For Spencer Sutherland, the alt-soul singer whose brand of head-nodding, heart-rending, room-shaking pop songs is quickly establishing him as one of the big names to watch in the genre, the key to his success is in simply being himself.
“What I’ve learned so far is to be a real person,” Sutherland says. “When I first started singing I tried to be something I wasn’t; I wore masks trying to be a pop star and it never connected. I was confused. But when I figured out who I was as a person, I figured out who I was as an artist. It was all about being genuine all the time. It’s really important to be yourself.”
Being true—to the music, to yourself—is a commandment above all else in the scene these days. In today’s hyper-savvy culture, audiences can tell a real smile from a fake or natural chill from a put-upon act just as easily as they can spot when an artist is actually comfortable in his own shoes—and for Sutherland, figuring out the latter helped him embrace his true vibe.
“I love fashion from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s—retro sweaters and big sneakers and funky color combinations,” he says. “I love to mix it all together. I realized I could start wearing the clothes I actually like to wear in real life while I’m onstage. And I like my music to live in the same way, all my favorite styles and genres mixed together, and without any kind of timestamp on it.”
The Ohio-born, Los Angeles-based singer’s ability to fuse his neo-soul falsetto crooning and biting, relatable lyrics with bombastic modern beats, swaggering electric licks and a retro, stripped-down production is making a splash across multiple airwaves. His debut EP, NONE of this has been about you, dropped in March and has gathered over five million global streams to date, with candid, charming videos for singles like “Sweater,” “Wallpaper,” and “Freaking Out” gathering hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Sutherland first made a splash on the scene in 2017, having been selected by iHeart Radio’s Elvis Duran as The Today Show’s Artist of the Month and riding his smash “Selfish” to prime spots on Apple Music Pop Playlists, Sirius XM’s-Venus, Spotify, Pandora, and more. The first American to make it into the UK X Factor’s Top 12, he has also set sail on his own headlining club tours and recently returned from a slot on Jack & Jack’s “Good Friends Are Nice” arena tour. If that sounds like a whirlwind, Sutherland downplays that sentiment, embracing his successes and learning from his experiments to add fuel to his fiery passion for performing, creating, and bringing his earnest sound to the masses.
“I write every single day, and five or six days a week I’m in the studio when I’m home from tour,” he says. “I’ve written 300 to 400 songs in the last year alone. So many of those won’t see the light of day, but they’re far from useless—they are filled with emotions I had to get out and come to terms with in order to get to the next emotion and next song. When you write music and your lyrics are really real, about what’s happening in your life or the horrible things people have done to you, it’s really vulnerable and raw and it took me a minute to see how I could put those feelings into my music and embrace them. It’s all part of the process.”
Finding inspiration in artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Bruno Mars, Sutherland plays multiple instruments but considers a microphone his main focus. The unique charisma of his heroes encourages him to be a performer and not just a singer, as anyone who has witnessed his energetic, cut-loose wiling out onstage can attest. His ability to add his own stamp and quirks to his show and to his songs makes for a modern experience wrapped in the presentation of something beautiful from the past, but make no mistake: Sutherland is a modern act for these times, not some retro throwback—it’s just a joy for him to blend those eras together.
“My work is like a snapshot in time. The EP title, ‘NONE of this has been about you,’ really encompasses all these vibes together. Essentially it’s about me going through this thing, and I can’t be together with someone during it…the classic ‘it’s not you it’s me thing.’ When you pair that old-school sentiment with the selfie generation, it’s a subtle reminder to look outside yourself for once. And take the distinct sounds on the record—on one song we tried to mimic a snare from a 1957 Elvis song, on “Sweater” I have a big Prince influence, “Wallpaper” has a beat like a Foster the People song and a guitar squeal like a hair band. I love taking things that don’t belong and putting them in pop music. I describe my music as alternative soul/pop—I’m a pop artist, but left-of-center for sure.”
With themes that run the gamut from love, anxiety and self-examination to having a positive attitude and not taking life too seriously, Sutherland’s lyrics are best when at their most vulnerable. Whether calling out an ex for still rocking his favorite sweater or revealing his paranoia and anxieties in the face of backstage interactions, his work is relatable to the utmost degree.
This fall, Sutherland is set to drop another EP of original songs, collaborating once again with his familiar producers Keaton Stromberg and Hero Delano. And now that Sutherland knows who he is—as a singer, a songwriter, a performer, and, most importantly, as a person—the world is truly his oyster and the sky is the limit.
“I want to keep evolving,” Sutherland says. “If I keep trusting myself to be who I am and put out the music that speaks to me, there’s gotta be people to connect with out there. I just want to keep touring and putting out music and being happy.”