A selection of articles from all our issues - go to 'The Magazine' to read them all, including exclusive interviews from Aston Barrett Jr., Niko Moon, Serena Ryder, Canaan Smith and many more...
Few bands have instigated the level of multi-generational adulation that the Eagles have built over the past five decades. The frontrunners of California’s easy-rock hey-day, despite an ever-changing line-up, the band’s sprawling list of hits continues to stand the test of time.
Increasingly, at the start of my articles I seem to find myself making a confession about my (worryingly large) musical blindspots, which is always a promising start for someone who claims to be a music critic.
I’m afraid to say this will be no different. Before the last couple of years, my main interaction with the sonic delights of the Eagles was when, as a child, I would play ‘Hotel California’ on Guitar Hero. And 10-year-old me would crush it, I might add.
Fast forward to my final years at University, and my tired, coursework-clogged brain started to find some respite amidst the laid-back harmonies of songs like ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’. So when the opportunity arose to see the Eagles at British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park this summer, I was excited, but in all honesty I was looking forward to the Country opening acts - the likes of Cam, Little Big Town and Morgan Wade - just as much as the headliners.
When the day finally came, the sun was beating down and there was an electric buzz rippling through the thousands of festival-goers. The long, Hawaiian-shirt-speckled expanse of Hyde Park was cushioned by colourful, eclectic lines of food and drink stalls, all built to appear like Mediterranean bistros and villas.
Cam kicked off proceedings with a high-energy set that showcased her stellar vocals, with plenty of friendly intermissions to chat with the crowd. Little Big Town then took it up a notch, stringing together fun, anthemic hits such as ‘Pontoon’ and ‘Boondocks’, before stripping it back with their Taylor-Swift-penned ‘Better Man’. Morgan Wade reeled through tracks from her critically acclaimed 'Wilder Days' album on the smaller stage, drawing a keen audience, but her performance could have been buoyed if she’d taken note of Cam’s personableness and had taken more time to interact with the crowd. Richard Plant and Allison Krauss, the final openers before the headline slot, were charming as they serenaded the Hyde Park crowd with their sweet euphonies about love and friendship.
However, throughout all of the opening performances, it became increasingly clear that the crowd was there primarily for one artist and one artist alone: the Eagles. Billed as their final UK show ever, the anticipation was that this was set to be a special night.
And boy, did they deliver. As a self-confessed passing fan, rather than being one of the many leather-wearing, 70s-merch-donning Eagles aficionado in the crowd, I was expecting to enjoy the handful of songs I knew, and then perhaps feel a little out-of-place when they moved through their other material.
But from the moment they walked onto the Great Oak Stage, you couldn’t help but feel lifted and energised by the electricity that surged through the crowd. The band’s cool charisma was undeniable, and they showed their class in the way they commanded the stage without the need for any gimmicks, glitz or glamour. At risk of descending into over-sentimentality, there was something pure about the performance, as though they were transporting us back to a time when music was just about, well, the music, without any of today’s social-media-pandering and artificiality.
As sacrilegious as it might sound, before BST I hadn’t heard hits such as ‘Lyin’ Eyes’, ‘Heartache Tonight’, ‘The Best Of My Love’ or ‘Take It To The Limit’. Yet by the time the final chorus rolled around, I was singing along at the top of my lungs with everyone else. The latest band line-up featured Country veteran Vince Gill and even included a surprise appearance from Deacon Frey, the son of former frontman, Glenn Frey, who died in 2016. Deacon has been touring with the Eagles for a while, but announced earlier this year that he was leaving to focus on solo material, so his reuniting with the band brought a welcome sense of familiarity and warmth. Tennis icon John McEnroe’s invitation to play guitar towards the end of the set was a little more random, but hey, I guess when you’ve sold over 200 million records you’ve earned the right to bring your famous friends out on stage with you.
Don Henley assumed the lead on the chat in-between songs, dropping a big hint that this really would be their last time on British soil. Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh brought immense gravitas, especially when Walsh stormed into a mesmerising vocal-distorter solo. As they all stood side by side, staring out into the Hyde Park sunset, they had an undeniable gravitas that seems to separate the great artists from the legends.
What made the experience all the more memorable was the good-natured feel of the crowd. Every now and then during the performance, I’d cast my eyes down to an elderly couple a few places in front of us, and it was genuinely heartwarming to see the sheer jubilation etched on both their faces as they sang every word as loud as they could. There were plenty of others just like them, who, as soon as the music started, seemed to radiate this sense of youthfulness and joy.
As well as a new identity as a fully converted Eagles fan - minus the head-to-toe leather - I left Hyde Park with the memory of all those happy, older fans that seemed to connect with a part of them that had long been buried beneath the expectations of age. It reminded me that, no matter how old we are, I think we are all deep down still the same childish, fun-loving person we were when we were first exploring world and creating the soundtrack of our youth.
It gave me a newfound resilience - no matter how serious and sobering we are expected to become as we grow older - to never lose that sense of wide-eyed, child-like excitement about the things we love. I can only hope, when I’m attending Kenny Chesney’s farewell concert as a 70-year-old (come on Kenny, you can make it to 100), that I embody the same unabashed, unrestricted sense of zest and youth as I sing along to every single word. Well, every single word that my ageing memory will be able to offer me.
I've always considered myself too cynical to be religious. Even as a kid at a Christian school I always listened to tales from the Bible with doubts in the back of my mind. It is also very easy to look back over the years at the countless human conflicts and attribute many of them to religion; it never made sense to me that people would kill each other over which of their gods (both of whom usually condemned killing) was real. With that being said, religion has always peaked my interest. I studied philosophy and ethics at A level and always found it fascinating to see how religion plays a part in the everyday ethical and moral make up of people.
Despite my doubts I've never questioned why people are religious though. I think it makes a lot of sense. The pride, the belonging and the faith. What I'm most envious of though is the absolute belief in Christianity that everything forms a part of God's larger plan.
"I can't do this on my own"
I've written articles before about being lost in life; at an age where it feels like I should have achieved a lot more, or have much clearer ideas on what I'd be doing in the rest of my life. There's so much pressure on people from a young age to pursue big career goals and for a lot of us it isn't always that simple. I seem to spend a majority of my life trying to make decisions and changing my mind. Where I will live, what I will do and how long I'll do it for are just constant questions that float around in my brain. I often find it difficult to relax just trying to constantly plan and control everything. This is why I envy Christians. How freeing, to wholeheartedly believe and understand that whatever may occur God has a plan in place. To know that you're not alone in what you're going through and that God is on your side, putting all the pieces together to form the end result of your life. For us humans the future can be really scary, it's the unknown and we can spend far too long worrying about it but it is reassuring to believe that actually it isn't the complete unknown, God decided long ago what the path was for us. In this way then life is less like tetris, frantically throwing together random pieces and trying to make it work, but more like a jigsaw puzzle. The final image is already within the pieces, we just need to put them together. I've written in the past about not spending too long worrying about the destination because we forget to enjoy the journey, but if you believe the destination is pre planned and waiting for you then surely you can't help but relax and enjoy the ride.
"I feel good sometimes I don't"
There is more that this belief in God's plan can do for us though. Not only will it allow us to focus on ourselves and enjoy our life as it comes, it will also allow us to deal with hardships. One of my favourite ever things to watch is Last Chance U on Netflix, and particularly the Basketball edition. The filming of this series takes place in LA and follows Christian coach John Moseley and his community college team. During the filming of the series the tragic death of Kobe Bryant occurs and being basketball players based in LA you can imagine how devastated the students were to hear the news. From this though arises what for me is a beautiful moment in which coach Mosely assures one of his students that actually Heaven for us is the destination, it is where we want to be, and that we shouldn't be feeling bad for Bryant because he's had the chance to get there. From what are completely tragic circumstances it was so empowering to see how belief had allowed for this positive spin. Of course it doesn't make the news any less sad but it just takes some of that weight off.
