Luke La Volpe: 'All those nights of being skint and people telling you to get a proper job just become worth it'
- Megan Forsyth
- 24 November 2020
The Scottish Music Awards Best Breakthrough nominee talks about the power of music therapy and his friendly rivalry with childhood pal Lewis Capaldi
Around this time last year, Luke La Volpe was on stage at the Scottish Music Awards collecting a trophy, only it wasn't exactly his to keep. The now 24-year-old Bathgate singer stepped in to accept the King Tut's Songwriting Award on behalf of his childhood pal Lewis Capaldi who was unable to attend that night. With the mic in his hand and the eyes of the Scottish music industry upon him, La Volpe did not hesitate to take the opportunity to make his own ambitions clear.
'When I collected his award, I said on the stage as a joke – well, not as a joke because I genuinely wanted it – but I was saying "I'll be back next year for mine" and everyone was kind of looking at me like "who the fuck is that?" They'd never heard of my music,' La Volpe says.
Now, just one year later – albeit in the midst of a pandemic – he finds himself nominated for the Best Breakthrough Award (Male) at the upcoming Scottish Music Awards, which will be broadcast online from SWG3 in Glasgow this Saturday. The nomination means a great deal to the singer, who has been working tirelessly for over a decade to get to this point.
'I've played gigs properly in bars and that since I was 13 and I'm 24 now, so everything's come into fruition,' he says. 'All those nights of being skint and people telling you to get a proper job just become worth it because you've got a bit of recognition for it – so aye, it's pretty special.'
La Volpe has known Capaldi since they were both 13 years old, long before the self-proclaimed 'Scottish Beyoncé' found fame and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Growing up in Bathgate, the pair used to play guitar together and daydream about becoming music stars one day.
'I remember saying to each other, if one of us gets famous – like little boys talking – we'll help the other one out. And sadly for me, he was the one that got famous,' he laughs. 'He has helped me greatly, but watching him rise – at first I was really jealous, to be honest. I was like, "I want that and I want that". But no, I'm obviously really proud of him. He's smashed the world and it's ridiculous.'
Keeping their childhood pact, Capaldi invited La Volpe to open for him at Princes Street Gardens for the Edinburgh Summer Sessions in the summer of 2019. At the time, La Volpe was quietly planning to quit music and move to Australia with his girlfriend, but getting a taste of performing in front of a big crowd that night made him realise that he still wanted to play music and chase his dreams of stardom too.
Over a decade since it began, his friendly rivalry with Capaldi is still motivating him to push himself. 'It's a strange relationship we've got,' he admits. 'He doesn't really give me advice – he just tells me how much better he is and that works. That gets me riled up and makes me work harder.'
In addition to his Scottish Music Awards nomination, the rapidly rising La Volpe is also set to perform as part of the virtual ceremony on Saturday. The awards show is the key fundraising event for Nordoff Robbins, a UK charity providing music therapy to people affected by life-limiting illness, isolation and disability. La Volpe strongly believes in the charity's life-changing programmes and music therapy is a cause that is close to his own heart.
'My grandfather – my papa – he taught me how to sing when I was like 2 years old. He was a singer and now he's got Alzheimer's, but you can see the difference with music, how it totally switches him back to the original person he was. That definitely needs funding because it's like magic really when you see it happen.'
Back in early March, La Volpe was riding a high after selling out King Tut's in just 12 hours and felt like his music career was finally beginning to take off. Then the entire world suddenly went into lockdown. 'I had my band together for a practice and this was when coronavirus was just kind of like a whisper. I was joking saying to the band, "Imagine our momentum is just kicking off – big chance – and imagine the full world shuts down". And it was three days later, lockdown. They were all texting me like "what the fuck have you done?" as if it was my fault,' he laughs.
Despite not being able to tour over the past eight months, a determined La Volpe has found creative ways to make the most of a bad situation. In March he organised a series of live streamed gigs which quickly turned into the 24-hour #SofathonSingalong in support of Music Venue Trust. The charity which supports grassroots music venues made him a patron for his efforts, joining the likes of music legends including Paul McCartney and Billy Bragg. He also began working with other songwriters including frequent Paolo Nutini collaborator Dave Nelson (on the haunting 'Dead Man's Blues') and The View frontman Kyle Falconer, who La Volpe idolised growing up. The songwriting sessions resulted in his Terribly Beautiful EP, which was released during lockdown in May.
'I was totally precious about my songs. I thought these people don't know what I'm feeling and they don't understand what this song even means and I really hated giving people insight into my life. But then after doing a few of them, I realised that I can use these people as therapists. I sit down with them and I tell them all about the shit in my life and then we make something beautiful out of it.'
La Volpe has recently been teasing a new song that will be released on Friday, a day ahead of the Scottish Music Awards ceremony. 'Stand Up' showcases his powerful vocal range and has more of a noticeably rock'n'roll edge compared to the songs on his bluesy Terribly Beautiful EP. After a remarkably challenging and deflating year for musicians and artists, he hopes that the song will be an anthem of sorts for those in the industry and beyond.
'It's a message to both musicians and everybody else – it's been a shit year, it's time to stand up, pick ourselves back up and stop listening to these politicians that are talking loads of shit telling us to retrain, because we don't have to retrain at all. It's kind of like a revolution song.'
Looking ahead to 2021, a restless La Volpe can't wait to get back on tour as soon as possible once restrictions are eased, and he has even earned spots on the bill at summer festivals including TRNSMT, Belladrum, Party at the Palace and Lytham. He also hopes to eventually record and release his first full-length album. It's difficult to plan ahead right now, but no matter what new challenges may come his way, music will continue to be his grounding force.
'That's what's kept me going through lockdown,' he says. 'It's the only thing that you can really do – listen to music and play music. Music's the universal language that everyone needs, innit?'
The Scottish Music Awards will be broadcast from SWG3 in Glasgow on Sat 28 Nov at 7pm. Viewers can tune in at nordoff-robbins.org.uk/SMAS2020