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Sam Ryder on Eurovision, 2022 and releasing his debut album

As 2022 nears its close, Eurovision hero Sam Ryder tells Rolling Stone UK how he became one of the year's defining stars

By Nick Reilly

Sam Ryder (Picture: Press)

Few artists have managed to put their musical stamp on 2022 quite like Sam Ryder. When the year began, he was the TikTok sensation who garnered a massive audience during lockdown when his covers of Justin Bieber and Alicia Keys showed off those pipes and attracted millions of views.

But as the year ends, Ryder has defined 2022 by becoming the UK’s highest-scoring Eurovision entry in years. He may have been pipped to victory by Ukraine, but the country’s ongoing war with Russia means that the contest, at long last, will be hosted in the UK next year thanks to Ryder’s impressive second place.

With an anticipated debut album set for release at the start of December, we caught up with Ryder as he reflects on his achievements.

How’s it been hitting the road for your first post-Eurovision tour?

It’s been so good. They’re countries I’ve visited before and played to no one. I’ve done the transit van slogs with bands that I’ve been in. It’s been wild to play some of the same venues that have previously been empty, but it’s just exciting to see crowds there. I’ve been in situations before where I can hear people cashing up the till or the squeak of the mop, but I can’t now! That’s been nice.

How much has life changed since Eurovision? Have you been able to stop and take stock?

Yeah, definitely. There’s been a semblance of checking in regularly. Ultimately, it comes down to gratitude for the new milestones I get to experience. They’re things I wouldn’t have dared to dream about, like playing with Queen and Dave Grohl [at Wembley’s Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert] because that’s a pipe dream, really. But then you’ve just got to be thankful.

I’ve always been into music — it’s been the one thing I’ve wanted to make a career out of. I was singing at weddings before this, and I was happy with that. I felt fulfilled, I had a purpose, which meant that when I was announced for Eurovision, I knew I wouldn’t be looking for happiness and validation because I already had it. It safeguards you from the pitfalls that we know all too well can happen in this industry.

What are your memories of Eurovision 2022 like? Did it become a blur as your score kept going up?

I was surrounded by my pals and that was the biggest thing for me. I could have had the same experience but if I was surrounded by people that were new in my life from the label and industry, it wouldn’t have been the same. I love them dearly in my life, but it wouldn’t have held nearly as much importance. I was sitting with my partner and my friend Kaz, we’ve known each other for nearly 10 years and he’s the tour manager now. All of us just sat together and enjoyed this thing. The disbelief of seeing us climb up that scoreboard, we were just sat there and none of us could believe it. Nothing else mattered, I was with my friends and it was just good to be there.

So you’ve kept a quite close-knit circle around you?

Yeah, because you want it to change your work life, but you can’t let it change your actual life. Work can become way busier and exciting, but the goal is to keep real life as boring and delightfully mundane as it was before. I just love hanging out with my family and eating a curry on a Saturday night. Or walking my dog along the sea wall where I live. Ultimately, you have to remember you’re just a guest in this new world where doors have opened to you. I’m 33 years old, man! I’ve lived a long life before this and I know what makes me happy: it’s sitting down with a sandwich and watching Formula 1.

Still, your performance of ‘Somebody to Love’ with Dave Grohl and Queen felt like a special moment.

It was so cool meeting those guys, they’ve climbed to the top of the music mountain and put a flag in the peak. To see how normal and lovely they are, having done all that, was amazing. I was sitting there beforehand and someone came along and put their hand on my back because they wanted to grab me for a minute. It was Dave Grohl! He didn’t have to say hello to me, but to make someone who isn’t in that circle and at the beginning of their journey, which I am, feel so welcome, was just incredible. That was pure kindness and it was even cooler to see how they still hang around looking at each other’s guitars and guitar pedals. It felt like nothing had changed from their first ever band practice with their mates as teenagers. It was the same energy! Everyone was looking at Brian May’s midi switchboard and I just loved that. It showed me that we don’t have to become rock stars to find the pure joy in music. You have it from the very beginning and that’s what they’re still doing.

Sam Ryder (Picture: Press)

Did they give you any advice?

They were so encouraging, but Freddie Mercury has always been one of my heroes. He’s the first person I ever remember singing along to as a toddler in the car. The ‘Living on My Own’ remix had just came out and I was doing the “dee do de de” bit. There’s been a lot of Freddie influence in my life.

Your debut album, There’s Nothing but Space, Man!, arrives on December 9. What does it say about you as an artist?

It’s a debut typically in the sense that there’s a lot going on, you’re drawing on an excitement and enthusiasm because you haven’t been in the industry long enough to become jaded. But I think it focuses on the idea of retaining hope and faith and that’s been a massive part of my journey. You’ve found this thing that you love, which is performing and singing for me. How many people do you know out there who don’t love what they’re doing? They haven’t found that thing that lights them up. The album is about the idea of once you’ve found that thing, never ceasing to grab onto it, never giving up and following that journey and path.

For you, where does that enthusiasm come from? You seem relentlessly positive.

I’ve been through the whole spectrum of emotions, like many other humans, and found this is the best way to live. You’re not always in that state and the last few days on this tour have been  incredibly trying because I’ve had no sleep and it can be tough, but you’re still in the game! I’ve worked so many years in construction dreaming of being in the spot that I am now, so you understand that the moments where things are a bit tough are the tax you pay for the thing you love doing.

Next year sees Liverpool host Eurovision because Ukraine, sadly, is unable to.

It’s going to be incredibly collaborative, but if you’re looking for a hotel it’s going to suck for you! It’s in the tens of thousands if you’re hoping to stay for a few nights! But seriously, it’s going to celebrate Ukrainian culture, while also celebrating UK music, too. We’re in Liverpool, it’s literally the birthplace of pop music through The Beatles, you could argue. It’s going to be an amazing meeting of two countries that want to celebrate this amazing thing.

TaP Music are involved in picking the act again, which bodes well after your success.

The most important thing to take away from this is that there was never a stigma against the UK in Eurovision. That was something we invented in our heads, so the coolest thing to take away is a fresh attitude. You asked about optimism and part of that for me is getting rid of habitual thought patterns, like putting yourself down. That was what we wanted to do with Eurovision and it’s a massive team effort. Eurovision is going to be incredibly interesting; we’re stepping into a new musical landscape with TikTok and people working out of their bedrooms that have an online support network. If you want to get involved, you’ll need to put your best foot forward.

It feels like TikTok is going to be huge for musical diversity. People doing music on the most DIY terms can finally break through — just like you did.

Yes! And Eurovision needs to reflect the plethora of musical talent in the UK. Eurovision has been an open goal for years, but a lot of people also believe it’s a poisoned chalice, so you haven’t been getting them in droves wanting to do Eurovision. I think that’s going to change and that’s what I’m excited about: we really get to celebrate the vast range of diverse talent in the UK. It’s someone else’s journey now and I just hope that they’re a fan of Eurovision, because they won’t get hung up on the scoreboard. I want them to be able to soak up all the amazing stuff and have the same experience that we did.

Sam Ryder’s debut album There’s Nothing But Space, Man! is released on December 9.