The idea that you can go through life and face whatever adversity that hits you but be able to confidently conquer it all safely with the knowledge that it's all part of God's wider plan is astonishing to me. Often when we go through times of trouble the first question on people's lips is 'why?' however for Christians this isn't something that needs to be asked. As I mentioned before I'm not exactly a religious person but I do appreciate what it does for people who are part of that community. I also think that's the absolute belief that whatever happens is part of God's wider plan, and that whatever adversity we face is all for a part of something, for a reason, is something that for atheists like myself can't really be replicated. As I think to my life now, the rut I seem to be stuck in, and my dad passing, I can't help but wonder that these moments would have been somewhat easier to deal with if I felt there was some divine reason, that it would all be worth it or that no matter how bad it feels now ultimately it's going to lead to some good, whether that's 10 days or 10 years from now. Of course I'm not under the illusion that life is any easier, or that pain is less painful for those who do believe, but more that these things will be conquered more easily safe in the knowledge that God has your back.
The heatwave has given a new lease of life to the usually mud-splattered UK festival season, and with a range of exciting tours planned for Autumn, we've compiled a bucket-list of songs that are best experienced in either a sweltering, summer park, a crammed, sweaty theatre or a massive, Friday-night stadium. David & Maxim
10. Hey Baby - DJ Otzi
Bringing the cheese in with this classic kids’ birthday party anthem – I’m pulling from personal experience when adding this to my list for crowd songs. The catchy melody and the fact that everyone knows the lyrics make it ideal for huge crowds to sing along too. When in a stadium for a concert myself I remember music playing to warm up the crowd just before the first artist came on stage. When ‘Hey Baby’ was played thousands of people were singing in perfect unison and the iconic ‘Ooh, Aah’ echoed and resonated beautifully under the roof of the stands. It’s probably not the type of song you’d expect to find on this list but I challenge any of you to listen and not sing along – times that by 70,000 people and you have a special atmosphere. DD
9. Grace Kelly - MIKA
I had the pleasure of seeing MIKA at Sadler’s Wells as part of his ‘Boy Who Knew Too Much’ tour, and this intimate setting gave him the perfect opportunity to showcase the full range of his dexterous vocals on ballads such as ‘Happy Ending’ and ‘Billy Brown’. However, despite it not being an arena-crowd, when he launched in the trademark ‘Grace Kelly’ opening, the whole theatre was rocking. It’s easy to forget about MIKA when we think about the great pop performers, but he had a rare stage presence that could ooze confidence and charisma one minute, and then draw this back into a tender, self-effacing humility the next. MM
8. Nonstop - Drake
Using the opportunity to get in a brag here – I’m speaking from personal experience yet again with this one. This song is one of the best from Drake’s ‘Scorpion’ album – a huge compliment given the array of classics on there. Whilst it isn’t one with a catchy melody that will have everyone singing along the driving energy of the beat and the memorable rap will be enough to get the place pumping. When I was lucky enough to accompany Maxim to see Drake live at the O2 in London this song was one of the standout moments – really pumping the crowd up early in the set. Whilst I do enjoy the softer side that Drake has taken on recently sometimes you just can’t beat his darker stuff, and ‘Nonstop’ is one of the absolute best in this category. DD
7. Goosebumps - Travis Scott
It’s impossible to think of a Travis Scott performance without your mind immediately turning to the Astroworld Festival tragedy last year, which saw ten fans lose their lives in a crowd crush. He’s started easing his way back into live performances with his two recent UK shows at the O2, which have only amplified the anticipation surrounding his upcoming album, ‘Utopia’. Before he was selling out the O2, I was fortunate enough to see Travis at Birmingham off the back of his mercurial, hypnotic ‘Birds In the Trap’ album, which remains one of my all-time favourite projects. The atmosphere was sizzling and his on-stage energy completely matched the cavernous, live-Auto-Tuned howls that echoed out around the venue. He closed the set by performing his smash hit ‘Goosebumps’ multiple times, and yet somehow it still didn’t feel long enough. At one point, he even ended up climbing and dangling from one of the stage-side pillars - the whole set was pure, electrifying theatre. MM
6. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
What an absolute banger this song is. Most people know it for the iconic bass and guitar section two thirds of the way through but actually sometimes I think this takes away from how good the rest of the song is. Fleetwood Mac are on my bucket list for people I’d love to see live (however I do think I may have missed my chance) and this song is a big part of the reason why. The melody is catchy and easily singable and the song builds and builds to the iconic climax. I can just imagine the atmosphere building as a huge crowd sing along and then goes absolutely crazy when the bass guitar riff starts. Being a fan favourite it is bound to get the crowd going and is a moment I would love to experience live. DD
5. Hotel California - Eagles
The fact that they stayed true to the recorded version and drew out the ethereal, ominous intro when performing this live only added to the suspense. With any live performance, at least half of the experience is contributed by the audience - even if it’s the best show in the world, if the audience isn't feeling it, each delivery is met with a dead bat and the atmosphere dissipates out of the room flat. With ‘Hotel California’, every single member of the crowd I could see was 100% captivated by the bewitching melodies and iconic lyrics. Usually, whenever there’s a musical interlude in a live show, it’s fun for the first few moments, but after a minute or two you’re just waiting for them to transition into another song that you recognise. However, when Joe Walsh launched into his extended guitar solo, which seemed to last at least ten minutes, he had every single member of the crowd in the palm of his hand. MM
4. Fix You - Coldplay
I’ve written in another of my articles about my desire to see Coldplay live. A great performance of their songs is the minimum to be expected from the band who usually turn their shows into quite the spectacle. I’m mainly basing this inclusion from a Glastonbury performance of the song in which the spectacle is allowed to take a break will Chris Martin sits at a piano to serenade the crowd with the opening of the song. It’s the perfect way to deliver the emotional classic. As much as this simplistic yet beautiful performance was powerful enough alone it then completely switches as the drums and guitar are introduced. As you’d expect the crowd are in full voice and loving every second. A performance I wish I’d been present for and one of the songs I’d still love to see live. The classic build, the memorable lyrics and the melody make it perfect for a sing along. Match that with the emotion in the music and the feeling within the crowd must be breath-taking. DD
3. Get Along - Kenny Chesney
For the thirteenth time, David forbade me from picking five Kenny Chesney songs for my half of this Top Ten, so I’ve settled on the solitary ‘Get Along’. Hearing thousands of people come together to sing the uplifting chorus - “Paint a wall, learn to dance, Call your mom, buy a boat, Drink a beer, sing a song, Make a friend, can't we all get along” - was such a heartwarming experience. It epitomised the unique sense of unity that you can only really feel at a concert, and perhaps from time to time at sports events, where everyone becomes your extended family for a couple of hours. The cri-de-coeur of this song captures the power that music has to completely transform and elevate a person’s mood. I’m not sure how keen I am to paint a wall anytime soon, but I am as we speak checking to see if Amazon sells Evinrudes… MM
2. Bittersweet Symphony - The Verve
This song is one of my favourites of all time and similarly to ‘Fix You’ I am basing this off of a Glastonbury performance. I actually used to have a video saved on my phone of the band performing it at the festival in 2008. It opened with Richard Ashcroft giving a rousing speech to the crowd: ‘It’s a struggle; life’s a struggle, and Monday morning may be a struggle for a lot of you in a job that you despise; working for a boss that you despise. A slave to money then we die. God bless you.’ You can tell when he delivers the line ‘A Slave to money then we die’, which is one of the iconic lines of the song, that some of the fans know what’s coming – signalled with cheers. For those who didn’t Ashcroft allows a moment of silence before the strings begin to play one of the most iconic openings in modern music greeted with pandemonium. Ashcroft then places his microphone onto his chest where his heart is before signalling his love for everyone in the crowd. As if not incredible a enough already the band proceed to drop an absolutely jaw dropping performance of the song, accompanied by the thousands in attendance. It’s a moment I really wish I could have lived because as amazing as it is to watch on YouTube I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt to be part of the crowd that night. Incredible. DD
1. Bloodstream - Ed Sheeran
It still amazes me how one man and a guitar can hold a hundred-thousand people in the palm of his hand for two hours straight, but Ed manages it time after time. With his trusty loop-pedal, he builds up songs in front of your very eyes from nothing more than a few hand claps, guitar-strums and hums. This only adds to the sense of anticipation, as the audience waits tantalisingly to guess which song it will transform into, before they hear that giveaway ‘Bad Habits’ beat or ‘Shape of You’ synth. For me, this loop-pedal is used to maximum effect on ‘Bloodstream’, with the atypically moody song meandering along, before he layers vocal upon vocal as it reaches its violent crescendo. By the end of the song, it sounds like an army of Eds are singing the increasingly haunting hook, and the atmosphere he creates in doing this is simply unrivalled. MM
Mental health problems are prevalent in today's society, and the pandemic has made this even worse. Many people began to experience mental health issues during the pandemic, or saw a worsening of their mental health or preexisting mental health issues. One way to tackle the ongoing mental health crisis is through lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes can have a larger impact on our mental health than we realise. Whether you are currently taking medication, in therapy or are simply looking for ways to improve your mental health in the long run, lifestyle changes can be a big step in the right direction.
