Hi Tim! Thanks so much for talking to me today! You’ve recently released your new single ‘Fire’ – can you tell us where the inspiration for this song came from?
I have a habit of preferring to write slightly melancholic songs; I love the sound of the chords. I actually like mixing it up too by putting happy lyrics with sad music and vice versa. Actually, with this song I thought you get so many break up songs so I wanted to paint a picture of something you think is going down that route where the spark is gone from a relationship. It’s about what do you do in that moment? Do you just give up? Because often that is the easiest thing to do, or do you try and reignite it and get back the spark and buzz you felt originally. It’s basically about giving it another go, another shot and let’s have all the fun we used to have. It was that and also I did want to make a return to the piano which was the instrument I started on. Country music is predominantly guitar based, particularly in my experience, I’ve been writing and playing guitar music for so long; I was mostly inspired by Lady A as a band who I love and they use the piano so well! The tricky thing with this song is that I had the opening section for quite a while, so the piano line, verse and pre chorus. In that sense I could have gone different ways with the chorus so in my mind this song has about three different choruses. I could’ve gone minor and made it devastating or lift it. I wanted to lift it and be powerful and give someone that inkling of light at the end of the tunnel and that even if things are going in that direction, it can be turned around. Even if you just talk it through it can be remedied. My earliest memories of writing that chorus were with the intention to make it upbeat so I guess that idea had always been in my head when writing it.
The song focuses on the desire to ‘spark another fire’ in a relationship where it seems things have changed. In the pandemic a lot of people saw the nature of their relationships change and felt the strains of distance - how important do you think it is that people now focus on trying to rekindle the ‘fire’ as opposed to letting it go out?
I think even pre pandemic this is something that happens a lot; maybe even more so in fickle industries such as music. I’ve been doing this for a long time and in different guises as well; I’ve gone through different routes. I’ve always been in bands but I had a detour for a few years in musical theatre doing West End shows and then back in bands and now solo stuff. You lose touch with people and I personally find that really hard to come to terms with. I hate the feeling of being let down by someone and I try to not let other people down; I’m not saying I always succeed, I’m only human. My fear is the pandemic has had an effect on people’s relationships because people have dealt with it in different ways. Some people will have very much gone into themselves and taken that time to re assess what they’re doing and whether they’re happy and sometimes that does mean cutting yourself off for a bit. It can go one of two ways and some people will be aware of that and acknowledge that people just need time and that hopefully come the end of the pandemic you will be able to see that person and everything will be normal again. Looping that back around to the song; it’s that idea of maybe assumptions are being made about how that other person feels or how they see themselves and then just having that really good talk. There’s a line in the song about who will you call about things and who would you talk to about what you’re going through because that person has always been me. I think we have to take into consideration that not everyone feels the same way you do about a pandemic, a relationship, taking some space, careers or relocating and it’s all related.
The song is a great anthem for not giving in – even when things get tough the lyrics show a determination to get things back to as good as - if not better than - before. To me this feels like a great metaphor for a world moving out of a pandemic. How important do you think it is that in these tough times we can focus ahead on a brighter future rather than looking back?
It’s not easy, is it? Sometimes you see the news or you look at social media and there’s always something that is extremely saddening. You can lose hope and you can lose faith in stuff. A lot of people like to see their future and to plan it and be quite optimistic; I try to be optimistic about it but actually in that interim time when so much stuff is being thrown at you career wise or things with family, things that I’ve personally gone through massively in the last couple of years. It’s very easy for it to influence your art; I think it always comes through in your writing whether you mean it to or not. If people know you or your story they’ll ask if lyrics or songs are related to certain incidents and you think ‘Oh god not intentionally!’ Lockdown for many people has taken on different forms. For me, I have a young son so we were the three of us in a relatively small flat in London. We had a lot of time together; historically I’d been out and away quite a bit with touring and various things but now I’ve been around a lot and I’m thankful actually. It was unplanned but I’m glad I was there. With the pandemic though it’s just about managing; things can get strained at the best of times and when you face something like this it can go one of two ways. I try to look on the positive side of things for me and those around me, which can be a burden and it can be tiring. I don’t know how you get out of that cycle though, maybe don’t watch the news or look at social media, but it’s a lot easier said than done. As musicians we are heavily focused on our online presence and to be posting things on a daily basis is a full-time job in itself! It’s very different from when I was doing it many years ago. I hope that did answer the question; but that’s how it affected me and that’s all I can really speak to!
