Sam Smith has unleashed “Drowning Shadows,” an elegant, poignant ballad he calls “the saddest song I’ve ever written and probably the least radio-friendly song I’ve ever written.” The soul singer issued that warning during Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, where the song premiered on Monday.
“Do I go home for nothing or stay out for more?,” Smith asks on the brooding track, backed by only piano and strings. “The more I drink, the more I drown.” Listen below.
“I wanted to remind everyone where I come from as a songwriter and what my intent was when I was writing this album,” Smith told Lowe of the track, which is included on the November 6th deluxe edition of his debut LP, 2014’s In the Lonely Hour. The singer-songwriter said he wrote “Drowning Shadows,” before “Stay With Me,” “I’m Not the Only One” and other early songs, but wasn’t able to settle on an appropriate arrangement.
“I always loved it, but something didn’t happen right with the production when we were going through different versions of it,” he said. “Something didn’t work. I thought of it recently when we were thinking about the repackage, and we went in and just did it with piano.”
Smith said the track was inspired by taxi rides leaving the recording studio in which he’d arrive at a literal and thematic crossroads. “One road would lead to gay clubs I used to go out to, and the other road would go home,” he said. “I was in such a lonely, sad place when I was writing this album that sometimes, I’d literally have to choose. The lyric is, ‘Do I go home for nothing or stay out for more?'”
The singer also talked about his recovery from vocal cord surgery this summer – and how not being able to speak for three weeks led him to rediscover his passion for singing. He’s since become “more obsessed with the voice” – and favorite childhood singers like Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
Still, Smith said he’s taking his time on a Lonely Hour follow-up. His plan is to lead a normal life for a year to make himself more relatable. However, he added, “I’ve written a few songs, which I absolutely love.”