The reason these are important is because many may never be fully free from their mental health issues, but they may be able to better control their symptoms or even decrease their symptoms with some lifestyle changes.
Here are some lifestyle changes that may help you improve your mental health:
Meditation is wonderful for your mental health. Adding meditation to your daily routine can do wonders for you. One of the great things about meditation is that there is no minimum or maximum amount of time you have to do it for, so you can squeeze in a few minutes of meditation even when you're busy. Meditation works best when done for longer periods of time, so don't give up if you don't see any results immediately! It takes days, weeks, months and sometimes even years to get to where you want, depending on your goals, but it is still worth it. Even if you're meditating for a few minutes a day, stick with it. Meditation can be particularly helpful to those that suffer from mood and anxiety disorders such as depression and generalised anxiety, because it makes it easier to control your thoughts and reactions. It may also help elevate your mood and better control other symptoms.
Nutrition is a vital part of both physical and mental wellness. Although when someone is experiencing certain symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, whether something is healthy may not be the priority, opting instead for food that brings a more immediate sense of comfort. However, it's important to take some time to really think about what you are putting into your body, because there is a correlation between what you eat and your mental health. Eating more healthy meals with a majority of fruits and vegetables has been shown to improve mental health and decrease symptoms of multiple mental health disorders.
3. Regular Sleep Patterns
Sleep is also vital when it comes to physical and mental wellness. Lack of sleep can cause a worsening in symptoms of mental health disorders, and for those who are not currently diagnosed it may trigger the appearance of mental health issues that they did not suffer from before. Another thing to keep in mind is that routine is often beneficial for those with mental illnesses. Make sure you are not only getting enough sleep, but are also going to bed and waking up at a reasonable hour every day. Try to keep to this schedule day-to-day. Although sleep is great for mental health, oversleeping can also be an issue. Oversleeping can cause symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety to worsen, especially if one oversleeps on a regular basis. When it comes to sleep, it's best to get the right amount of sleep. Not too much or too little. For teenagers, eight to ten hours of sleep is ideal and for adults over eighteen seven to nine hours is best.
I hope this article helped you better understand the importance of cultivating a healthy lifestyle, and a few key ways that you can work to achieve this. Often, it really is the small changes that make the biggest difference.
It’s 2022, festivals are in full flow and live tours are back. It’s so nice to type, considering that two years ago I was starting to wonder whether we’d ever be able to experience it again. I think most people will agree that live music just presents something so special to all of us.
I think the main thing for me, and one thing we really missed during lockdown, is that connection you feel with an artist when you go and see them perform. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a crowd of one hundred of one hundred thousand when you go and watch someone live you feel a deeper bond with that artist, as if you’re part of an exclusive club that can say that they’ve been there. Artists did do their best during COVID, mainly through social media, but it was just no replacement for the experience of a live show. It isn’t even just about the music either, it’s that engagement. I was watching a video recently of Harry Styles and some clips of him interacting with fans whilst on stage and I have to say he’s incredible at it. The fans turn up for the music but he makes them laugh, get’s them dancing and talks to them in such a way that makes you feels as if you were sat opposite him in a room. This is what we’ve missed out on. Whilst we were actually treated to increased amounts of new music during COVID it was just so easy to feel disconnected from our favourites, only experiencing them through our speakers and screens. Back in November last year I had the great pleasure of watching Seafret perform live in Bridlington, their home town, and it was so special. I’ve actually been lucky enough to interview Seafret for the magazine, which was huge being a fan, but I almost felt closer to them watching them live on stage and addressing the crowd I was part of than I did through our zoom interview with just the three of us. It’s not something that is easy to put into words but in that moment you just feel part of something.
Being part of something is for me another huge part of what makes it so special. The crowd. It seemed as if it may never happen again two years ago but I cannot express how much joy it gives me to see pictures of Glastonbury absolutely packed out. Sure being in a crowd isn’t always great, there’s fighting drunks, smelly strangers and the tall person who stands right in front of you (my apologies) but it doesn’t matter when the music plays. Similarly to how you feel a connection to the artist there’s also this great sensation of belonging within a crowd. Gathering with people who have a shared love of the music, enjoying something together and sharing an experience. There could be people sat a mile away on the other end but it doesn’t matter; there’s an indescribable synergy that just brings everyone completely together in those brief moments. The singing is what I enjoy the most. Can you just imagine for a moment if you were only allowed to attend live music shows on the premise that you weren’t allowed to sing along? I can’t, in fact I don’t want to because it's too horrid to conceive. I’m lucky to have seen a few artists live in my time and the best moment of every show without a doubt is towards the end when they bring out the big hits that everyone knows, and thousands of strangers join together as if a rehearsed choir to give a rendition. There’s just something so therapeutic about those moments, belting your heart out, expressing your emotions through the song and feeling a comforting sense of belonging. I remember going to a Help for Heroes concert in Twickenham stadium many years ago and a DJ warming up the crowd by playing ‘Hey Baby’. The iconic ‘Ooh, Aah’ in the song was simultaneously bellowed by around 70,000 people and hearing it echo around the stadium was something I’ll never forget. It’s not just the big shows or festivals though, it’s the pub gigs and open mic nights that have been just as needed. For small artists struggling to make it through COVID who are now able to reach an audience and promote their music, to the loyal fans who go to every show and lets not forget the A and R folks at record labels looking for the next sensation.
Live music these days is becoming too much of a promotional tool for me. 300 years ago the dynamic was entirely different; you would attend live shows, operas and concerts to hear your favourite music and you may even buy some sheet music to try and replicate it on your own at home. These days the recorded music is king, after all album sales, streams and downloads are worth more cash than getting on stage. Live tours come about as a way to get everyone on Spotify listening to the album, but it just feels like it should be the other way around. As you all know I love to hark on about that old gem; ‘authenticity’. Allan Moore split authenticity in music down into three key elements: 1st Person authenticity relating to how the music and performance pulls from the artists own experiences, 2nd Person authenticity in which a performer “succeeds in conveying the impression of accurately representing the ideas of another, embedded within a tradition of performance”, and finally 3rd Person authenticity for when an artist is able to relate to those in the audience. Although I often joke about authenticity being this snobby buzz word that no one actually knows fully what it is, I think it's something that we all feel and no more so than in the midst of a great live performance. Moore’s three key elements all relate to expression and performance; how the artist feels, how they convey the emotions of the song and how the audience can relate to the artist’s expression. Note the key word audience, because this kind of thing doesn’t tend to happen over Spotify. Those true moments of magic happen live.
When you know you’re about to see your favourite artist of all time perform live, it’s safe to say that expectations are high.
After resigning myself to the fact that Chesney rarely - if ever - comes over to the UK, in 2021 I fancifully dreamed up plans to make the trip over to the States to catch him on his Here and Now 2022 tour, not really believing they would ever come to fruition.
But after booking the flights, hotels and surviving the last-minute British Airways threats of widespread strikes - the day finally arrived. My girlfriend and I spent a few days in Los Angeles first, soaking up the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. As it was our first time in the US together, we thought it wouldn’t be a true American experience without catching a Dodgers baseball game. After trying the world-famous ‘Dodger-dog’ - which the cab-drive had raved about for most of the journey there - in the space of a couple of hours I somehow felt myself transform into a die-hard Dodgers fan, despite (still) not really having a full handle on all the rules.
