Sandi Thom's web of intrigue

EMMA OUTTEN Sandi Thom's ascendancy as 'overnight internet star' has become the stuff of music industry legend. Emma Outten spoke to the Scottish singer-songwriter about her rapid rise to fame ahead of her sell-out gig at Norwich Arts Centre this Sunday.

EMMA OUTTEN

When she sings about how much she wishes she was a punk rocker Sandi Thom sounds a feisty young woman. And yet when she was speaking at the other end of the phoneline, just hours before her UK tour kicked off earlier this month, the Scottish singer-songwriter sounded surprisingly faint of voice.

It transpired that Sandi had just been to the doctors, nursing a sore throat, a complaint that had probably been exacerbated by putting in a performance at the BT Digital Music Awards the night before.

It was befitting that Sandi had been asked to perform at the awards (she had also sat at the same table as Lowestoft's Li'l Chris, that “very cute little guy”, as Sandi described him, of Rock School fame), as her story involves becoming “the first webcast signing in major record label history”.


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As the story goes, it was during the cold, short days at the start of 2006 that Sandi had her Eureka! Moment.

Instead of driving to gigs up and down the country with her band in her clapped-out car, as she had done for years, the singer resolved to try a different approach. She bought a webcam, and announced a run of 21 shows to be performed on consecutive nights during February and March in the basement of her flat in Tooting, south London. Sandi refers to this virtual tour as her “Tooting tour”.

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The audience capacity in the flat itself was limited to just six people. But the half-hour shows were to be broadcast, free of charge, via her website at www.sandithom.com.

The first night, 70 people tuned in to watch, the next night it went up to 670. And by the middle of the second week she was performing to a peak audience of 70,000.

All the record companies put in offers, and a fortnight after finishing Sandi signed a recording contract with RCA executive Craig Logan, live in front of her webcam audience.

“It was very surreal at the time, when it was all happening, especially with the media thing if you are not used to that,” said Sandi.

“It was quite shocking, all these people coming in and out of the house.”

Less than 10 weeks after she signed to RCA Label group, Sandi scored three number ones - her debut single I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker went to the top of both the i-Tunes UK download chart and the UK singles charts, and her debut album Smile... It Confuses People climbed to number one in the album charts.

Almost inevitably, perhaps, her route to the top has been called into question. Was everything quite what it seemed, etc, etc? “Maybe there was a certain amount of stigma.” said Sandi, “a lot of people were very sceptical about it.”

But she added: “I'm very happy to be associated with something like that. It has changed the way artists are promoting themselves.”

So did Sandi really wish she was a punk rocker?

“Sometimes I wish I lived back in the days or age when life was different,” she said.

“When I wrote the song I felt very isolated from the rest of the world,” she explained.

She also spoke of having felt lonely, so it is probably apt that her next single, out next month, is called Lonely Girl.

Thankfully, Sandi's band has continued to be her support unit throughout the past few months.

“They are all my best mates,” said Sandi. “We kept each other quite grounded.”

What people may not appreciate is that Sandi's band was hardly assembled overnight. In fact, it was while at the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts that she assembled the group of musicians with whom she continues to perform to this day.

Times have changed since Sandi last toured for real. For a start, her car truly is clapped out. As we spoke, it was being towed back to Scotland.

She swears she will never, ever get rid of it. “I might kind of put it in the garden and grow flowers out of the windows,” she said.

Nowadays, she is happy to report, the band tours in a proper van.

Sandi is looking forward to coming to Norwich, and having “a little walk around the city”, as she put it.

If you are one of the lucky ones with a ticket to the sell-out gig, then what can you expect? Well, for one thing, the band has just recruited a new member.

And Sandi added: “I don't know if you use the word 'banter' in Norwich, but there will be a lot of banter and a lot of music.”

Having just come back from America, promoting the release of I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker and Smile... It Confuses People, Sandi said: “It's just really great to be back in the UK, doing a month's gigging.”

She added: “It seems like, in the last six months, I've been everywhere else but here.”

Sandi still lives in Tooting and has just taken in a stray cat and named it Toots, in honour of the London suburb. And she credits her boyfriend with turning the basement into that now legendary studio.

Despite feeling so settled in south London, Sandi is looking forward to going home to her mother's in Scotland for Christmas. She spoke of how the events of the past year will probably hit home then. In the meantime, she assured me: “We are having the time of our lives.”

And what about the new year? Sandi answered: “After sitting with my feet up at my mum's at Christmas, the next album is going to be quite near to completion.”

Then there will be the next tour, which sounds as though it will be more worldwide.

Having signed a five-album deal, Sandi is hoping for longevity. She concluded: “Hopefully you'll be hearing from me for a very long time.”

t Sandi Thom's gig at Norwich Arts Centre this Sunday is sold out.

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