As you mentioned there, being a musician requires a lot of travel and movement but the pandemic has seen for a lot of people an enforced period of time at home which is a huge change of pace! Do you think it has changed your plans and perspective moving forward?
I would say that the pandemic forced me into a different direction and for the better quite honestly. Prior to the pandemic I had been in bands, done some wonderful things and was touring quite a lot; when my son was born I was away touring only about two months after. Things then changed so when I was out of that band situation I was around more anyway, and that wasn’t pandemic related at all that was just circumstance. I always wanted the two things side by side; I wanted to be playing, recording and having family as a massive part of that. I firmly believe they can coexist; I’ve seen it before and I know people that do it; for me that’s the dream. I would say that my best chance of having that happen is being a solo artist. Building a team and a band around the songs I have written and having that little bit of control about what makes it all tick and what makes it work for my career and my home life. I can’t just say to my wife, "I’m off on tour now are you ok to stay at home?" It wouldn’t be fair and she has a career, not in music, and that works for us but we both have to be flexible whenever we can and that’s not easy when you’re a musician and get a call to suddenly go somewhere. Timing-wise the pandemic actually happened at a very good time for me in that transition between being in a band and travelling a lot to writing and producing and living with new music for over a year before I put it out myself. That really benefited me as it gave me time, which I’ve never really had much of before due to work and home life. It did give me time to work on those two things and make them coexist and now when gigs are opening, they feel even better than they ever have done for me. I’m in the right situations and having family there at festivals is great for me, it’s where all your worlds come together and that is the dream for me. That’s what I’m trying to build on now.
The opening line ‘Tell me how you really feel’ is followed by the first verse which questions ‘Who are you going to turn to when I’m not around?’ How important do you think it is that we have those people in our lives that we can rely on in times of struggle and open up to?
I think it’s absolutely vital. That’s coming from a guy who didn’t talk to anyone about his feelings for about 35 years. It’s something I was never good at and it took me going to see someone, to talk to a complete stranger that I was paying money to, in order to actually open up. I think it was one of the best things I ever did and it’s aided me now to highlight those people now in my life who I can talk to in a similar way at least. From my own experience having people that aren’t in music or in this industry is also really important because you can get caught up in a bubble. Yes, it’s really nice to have people to talk to who completely understand your life and lifestyle, but actually having friends that do different lines of work and have big families I find really interesting. To get their perspectives on things and to just talk to them about their life. I don’t know if other musicians find this but I don’t get jealous of other musicians, I’m very happy for people when they accomplish things but the only time I get jealous is seeing people who have a more standard way of living; a beautiful home with a big garden. I’m not jealous to a detrimental point, it’s more thinking, ‘Oh that would be nice’ but also I don’t think I’m meant to be like that so you are torn! But I do think that having people on both sides of the fence is important.
You’ve had an eventful career so far and have worked with some big names – who inspires you the most as an artist musically and personally?
Good question! They’re quite diverse! Having experience of working closely with people like Andrew Lloyd Webber was fascinating – just to see the way he works and how his mind works! He was always very lovely to me so I don’t have a bad word to say about him. Working closely with Tim Minchin too who has remained a very lovely friend. I think I’m drawn to geniuses! I just find them fascinating and he is an absolute genius! Funny, talented, brilliant and a really genuinely lovely man who is supportive. Ronan Keating too, someone who I never thought I’d work with in any capacity. Very generous with his time and just a really lovely guy! They were all wonderful. I guess from a band and country music side of things meeting and playing on the same show as people like Chris Stapleton was just absolutely unbelievable, he’s got one of those voices I just wish I had! Robert Plant was unbelievable too. Just inspirational people they really are! I know there are loads more and I’ll kick myself afterwards for not remembering everyone but I’ve been really lucky to be in their presence really.
