Hannah George | 20/08/2023
Singer-songwriter Tom Speight teases his new album Love and Light by sitting with HATC to discuss the creative process behind his music, from his early inspirations to finding new autonomy as an artist. In this stripped-back interview, Speights reveals many trials and tribulations he has experienced since the beginning of his music career, unveiling themes of love and loss, all wrapped up in folky, pop goodness.
Speight's passion for creating music is evident in his own words: "I never had a B plan, you know. It was always music." he elaborates "music was the only thing I felt kind of semi-good at really, I never had a B plan. And I never had a like get-out. I had to succeed. It always made me happy."
Tom told me how his passion for music came about, unveiling one of his favourite artists as a child, which may seem surprising. "Ever since I was like eight years old artists like the Spice Girls inspired me. I'm just a huge music fan. Some of my happiest memories of growing up as a kid are going to HMV and getting a cassette. My mum would go food shopping, and I'd sit in the car in the car park, just listening to music. And I remember I listened to Spice Girls "Wanna Be" the singles -there are only two songs on it, and I had it on loop about 26 times."
Speight's music lives within the folky, pop realm and has a somewhat 'independent' sound. I wondered if this was something Tom had curated, how much autonomy he had over his art, and what his creative process looked like.
"I'm very driven, and it's good and bad. Sometimes, I'm too driven, where I want to do everything, and someone has to say, No, Tom, take a step back. But I've enjoyed being an independent artist. If I were signed to a major label, with my health, it wouldn't be possible, like the stress and all that kind of stuff. The label I'm with supports my health, and they never pushed me too much where it was unrealistic; it's always me who's driving it. When I was in hospital for two months, my manager would come in, and he'd be like, you know, get better. That's the main thing. And I'd be like, ah, but what about this? And what about this? I was just super stressed and worried about letting other people down. And so, in some ways, I'm my own worst enemy in that respect. But being an independent artist in 2023 is a great thing. It's quite liberating to record a song that way using tools like Spotify. Then, one month later, it can be online, and people from Brazil can listen and absorb it. I think that's pretty incredible."
Hearing Tom open up about how his health has impacted his life, I wanted to know more about what living with Crohn's as a musician is like for him. In a candid response, Speight said, "I think, around me, apart from my family, everyone had no understanding of Crohn's. When I stopped drinking and wouldn't eat certain things, they'd say, you're just being difficult. Like, when you are on a stag do, and you say, I'm not drinking; it's bollocks views like that at the end of the day, to be honest. But when I was diagnosed, I was in denial for a couple of years until it got to the point where I would end up in hospital. When you’re 20 minutes from dying, you begin to think, "This is a wake-up call; I need to sort my life out and take control of this disease. But it's been a journey. And I think that anyone who’s got any form of chronic illness including mental health or anything like that, you're going to go through that wave or journey, both through the good and bad times. I think you've just got to realise with Crohn's especially, you'll have moments of good and bad health, and each one will pass into a new phase. It’s just about learning how to cope with the expectations and managing the process."
Tom's optimistic ways of coping with his struggles are evident in his music, always maintaining that balance between the good and the bad. Tom tells me how staying present and grateful is critical, stating he ‘feels blessed and grateful’ that he gets to make music. "When it was quiet, I was craving for it to be busy. So, I am just thankful that I had a more stable period and that I've got my health at the minute."
Tom tells me how living with Crohn's has enabled him to possess this optimistic perspective regarding how he lives and puts himself out there. ‘I played on a tube, like just got on the tube with me and my band. And we sang. I texted my manager the footage afterwards, and he said, God, you got some balls. I was just like, fuck it, man. Do you know what I think? I think with Crohn's, It gives you that perspective. I think life is short. And I think you realise everyone's in their head anyway. So I think we're all quiet. We're all part of our movie; everyone else falls into the background. So, why not do your own thing?”'
Wanting to know more about his transition into working as a full-time musician, Tom unveiled his journey into the industry and becoming an overnight—success from working in a frozen food store to hitting number 1 in Brazil. Tom tells me, "I was working at Cook. I released a song with just me and my manager, no label, nothing. It went viral and went number one in Brazil. Within about two weeks of its release, I had gone from zero listeners because it's the first song I'd ever released to a million streams in a week, which is crazy. That's unbelievable for an unsigned artist. So, on the one hand, I was getting number one in Brazil.
On the other hand, I was defrosting a frozen fridge. So that was the start of everything. It then got to the stage where Graham Norton was playing the track, and the song was being played on Sunday brunch, EastEnders, and all these things spiralled into a new world. I eventually did leave the frozen food shop about a month later. But it's been a weird journey alongside a dose of imposter syndrome, in my head thinking they'll catch me out any minute and kick me out of this club. But I'm trying to enjoy as much as possible."
In anticipation of his latest album, I asked Tom how he felt about the release and the creative process.
"I'm enjoying it more than ever. I’m enjoying recording and the process that comes with it. I feel more confident. And this album was the most enjoyable experience recording. I recorded in Rak Studios for the first two weeks with my best mate, Rich, a producer. And that was the best two weeks ever. Songs like "Trick of the Light" were recorded, which is my favourite song on the record. I feel like I'm finding my feet, and I hope it does well so I can make another one. That's the scary part. But, you know, we've had many good things happen with it, lots of support. And things are going well. So that's exciting to me. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Well, we certainly look forward to hearing it!
Words Hannah George
Photography Jack Williams
Styling Alice Gee
Assistant Ellie Fryer