Sea Girls: "I made the right decision going to work in music, I don’t know if I’d be happy if I didn’t"
Jade Poulterz | 01/04/2022
The year is 2019 and Sea Girls are being lauded as the best new band in the British indie scene. Henry Camamile (lead vocals, guitar), Rory Young (lead guitar), Andrew Dawson (bass) and Oliver Khan (drums) have graced the lineup of almost every major UK festival, sold out a huge headline tour, and Radio 1 has made hit single “Violet” inescapable. 2020 was set up to be even better, as the boys came home from debut tours of both Europe and the USA their calendar was full with more sold-out shows at the iconic Brixton Academy and Glasgow Barrowlands and main stage slots at Reading and Leeds, TRNSMT and Latitude Festival, not to mention the release of their hotly anticipated album Open Up Your Head planned for the end of summer.
You all know what happened next.
During the first of what felt like a never-ending stream of nationwide lockdowns, Henry found himself back in his teenage bedroom, around his teenage things and teenage friends. After five years of living out on his own, the return felt almost like a regression as he found himself overly reminiscing of a time long lost.
“I moved away, and for several years I didn’t really go back,” to his small hometown in rural Lincolnshire, “at the start, it felt like I was on a big summer holiday which was cool. I liked it, I felt a bit like a kid again. But I did end up comparing my life now to what it was then and who I’ve become through the years.”
Like Henry, I was a small-town kid who moved to the big city with hopes of breaking into the music industry. For me, and many like me, going back home over lockdown while the industry was in limbo meant constantly defending your life choices to those you’d left behind. Be it, friends who’d already bought their first house, family who’d wished you stayed close by and got a normal 9-5, or parents who just really, really wanted grandchildren, it could feel like our decisions were endlessly scrutinised.
Many people haven’t returned to the music industry as it starts to get back on its feet, the comfortability and reliability of a traditional steady income in different fields have pulled them away. But if going back home set in stone anything for him it was his unbridled passion for a life on the road.
“I made the right decision going to work in music, I don’t know if I’d be happy if I didn’t. It’s f*cking amazing that it actually happened if I’m honest, I can’t believe it. I mean I can believe it because I always thought it could happen, but I still couldn’t believe it when it did because It was such a big dream if you know what I mean.
I remember when I was younger and living at home that I just wanted to f*cking get out, I wanted to see the world, experience life on tour and only come home for maybe two weeks a year. Kind of like that dream we are sold in films about being in bands, I wanted that rush of life ever-changing and always being in different places. It was nice to have this kind of holiday, but I love the job I have and I’m lucky to have it”
Any niggling feelings of “what could have been” are pushed away he tells me, as are the pressures to compare and value his life based on traditional milestone achievements.
“You know everyone is doing life differently, and while it can feel that everyone is at this different, further ahead, stage of life, not everybody is. I have friends who are moving in with girlfriends and buying houses, and I’m like ‘cool, good for them’ but I’m also cool right now too. Maybe I do sometimes experience these huge existential worries but I push them out because making it with the band and what’s going on right now in my life is a great compensator. You’ve just gotta pick the route that’s right for you, and I like being in the music industry, I like spending all summer at festivals, I like escaping that kind of ‘everyday’ life.”
Returning to his hometown brought up all these big existential questions about place and identity which ultimately formed the narrative of this new record. Written from his very first day back at home the album tracks the journey of a young man seeking himself, who must return to his past in order to move forward with a new sense of self-awareness and enlightenment. So before we moved ahead and discussed this set of songs, I wanted to travel back and assess the ones that came before.
Henry is known to be an unapologetically vulnerable and self-deprecating songwriter, across Sea Girls’ entire discography he allows fans deep into the darkest places of his mind. Debut album Open Up Your Head jumped - headfirst - into feelings of arrested development, heartbreak, dependency and depression, travelling through them and coming back out the other side better for it. I asked Henry how he felt within himself after he put the pen down on that chapter.
“There were a lot of years in that first album. It’s a huge spectrum of being right in the thick of confusion and pain but just not addressing it. Lyrically at that time, I’d just always write about things that were bugging me, those sort of deep-seated problems. Music has always been the place I went to address these issues, so those feelings are all in there but maybe I tried to be a bit cryptic about it. I was, and still am, really happy with it and what I put into it.”