We then flew to Lake Tahoe, where Kenny’s concert would be taking place. Given the fact that this was an event I’d been anticipating for the best part of a year, I woke up on the morning of the show with a strange concoction of unparalleled excitement coupled with a twinge of sadness at the fact that, by the end of the night, it would all be over.
However, this touches on one of the core reasons why Kenny Chesney’s music has always resonated with me so powerfully. It is a celebration of living life in the moment, of finding the freedom that comes from immersing yourself in the present and toasting the ‘cosmic hallelujah’ of the fact that we’re all on this crazy ride called life together. Many define Chesney’s music by its escapism, and particularly during the pandemic, I repeatedly turned to his sun-soaked, blissful odes to island-living in order to transport myself away from the stress of having to see Boris Johnson ruffle his hair and tell everybody that case rates had once again increased.
Having said this, in my view, reducing Chesney’s music to pure escapism overlooks a key quality of his discography. Yes, he sings about leaving your rigid and rainy 9-to-5 life in favour of a beachside paradise, and songs such as ‘Here and Now’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Till It’s Gone’ epitomise the sense of joie-de-vivre that Chesney always seems to encapsulate. But what makes his music special, for me, is the fact that it’s not about running from our worries - it’s about embracing them, looking them straight in the eyes, and turning them into the touch-paper that sparks the celebratory fireworks into action. Songs like ‘Save It For A Rainy Day’, ‘Just Not Today’ and ‘We’re All Here’ embody this sense of accepting that we might be stressed, anxious or depressed about yesterday’s or tomorrow’s worries - but that this is all the more reason to lose ourselves in today.
So it was armed with this Chesnian philosophy that I strode into the Lake Tahoe outdoor arena, determined to drink in every last second. Lake Tahoe itself deserves a special mention - on the sweltering drive up to the hotel, both my girlfriend and I spent the majority of the time with our mouths agape at the sheer beauty of the landscape. I’d heard that everything feels ‘bigger’ in America, but I wasn’t prepared for the huge swathes of pine trees cascading down imposing mountain ridges, which would momentarily part to reveal an oasis of crystal clear waters shimmering in the sunlight.
I’m sure my description sounds overblown - but I promise you, it doesn’t do it justice. Travelling up the Heavenly Resort cable-cars to see it all sprawling out below you was a truly overwhelming experience.
Which made it the perfect place to watch a concert geared towards the message of appreciating exactly where you’re situated at in life.
Already feeling energised by Carly Pearce’s commanding opening set, and with more than a couple of Blue Chair Bay rum cocktails under my belt, it was time for the main event. The butterflies in my stomach began doing somersaults as the huge ‘Who Lives Like We Do? We Do!’ curtain began to be steadily pulled up towards the heavens, and a smiling, cowboy-hat-donning Kenny Chesney burst onto the stage.
After he’d shouted his hellos and welcomed the crowd, the first twenty minutes of the set was jam-packed with non-stop, high-octane anthems. He rattled through emphatic carpe-diem power-tracks such as ‘Beer in Mexico’, ‘Reality’, ‘Here and Now’ and ‘Summertime’, without ever giving the energy that fizzled through the crowd a chance to dissipate.
As I said, with the anticipation and expectation being so high, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of me had been worried that perhaps Chesney wouldn’t sound the same in real life. He’d released a couple of live albums, but with other Country artists such as George Strait being accused of using Auto-Tune on these kinds of live projects, you never really knew what the real deal would be like. Also, when you have a repertoire of hits as lengthy as Chesney does, it would be easy to hide behind the backing track and let the crowd sing most of the words for you.
However, any niggling fears or doubts that I had were blown right out of the water - you could hear Chesney’s melodic croons loud and clear, and his voice was just as strong as on the recordings. Whenever the crowd was given a brief chance to stop for a breath during the more stripped back songs, such as ‘Knowing You’ and ‘Anything But Mine’, it was just Chesney and some light instrumentation, his vocals on full display.
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, Chesney’s collaboration with David Lee Murphy, holds a special place in my heart, so I was ecstatic that he decided to perform it for the Lake Tahoe crowd. Hearing ten thousand people screaming ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ at the tops of their voices was magical, and epitomised the warm, friendly atmosphere that permeated the venue. Everybody was there for the music. It’s what I always find so special about being at a concert - not many other occasions in life bring together thousands of people to sing, dance and be carefree as they share their enjoyment of the moment en masse.
What struck me most about Kenny Chesney’s performance was how genuine and real he seemed throughout. Although the so-called ‘King of the Road’ has been doing this for decades now and has perfected his routine, he sang every single word like it was the first time. Even his opening words about being glad to have finally returned to Lake Tahoe felt authentic; throughout the entire show, he had a huge, almost giddy smile beaming across his face. The joy that he clearly feels when performing was reflected back at him by his adoring fans - it honestly felt like every single person there, both on stage and in the crowd, was genuinely happy to be there, and happy to be getting the chance to experience this unforgettable night together.
It’s why being a part of Kenny Chesney’s ‘No Shoes Nation’ really does feel like more than just being a member of any other fan group. As cliche as it sounds, being in the No Shoes Nation is a state of mind, it’s an outlook on life, and that’s why Kenny Chesney’s music was really one of the key sparks behind Mindful Melody in the first place. It underlined to me the unique space that lies at the meeting-point between music and wellbeing.
After Chesney had come back out to perform his final song - the fun, light-hearted and uniquely hilarious ‘She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’, a song that even he had to stop and laugh at in-between lyrics - we still felt a buzz as we filtered out of the venue and onto the streets of Lake Tahoe. I’m so pleased that we chose this location for our first Kenny Chesney concert, rather than somewhere such as Nashville or Boston, because it really did feel as though the entire place had been taken over by the No Shoes Nation. Everywhere you looked there was a Kenny Chesney t-shirt or a Blue Chair Bay rum ball-cap to be found, which only added to the unique and uplifting sense of connection and unity.
We finished our American adventure in the beautiful San Francisco, again marvelling at the spectacular views and landscapes on the bus-ride from Tahoe to Western California. San Francisco felt almost like a Mediterranean city at times, and completely distinct from what we’d seen in Los Angeles or Tahoe. Although, after being heckled a few times for my Dodgers hat by San Francisco Giants fans, I decided it wise to opt for my Universal Studios cap instead for the remainder of the trip…!
It was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that you desperately hope someday becomes twice or thrice-in-a-lifetime. But even though the journey home was coloured by a slight melancholy that the adventure had come to a close, after looking back through my photo-reel and listening again to the lyrics of wistful songs like ‘Don’t Blink’, ‘Young’ and ‘Don’t Happen Twice’, it reminded me just how important it is to focus on the absolute miracle of the fact that it happened at all, rather than feeling sad that it was over.
So although many of us spend our transient lives trying to discover ‘How Forever Feels’, something I’m learning every day is the vitality of turning my sights away from any excitement or anxiety that may lie on the horizon, and instead trying to absorb myself in the ‘Here and Now’. In the words of the man himself:
“Everybody’s waiting, but they’re waiting on what? Better get to living, ‘cause all we got is Here and now!”
Maybe it’s just me being ignorant or not following rap music as closely as I used to, but with Jack Harlow it feels like he’s been around forever, whilst simultaneously bursting onto the scene out of nowhere in the last year or so. I think the reason it feels this way is because both are kind of true. Jack has been grinding it out in the scene for a few years now and through various features and verses here and there had become one of those names where you know it, but you’re maybe not entirely sure how. I know this isn’t true for everyone, and his solo music had garnered a very loyal and passionate fan base, but especially in the UK anyway, it just hadn’t quite crossed its way onto the mainstream just yet. I’m sure I won’t be alone in saying that Lil Nas X’s ‘Industry Baby’ was the moment I said ‘so that's Jack Harlow’. Having heard the name and been impressed with his feature, I did some digging on Spotify and to be honest was bewildered as to why this guy hadn’t come to my attention sooner; smooth flows, slick rhythms and old-school hip-hop beats – these are all key ingredients in making my exact taste in rap, which can only be described as a weird mix between 90s Jazz Rap and lo-fi hip hop, like if Drake joined A Tribe Called Quest.