You’ve had an interesting career journey so far as a country musician having spent time in musical theatre and on the West End – can you tell me a little bit more about how that came about and then how you went from there back to country music?
I think there is actually a connection between country music and musical theatre and I know a lot of people now in country music that have a history in or a diversion into theatre. I think it stems from stories. Country fans love a story and being able to connect with the lyrics and I think that’s why people also love theatre. People want to escape and be able to enjoy someone else’s lives and experiences. There’s a lot of crossover in the dedicated fan bases of both. For me, music is always first, I’d always been in rock bands and I was a session musician in country music when I left university and then was in bands all through my twenties. I had a vague appreciation of some musicals, only a handful that I’d heard parts or certain songs from. Being a lover of massive choruses and catchy melodies it really ticked that box. As a musician myself, singing was the last thing that came to me, mainly because of nerves. I have quite a high voice and this was the 90s and I was listening to grunge and rock and it seems like nobody was singing like that so I thought maybe I’d just be quiet! Eventually people would say to me ‘Have you heard this ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ thing?' Steve Balsamo was playing Jesus and singing this incredible stuff, I remember seeing him on the Royal Variety Show hitting these incredibly high notes and crying and it was unbelievable. I remember thinking that I wanted to sing like that, or at least try! So, while I was at university, studying music but as a drummer, I essentially locked myself in my dorm room and tried to sing it! I did the occasional concert just doing this one song from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ as a bit of a party piece! Then, as more of a hobby, I decided to see if I could actually maybe write some of this kind of stuff. I wrote some modern sounding musical theatre songs and managed to get some West End and Broadway people to come and do the vocals on them for me and actually put together a couple of albums. How on earth I got those performers to do it I’ve got no idea but it was a great experience! I then had an opportunity whilst I was still living in the Midlands when they were doing a semi-professional production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and they were doing open auditions for Jesus. A number of friends told me I had to go for it so I did the audition and then got a phone call saying, ‘If you can lose some weight, you can be Jesus!’ It didn’t take me by surprise, the weight thing had always been an issue for me and still is. I threw myself in at the deep end, lost three stone in three months and performed as Jesus and loved it! That was about 2010. A couple of years later I saw this advert that Andrew Lloyd Webber was looking for the next ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ for a TV show. All my friends were encouraging me to go again and by this time I’d put all the weight back on! I ended up going to the auditions and getting on the live TV shows! I had to leave my job on a sabbatical, live in a big house in London with the other finalists and we were even flown to Mallorca to Lloyd Webber’s house. I came about seventh I think. For me it was a huge moment where I thought, ‘Can I do this for a living?’ Not just musical theatre but music in general. I ended up leaving my job and was offered a role on the arena tour of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ so I was in the show and also understudy Judas to Tim Minchin. My wife was between jobs so I actually got her a job on the show too in the wardrobe department, so we toured arenas together for a few months. When that finished I auditioned and got a tour of ‘Rent’ which was amazing. After that my wife got a job in London so we decided to move and then I could really pursue this. Within about a month I got a job on the West End in a show called ‘Once’ with Ronan Keating, which was a dream with the show involving acting, singing and playing guitar. I then did the first year of ‘Kinky Boots’ on the West End but during that time decided I wanted to go back to the band and country stuff. I set up a band called ‘The Wandering Hearts’ and just as I came to the end of my first year contract on ‘Kinky Boots’ we were ready to sign our record deal. I’ve been doing country music full time ever since that really now. I get a lot of people asking what made me go from theatre to country music but the country music came first! I wouldn’t rule out more theatre if the right thing was around but what I’m doing now is my passion.
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name a top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
This Work is a Drug – Tim Prottey-Jones
Lullaby – Shawn Mullins
The Joke – Brandi Carlile
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