I asked because Homesick takes listeners on a similar path, only this time it feels bigger. The anguish and pain feel deeper, the stakes feel higher, and the hope feels brighter than they did last time around. I wondered if Open Up… was just Henry scratching the surface of those thoughts and feelings and Homesick a more developed understanding of them.
“You’re right, I did go into things more this time because I did feel some things had been left unresolved. Because I was writing in lockdown I also had a lot of time to reflect and gather my thoughts around what had happened, what I have been through and what we have been through as a band. I could better address my state of mind and I found more clarity. I understood who I was a bit more than I did a year ago.
There’s a lot of ‘understanding’ on this record. Understanding my situation, understanding my feelings. I felt the feelings deeper because I had more time to think about them and more time to feel them, instead of being on this crazy, million miles an hour ride. While that life is very emotive and good for music, this extra time allowed me to really double down lyrically.”
But Henry also opened up about how two major traumatic events and his response to them pushed this record further than he had ever gone before.
“A family friend had died in between the writing of the two albums and it made me think a lot more deeply about my experiences and informed my understanding of them better. I had this new intense feeling of not wanting to die, of wanting to be alive.” It’s a feeling he channelled into the writing of ‘Hometown’ a track dedicated to those people we knew growing up who are no longer with us. It’s memento mori in lyrical form. A reminder to create good memories, and choose life while you still have it. “I wanted to write something very respectful for them,” he says before changing the subject.
Henry also explains how his recovery from a painful injury continued to influence and direct the narrative of this record. “I was in a bad patch which was still largely compounded by my head injury”, one sustained after hitting his head on a pub cellar door, but his refusal to seek instant medical treatment left him with Post-Concussive Syndrome and its lasting psychological side effects.
For a long time, he tells me he refused to take his pain seriously, instead choosing to distract himself with the hedonistic “Rock ’n’ Roll” lifestyle the band had been invited into and developed a dependency on alcohol and drugs to get by.
“I’m not like the f*cking wildest guy in the world, and people shouldn’t assume that I am, but at that time I was super depressed, like, at my very worst and I wasn’t trying anything other than that to get through it.” His struggles with dependency are chronicled across the album, tracks “Again Again”, “Paracetamol Blues” and “I Got You” the most obvious references to this dark time. But lead single “Sick” teased at a new beginning, one where a sober and grown-up Henry acknowledges and owns his faults, aware they’ve made him who he is and determined to get better, move forward and grow up.
“I’m a lot better now, I’ve definitely found healthier ways to cope with sh*t,” I asked what his new coping mechanisms were. “Talking more. I am way more open now, if I’m down I address it, to myself, to my friends, in therapy that works for me. I didn’t share with my family how I felt for years and the difference between opening up to those close to me and keeping it all on my chest … made a world of difference.
You know, I used to think growing up was suffering, that things just got worse and adult life is nothing but pain. I used to think like f*ck growing up because it only felt like becoming more and more unhappy. For a while, I just put up with that, grinned and bore it but I shouldn’t have, and nobody should. That’s something I’ve realised, you can’t and you will not solve all your problems by pushing them away and trying to forget them on a night out. I’ve done a lot of different stuff trying to find ways to deal with it all, and most of it worked. I know it’s a cliche but I got into sport, which I love, so instead of partying I get into a workout.
So I’d tell people going through sh*t just to try and be open with themselves and with other people and address their issues. Because you can address and change the things that don’t work in your life, you can make life work for you. You can always shift perspectives because now I am living almost the exact same life now as I was back then, but I am so much happier. I know that can feel like an impossibility but it’s not impossible”.
I asked if after discovering the importance of openness in his personal life, he felt more of a push to be open in his songs.
“I feel like it is important to share, I don’t necessarily feel a responsibility, I don’t want to use that word, but as someone who is in the public eye in a way, who has people that listen to my songs, I understand how powerful it is when someone shares something and you’re going through it as well. I remember when I was feeling down, I watched Tyson Fury come back from his time away and that gave me a bit of strength if I’m being honest. So I do think it’s important, and I don’t feel any shame about it, I don’t think anyone should.”
