It’s always hard breaking out on your own. Leaving behind familial comforts and putting yourself into new territory will never be something that is an easy adjustment. Those initial steps into the unfamiliar are always tricky but eventually rewarding. For Oliver Sim, this was the case. As one of the songwriters, bassist and vocalist of the influential UK group the xx, Sim found his place and success with his other bandmates.
Bandmates who weren’t just co workers but best friends, family. His debut solo album, Hideous Bastard which drops September 9th via Young Records, was something that Sim never thought he would make. He had never felt the pull of embarking on a solo career. Through seeing the work his fellow bandmate and producer Jamie XX was doing on his own and what that brought back to the xx, as well as wanting to exorcise some of his own thoughts and feelings in a creative way, his journey to this album feels now like a no brainer. Besides Hideous Bastard being a beautiful and rewarding album to the listener, it was one that helped Sim to confront certain feelings he has about himself. The themes of shame and fear run rampant through the record and as Sim tells us, when we reach him from his home in London, that it was something that was ultimately cathartic to himself.
“It hadn’t been a dream of mine,” Sims explains about going solo. “I think I’d always seen making a solo record as breaking away from the band and I didn’t make this record out of a dissatisfaction from being a part of the xx. I also just never had the nerve. I never thought I could carry the weight of a record on my own. I supposed I just never had the confidence to do it.” When asked what the impetus of his decision to do it, Sim responds, “When we were making the last band record, it was just of the back of Jamie doing his own solo album and that seemed to make our record just so much better. He had learnt so much and came to the band record with so many new ideas and ways to work and I think that was the beginning of Romy and I thinking this is something we should do, almost for the sake of the band, to be better thirds of the band,” he says with a laugh. “It doesn’t have to be ‘going solo’ or apart from the xx really because that is my home, where my heart is.”
When Sim decided that this was something that he wanted to do, he began to reach out to others that he grew up as a fan of, people like legendary Bronski Beat vocalist Jimmy Sommerville who appears on the album, and it showed him that him that him and these people he had admired from afar actually share a lot of common ground. “It is not in my nature to reach out to people,” Sims says with a smile. “I find it really hard and I had the perfect excuse because I was in a band with my two best friends and I never had to. I could be like, ‘I’m good here on my own little island but Romy and Jamie can’t be my only two friends and it’s important that I speak to other people, “Sims explains while chuckling. “When Covid happened, I realized very early on in isolation that I wasn’t doing well. I would think to myself that ‘I got this, I’m good in my own company and I’m going to maximize this creatively’ but it just wasn’t happening. So, I made a conscious effort to start reaching out to people and I wasn’t just emailing people asking that we work together. With me emailing Jimmy Sommerville, it was like, ‘Hey Mr. Sommerville, my name is Oliver and I play in a band and I’m a huge fan, how are you doing?’ with no real agenda, other than that. I came into these conversations with these people with such an idea of who they were. I was like this guy is fearless. He’s done so much, he’s so vocal for activism, not just for queer people, not just for HIV and AIDS but for so many things and I thought, I need some of this fearlessness and when I got to know him he’s just so chill, which makes everything he has done so much meaningful and cool.”
The subject of HIV is one that is close to Sim as he has lived with HIV since he was 17 years old. This bit of information was never common knowledge until the album’s single, “Hideous”, was released. The song starts with Sim singing in the chorus,”Radical honesty/Might set me free/If it makes me hideous/Been living with HIV/Since seventeen/Am I hideous?” “When I wrote “Hideous” my whole intention behind it was like, ‘fuck it’,” Sim explains. “I’ll talk about my HIV status in the song, as a way of announcing to the world of it, then I’m done, it’s out there. My mom, who knows me very well, she knew that that was a fucked up move and she was like, “how about we take some baby steps first because this feels rather drastic” and that’s exactly what I didn’t want to do because that’s a lot more scary but I started having that conversation and the more I did it, it got easier and easier. Then I made a film, the long form video for the song directed b famed French director Yann Gonzalez, and started speaking to journalists so by the time we were releasing “Hideous”, I wasn’t so stressed, it wasn’t some drastic reveal and through all that I found a lot of healing.”
Even throughout his journey, Sim has retained his natural state of playfulness. “I feel like I’ve made an honest record and I feel like it’s meaningful but I didn’t want to present it in this package that was overly earnest. When things shout at me, ‘THIS IS REAL’ shouting ‘THIS IS HONEST’”, Sims says while laughing. “My first reaction is ‘this is some insincere bullshit’. I need fantasy and entertainment to just have it get through my skull and I feel that, throughout it all, I was able to present this with an air of entertainment.” Sim has certainly succeeded in that regard. The newfound solo artist has faced fears and crafted an album that is not only full of fantasy and is entertaining but one that is honest, beautiful and something that will be so well regarded for many years to come.
Order Hideous Bastard by Oliver Sim HERE