)
Jon ALi: So it’s taken a long time to get to this point hasn’t it? It’s been over a year since you first released “More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Why has it taken so long to get here?
Nathan: “More Than You’ll Ever Know” feels like ages ago, it’s been a long time coming. I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, positioning wise, I wanted to completely re-position myself as an artist. That’s why I’ve taken so long with the singles, it’s been an overall sense of Unfinished Business. I’ve known that Unfinished Business would be the title for two years now.
Nathan: I’m so so proud of this album. It’s been written for a long time now, the last song I wrote for it was “Give It Up” and that came along very very late. And before we wrote “Give It Up,” there was “Over and Over Again” about a year ago. But basically, I just took the time tweaking everything – making sure the mix was right, making sure the production was right, making sure all the right sounds are in there to represent me as an artist. It was a really fun process. I’ve been listening back to it recently, and its funny, because I hear how I sing some of the songs now as opposed to when I sung it even like a year ago when I recorded them.
Jon ALi: Listening back to it do you get the urge to want to run back to the studio and change things?
Nathan: No, no. I love it because it shows so much growth throughout the album. The songs I wrote around the beginning of the recording process are at the very start of the album and the ones I wrote later are at the very end. It’s just kind of how they fell into the album, so you get to hear the vocal growth as the album goes on. It gets more vocally expressive, it’s a journey from start to finish.
Jon ALi: As far as production is concerned.. Did you stick to one or two producers or was it like let me work with as many people as I can?
Nathan: So I had an executive producer, which was Harmony Samuels. I met him when I recorded “Almost Is Never Enough” with Ari (Ariana Grande). He’s truly amazing, we really crafted this album together. I went in with the ideas for the sound and he was like ‘cool, lets try a load of stuff’ and within the first day of writing together we wrote ‘Twist,’ so that was a productive start. It was a real pleasure getting to know Harmony, we wrote a lot of songs together: “Famous,” “Over and Over Again” and “Money“. I also got to work with Babyface, which was mind blowing.
Jon ALi: Oh my god, yeah. That’s legend status right there. It’s Babyface!
Nathan: Exactly, the morning I met him I just sat there and I wasn’t really saying anything. He went to go and get a coffee and his producer was like ‘you can actually talk to him, you know?’, and I was like ‘what?’, and he goes ‘you spent the whole morning just weirdly looking at him’ [Laughs]. I was so embarrassed, I was like ‘was it really that obvious?’. But it turned out good, and that day we wrote like the most emotional ballad together called “I Can’t Be Mad,” and that drops right in the middle of the album and it just kind of comes out of nowhere because the album starts off so upbeat and then out of nowhere you get this intense Babyface ballad. It’s definitely a moment on the album.
Jon ALi: I love that! It’s the ballads where I think you really get to showcase what you can do with your voice. I don’t think people realize how much of a voice you really have.
Nathan: Aww, thank you!
Jon ALi: You’re welcome! I’m serious though, because when you were in The Wanted there was other people there, you know? You guys were a unit, a team.
Nathan: Yeah, and also we weren’t really singing like overally tough songs. You know?
Jon ALi: Exactly, your material is entirely different. It’s soul, it’s R&B, it’s vocal gymnastics.
Nathan: You’re absolutely right because when I get off stage, I’m like ‘I’m tired’ [Laughs]. I’m like ‘that was a workout’. I sometimes question how I’m able to do it every night on tour, but it’s what I love doing. There’s been some scary moments though when its come to my voice, I’ve had to get surgery. Luckily though, coming from The Wanted I learned a lot about taking care of my voice. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
Jon ALi: I could imagine, The Wanted was like major-league training for you. You guys were non-stop straight out the gate. I’m sure you learned how to properly go about taking care of your voice.
Nathan: Oh my god, yeah. It was amazing.. I had the surgery while I was in The Wanted and then went into like real vocal rehab. I learned how to speak again, I learned how to sing again, and I learned how to control everything. I would just lay there for hours, just breathing, retraining my body how to breathe again. At the end of the day, it’s a muscle. You gotta stretch it out and loosing it up. The vocal surgery was a real moment in my life and it was like a slap in the face, like ‘if you want to be doing this for the rest of your life, you need to do it properly. And then the band took a break and I was like, well, ‘what now?’. So I took the opportunity to see what I’m capable of doing, I’m going to get into the studio and write songs and see how good of a singer I could become. It all started there and now here we are… Unfinished Business.
