With a debut album Young Blood on the way following a huge support slot on Ed Sheeran’s arena tour last year, we chat to Nottingham native, Saint Raymond.
Saint Raymond (or Callum Burrows to the folks at home) is one of an increasing number of singer-songwriters who has enjoyed an almost meteoric rise to fame. People often say, “It takes 20 years to become an overnight success,” but in Saint Raymond’s case, it’s taken only two. Burrows blends the lines between solo singer-songwriter and band, but all we need to know is he’s Saint Raymond, and in those two years he’s shot up the iTunes charts with his debut EP Escapade while his follow-up Young Blood received the “Zane Lowe treatment” on Radio 1. His third EP Ghosts was released back in May of 2014.
The 20-year-old Nottingham native may draw comparisons to fellow guitar-wielding songwriter Jake Bugg (purely in that he’s also around the same age, and from Nottingham), but he couldn’t be farther from the that as Burrows has a love of blending acoustic guitar with synth vibes and funky rhythms reminiscent of 80s powerhouses such as Tears for Fears and the Police, with a bit of Vampire Weekend, Two Door Cinema Club, and Friendly Fires thrown in for good measure.
Taking a short break from his recording sessions in LA where he’s putting the finishing touches to his debut album and preparing for a huge tour supporting Ed Sheeran on his sold out arena tour in the autumn, Saint Raymond took some time to talk about his career and songwriting, starting off with the obvious question – who is Saint Raymond?
‘Saint Raymond is me, but when I play live I do have a band. The name is partly based on a place name from back home, and Raymond was my granddad’s name. When I started out, I was cautious of being chucked into a box as just another singer-songwriter – I really wanted to steer away from that, hence the change of name. When I started out, there were a lot of singer-songwriters coming up, and as I said, I didn’t want to just be lumped in as one of them. When I first started out doing open mic sessions, I wanted the name so I would stand out a little bit; maybe get remembered a little bit more.’
‘I grew up with music in the house because I had older brothers and sisters, and music was always playing. I did get into the guitar at quite a young age, then left it alone until I was about 14, and then I got seriously into playing, and listening to guitar music. From playing, it felt really natural to progress into songwriting. I never really intended to be a master guitarist. My intention in learning to play the guitar was always just to be able to play what I wanted to play. I think that made it easier for me when I was learning; I never wanted to reach a really high technical level, so I was never struggling to get there, I just wanted to be comfortable playing what I liked. When I write a song, I learn enough on the guitar to be able to play the song how I want it to sound, and that’s enough – that’s really all I need.’
One thing Saint Raymond has learned about the technological age, is that nothing gets forgotten, including an interview back in 2011 when he advised that he didn’t want drums on his tracks. Now, his single ‘Everything She Wants’ has a full band on it – so was there a change of heart, perhaps?
‘I think it was more a case of what was available to be when I started, as opposed to what is available to me now. When I first started gigging, it was just me and an acoustic guitar, and I never really envisaged myself playing with a band, or imagining how my songs would sound with drums and other instruments. I think that was the point I was trying to make. In the course of my career, I have had access to studios, and to other instruments, including drums, and musicians to play them, so I have been able to experiment with sounds and putting those instruments in with my songs. I always liked guitar bands like Oasis growing up, so it was always a matter of the opportunity and accessibility to try out sounds and see what I liked and what worked, and I’ve been lucky enough to have those opportunities. I think my style has developed naturally. I have never specifically chased a style, or a level of playing, so I think my style has just grown with my writing and playing without any conscious effort from me.’
‘I never really had a specific plan or a timetable for releasing tracks, he says. ‘Last May I put out my first EP. I hadn’t released anything officially before then, and people seemed to like it, and the demand for some more music became apparent, so my thought was just to crack on with it and give people some more music, and not keep waiting around.’
His single ‘I Want You’ has amassed a lot of favourable radio airplay – garnering the support of some of the UK’s most prominent figures across not just radio, but TV, too.
‘The way that song happened is quite interesting. I was jamming around plotting some ideas, and then that came into what I was working on. I find that happens quite often when I write – I will get an idea, and when I am developing it, another idea for a different melody or a chorus will pop up, and that’s what happened with this song. It just happened. I played the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury this year, and it was funny how that came about, too. I was at the festival with a friend, just hanging out and having a good time with friends, and I bumped into someone from my record label who told me that someone from the Introducing Stage crew was looking for someone to play, one of the planned acts had dropped out. So my label guy asked if I had my guitar with me, and I did, it was back at the campsite, so I went and got it, and played a slot on the BBC Introducing Stage. I didn’t have time to feel nervous because it was all so last minute. But I was still thinking, this is Glastonbury, this is a musicians’ shrine, and so many people would love to play here. So it was a bit of a bucket list moment. All my friends kept saying, “If you knew you were playing a secret set, why didn’t you tell us?” And I had to keep saying, “Honestly, it was a secret even from me!”’
‘There was a period of concentrated songwriting recently, for about 18 months, when I was writing almost continuously, so it is nice to get away from that and see some other places, and not have that intensity of writing for days on end. I feel now as though I can write because I have something to write about, and not just because I feel I ought to get some more songs completed. I have spoken to other musicians who have told me that they wrote their best songs for their albums the week before the album was finished, so I think there is no harm in continuing to write and see what comes in right up until we’re finishing the album. When things are crazy, I obviously don’t get much time to write, but when I get home and things are quiet, I find myself writing again without really thinking about it. I do know that if I haven’t written anything for a while, I will then get the urge to write again. I guess all songwriters feel like that, because otherwise you would stop when things get busy, and just never go back to it and never write anything again. I do think that ideas subconsciously work away in the back of my mind, and when I do start to write again, the ones that are going to work will filter through and become solid ideas, and maybe the beginnings of some new songs.’
‘I think it is so important these days that people don’t just buy into the music of an artist they like, they get into the life and personality of the musicians as well, which comes to them through social media. I remember the morning that Ed Sheeran announced me as the support for his tour, and I think I gained 4,000 followers in about 10 minutes! My account actually froze for a while because it overloaded with the amount of people coming on to it. That is a modern high – the sign that you have “arrived” in the digital age.’
Not so long ago, Saint Raymond was a bedroom musician, recording his songs himself, releasing to YouTube, with as much a do-it-yourself approach as any, but he is now in a studio in LA – quite the turnaround. So does he miss the approach he began with?
‘I am a bit torn between the two to be honest. When I tell people I am recording in LA, I think they naturally assume that I am living on Sunset Strip and I am living the LA life day and night, but it’s not actually like that. We are based out of the city, it’s up in the hills, and it’s not a formal studio – it’s a house. The drums are set up in the kitchen, for example. I think when you are in a custom built recording studio there is that pressure sometimes, that “red light syndrome”. For me, it’s a matter of finding that balance, which I think I have where I am recording now.
After a whirlwind last year, what advice would he give to musicians aspiring to his career trajectory?
‘Definitely get yourself onto your local BBC Introducing programme with your BBC radio station. The BBC has been really proactive in promoting new music through local radio and it’s a wonderful way to get your music out there. That was what started it off for me, I thought I would get some local support, but that is where BBC Radio 1 picked me up. Introducing is beginning to be a starting place for festival line-ups, radio playlists, and for me it all flowed from my start on Radio Nottingham. Right from the start, it’s just been a case of getting on with it, sorting out the next thing to do. It’s great because I haven’t had time to get all analytical about it all, or for any nerves or doubts to creep in, there has been no time or space for any of that.’
Saint Raymond’s debut album Young Blood is out on June 29. Listen to the lead track ‘Be There’ in the SoundCloud link, above.