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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
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