Tom Grennan: "I just channeled my heartache, love, and fresh beginning into the record."
Bronte Evans | 23/06/2020
Tom Grennan’s soulful tones first caught our attention on the Chase & Status track ‘All Goes Wrong’. We were then hit with ‘Lighting Matches’ which went on to be one of the best selling debut albums of 2018. Since then Grennan has been touring the world and working on some incredible new music. As fellow Bedfordian, I have seen directly the impact him and fellow local artist Don Broco, The Scruff and Sarpa Salpa have had on our little town, specifically putting local venue Bedford Esquires (which is where I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time) on the map.
While we were unable to meet up with Tom for this interview, due to increasing lockdown rules, as well as his incredibly packed schedule rehearsing, he graciously answered our questions to show how music has impacted his mental health over the years. Lockdown has given us all a chance to rest, readjust and reset, to examine ourselves and our well being. For many, including myself, it has been a rollercoaster handling all these changes along side struggling with my own mental health issues, so first of all I wanted to check in with Tom and see how he has been coping with this incredibly difficult time.
“On the whole pretty good you know. Being cooped up like an animal initially filled me with dread. But in truth it’s been a nice mental cleanse and I’ve become proactive and focussed.” And after creating a new routine and focus plan it was easier to adjust to the ‘new normal’. But what does he miss most? “friends and family of course. I didn’t realise how much human contact I had until now. I miss hugging my nan and grandad and seeing friends etc. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone.” He tells me he is most looking forward to “a meal with all my nearest and dearest” post the Covid Chaos.
It seems foolish of me to say things are going back to normal as it does feel like we are entering a ‘new way of living’ where the pre-leave patdown now includes a face mask and hand sanitiser as well as your keys, wallet and phone. Life has definitely shifted to say the least. I asked Tom how he is feeling about going back to some sort of normality “It’s like coming up from a deep dive and taking that first breath of air. We take a lot for granted as humans, don’t we. It’s been a good lesson and reset. I feel positive moving forward in every aspect.”
Head Above The Clouds primarily focuses on breaking the stigma around mental illness and being in the music industry can be extremely demanding on our well being. From intense moments of creativity in the formulation of music, to a room full of people and the highs of performance and travelling all hours of the day. Tom kindly opened up with us about his experiences with mental health.
“I’ve had my dark patches over the years. I call it ‘the well’. It kind of hovers around and above me and brings huge anxiety and fear. But it all stems from an attack I sustained when I was 18 outside a takeaway spot in Bedford. I was badly beaten for no reason and ended up in hospital for a week. Then came the anxiety, the fear, the depression, the agoraphobia. With the help of friends, family, music and CT I came through this and now know what to do when the darkness tries to defend from time to time. I talk openly about it and try to help others as they seem to be surprised that someone like me could have suffered in any way. In truth, I think everyone has a patch at some point in their life.”
But it was music and getting into writing and performing that helped him heal the most. “As I previously said, cathartic and life affirming words. It bought solace and focus. And my inner circle as well as the NHS were also an incredible support mechanism to have.”
Lockdown hasn’t just been difficult for us as individuals but our industry as a whole has really been facing its most trying time. Independent venues up and down the country have had their doors closed for months, with no income and no guidance on when or how to reopen. In our shared home town Bedford Esquires is universally loved by patrons wishing to catch a new band on the Main Stage, dance the night away at a classic Pad Club Night or just grab a drink in the Bar. The atmosphere is electric and eclectic and the future generations of musicians in the area would be lost without it. The Save Our Venues campaign is something Tom has been a huge supporter of on social media since it launched and his passion for securing the future of this local institution came up in our chat. “Without them how do we exist? How do we make the mistakes that make us better, how do we road test songs, how do we become the performers we are today, how do we build fanbases? Live music is an incredible release for me and crucial in my story. Without the seed we have no flower.”
The success of Grennan, transcending from local jam nights to sold out stadiums and festival stages, reminds us of the very real importance of going out to engage with and invest in our local music scenes and venues that give artists the platform to begin their musical journey. It is essential that we support these venues at this time more than ever before.
While rehearsing for his return to the stage he and his team have also been planning the release of his second album, which I asked if COVID has also had an effect on. “Well we are still a fair bit off from it being released yet. I’ve been sitting on it now for months and it’s quite frustrating, but to release a record in this climate makes me feel uncomfortable. Once it’s out though it’s going to be special, I’m incredibly proud of that body of work and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.” The release of the singles ‘Oh Please’ and ‘This Is The Place’ earlier on in the year gave us our first snippets into the vibe of this release which comes from a very real, raw place. “I went through a serious break up with someone I truly loved. It was such a hard thing to exercise and divulge the magnitude of. I just channeled my heartache, love, and fresh beginning into the record. It was very cathartic and a blessing in many ways. it’s a love letter and a goodbye letter rolled into one.”
Clearly, lockdown hasn’t put his projects on hold but balancing this work load, a global pandemic and maintaining his mental well-being hasn’t been easy. “Music is my saviour in many ways so everyday I’m working is therapy. I love it, an incredible release on every level.” Lastly we asked Tom for his top tip for looking after mental health and wellbeing . He recommends “exercise, exercise, exercise, good food, good people and positive goals.” We preach that Tom!