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Fast-rising singer Sam Smith braces for a big year

For someone who has yet to release his debut album, Sam Smith already has a long list of accolades. In 2012, the English singer pricked up ears with his sublime guest vocals on “Latch,” by the band Disclosure, followed by his cameo on Naughty Boy’s “La La La” in 2013.

In January, Smith won the BBC Sound of 2014, an annual poll in the United Kingdom that predicts who will have a breakthrough year. Adele has tweeted her support, and last month Smith joined Taylor Swift onstage at one of her shows in London and together they swapped verses of his latest single, “Money on My Mind.”


Again: No debut (just a few singles and an impressive EP, last year’s “Nirvana”), and the guy is just 21. All the hype is rooted in how arresting Smith’s vocals are, drawing on the seduction of R&B and soul, but also the thunderous spirit of gospel.

There’s a palpable sense that Smith is on the verge of massive success leading up to his forthcoming album, “In the Lonely Hour,” which his team is keeping under wraps until Capitol Records releases it in late May.

Fending off illness and trying to preserve his voice ahead of his first tour of the United States, including a sold-out show at the Sinclair on Tuesday, Smith recently answered 10 of our questions by e-mail.

Q. You surfaced on most people’s radars as a featured artist on others’ songs. Was that a strategic move, perhaps an attempt to carve out some time to develop on your own terms?

A. The only strategic thing about me being a feature was to add to my CV, if you know what I mean. As far as the industry went, people had no idea who I was, so it felt like a natural move to dip my toe into the industry pool before submerging myself fully. I can’t take the credit for it, though: It was my team who said I should do a session with Disclosure, and I was ecstatic to abide.


Q. You mentioned in a previous interview that you had your first manager at 12 years old. Were you always certain that you would pursue music as a career? Was there ever a backup plan?

A. I have been certain that this was what I wanted to do from the age of 10. I am the type of person who takes opportunities and runs with them. As soon as people said I was good at something, I ran as hard as I could. I tried to get better and better and still am. I have an addictive personality.

Q. You’ve talked about how you grew up loving the female voice, people like Whitney Houston and Chaka Khan. What was it about them that appealed to you?

A. I have a lot of powerful females in my family, so that could have something to do with it, but I really can’t explain why. All I know is, female voices truly make me feel. Male voices just don’t hit that spot.

Q. What can you tell us about the new album?

A. This album is my life. I have poured my soul into this. I wanted my first album to be something that was unlike other male albums. You will find no ego or bravado on this album. You’ll find an insecure, lonely, and emotional 21-year-old. It’s honest. And I also feel like it’s genre-less.


Q. What do you think “In the Lonely Hour” captures that we haven’t heard from you yet?

A. I think this album will show you different aspects to my voice. I also hope I have showcased my songwriting abilities. I write everything I do. I have help. It’s normally a 50/50 split. But I am still heavily involved and hope people see me for that and not just a singer.

Q. You’ve been adamant about your music not being confined to a single genre, but do you also think that poses a challenge in mainstream pop music?

A. I do, yes. Not just mainstream pop music — music full stop. In every aspect of life we love to label things. But the truth is, one day I might wanna sing a song that sounds like Slipknot. I don’t right know, but if I ever want to, I will do just that. I have worked too many jobs where I’ve been told exactly what to do that I am embracing this freedom like you wouldn’t believe. I hope people invest in me, not the dirtiness of my kick drum.

Q. In the video trailer for the new album, there’s a fleeting scene of a notecard in the studio that reads, “Don’t be frightened to display your talents.” Are you guilty of that?

A. I am sometimes. I sing, but I also do many more things and have a lot of passions in life. Sometimes I hold it back and worry what others think. My mum tells me that’s a normal trait to have at 21. I hope she’s right.


Q. How are you handling so much acclaim and hype at such a young age?

A. I am coping OK, I think. I have moments when I’m alone where I sit back and just think, holy [expletive], haha, but I feel very lucky to be in the situation I am in and just want to work as hard as possible so I can do this for the rest of my life. It’s about longevity for me. The people who hype about you today could hate you tomorrow, and I am prepared for that.

Q. Where did you think, or at least hope, you’d be at the age of 21?

A. I prayed and hoped I would be touring America, sitting in a hotel room in Washington [and] answering these questions. I thought, however, it may not have worked out that way and that I would still be working in a bar, grinding.

Q. For someone who’s already known for working with others, what would a dream collaboration be for you?

A. I would love to work with Chaka Khan. Just to see the look on my mum’s face.

Interview was condensed and edited. James Reed can be reached at james
. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.