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Meet Fred Roberts, the singer who uses music to mine the pain of his past

The rising singer on debut single 'Runaway' and how Troye Sivan's music allowed him to go on a journey of self-discovery

By Emma Wilkes

Fred Roberts (Picture: Sophie Williams)

Fred Roberts wants you to know that everything’s going to be alright. The stories he tells within his songs have a tendency to end with a positive, comforting resolution, even if it doesn’t look that way in the beginning. “Even my sad songs and my slower songs are fueled by this energy of knowing that there’s light at the end,” he says. “I try and get that in most of my songs.”

Roberts found a lot of comfort in music when he was a teenager as he confronted the pains of growing up. Other people’s stories were a mirror for him to find himself in, and a way for him to learn about himself. The most important artist to him was arguably Troye Sivan, whose ‘Blue Neighbourhood’ trilogy of music videos marked the first time he had seen two men kiss, which, for a young, gay 14-year-old, was everything. When he got off the train to go and see him live, and found himself surrounded by swarms of young people just like him, he cried for six minutes.

After building up a following through covers on Instagram and a stint on The X Factor: The Band in 2019, Roberts has arrived onto the scene with the euphoric guitar-pop inspired debut single ‘Runaway. The song finds empowerment in hope and letting go of long-held resentments, inspired by an encounter in a pub with a boy he once knew. Realising he was no longer angry with him, he knew he had set himself free. Having found so much comfort in music growing up, ‘Runaway’ represents the start of Roberts passing that on to a wider audience. One day, he hopes he can make music that fans can find solace in.

Your sexuality seems to be a pretty prominent part of your artistry – why was that important to you?

It’s a prominent part of the story because it [relates to] the music that I listened to when I was growing up and struggling with my sexuality and struggling with fitting in. Troye Sivan and many others like that had that as the forefront of their image – they weren’t afraid to showcase it and I want to have that power on someone that was a similar age to me when I was struggling with that kind of thing. That’s why I don’t shy away from it. I use male pronouns in my songs, I talk about those experiences and like coming to terms with it, basically, yeah, just to like have the same impact as my favourite artists did on me. That’s one of the main reasons I write music – to help people through similar experiences, and if they can find a parallel between what they’re feeling and what they’re listening to, I think that’s really important.

Why introduce yourself to a wider audience with ‘Runaway’?

I wrote the song like nearly two years ago. So I think that’s one of the reasons because I still love the song so much. And it was kind of like the first song I wrote with Andrew and a few other collaborators that we kind of all went, this is like a great, a great starting point. And even two years ago, I think we knew that. And I’ve written some of my favourite stuff more recently, but that song kind of like embodies like, a more youthful me and more like resilient and euphoric kind of like, overcoming and resentment and that power in a song I think is really important. And yeah, I think that’s one of the main reasons why it’s the first track and why I think it’s really catchy. I just love it. I just had a lot of positive feedback from it from my close friends and, and family and people I’ve worked with and it’s like always been one which is like, a good a good start. It’s in your face. I think the chorus is like hard hitting. You can’t really like hide away from it.

What other sides are there to you that you’ve not shown us yet?

I mean, I’ve got like a bit of everything. I think ‘Runaway’ is that unforgiving, overcoming song. And then I’ve got like, a lot of a lot of body of work that isn’t as as energetic or uplifting. It’s kind of exploring those more like sensitive areas of overcoming and yeah, like just the coming of age, the growing up, like through a pandemic, but the revisiting of, of younger years. But I’ve got a lot of just Yeah, I think runaway is like, leans into a lot more like pop sensibilities. And there’s a there’s a lot of other other sides of me, definitely.

Troye Sivan was a big influence of yours – how did you come across his music?

I think it was like during his era of YouTube.It was the first music that I’d ever heard that like talked about being like a gay man, or like, the videos showed two men kiss. That’s why he’s so important to me, because he was the first instance of that. And if I hadn’t discovered him, I don’t think I’d be writing as much about the stuff that I do.

You were scouted for The X Factor: The Band in 2019. What would you say you learned from the experience of doing a reality TV talent show?

It was a wild experience. [The music industry is] very much is a bubble of a world. I went into it not having any experience in music and not having any idea of what the industry looked like, I knew that I wanted to be industry, and I had no connections. It was such a catalyst for everything that happened. I’m very grateful for that opportunity, I wouldn’t have met the people I’m working with now.

Lots of your friends have gone off to university, but you deferred entry to stay where you are and work on music. What has that experience been like?

It was very weird, because we had such a weird time during the pandemic and then through that, I started writing music. Then I entered another uncertain period of my life where I decided I was going to put uni off and I saw my friends all do Freshers Week on social media while I was at home writing music. [At first] I don’t think I was as happy as my friends were at uni, and there was definitely a period of questioning whether I was on the right path. But it’s definitely a decision I’m glad I made.