“That wasn’t my mum pushing me — that was me pushing my mum,” says the 21-year-old British musician, who recently made his U.S. TV debut on “Saturday Night Live,” soulfully crooning “Stay With Me” and “Lay Me Down” from his upcoming retro-R&B album “In the Lonely Hour.”
“I was very hungry to do something, from a very young age,” adds Smith, who plays San Francisco this week.
He can’t fathom why he was so driven. “I just remember getting very upset when I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was older,” he says.
So he imagined his own glamorous future, then made it happen.
At 12, he was asked by a schoolteacher to make a poster listing things he wanted to accomplish in life, and his classmates laughed at what he wrote.
“But I stuck that poster in my room and I looked at every morning,” he says. “A lot of the things on it have now come true, like: ‘Perform at (London’s) 02 Arena,’ and ‘Have a No. 1 single.’”
Smith theorizes that creative children often get lazy by 18. They downsize grand artistic dreams to simple pleasures, like going clubbing with friends: “Which is fine. But I wanted something more than that,” he says.
After learning jazz techniques from Eden, he studied musical theater and starred in a 2007 U.K. production of “Oh! Carol.”
“Each genre uses voice in a completely different way, so just floating in and out of all those styles really loosened my own,” he says. “And also, I’ve only ever listened to female singers and replicated them. That’s why I can sing so high.”
Soon, Smith’s heavenly tones were logging hits for other outfits, including Disclosure (“Latch”) and Naughty Boy (“La La La”). His presence was so commanding, he won the 2014 BRIT Critic’s Choice Award — plus the BBC’s Sound of 2014 poll — without a full-length album.
“But I work hard at this — I really do,” says the teetotaler, who starts every morning with a 20-minute vocal workout. “But sometimes you get a cold, and there’s just nothing you can do about it.”
Smith just can’t stop. “I think about my career every second of every day, like ‘What’s next?’” he says. He already has conceived the cover art for his sophomore album. “I have to have at least a couple of years ahead planned at all times. It’s a bit weird, actually. Maybe an OCD thing.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Popscene, Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $15 to $17 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.snagtickets.com