U.K. Artist Kamal on His Debut EP ‘War Outside’ and Fame in the Pandemic
The singer-songwriter’s openhearted tracks like “homebody” have made him a comforting voice across the world
Teenaged bedroom pop artist Kamal’s earliest musical influences perhaps came from the time he spent listening to his mother’s iPod Shuffle. “She likes a lot of Bruce Springsteen,” he says over a video call from his home in Harlesden in north west London
Then he remembers listening to a song called “Torn” but it takes him a while to remember who the artist was. “It was by a Natalie something… I can’t remember,” he trails off, before I fill in the blanks and mention Australian pop artist Natalie Imbruglia, who had her big hit with a version of “Torn” in 1997. Kamal adds, “I was really obsessed with that song when I was younger, just because it was on my mom’s iPod […] I did a lot of skipping, because quite a few of the songs weren’t my sort of taste. But yeah, there are a few bangers on there.”
Kamal has been releasing music since 2019, with emo songs like “decline” and “smilingdownthephone” and then leaping into the millions-streamed club with “homebody” and “blue” in 2020. The former went on to become a part of his debut EP War Outside, which released in June this year. “Homebody,” for its honest and heartbreaking portrayal of mental health struggles, was hailed as a quarantine bop by listeners who had discovered it on playlists right when the U.K. went into its first lockdown last year.
The artist says the feeling of accruing recognition and following solely online during the pandemic has understandably been a different experience. “Like a moment of me reading something off my phone, I feel like it can seem less real sometimes,” he says. He was taking in all the fame right when he was at home, which “was kind of difficult” at first. “But then, I felt like that gave me a sort of chance to soak it all up and become used to it on my own, without seeing other people’s perceptions of the beginning of what you might call my success,” Kamal says modestly.
Nevertheless, the release of War Outside – produced over Zoom calls with his mate Jay Mooncie aka J. Moon – was a rewarding moment when the world was still going through the motions, seeking a new normal. Kamal agrees that people have developed a more personal relationship to music during this time, which also influenced the type of music made. The seven-track War Outside is proof of that; with songs like “curfew,” the title track and “lose,” Kamal perfects a vulnerability that arguably only bedroom pop can offer.
Writing music while being cloistered at home was not new for Kamal, but getting his takes right was more of a challenge. “I remember in the song ‘little pieces,’ I’ve re-recorded that track like a hundred times, no exaggeration. The singing doesn’t stop for quite a while, so I’d just run out of breath and the vocals would go down in quality,” he says.
Even once the record was done, Kamal did grapple with the confidence required to release the music. It’s something he’s learning to deal with. “I’m always hesitant to hesitant to let things so personal to me out in the world,” he adds.
Now, Kamal says he’s leaning towards slightly upbeat songs like “blue” and stepping away “from the subdued melancholy atmosphere” of War Outside. He adds, “I’m kind of excited about that stuff, because hopefully, if all goes well, I’m able to play live shows by next year, or whenever that is. I feel like that’s the sort of music that will be the most exciting to play, or the most entertaining to play.”
Listen to ‘War Outside’ EP below.