Something incredibly apparent whether you’re at a Sea Girls show or just scrolling through their social media pages is how incredibly strong the bond between band and fans is. They are front and centre of the band’s mini-documentary which follows their sold-out gig at London’s Brixton academy back in October of last year, and as I watched the screaming girls on shoulders and T-shirts fly through the air, one quote particularly stuck with me. “Sea Girls are my safe place”.
“It was quite touching to hear that on the documentary. I do think our shows are a very positive place and we always make a point at the beginning of shows to create that safe space and make sure people know no one gets f*cked around with here. If you come to our shows to cause a bad time, then you shouldn’t be there. But our fans aren’t like that, our fans are f*cking great.
“We do get a lot of people coming up to us after shows who really connect with the music, but we do try not to get too into it there as we want the gigs to just be good feelings, you know. It’s on social media where people do really share with us stuff they’ve gone through and that’s the great thing about social media, you can find that community and that support and there is a lot of openness within our fans, they are there for almost anything.
That relationship between us and them has always felt quite natural because we’ve done it together. We are so grateful because we couldn’t be putting on Ally Pally without them showing up for us all the time, so we give them a lot of credit. Our manager even said that we’ve got such great, great fans, and sometimes I don’t know why that is, why us? But we have a good time together.”
Throughout lockdown the boys made it their mission to continue nurturing that relationship, letting their fans know that the love and support goes both ways. From Netflix parties so well attended that they took down the apps server, to SGOGSundays where fans’ stories are shared worldwide they are almost always in constant connection with their core supporters. In fact a few weeks ago on Blue Monday, the group opened the phone lines so they could have a chat and check in with them all.
“We had the phones going for about an hour and a half, I don’t know how many calls we got through, but we had so many great conversations. I just wanted to do something fun on a gloomy day that people could feel a part of, so everything was very upbeat. I got to speak to a good few people and pretty much laughed the whole time. It was a really good mood on that day.”
“I’m not talking too much about the album in this interview am I” he laughs “but I don’t really want to push it that much, this being a mental health publication.” It’s fine I had plenty of questions about the album I tell him.
“Now, I don’t know if I’m forcing my life into your words here -” I begin before he cuts me off.
“You can do that, that’s the whole point! I want people to take anything from a song, you know, just connect to it. I don’t give a sh*t if someone says ‘oh I think this was written about that’ if you feel there’s a bit of truth in a line that speaks to you then great.”
But not wanting to make this all about me, I asked him what his feelings on this new collection of songs were and what narrative he was trying to tell.
“Homesick means you belong somewhere. So for me, it was about finding a sense of belonging and an exploration of like, who do I belong with? Who are my friends? Who shaped me? Where am I from? What has influenced me? What movement are we heading towards as a band? It’s definitely about finding identity.
There is a lot of clarity in this album, clarity about confusion. I think as you keep growing you become more and more aware of who you are so it’s fine that now I am not totally aware of who I am, that I’m confused all the time. That’s normal. I’m just about trying to move towards it, trying to find it and I’m happier doing that. And that’s good mental health-wise because you have to find that stuff out and understand why you do that. We are all just changing people, you shouldn’t worry about who you were five years ago. A Lot of the songs on the album are about that, “Lonely” is very much about that”
Before we wrapped up, as Henry had to jet off for rehearsals for the band’s upcoming European tour, he wanted to pass on one last message to you all.
“If you think that something is hurting you, if you think you are mentally hurting, then you are. Don’t invalidate your feelings. I used to deny that to myself all the time, I didn’t believe I deserved to feel that way, that I was too young to feel that way. I didn’t use to think I was valid, I didn’t trust my feelings, I thought they were fake and that’s a big thing that stopped me from getting help. It was an incredibly toxic place to be in.
If you think that something is wrong, take it seriously and look after yourself, and allow yourself to be looked after. You need to give yourself some credit. You deserve to. It is valid, you are valid.”
Sea Girls’ new album Homesick is available to pre-order now, and own and stream from March 25th. Tickets for their UK tour in November are also on sale now.
17 November – Rock City, Nottingham
18 November – O2 Academy 1, Birmingham
19 November – O2 Academy, Glasgow
22 November – University Great Hall, Cardiff
23 November – O2 Guildhall, Southampton
25 November – Alexandra Palace, London
26 November –Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
Words: Jade Poulterz