“I wanted to show people that I’m not just a voice on a track…” - hmv.com talks to Tom Grennan
Arriving into public consciousness as the voice on a hit dance track has been a well-trodden and rather successful path for new artists in recent years. Before Jess Glynne was hanging around with Clean Bandit, she was providing vocals for Route 94, before Anne-Marie dropped ‘Alarm’, she’d collaborated extensively with Rudimental, and even Sam Smith cut his teeth with Disclosure before launching his own career.
Next in line is 23-year-old Tom Grennan, the voice on Chase & Status’s ‘All Goes Wrong’. That track led the campaign for their 2017 album Tribe and the video has notched up almost 11 million views on YouTube. It established Grennan as a voice to be heard, earned him a spot on the BBC’s Sound of 2017 list and now attention turns to his own career.
For his debut album Lighting Matches, Grennan and his management have brought out the big guns, with Stormzy/Adele key man Fraser T Smith and Athlete frontman and George Ezra mentor Joel Pott among the production talent included.
As Lighting Matches arrives on shelves, we spoke to Grennan about making the LP, penning over 100 songs and why he was adamant there would be no guests on his album...
How long have you been collecting songs for? Are the songs that have made this album from a long period of your life? Or are they more recent?
“More recent. I started from the day I signed my record deal, from that moment on I felt like I had the space and the time to really write songs. Before that I was at university, I didn’t really have time to focus on the craft of songwriting. The songs are pretty recent.”
Has the way you’ve written songs evolved?
“I have to really dive into myself to make these songs and to me, they feel very mature. These songs are songs that come from my life, from my youth and my childhood. I’ve always written songs, but not with much confidence and without really digging deep. For this album I’ve gone ‘F**k it’, I’m going in deep.”
You’ve got some big collaborators on there, Fraser T. Smith, Joel Pott, were these people you wanted to work with? Or were they suggested to you?
“I’ve got a really sick A&R and a really sick manager, they know everything, they knew all the right producers. I didn’t really know anything about producers. I made a list of songs I liked, I didn’t know where they came from, I didn’t know who Fraser T. Smith or Jimmy Hoggarth were. I gave my team the songs and they went out and got them.”
Did you enjoy collaborating with producers for the album?
“I knew they were legends in the game, so I was over the moon, I know these songs wouldn’t be half as good without their input. I love working with other people, two brains are always better than one. I’ve had geniuses working on my stuff, it’s pretty mental, considering how quickly it’s happened.”
Did you write a lot of songs for the album?
“I had well over a 100 songs to pick through. I had some really hard decisions to make. I wanted it to feel like a collection, the songs to feel right for this stage of my career. Some big guns have been left behind, it’s been a hard thing to do.”
Most people will know you from your collaborations with Chase & Status and Bugzy Malone, but you’ve not got any guests on the album. Was that something you wanted? To do your own thing?
“100%. I didn’t want any features on the album, I wanted it to be just me. I wanted to show people that I’m not just a voice on a track, not just a featured artist. I’m my own artist and I feel good about the decision. Maybe in the future, I’ll do it, but right now I wanted to stand alone and have this be my time.”
What kind of record is this lyrically? Is there a theme to the album?
“I don’t think so. The songs feel pretty separate, if you’re looking at the record as a whole, I think the things that holds the songs together is maturity. It’s a record that took me on a journey of maturity. There’s no theme to the album, but the songs get maturer and deeper into my story as you get into them. This is me becoming a young man.”
How are lyrics for you? Are you writing all the time? Or do you need a melody to work to?
“I’m really dyslexic, so when I’m writing lyrics it’s more about hearing certain phrases or finding cool words and jotting them down. I sit with lyrics and try and find a melody in them.”
Was the album always going to be called Lighting Matches?
“No, not always. I wrote the song and it just felt right. I didn’t want to name the album after a song, but the name just worked. My career is getting lit, I don’t want the flame to burn out and lighting a match is more crafty than anything else. It works and it felt right.”
You’ve got a big tour booked for the autumn, including a headline show at Brixton Academy, you must be excited about that...
“I’m buzzing about it, it’s been my dream to play there. I remember taking my mum to watch Hozier play there and dreaming about playing there, now it’s happening. I’m excited for the whole tour, but Brixton is the big one.”
How’s your live band coming together?
“I’ve got a wicked band. Two drummers, guitars, strings, brass, backing singers, it’s a big sound, we make a lot of noise.”
Finally, you said you had over 100 songs for this album, do you think you’ll go back to them for your next record?
“I don’t know man, I’m not too sure. When the time comes to move on, I might. I know some of those songs are good, not all of them, but some of them. When it comes to working on new stuff, we’ll have to see where my story is. My whole life could change in the next year and those songs won’t mean f**k all to me. We’ll have to find out…”