As with many things in life, whether by coincidence or within my own mind, once I started to keep an eye on Jack he seemed to pop up everywhere. Once again I think both is true, I had definitely begun to take more notice whenever his name appeared, but it’s undeniable that it has started appearing everywhere. He has become somewhat of an internet sensation; his boyish charm and smooth talking has certainly made him a hit, and also produced some golden moments like trying to flirt with the intentionally awkward Amelia Dimoldenberg on ‘Chicken Shop Date’, or being shot down by Saweetie on the red carpet. This all came to a head when in the wake of this new album he released a snippet of the song ‘First Class’. Now, with the internet these days there’s sort of viral, then there’s viral - and this went viral. It was absolutely everywhere, the catchy hook keeping it appealing for music lovers whilst the clips of Jack vibing in the studio kept it appealing for those...well, you know. It certainly ramped up the excitement for the release of the new album, and now that it’s here I felt it only right to share my thoughts, just in case you’re interested.
One of the things that has caught my eye with Harlow is his swagger. He just oozes confidence and it comes across in his music. ‘Talk of the Town’ starts off the whole album and is just Jack hopping on a beat for 90 seconds to tell you why he's the man right now - and there are plenty of references to how far he has come. 'Young Harleezy’ continues in a similar tone, backing up the arrogance with talk about how hard he’s had to work to make it. I have to say this song feels quite fragmented. The original beat is pretty cool but then it switches up entirely, making you think the song ended. There's also this cameo from Snoop Dogg; my ears perked up when I heard his voice but I couldn't help but feel let down when he said a few words then left without even dropping a verse.
I think putting the swagger aside, though, the Harlow I really wanted to see on this album was the lo-fi, chilled vibe that he's perfected over the years and luckily we were treated to a few examples. 'Lil Secret’ and ‘Like a Blade of Grass’‘ are both solid tunes but my favourite by far is 'Side Piece’. Jack uses the chill vibe and offers something more meaningful. I love the style of this song and for me it’s what Harlow is best at. A masterpiece with a simplistic backing and a more melancholic feel, it’s just one of those I could listen to on repeat. The subject of the song is about the struggles for Harlow of travelling around the world and how it makes it difficult to commit to anything, as well as how he can kind of end up feeling lost travelling from place to place and not settling. I love it when rap songs in particular really tell us a story and give us something meaningful to engage in. Far too often these days, artists just rely on a good beat and throw any old rubbish on the top as long as it rhymes - and sometimes they don't even do that.
Another thing that excited me about this album initially was the features, and I have to say I was impressed. As Machine Gun Kelly's latest album proved, bringing loads of big names onto a project can have mixed results, but I think Harlow got it right. Ever since he released the track-list I’ve been looking forward to ‘Churchill Downs’. Jack certainly did enough to back up his claims that he's the man right now; sharing a track with one of the best around runs a risk of being overshadowed, but whilst it's not a competition I'd say for me Jack's verse is probably better than Drake's on this one. If that wasn't enough to convince you that Harlow is going places, then Drake kindly takes the time to tell you so in his own verse. I love the vibe that came with this song; you can tell it's all respect between these two and I have to give credit to Drake for getting involved with the project. I think for me this song was the dream scenario as my love for both artists stems from their ability to pump out meaningful, lo-fi masterpieces, so to have them produce a song exactly like this together was a huge plus for the album. I'll also give a special shoutout to the music video in which Harlow's own mother hilariously stands behind Drake for his verse playing the part of hype woman.
‘Movie Star’ is another big feature song, this time with Pharrell. It's another one of my favourites from the album, but for entirely different reasons. We lose the melancholy and the meaningful verses, but they wouldn’t work on this song anyway. What we get instead is just really cool from start to finish. I like the 808 bassline, I like Pharrell’s hook and Jack nails his verses too. The only downfall is that, similarly to 'Young Harleezy', we do get a beat change again (seriously, is it 2016 again?) but this time it fits much better into the song. If anything, it just takes the old beat then cranks it up a couple of notches.
‘Parent Trap’ with Justin Timberlake once again is a song that was made for me, the piano backing moves it close to my beloved jazz rap style and combines with Harlow’s smooth vocals perfectly. As expected, Timberlake delivers too, offering some great R&B style bars; the whole song is just the definition of smooth from start to finish and I love it. ‘Poison’ with Lil Wayne rounds out the big name artists who came to help Harlow.
After all the praise, we must come to the main negative with the album - and it starts with a positive.
Before the album came out there were two 'main' releases that really caught my attention: 'Nail Tech' and 'First Class'.
‘Nail Tech’ is the Harlow that I love in his best form. We've got some chill vibes, we've got the swagger and the arrogance and the hard hitting verses and the catchy trumpet riff in the background, which some have compared to ‘Industry Baby’. It all comes together to ensure you'll have the song stuck in your head. I've had it on my playlist since it came out and it never gets skipped when it comes on; it's one of the main reasons I was excited for this project.
The other main reason was the sneak preview Harlow gave us of 'First Class' on Tik Tok. However, in come the negatives. After all the anticipation I have to say I was a bit divided - maybe he should have called it 'Business Class', or even 'Economy Plus'. I think if I was being completely objective I'd say it’s a good song, but that’s all I can really say. The issue here is that Jack was kind of killed by the hype. It's not really his fault, and it isn't as if it's a bad song. It's just for me, after hearing the earworm of a hook and knowing what Jack is capable of, I was expecting him to drop one of the songs of the century. The first time I listened I was full of excitement, but I just felt a little underwhelmed. The verses feel a little bit disjointed and don't carry Harlow's usually smooth swagger.
This album is really tough for me to decide on – a quick look on Twitter will show that the majority of people feel somewhat disappointed or let down and I have to say I do feel myself sitting in that camp. It’s weird because as I listen back and read through what I wrote about the songs, I like all of them, some of them I really like. I think the issue with 'First Class' resonates across the whole album. With his rising profile, the release of 'Nail Tech' and the viral snippet of 'First Class', expectations for this album were through the roof. Everyone knows how good Harlow is and it just felt like he was right on track to drop an iconic album.
I think one of the main reasons for me that I am somewhat disappointed is that, whilst I enjoyed listening to the album as a whole, I wouldn’t really call it memorable. It's no coincidence that 'Side Piece' is my favourite song from the album as it offers something to engage in. The meaningful lyrics and the storytelling make it a compelling listen but unfortunately it was a one off. Even when writing this review I found myself listening to the album methodically, thinking, 'Yeah, that's a decent song' but not having much else to say. Music is entertainment after all, so there is a lot to be said for songs being a good listen, but after showing what he's capable of in 'Side Piece' I was left hankering for more and it never came.
So did expectations ruin Harlow's big release?
Yes, to an extent. It's all about context and for me this album is probably a six or a seven out of ten, which is a very respectable offering. The issue is when you expected a ten out of ten, a seven suddenly doesn't seem so great anymore. Whilst for me, regardless of expectations, I think Jack is capable of better, I do think a lot of the negativity surrounding the album is purely down to the fact that the bar was so high. Either way - I'm certainly (cautiously) excited for whatever Jack does next.
In the past I’ve mounted my high horse plenty of times and made ramblings of authenticity and honesty in music. It’s strange that we hold it so highly in regard when judging music considering the concept of authenticity on the whole is fairly subjective. However, whilst I could drone on for ages about artists and their art, deep connections and rubbish about people pouring their heart and soul into their music, it does offer somewhat of a moral dilemma. If an artist is connected so deeply and intertwined so heavily with their art, do I have to like the artist to enjoy it? Now, this isn’t as simple as it sounds, and I am not referring to the denial we all felt when we liked our first One Direction song and had to pretend we didn’t whilst slyly tapping our feet. What I am instead referring to is the instances in the past where it has come to light that the artist in question has committed violent crimes, hurt people or acted generally unethically whilst their music is out in the world.
