When he wasn’t working as a postman in Airdrie, Scotland, 27-year-old Nathan Evans was perfecting his songwriting and uploading covers to social media in the hopes that soon enough he’d be living out his dream in becoming a successful musician. But it wasn’t until someone asked the Scotsman to cover a sea shanty: an ancient form of work song familiar with men on sailing ships, that that dream actually came to life.
In that blink-of-an-eye-casualness we often see with internet fame, Evans became a star overnight. All thanks to his sea shanties. His rendition of the NZ 19th century ‘Wellerman’ gained him over 14 million views on TikTok, thousands of imitations and remixes, and even engagement from Brian May, Jimmy Fallon, Elon Musk and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The ‘Wellerman’ remix, featuring 220 KID and Billen Ted, has since reached over 40 million streams on Spotify and has already hit multiple number one spots across charts globally. And the craziest thing is, this is only the beginning.
Over an early morning Zoom call, we chat with the rising star to see how he’s handling his newfound fame, what his process of writing his own tracks is like, and just what the hell the viral sea shanty movement is all about.
First of all, congratulations on everything. I can imagine it’s been a crazy few weeks!
Definitely. It’s been a crazy couple of months. It’s been insane but I can’t complain!
I’ll be honest, I never knew about sea shanties before you brought them to the forefront. Why sea shanties? What about them do you love the most?
Funny thing is, I didn’t know about sea shanties until last year. Someone had left a comment under one of my videos on TikTok saying, “I think you’d be really good at this song, it’s called ‘Leave Her Johnny.’ It’s a sea shanty, but is there any way you’d be able to sing it?” So, I learned the song and uploaded it [to the app] last July, and it just kind of went crazy. Everybody loved it and the reception was fantastic, it got more views than any other video I had at the time. Then comments started coming in like, “can you do ‘Wellerman’, can you do ‘The Drunken Sailor’?” Just loads of different sea shanties. So, I thought let’s do it and it just so happened that ‘Wellerman’ put me in the position I am now.
Why do you think people have clung to it like they have? Do you think it’s partly because of your accent?
*Laughs* I think that’s it! I think the accent definitely helps, but sea shanties were sung back in the day to try and bring everyone together. You know, keep them involved and keep [their] smiles on their faces and their morals high. And I think it’s using that exact same purpose today where everyone’s been stuck in the house for the last year. It’s just doing exactly what the song’s made to do.
I wanna talk about your other music because you’re an excellent singer/songwriter. How would you describe your sound beyond sea shanties?
Oh, thank you! My biggest influences are Dermot Kennedy, Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi. They’re the main people I listen to and who I aspire to be. That’s the kind of sound that I like and the one I fit in
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Has music always been your passion?
Yes, definitely. I’ve been singing since I was 6 and playing guitar since I was 8, so it’s always been a passion. There hasn’t been a day where I don’t have a guitar in my hand, or I haven’t been singing a song of some kind. It’s just always been a big part of my life.
You’ve joined the list of people rising to fame from TikTok, why do you think the app is so beneficial for creatives and artists?
I think TikTok is amazing. I really like it as a platform because unlike YouTube and your traditional video platforms, you don’t need to worry about a thumbnail or a title. You’re not capturing people in that way. Instead, they’re just scrolling through TikTok and your video will show up. They don’t need to have a choice or go out and find you, you’re just kind of there instantly. And the good thing as well is the duet feature, that’s absolutely fantastic. For me especially, watching everyone duet and harmonise with ‘Wellerman’ has just been amazing. I really like TikTok. I’ve made so many friends on there. It’s a really good social app as well as having entertainment and other things as well.
What’s your typical process of songwriting like?
What I normally do is, I’ll be playing guitar and then I’ll just hum away different lyrics … it’s really just noises to begin with. But then I’ll get my phone and record noises and guitar chords, and I’ll just go from there. I’ll start to gather notes together that show feeling and emotion, and that’s when I start to really know what the song’s about. It always seems to be a story that relates back to me, or something that’s gone on in my life. That’s what seems to work for me, writing something that’s real; like an emotion or experience that’s happened before.
What can we expect from your debut album?
I’m not entirely sure myself yet, but I imagine there’ll be a variation of different stuff. There’ll be sea shanties in there, there’ll be my own stuff, just a mix between the two. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it: and no matter what it is, it’ll be good!
It’s been a crazy beginning, but it is just the beginning. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Maybe I’ll have a number one album consisting of all my own songs, that’ll be a goal. And maybe I’ll have played Wembley Stadium. That’s such an absolute dream of mine, if that happens it’ll be pretty cool.
What advice do you have for other struggling artists hoping to get their big break?
Just be consistent. Even if you’re out gigging live in pubs and clubs, just try to get out to as many as possible and try and get your face and music out there. And it’s the same if you’re online. Make the most of all your social medias: Twitter, TikTok, YouTube … everything. Just try and get everything used to your advantage. It’s all there for free, so you might as well use it. And just keep going. Keep practising and moving, and just always keep learning.