Emerging Headliner

Luke Pickett: Soul Survivor

Metal band origins, having Jay Z as a fan, shady record deals that would end many people’s careers — welcome to the whirlwind story of Hertfordshire’s Luke Pickett, who has come through an incredible amount of adversity as an artist, but his unshakeable desire to keep putting out beautiful songs means he’s still in the game. Songs, we should mention, that sound like they could have been written by Smokey Robinson and vocals that sound uncannily like the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

At one point, Pickett was the UK’s answer to Dallas Green of Alexisonfire and City And Colour; as the soulful singer/guitarist of local scene champions Her Words Kill, but also displaying enormous potential as he began releasing solo songs. Quite a 360 turn, it might seem, to the Motown/soul-influenced R&B-pop he’s putting out now.

“I was singing in school a little bit,” Pickett says, locked-down at his home in Tring. “But when we first started doing that rock music I was actually screaming, which probably wasn’t the most sensible thing for my voice! [laughs]”

Her Words Kill saw Pickett’s angelic choruses balanced out by the screamed vocals of Lee Beaumont — the band quickly rose to the summit of the hardcore rock scene in and around Hertfordshire, which was absolutely thriving at the time circa 2005, which saw Her Words Kill rivalled by the likes of Enter Shikari. The band eventually dissolved after several line-up changes and Pickett’s growing wish to focus on his solo music.

As Pickett has moved further away from both metal music and acoustic balladry (a good reference is one of his first releases, Empty Corridors, still racking up over 100k views on YouTube), his incredible singing voice has noticeably begun to sound more uncannily like Michael Jackson.

With his effortless falsetto and ad-libs, Pickett tells me I’m not the first to make the comparison. He says “the first time I heard that was when I was on tour with this band called Firstborn. And that was back when I was still doing the stuff like Empty Corridors. Somebody said it to me and I'd not heard it before, so I was a little taken aback! Maybe it's just because I've spent my whole life listening to it (Michael Jackon), it must have influenced me.”

It's just about finding a way through, whether it's the difficult space with your mental health and carrying on that journey.

2020 saw Pickett release a handful of new singles, each as different as the last. The sublime Nothing Time Won’t Change, a soulful number that I strongly believe would have been approved by Motown Records, was then followed by the more minimalist and electronic Want You To Stay, and then another very strong and stirring effort in Reason To Believe. Perhaps most impressive is that, after a long stint working with songwriter and producer Benbrick, these songs are all recorded and produced by Pickett.

“I've had a great reaction actually,” he says of the new singles. “I'm not breaking any records with the number of streams and downloads I'm getting, but the great thing is that I've only had positive feedback. And I am noticing a small, steady growth in the engagement. The main thing is that people do seem to really, really love it.”

It’s worth noting that a previous single, Simple Love, broke one million streams on Spotify, so here’s hoping the same for these tracks.

Pickett tells me that lead-single Nothing Time Won’t Change speaks of “personally knowing lots of people who've struggled with their mental health, and I have at points as well. And with my career, I've always said it's difficult enough doubting yourself, but when you feel like everybody else around you is doubting you as well, that's even harder. So it's just about finding a way through, whether it's the difficult space with your mental health and carrying on that journey. Or it's your career and you might be in a bad place at the minute, ‘but that's nothing time won't change’.”

After Pickett’s noble confession he’s been through his own mental struggles, I ask about his approach to getting through them.

“I've had some moments where I've definitely been in some dark places,” he says. “A lot of it is reminding myself that life does change. Even if you feel like you're stuck in a rut, if you actually go back and look at your life there's been times where I felt like that before, and actually things did progress. Things did get easier eventually. So the song was almost a note to myself to just remember that. That not everything is permanent.”

Which logically leads onto some of the hard knocks Pickett has had to experience and overcome — from the thrill of being flown out to meet Jay Z’s label, Roc Nation, signing on the dotted line with them, only for the deal to amount to nothing.

“I was with a label at the time, and one of the guys managed to play my record to somebody at Roc Nation. They passed it on and Jay Z heard it and loved it. So I was flown out there and I met with a guy called Ty Ty, who’s a childhood friend of Jay Z's and the head of A&R there.

“So it was a pretty surreal experience, being sat with Jay Z’s best friend. He was telling me he was a really big fan, and ‘Jay loves your music, he's got it on his iPhone, we really want to make this happen.’ It was very exciting and I was obviously, very, very hopeful that something was gonna happen. But it wasn't to be. I can't really go too much into it, because I don’t want to tread on any toes. But that was difficult; hitting that high, and then having a very sharp fall back to reality.”

But the new songs show he is very much back with a bang. It’s also exciting to hear Pickett has “just bought a bunch of Spitfire string packs. I'm working on this song that is actually a bit more stylistic and inspired by classical Spanish guitar. So I'm trying to incorporate some strings as well. Benbrick had originally recommended the BBC Symphony Orchestra pack from Spitfire, and I’ve since bought a few more string packs from them and I’ve been so pleased with them.

"For reverb, my go-to is always Valhalla. I use a lot of Crystallizer from Soundtoys as well, if I want to add something a little bit weird and out of the box.”

I know it’s typical to end a music interview by plugging the artist’s latest songs. But you really, really should check out the 2020 releases from Luke Pickett. Not only would it be an act of good karma, to support him after some of his experiences in the music industry, but a selfish act also, because the music really is that good.