In my head it is quite easy to take a stand and judge that I will not support an artist who I know has done unethical things. For example, as a once keen Michael Jackson fan I have really cooled off listening to his music after watching that documentary about the accusations against him. Even though it is still unclear whether guilty or innocent, I do find myself hesitating to add his music to my playlist. It just feels sort of wrong to me, to be supporting someone who may have committed certain atrocities. Why should I listen to his music? I’m not sure I want Spotify to be sending my 0.00000000.something of a pence to his estate for royalties. Whilst I know deep down no harm is really going to come from it, I must admit I find it difficult to move past the image of the cruel villain portrayed in a documentary whenever his music comes on. The argument of course works two ways when we consider the instances of maybe perfectly lovely artists whose songs contain not-so-lovely subject matter. This is where authenticity crawls its way back into the argument (as it often does). Often we focus so much on how the music and the artist are linked – what the inspiration behind the song was and what the story is - that it becomes all too easy to tie artists and songs together, whether that’s tarnishing artists with the content in their songs, or tarnishing songs with the actions of their artists. With that in mind it’s fairly easy to begin to draw up reservations about certain music.
Despite all of this, and despite once again wandering into the realms of authenticity, I think we can separate an artist and their music. In part because, well, who has the time? I’ve got a playlist of over 1500 songs that I shuffle through on a daily basis. These songs are those that I enjoy, from old favourites to new entries I heard on the radio once and liked. I am not going to go through every single song and do full background checks on the artists before I decide whether I like it or not. Music garners a natural reaction and that often comes before I even know who the artist is. Whilst I am still reluctant to add Michael Jackson to my playlist that doesn’t stop me from doing terrible moonwalks to Billie Jean or singing along to Thriller. It’s great music, and I shouldn’t have to be robbed of that based on the actions of the artist. I think with streaming services moving people away from the limitations of CDs and vinyls, the way people engage with music is different now. Maybe back in the day I’d have my favourite artists and I’d have stuck with them, spending my hard-earned cash on all of their new releases and merchandise and listening to whatever they had to offer. Nowadays with compilation playlists and shuffle, whilst criticised by some, it feels like there’s less commitment to the artist. It’s more about the music, if I like it I’ll listen and if I don’t I won’t, and I think the simplicity of that means I don’t have to get too bogged down in ethics. Finding the drum beat catchy doesn’t immediately make me an advocate for the actions of the creator.
Despite this, when we hear so many stories about artists pulling from their own lives to influence their music, or their art being a big part of them, it does seem hard to ultimately consider the music and the artist separately, and therefore my conclusion is not that we can, but that we shouldn’t have to. I remember at school learning about how it is basically impossible to be a completely ethical person, especially in the modern world. I remember one particular dilemma presented was something along the lines of a young man who had gone to the effort to buy his girlfriend a beautiful bouquet of flowers, however, unbeknownst to him, harmful pesticides had been used to grow these flowers that had killed insects and polluted a river, and they were transported by a high emissions truck to a flower shop that underpaid its staff. All of this happened completely separately from the young man, so should we consider him unethical for his actions? I think we have to consider music in a similar way. Sure, we could comb through every song and trace it back to its roots, debating morality at every stage. Or maybe we could just enjoy the music at face value and not spend too much time worrying about things that are out of our control.
At just 18 years old Denis Coleman has the world at his feet. A Spotify profile already full of great music, a tour supporting Little Mix and as an advocate for mental health, Denis really is one to keep an eye on in the future. His latest release, 'Narcissist', carries on Denis' willingness to look within and open up about his own experiences. In this interview he discusses his writing and production techniques, his mental health schools tour and plans for the future...
Hi Denis! Thanks so much for talking to me today! Your new song ‘Narcissist’ has just been released – can you tell us a little more about what inspired you to write the song?
Yes, ‘Narcissist’ is out now! ‘Narcissist’, true to its title, was inspired by myself! It’s basically about this thing I noticed that I was doing which is that if I was spending time with someone, getting to know them or on a date I would pick up on any little areas of similarity between us; any shared interests, mannerisms or outlooks. Each one of those was a little almost euphoric moment. I realised that what that is, is essentially narcissism, kind of looking for yourself in other people and it’s something that so many people do and look for in terms of any type of relationship. I just thought that was a bit of an interesting, amusing phenomenon and wanted to write it into a song.
One thing I particularly like about your music is that you aren't afraid to look inwards, which is prominent in both 'Narcissist' and 'Healing the Process'. Being open in our art can be very rewarding but also quite scary when it comes to sharing it with the world. Do you find it any easier or harder to release these kinds of songs?
I think that it is definitely harder to take that step to make it personal and make it introspective and vulnerable. To really dive deep into the things that I’m feeling personally rather than just sort of follow a mould that already exists. It can be scarier because when I’m writing something about a personal thought or situation the guideline for it is just myself and my life, whereas if I was to write a more ‘generic’ pop song you have a frame of reference – this is what other people are doing and if I do the same people will probably like it because everyone is doing it. When you go from a more introspective outlook there’s less validation like that and it’s more about whether I’m being honest and that’s the key thing. All that being said, I think it’s a lot more rewarding to write songs like that and those are really the only songs that I want to be writing now, because I feel like every time I put out a piece of music it’s a chance for me to really dive into something that I find important and meaningful. Hopefully every song that I put out is challenging myself, and maybe challenging the listener in some way too.
I’ve seen that you have a hand in the production element of all of your music. With technology becoming more and more a part of making and recording music, production has become an art form unto itself. Was there a particular reason you were so keen to produce your own music?
Yeah, I think for me my outlook on songs has always been that I look at the whole song and view all the parts of it equally. I come from a background of classical music when I was a kid then composing when I was younger so for me it was always a case of, within a piece of music, all the different parts doing their jobs in community with each other. When I go to write a song it’s not so much just the melody and the lyrics, and the production needing to serve that; it’s also the vocal needing to serve the production to an extent. It all needs to come more or less together and everything needs to be driving the same emotions and feelings. I’ve been ‘learning’ to produce, so to speak, from a variety of YouTube videos from a young age. It’s only really in the last few years that my confidence in my ability to produce a track has gone up to the point where now if I hear something that I want to be in the track rather than trying to explain it I’ll just make it and send it over; we go back and forth finalising tracks like that.
One of the interesting things about your music is that you often tackle serious and quite melancholic subjects in songs that sound fundamentally happy and upbeat. In fact I’ve seen that you have acknowledged this yourself in your Spotify bio. Is there a particular reason you choose to write this way and is this a style you set out to create with each song or is it just something that comes naturally?
I think part of it is a natural sort of stylistic choice. I feel like whenever I write a song it’s almost always in some ways a sad song or has some sort of emotional weight to it, that’s the way that I like to write, the way that feels natural. When it comes to the sound of the songs I do like to have these very grand, big, high energy, occasionally upbeat sounds. For me that’s the beauty of pop music and it’s something that I always emulate in my music; to have a really layered piece of art where on the one level you can just listen to it, feel good, release endorphins or dopamine, get in a good mood and enjoy it; or if you want to take time to dive into the lyrics, think about the themes that are being discussed and listen in for the intricacies of the production then you can do that too and it will hopefully present a lot more things to think about, and a more emotional weight for people to relate to and feel heard by. I think that’s really the balance that I’m trying to create.
I completely understand that because recently I’ve been listening to a lot of your music and really focussing in on the lyrics and the themes in preparation for talking to you, but this morning I put your music on when I went for a run just in the background and the beat was good and there was a high energy to it, the experience was entirely different!
That’s the beauty of pop music, that both of those experiences are completely valid and important. We listen and engage in different ways.
I love that in today’s music ‘genre’ is becoming an increasingly irrelevant word with music often blurring the lines between styles. It’s difficult to pinpoint your music into one genre or style, I hear bits of pop-punk, R&B, pop and rock. How would you describe your sound to those who may not have heard your projects before?
