In the space of just a few weeks, Scottish postie Nathan Evans has quit his Royal Mail job and signed to Polydor records after storming TikTok with covers of centuries-old sea shanties. In the midst of the viral whirlwind, Kit Sinclair caught up with the internet’s newest sensation.
If you’ve been anywhere near TikTok in the last month – or indeed anywhere near the internet – you’ve probably heard some variation of Wellerman, whether it was a dance remix, an acapella rendition, or a rousing guitar solo. It was all sparked by Nathan Evans, a Scottish musician, and former postman, who published his original cover of Wellerman back at the end of December. Since then, the sea shanty has quickly taken its place in the hall of fame of TikTok trends, and Evans himself has signed a deal with Polydor Records, with whom he’s released a Wellerman single and accompanying EDM remix.
“It’s been an absolute whirlwind,” Evans says. Sitting in his bedroom – where a large poster of the Wellerman album cover takes up most of the back wall – he has the self-effacing, wide-eyed mannerisms of someone who was only a few weeks ago catapulted into stardom from relative obscurity. Which, of course, is exactly what’s happened. “To say now that this is my job and this is what I do… it’s a dream.”
“Everybody can join in and stamp their feet… I think we all need that at the minute.”
Compared to the traditional dance tracks or throwback pop hits that often reach the heady heights of TikTok virality, a New Zealand sea shanty from the 1800s may seem a bizarre addition. But something about Wellerman struck a chord across the globe. Perhaps it was the tune itself (which invitingly leaves room for layers upon layers of harmony), or perhaps it was the sense of community it fosters, of a hopeful stoicism in the face of the world’s challenges. Evans agrees. “It makes everybody happy, everybody can join in, and stamp their feet… I think everybody kinda needs that at the minute as well.” And join in people did. From The 1975’s Matty Healy and Gary Barlow to Andrew Lloyd Webber, everyone wanted a piece of the Wellerman action.
A new side of TikTok was born, focussed on all things sea shanty, dubbed ‘ShantyTok’. Evans mentions an Instagram shoutout from Brian May – with added guitar solo – as one of the craziest things to come out of the video. Although, once I mention his record deal, Evans laughs. “That is also pretty crazy!” It seems like something out of a film, or a childhood daydream. When Polydor first rang to discuss the prospect of a deal, Evans was in the middle of his day job. “The first time I spoke to [Polydor], I was still a postman and walking about with my bag on and I was actually posting mail when my phone started ringing… And then it just kind of went from there.”
Making the decision to move from posting letters to releasing singles may seem like a bold move to some. But for Evans, it seemed the only natural route: “I’m quite spontaneous,” he muses with a chuckle. “I’ve been singing since I was six and playing guitar since I was eight… So there was absolutely nothing that was gonna stop me from taking this [opportunity]. If it all goes wrong, I can go back to doing what I’m doing, but these opportunities don’t come every day. They probably won’t come back around again.” Even discarding that particular leap of faith, his path to stardom hasn’t exactly been straightforward. It’s no secret that the pandemic has forced all musicians to adapt to survive, and Evans is no exception.
Having already been recording TikTok’s in his bedroom, though, he was well prepared. “I have everything I need to record music so I’m always recording,” he explains, gesturing to the room around him. Although, he adds, “it’s been so surreal – I’m doing all this from my room, and then I’m going to the shop and getting recognized.” Having made the transition into music as a full-time career, Evans is hoping to move from sea shanty covers to his own work. You can get a glimpse of what’s to come on his YouTube channel, including a recent original song called Hollywood, a slow indie track very different from the toe-tapping Wellerman. “You’ll soon hear more of my own music,” Evans promises with a smile.
“You see that one comment that’s like ‘this has brightened up my day’ or whatever… that’s why I do this.”
I wonder out loud whether TikTok is going to be the new marketplace for fresh musical talent, and Evans deliberates for a while. “Possibly? I think in the future it could be Instagram, it could be Twitter, it could be YouTube. Social media is becoming that important in everyday life.” That being said, would he advise new artists hoping to break on to the scene to start online? “Yeah, absolutely,” he nods. “If you’re gonna upload, make sure that you stay consistent and just keep doing what you started doing… do it everywhere so that you’re getting as much exposure as you can.”
Evans may be a shining example of overnight internet stardom – “I’m just a normal guy, and these things can happen to anybody” – but he’s quick to point out it’s not an easy road. “The number of things I uploaded onto the internet, I thought, I’m just gonna stop this, I’m just gonna go back to making things in my room.” Perhaps the most striking advantage of social media is the clear links it forges between creator and fan. Even when Evans didn’t feel like his music was reaching anyone – he mentions his early days on the app when he was getting “like, fifty views” compared to Wellerman’s 12.7 million – he always had followers cheering him on.
“You see that one comment that’s like ‘this has brightened up my day’ or whatever the comment is… that’s why I do this.” And now, if you look through the countless videos using Evans’ original video, it’s him leaving encouragement and praise in the comments. Despite his newfound fame, he still seems committed to sharing his music with the world and building a community around it. “I’d be singing in my room anyway,” he explains, laughingly blunt, “so it’d be selfish to keep it to myself.
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