Jon ALi: Yes! And I’m loving everything we’ve heard so far. “Give It Up” seems to be the one people are gravitating to the fastest, it’s been pretty instant. I specially love the part in the hook where you take a quick pause and sing “Give It Up,” it’s so smooth.
Nathan: [Laughs] Yes yes, thank you. To be fair that song was already in the works and I kind of just jumped in a bit late with that song. Normally I write everything from scratch, I go in with the ideas. The idea for this song was already in the works, but once I heard it I had to get involved. It was really rewarding to see it come to life because obviously I’m a big Blackstreet fan, I grew up listening to them and Boyz II Men and all that great throwback R&B stuff.
Jon ALi: You can totally hear that you’re influenced by them but what I do love about your stuff is that you just use it as inspiration and then you put your own Nathan “Twist” on it. See what I did there?
Nathan: [Laughs] Yes, I love that! Thank you. It’s all a little bit of everything because I listen to a wide variety of music, I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Donnie Hathaway, Frank Sinatra, Jamie Kelley, Boyz II Men, Blackstreet, Craig David, you name it. I listen to everything, I like having influences from different areas and genres of music and you differently hear that in the album. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much a pop artist.. I don’t want to say that I’m not.
Jon ALi: No, no, I totally get what you mean. At the end of the day if you want to sum it up, it’s pop music, yes. But I will say that when you listen to the radio and what’s on there right now, it’s all very similar and a majority of it is either dance driven or very moody vibes. It’s refreshing to have someone like you in the mix because you don’t necessarily fit into those categories, you can fit into multiple worlds.
Nathan: That’s so amazing of you to say, thank you.
Jon ALi: Seriously though, it’s needed, especially from a male singer. We don’t have that many male pop stars in the mainstream, that kind that are singing the very soulful kind of music that you’re.
Nathan: Thank you, I think it’s a really good time for pop music. As of late I feel like things have become so much more diverse and it’s very exciting. You don’t have to listen to just the radio anymore, there are so many other platforms now. I always tell people, educate yourself, there is so much more out there than what is being forced onto you.
Jon ALi: Agreed! That’s where I come in and why we are here [Laughs]. Would you say Unfinished Business is the real start for you?
Nathan: I’m only 23 so it does feel a little weird, it almost feels like this is my second career. With all my experience already from The Wanted, I’ve had many highs and many lows. Like extreme highs and extreme lows. It’s been a real experience up until this point and I’m forever grateful for everything because without those experiences I don’t think I would have been able to write the album I’ve just written.
Jon ALi: I heart that! Would you say Unfinished Business is one of your extreme highs? That’s a song title right there, “Extreme Highs.”
Nathan: [Laughs] I’m going to take that! But yeah, absolutely, I think it’ll go down as one of the best moments in my career so far. Obviously I don’t know how the album will do, I hope it does well and people enjoy it, I’m very proud of it. I think it tops selling nearly 4 million records with “Glad You Came,” I think it tops that for me. For the first time it’s me expressing myself as an artist and I’m really really telling my story. This is my full body of work that I’ve been able to piece together. It’s mine, I can name every single person the songs are written about – I’m not going to [laughs], but every single song has a story behind it and there is a reason each and every one of them exist. Some have a funny reason, some a very sad reason but it’s really nice to be able to tell these stories, my stories.
Jon ALi: That’s so awesome, I’m so excited for you. Is there one song in particular that you can’t wait for people to hear?
Nathan: There’s a few, I think the songs that I’ve yet to share or put out are my absolute favorites. And I haven’t done that purposefully, it’s just kind of the way its worked out. The ones people haven’t heard yet I think are the best songs, but I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. These are my children, I love them all, but there are a couple of songs in particular that are really going to shock people. I think from a writing perspective, the Babyface collaboration is a real moment. It’s just heartbreaking, it’s really me at my most vulnerable, I’ve never been as vulnerable as I am in that song. I was going through a really really dark time and I put it all in that song, but at the same time it has a positive twist to it, which is what I try to do with everything. And then there’s the last song of the album, which is vocally quite ridiculous but its fun. It ends with the most epic moment.
Jon ALi: I can’t wait to hear it! You’ve teased me to death.
Nathan: [Laughs] November 11th, it’s not too far way.
Jon ALi: Not at all! Well thank you very much for talking to me Nathan, it’s been a pleasure. Excited for you, the album and everything. Stay killin’ it my friend.
Nathan: Thank you, Jon!