I think that for me it’s essentially very close to what you said. It’s basically taking eclectic moments of rock music in the form of guitar riffs or old school little bits of music, then filtering that and extrapolating on that with modern sounds and modern drums and elements of R&B, hip hop, pop music, alternative and just sort of my general tastes to make it feel like a song that I’ve written and worked on. I would describe it as a form of alternative pop with a little bit of rock influence and a very wide screen sound.
I actually wrote something recently about how the way we consume music has changed in that 20 or 30 years ago you would go to a record shop and buy a specific album because you like that specific style or artist, whereas now with streaming and the internet it’s like a huge pick and mix. Within that there is this new scene generating where music can come from anywhere or be influenced by anything.
Not only am I a fan of your music; I also have to give you credit for the work you’ve done around mental health, visiting schools and giving presentations. Taking on a responsibility like that at such a young age is astounding to me. What inspired you to take a stand, and to be confident enough to work for what you believe in?
It all started when I was about 15 years old and one of my friends was going through a really difficult time with his mental health; but it was one of these very scary situations, and a wake up call to me, in that I had no idea he was going through it or having these thoughts until several months after it had all started. That made me think how on earth had I missed it and I wanted to be there, to be able to help or do something but I had no real knowledge or experience. That made me think that I needed to do something where I could help people talk about it, get conversations started, just anything to make sure that this didn't happen again to someone else. The more I found out about mental health and the more I researched I realised he wasn’t the only one; it feels like almost every single teenager, kid and adult as well have been going through huge mental health challenges constantly. I just started to dive in and learn more and when the opportunity came to speak about mental health I thought that this was something I could do where I could hopefully make a difference. At first, I was 15 and I didn’t have much experience and I was a little sceptical; I wasn’t sure whether it would actually do anything. What I found out pretty quickly is that it did. With mental health, one of the biggest things we can do is raise awareness and start the conversations. The number of people I found who would reach out to me after a talk and say, ‘I’m so glad you brought this up, I didn’t want to tell anyone, I was just going through it on my own and working it out, but now that I know it’s ok to talk about it I’ve spoken to someone about it and gotten help’. That happened so many times and the initial realisation that it was actually helping someone, it might not be everyone and maybe just a few people at every school I wen to, but the fact that it was actually making a difference made me realise how important it was and I wanted to keep doing it as much as I could.
Having written in the past about some of the negative effects social media can have on our mental health, giving us a façade of perfection in others and viewing ourselves poorly, your song ‘Healing the Process’ stood out to me. How do you find that social media affected you growing up and what do you think can be done to address these problems?
I think it does massively affect people, it affects myself and most of my friends, I think. It is a difficult one because it is such an integral part of people my age’s lives - everyone’s lives honestly. It’s sort of hard to see where we can go off from it or detox from it without sacrificing part of our social lives, connections and friendships. ‘Healing the Process’ was about this feeling of uncertainty and knowing that it’s affecting us negatively and there’s danger, my mental health taking a few dips even that I’m not aware about, and not knowing what the best way to really remedy that is. I think it’s one of these things which is individual, everyone has their own ways to find it. Sometimes, growing up in this generation, it can feel like there is a ‘be all, end all’ solution out there because there are so many people that have things to say about how to improve your mental health like detoxing from it or following certain accounts. I think the reality is that it is much more complicated and everyone needs to find their own ways and their own balances that works for their brains, which are ultimately going to be affected and function in different ways.
You’re what a lot of people would describe as ‘up and coming’, although it already feels like you’re past that stage now! You certainly look set to be a household name before too long. Do you find that there’s a pressure that comes with being next in line, so to speak?
There is definitely a bit of pressure. More people are reliant on me to do things, to write music, put music out, put on tours and do all these technical and logistical things within the industry. There is also an increased social responsibility as well because there’s a few extra thousand people who look at what I do everyday and that affects them. I think I can always improve but I need to think about what I put on social media; am I helping or am I part of the problem? Am I just posting a highlights reel saying it’s ‘art’ or ‘part of the brand’, when actually I need to be more real and honest on social media? That’s something that I question everyday and try to find the right balance. As I get bigger and have more fans and more reach it becomes a little bit less personal, when I first started out I would be speaking to so many different fans of mine and having these deep conversations and now that’s less possible. I still feel a responsibility and I still want to try and connect with as many people as possible. It gets a bit more complicated and it gets a bit more intense, but it is just part of the process, it’s good to see progression and to keep growing.
With your future in mind, and with the great start you've got off to in 2022, have you got anything else lined up for us in the next year or so?
Yeah, I do! I have a headline tour in August going around the UK. We are going everywhere; London, Manchester, Birmingham, Dublin, Belfast – all over the place essentially! It’s getting closer and closer and I need to get everything prepared for that tour; get the band together, start working on arrangements, choosing a set list, choosing the lighting. That’s my big focus at the minute and that’s what I’m looking forward to the most!
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name their top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
1. Seratonin – Girl in Red
2. Healing the Process - Denis Coleman
3. PillowTHOUGHTS – Denis Coleman
Maxim speaks to the artist that's burning up the Nashville rulebook and forging a whole new genre: Cross-Country
Hey Breland, thanks so much for taking the time out to talk today! You recently announced that you’ve got a new album on the way. This will be your first full-length release - how was the process different when creating this album compared to putting together your BRELAND EP?
The process is very different, partly because of the time I’m putting into this album, and partly because of all that’s happened in my life since the BRELAND EP. That EP had some of the first Country-leaning songs I’ve made. Once the pandemic hit, I had time to sit with my thoughts and figure out what I want my music to sound like, what I want it to represent and who I want it to reach - all of that happened after the EP was out in the world. Country is often siloed away from other genres. I feel like the future of music is collaborative and genre-less, so I want to find ways to make music that can reach a Country audience while also appealing to a much broader demographic. That’s what my album title, ‘Cross Country’, represents - trying to build new bridges between Country music and other genres. I have songs that are at the intersection of Country and Pop, Country and Motown, Country and Gospel, and some songs that are more straight up and down Country. If anyone likes any of the songs from the BRELAND EP, you will love this project. And for anyone who didn’t like the BRELAND EP…I think you’ll still love this project!
As you mention, your music weaves in a variety of genres, but what’s special about it for me is that it always feels as though there’s a genuine appreciation of each one, and it’s never a surface-level or token-gesture steel guitar or hi-hat - it all knits together. What drew you to crafting this Country and Hip-Hop infused sound that really, before a few years ago, was unheard of?
I love the fact that there’s a freedom of storytelling within both Country and Hip Hop. I had been focussing on Hip Hop, and I thought that if I’m going to do Country, I have to do it in a way that feels authentic to me. I always appreciated Country from a songwriting perspective and as someone who spent quite a few years just pitching songs to different people, without having any of my own material out there. You always admire the people that are doing that at the highest level, and to me the best Country writers were nailing it every time, and I also felt like the best Hip Hop writers were nailing it all the time. I wanted to create music that was still lyric-focussed, but that also has a driving beat and makes people want to get up and dance. That was what was lacking in Country music for me, as a listener who wasn’t always listening - they were great stories, but I could see where the mass appeal falls short for a lot of people. Sometimes people just want to party or have something on in the background. I could understand where Country and Hip Hop were excelling from a lyric and a feel perspective, and I felt like if you put those two together it would be really powerful.
One song that definitely makes you want to get up and dance is ‘Praise the Lord’, which is a celebration of faith. Country music has always had a strong relationship with God. What I’ve found particularly interesting is the way that Country often seems to emphasize a personal relationship with God, rather than one that’s centered around more traditional pathways. For example, there are so many Country songs about missing Church on a Sunday but instead finding God while fishing on a lake - the personal over the institutional. What’s your take on this?
