The most nervous Sam Smith has been for a performance during his young career took place about three weeks ago at Studio 8H in New York City's Rockefeller Plaza.
The 21-year-old British soul singer was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” March 29, hosted that week by actor and comedian Louis C.K. Smith said he wasn't very familiar with the show's format but was well aware of its significance and reach.
“I've never been that happy after a performance,” said Smith over the phone from Los Angeles April 15. “Seven million people viewing, I haven't got an album out, nobody knew who I was and I'm put on one of the biggest TV shows ever. Yeah, it felt scary. But it was empowering.”
Smith — set to perform Tuesday at The Vic — said most of his family and friends back home knew it would be big moment for him. And if they didn't realize it before he sang “Stay With Me” and “Lay Me Down,” they did once his name was trending on Twitter afterward.
With tequila in one hand, Smith recalled, he excitedly read as many of the tweets as he could. Can you blame him? This wasn't some jaded singer who has been there and done that, but a relatively unknown artist in the U.S. trying to enjoy the moment.
Smith was introduced to audiences when he guested on Disclosure's 2012 single “Latch” and Naughty Boy's 2013 single “La La La,” both of which landed on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Now he's ready to take the next step with his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” which is scheduled to hit stores June 17. It purposely doesn't include any guests. Smith has done the collaboration thing and wants to show what he can do on his own.
Isolation, after all, is the theme of the album.
“I've never been in a relationship,” Smith said. “I wanted to write love songs — that's the music I adore. But the only kind of love I can talk about is unrequited love, when someone doesn't love you back. I fell in love with someone that didn't love me back. I was feeling so lonely and wanted to get over it. And I have by writing this album.
“When I'm feeling sad, I like to hear music that explains my feelings. This whole album, I didn't want to put out a happy album and hide and lie. I wanted to be honest.”
Sad music doesn't always translate well in concerts. How does Smith compensate for the isolation in his songs when he's performing live?
“My key is to sing my (butt) off,” Smith said, “and pray they stay with me.”
Last Sunday, Smith got on stage with Disclosure to perform “Latch” in front of thousands of people at the Coachella music festival in Indio, Calif. It wasn't the biggest crowd he's played for. He performed the song with Disclosure at a 2013 radio station show in front of a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium in London.
“I'm more comfortable performing in front of 50,000 people than five people — it's easier,” Smith said, pointing out that you don't really see faces in the crowd when there's a large audience. “When there's that many people, I feel like I'm alone. When I perform in front of only a few people, it's scary.”
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When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave.
Tickets: Soldout, victheatre.com