LIVE REVIEW: TOM GRENNAN @ ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL
There is something to be said for boozy karaoke. Sans inhibition, it might give you the liquid courage to belt out your favorite song confidently. But more than likely, your drunk rendition gets you a high five from an over supportive friend or a sad bout of slow clapping echoing in a near-empty bar, because you, like me, are not Bedford bred, London-based, 21-year-old singer-songwriter, Tom Grennan. If you were, a lush rendition of The Kook’s “Seaside” in front of friends coupled with the morning after the realization that you had what it takes to pursue a career in music, could lead to a debut album.
With his recent singles, “Royal Highness,” and “I Might,” Grennan comfortably shifts between upbeat pop sensibilities, and raspily sung soulful lyrics. Those sneak peeks of his debut full length, Lighting Matches, have spurred a range of positive yet contradictory definitions of his sound; think grungy pop, upbeat vulnerability, or electric performances of sensitive songwriting. Those denotations may be perplexing, but paradoxes seem to be Grennan’s sweet spot. A month before his first LP release, he shares how the theme of maturing ties together the songs in his record, his desire to ignite feelings that won’t burn out, and how transmuting traumatic experiences into healing music is cool as fuck.
I know your friends put you on to singing after a very promising karaoke cover of The Kooks “Seaside,” but outside of that, what pushed you to pursue a career in music?
At first, it was just a bit of fun, but I was like yeah, cool – I like it. What happened was in that moment I was like, life’s too short, I want to take this seriously and I feel like I got the talent to do it. I got attacked where I’m from in my hometown in Bedford. I had my jaw broken, which put me in hospital for like two or three weeks with my jaw plated and screwed. So, all that craziness was happening, and I was like life’s way too short to think about not taking this talent seriously. Then a family member of mine died, who was the same age as me. He was my cousin and one of my best mates as well. And I was like, life’s just too short to think about anything else. I want to pursue this, I want to carry it on and see where it goes, and I want to experience everything I can fully experience. If music can bring me in a path of experiencing, then why not take the risk of doing it?
Do you feel like working on your music and your new album has allowed you to heal from some of those experiences?
Yeah, definitely. At first when I was writing songs, I wasn’t thinking about anyone because nothing was happening and I was just in my bedroom. I had these things happen, so for me [writing music] was like a mechanism to find peace and to find a bit of healing. For my mind to be at rest a little bit. To be able to write an album and for other people to take my songs and have their own experiences with my songs and get messages from them saying the songs have helped them heal, or have helped them get through traumatic times, or helped them to become happier, or helped them feel anything – for my experiences to help other people in their own way, is cool as fuck. I love it.
Let’s talk about your debut album, Lighting Matches. What influenced the album name and what’s the overall message of the album?
The album name came out from the sense of igniting a feeling that hopefully won’t burn out. It’s the start of hopefully a long career for me. I just felt the title, Lighting Matches, when you spark a match it’s creating a flame, and that’s what I want to do with my music, is create a flame and pass the flame on.
Your albums and songs have a wide range sonically, which makes them hard to fit neatly into one genre. Is that at all intentional?
I don’t think about genre. I’m into so many different kinds of music, and so many different things as well to have just one avenue of music. Maybe one day I’ll have a straight pop sound but when I was creating it I was in a whirlwind. My mind was in a different wavelength from what it has ever been, so I was just coming out with anything and everything. I was just experimenting, and it’s gone through all sorts of doors and windows.
Did you choose the songs for Lighting Matches with one connecting theme in mind?
I wasn’t really thinking about this, but I’ve sat down and listened to it a few times. For me it’s going from being a late teenager to the age I am now, it’s like the path of maturity. The space of four years. Everyone when they grow up, they mature. I’m still young, so when I say my young self, I sound like an idiot but, but I mean taking my young self to this. I’m on a road of longevity, and hopefully a road of success, and I’m on a road with my fans as well.
There’s been a lot of anticipation for your album. Are you nervous at all about those expectations?
It makes me excited. I have this thing about me where I’m competitive. When I hear their expectations it makes me want it even more. It makes me want it even more for them. People might be like, “this isn’t what we thought,” but in myself I know how good it is. I’m excited. I’m nervous as well, it’s my first album. I’m excited, I’m nervous, but I’m just having fun and the whole thing was fun to make. I’m blessed in that sense.
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