“I used to know every step to Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker when I was younger,” confesses the Welsh musician, “My moonwalk was maybe not as good as his. But I wouldn’t ever butcher it on stage,” laughs the 21-year-old rising star.
Heartfelt truth perfectly sums up his brand of impassioned pop. His debut album, “Sick”, set for release later this year, mixes sincere songwriting with electrifying melodies. “I like to think what I talk about is real,” explains Adam, “I don’t ever write something that I don’t believe, because people know if it’s fake.”
“It’s pop music,” he explains, proudly, “with an indie edge. People may judge pop, but everyone loves it.”
Hailing from the coastal town of Llandudno in North Wales, the singer grew up in a musical household, honing his craft early in family karaoke competitions.
“My first time singing in public was when I was as a kid, in a pub on New Year’s Eve. I sang ‘You’re Beautiful’ by James Blunt, in karaoke,” says Hender. James Blunt, coincidentally, proved a major influence on his musical style growing up, with his mum playing the singer’s Back To Bedlam, on rotation, along with James Morrison and Eddie James. “All the Jameses,” he adds.
“I must’ve been good at that karaoke, because afterwards, all the old people were tipping me pound coins. I walked out of there rich,” says Hender on the beginnings of his musical career (though he’s quick to point out, “If you’re any good at singing, you shouldn’t sing karaoke. No one wants to hear ‘Rolling In The Deep’ sung well. You want to hear a bunch of drunk women having a laugh.”)
Learning to play guitar and entering every open mic night in town followed. Even when he was too young to enter the venues. “I was only 14, so I had to leave as soon as I had performed,” he remembers.
No sooner had he become known in his hometown, then, at just 17 years old, an American tour beckoned, supporting a host of artists including Hollywood actor Michael Shannon (The Shape Of Water/Bad Boys II/Batman vs. Superman).
The US tour played through the deep south, hitting Mississippi, Alabama and Nashville, and proved a strong influence on Hender’s music. Not in country music, though, but in the heartache earned along the way.
“I had a brief romance in New York. It felt like the end of the world,” says Hender, of the personal stories on the new album, “I wasn’t there long, but we were together every day.”
The debut record, which was written between North Wales, Sweden, London and Los Angeles, is structured in a plot which tells these personal stories of love and loss with heartbreaking honesty. It breaks down one relationship especially, says Hender. Naturally, karaoke plays a part in the tale.
“A lot of the album is about my first love. We met doing karaoke in my hometown,” explains the singer, “I really loved this girl.”
Record deals, American tours and life got in the way. But from the experience came ‘Sick’.
“When I went back to America to record, it all fell apart,” he laments, “We haven’t been together for three years, but I still think about her everyday.”
The break up inspired the album’s opener, “Nothing In Between,” a pop ballad which starts with a slow-building, Coldplay-esque piano melody and crescendos to a rousing anthem. “I want love to find us,” Hender sings, introducing the storyline of the album. “I wrote the song when I was obsessed with this girl. I really missed her. All I could think was, ‘Why can’t it work?’”
It starts the album with a bang. Literally. “That tune is such a beast to perform live. The chorus is so slow that no one expects it when the kick drum blasts in,” explains Hender.
Infectiously catchy single “I Don’t Mind” explores the anguish of unrequited love, and has already racked up more than 700,000 streams on Spotify since its release earlier this year. Adam’s particularly proud of it. “It’s a big song!” he marvels, “I always thought my songs were great pop tunes, but the first time I heard ‘I Don’t Mind’, I had goosebumps. I couldn’t believe I was part of it.”
Later in the album, “Losing My Mind” puts Adam’s years of Moonwalker rehearsals to use, with Michael Jackson-influenced vocals. “In the middle eight there’s a bit of Jacko going on in the vocal. I didn’t put on a white glove, but it’s very breathy.”
Title track, “Sick” marks the finale of the album: An emotional ballad where piano adds to the heartfelt lyrics mourning the demise of a broken relationship. Hender reveals, “‘Sick’ started off very differently. The tempo stayed the same, but when we introduced the piano, it took the emotion to a whole new level.”
Rather than criticising a toxic relationship, by the end of the album’s story, Hender turns introspective. “I’m so sick / Sick for your loving… Look what you’ve done to me / You’re so sick,” Hender sings on the chorus. “People assume that you’re consistently pointing the finger, but that may necessarily not be the case,” explains Adam, of its conclusion, “The song really is about me, looking at myself.”
From the anthemic pop power and lingering emotions of the debut album, it seems destined for huge things, not least to mark Adam out as the first significant Welsh pop breakthrough artist for some time.
“A lot of music has come out of Wales, including classics like Tom Jones, but not recently,” says Adam, on putting it back on the chart music map, “I’m not doing it for Wales exactly, but for the people who live there.”
“It’s not so much my small town as my upbringing,” he ponders, “coming from a working class background, and living in a council house with all my siblings, it taught me to be real; to tell the truth.”
With so much truth unleashed in perfect pop form, is the woman this album is written about aware of her influence on the new pop music landscape?
“I don’t know if she’s heard the songs or not. We haven’t spoken in years. I think she’s with someone else, somewhere,” he admits, “but a lot of my music is about her. She’s going to shine bright.”
It certainly looks that way. With Adam’s passion, perfect pop hooks, and heart-wrenching, lyrics - the future looks extremely bright. Honestly.