‘Praise the Lord’ just came out of me, we had the beat and wanted to do something Churchy with it. In recent years I haven’t been someone who’s been attending Church super regularly, and especially now as an artist where there are shows every weekend, I miss most Sundays in town regardless. So this song is just about acknowledging that you don’t have to go to Church on a weekly basis in order to have that relationship you talked about. Also, there are a lot of believers who don’t necessarily live by all those principles. It’s recognising that we’re all human and we’re all trying to figure things out. This is a song that could speak to that in a way that will hopefully still encourage people to pursue a religion if they want to, and not be discouraged by some of the mistakes they’ve made. The God that I serve understands that people are flawed. He made us to be that way. So when those things happen, it’s more of a testament to your resolve in your faith to then say, ‘Hey, I maybe didn’t do this right, but I’m going to try to get it right the next time.’ To me there’s a real redemptive quality to the song if you read into it from that perspective, but it’s also just a really fun song. Being able to get Thomas Rhett on it helped it to reach a bigger audience, and definitely helped it to grow.
I loved your C2C performance, and you mentioned in-between songs how the way you grew up in New Jersey wouldn’t necessarily be considered a typical ‘Country’ upbringing. The album’s title-track, ‘Cross Country’, tackles this feeling of being an outsider coming into the genre. A year on from the release of the ‘Cross Country’ single, do you still have a sense of looking for belonging, or do you now feel more at home in the genre?
I definitely feel more at home. ‘Cross Country’ was the first song I wrote when I moved to Nashville after releasing the BRELAND EP. I had been moving around a bit, and during the pandemic I’d gone back to my actual home for two months. Nothing against my parents, but as an adult when you go back to your childhood home, you have big dreams and you’ve just signed a record deal, it just feels a little odd. I want to find a place where I can be creatively free and feel like I belong there. I do feel like I’ve found a lot of that in Nashville, but I also feel there’s still work to be done. I also look at Country music and know we’ve got maybe 100 million people in the world that are listening to it - but there are billions of people listening to music in general. Look, I would love to reach all the people that listen to Country, but I already know there are certain barriers that will make it impossible for me to do that - and the way that I’m approaching the music is one of them. I know that's impossible, but if I can reach 1% of the larger billion or so people that are listening to music, then to me, that’s where my power lies as a creative - being able to bring people with different interests, beliefs and perspectives together and give them something they can agree on. Being an outsider in Country music, I represent the kind of person that I’m trying to reach with my music. I would love to be able to reach the people who have never listened to Country or who have never felt as though their participation in the genre was accepted. So hopefully if I can be in this space and reach across the aisle via these different songs on the album, we have the opportunity to do something really cool. I do feel accepted in a way that I didn’t anticipate, but at the same time there’s a level of acceptance that I’m not looking for and that I don’t need. I would rather just make the best music that I can make and hope that each song accomplishes my mission statement, which is trying to create a sub-genre of music that defies genres entirely and hopefully brings people into the middle.
‘Real Men Don’t Cry’ has a great mental health message. As men, there is the stigma that we shouldn’t show our emotions and that we should remain stoic, but this can often lead to that emotion expressing itself in unhealthy ways, as you mention in the song. You released this as part of your ‘Rage & Sorrow’ EP, which was released after the killing of George Floyd. Was ‘Real Men Don’t Cry’ a direct response to this?
That’s a great question and I always love talking about this EP. I think it’s an important body of work and I do hope people find the time to get into it. The biggest thing I was experiencing when I was trying to write something about the situation was that I was having two very different feelings - one, I was just pissed off, asking myself, ‘How is this still happening in America?’ And then on the other side, I felt so heartbroken that some people just didn't care, and that they were still trying to attach this problem to any other problem than the issue that we know it to be. I wanted to be able to speak to the duality of my own emotions, and say, ‘Hey, it is okay to be angry, but do not allow your anger to be the only expression of emotion you have.’ That is a dangerous place to be, and it is not healthy - what’s healthy is feeling the full range of emotions that come to you, and not just focusing on the one that feels the most powerful. As men, we often try to dive all-in on rage, anger and frustration because it feels powerful. But the real power really comes from being able to deal with that and work through it. You can’t hold onto that burden in that way without it eventually manifesting itself in negative ways. When you’re not processing the anger and getting it out of your system, it makes it harder to empathise with people. It’s important to allow yourself to cry, and to feel that full range of emotions. I wanted to make a project that could speak to that, and I wrote the two songs on that EP at the same time. During that period, I knew that there were people looking at me as the new black dude in Country music and seeing how I was going to play it, because a lot of people were really quiet. I was like, ‘No, I want to put the music out even though I know it may cannibalise some of the streams on the BRELAND EP that I’d put out a couple of weeks prior. I make this music for much bigger reasons than just trying to get a number one. I want to inspire someone, encourage someone, energise someone or speak to a human condition. I know the ‘Rage & Sorrow’ project was important for the people that engaged with it.
Of the unreleased tracks from the new album, what’s the one that you think listeners will be most surprised by?
Honestly, at this point I don’t think my listeners will be surprised by anything! Anyone who listens to my discography recognises that you never really know what you’re going to get! No two songs are the same on this project. You only get 14 tracks to try and establish a whole new genre of music - I wanted to make sure I was filling that room with different pieces of furniture. For new listeners or people that have only heard ‘My Truck’, then I imagine most of the songs will surprise them! But if you’ve listened to everything I’ve put out and recognise what I’m trying to achieve creatively, this album is consistent with that - in that nothing is consistent!
You have produced some awesome collaborations, including ‘Throw It Back’ with Keith Urban, as well as having worked with Mickey Guyton, Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt, to name a few. Are there any other collabs on the new album?
There are a couple more on there. What I really love about this project though is it gives me a chance to really do my thing. Sometimes the collabs can become a crutch - as a smaller, newer artist, you get all of the listeners from that person’s audience, but they only hear a verse or a chorus from you. They don’t get a full experience or story. That’s what I thought was so powerful about the original version of ‘Cross Country’, and I love the version with Mickey Guyton too. ‘Cross Country’ is a song that has potentially had the biggest impact with listeners. They get a chance to hear me sharing my experience, so I wanted to make sure we could honour the fans. It’s a Breland album, it’s not a collaborations album. At some point I‘m sure I will do an album of collaborations, like Jimmie Allen, DJ Khaled or Ed Sheeran! But that’s just not what this project is. We have five features in total, and the other nine are all solo records with various levels of emotional depth. While there are a few features on here that people haven’t heard yet, I think people will be most satisfied with the level of honest, authentic Breland that they’re going to get.
We ask all our artists to name their top three songs with a theme of mental health and wellbeing. What would be yours?
Shared Walls - Tenille Townes ft. Breland
Real Men Don’t Cry - Breland
All I See - Gary LeVox ft. Breland (BONUS).
Cross Country - Breland
All four of these speak to mental health in their own way. I have seasonal depression every year, usually from October through March, and it’s really hard for me to get out of bed some days, or go play shows and turn it on for fans. It can be really tough to be an artist and also be struggling with your mental health because of the amount of weight put on us to perform on a daily basis. Music has been a big part of my own therapy, and finding ways to write things - even just writing a really fun record like ‘Praise the Lord’ - helps me because it puts a smile on my face when there isn’t one. Music is so powerful because you can get to the heart of some of these issues with a lyric, but you can also do the same with a beat, tempo or a melody.
Do you find that creating music or listening to music is more therapeutic?
Creating has always been my solution. Sometimes I create better once I’ve listened to some music. But for me, a lot of my depression centres around this feeling of ‘I don’t have anything to look forward to, there’s nothing good going on’. Obviously that’s not true, but it’s what my brain will try to tell me. Writing a great song reminds me of the truth and helps me to clear my lens a little bit to say, ‘I’m here for a purpose, this is what I do and I do it really well, and it matters.’ For anyone who is dealing with something, creativity is not always going to be the end-all-be-all solution, but it does feel really good and encouraging to just make something. Even if it sucks! Whether it’s a song, poem, painting, drawing…whatever it is you create, create something and see what happens. Art is healing, and at our core everyone has an expressive ‘thing’ that they like to do, whether they do it professionally or not. For me, knowing that music is a big part of my purpose, whenever I can be creative it solves some of the problems, or at least helps me find a better perspective.
Breland’s new album, ‘Cross Country’, is out on 9th September. You can listen to his new single, ‘Natural’, which is available on all platforms now. Banner photo by Nolan Knight; all other photos by Alaina Mullin.
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