UK Singer Tom Grennan Talks Jarring Reality Of Sudden Stardom

14 April 2022 | 11:08 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"I was playing to like, I dunno, 20 to 30 people in this pub – it was an open-mic night – and then five or six months later I could see the pub from this stage I was on [performing to] 75,000 people at Wireless Festival! It was crazy.”

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Even if you wouldn’t necessarily recognise Tom Grennan – with his trademark tousled, curly barnet (which is slightly tamed under a white baseball cap during today’s Zoom interview) – in a crowd, there’s no way you could possibly have escaped hearing his worldwide smash hit, Little Bit Of Love. The fourth single from Grennan’s excellent second album (2021’s Evering Road, which topped the UK charts), Little Bit Of Love wonderfully showcases this Bedford-bred artist’s soaring, soulful timbre and features impossibly catchy hooks that are sure to become permanently lodged in your internal jukebox after just one spin – no wonder this tune has been so widely synced!

When asked to single out one of his favourite uses of this song to date, Grennan offers, “Actually, I like the farmer show that one of my songs got used on over there, d’ya know? It was funny.” Oh, The Farmer Wants A Wife? (Little Bit Of Love was used in promo for the popular Channel 7 reality TV show.) “The Farmer Wants A Wife, yeah. I actually watched it for a while as well so, yeah! Have you watched Married At First Sight Australia as well? It’s huge over here; the Australian one, in particular. I think it’s just funnier, innit? The Australians don’t care – they’ll say how it is – it’s funny.”

So was Grennan aware that he was tapping into something magical while creating Little Bit Of Love? “Oh, yeah, definitely, definitely,” he extols. “I knew it was special from the moment it came in with [sings melody] ‘I’ve been holdin’ onto pieces...’ Straight away I was like [strokes chin stubble with thoughtful expression on his face], ‘Mmm...’ Honestly, I’m gonna tell you the truth: what happened with Little Bit Of Love – we were writing it and we couldn’t get the chorus, so I went for a burger. And I bit into a cheeseburger and then the melody came and I was humming with burger in my mouth, I was going, [hums chorus melody] ‘Mm-mm-mm-mm-MM-mm...’ And then I was finishing the burger and then I started to write the lyrics, and me and the people who I wrote it with [Dan Bryer and Mike Needle], we were all like, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is something. We need to get back to the studio, quick!’ And then we wrote it in about, I dunno, 15 minutes – the chorus – it came really, really quick. And then we just finished the song and the whole song really took us probably about three hours in total to do, it was pretty crazy.

“I kinda think, like, the really, really special songs, they come like hymns, d’ya know what I mean? And I believe these melodies have always been there, they just need someone to deliver ‘em, so, yeah! I was just lucky enough to be given that melody and to be allowed to sing it.”

It sounds like Little Bit Of Love almost poured out of him, then. “Exactly,” Grennan allows. “I call it ‘The River Of Melodies’ – you kinda just open a door and you jump into this big old stream and you’re on your dinghy boat and you’re kind of like lettin’ that melody just take you away. And there’s not much thought that goes into it, it kind of just happens and it’s pretty weird.”

So would Grennan agree that if a song’s taking too long to wrangle, it’s probably better to just move onto something else? “Mmm, definitely. I’ve had songs like that, where you just have to park ‘em up and put a bit of money on so you don’t get a ticket, d’ya know wha’ I mean?” he chuckles.

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Evering Road is the name of a street in the London borough of Hackney, where Grennan lived with an ex-girlfriend. But rather than a breakup album, he prefers to describe this record as “a thank you note”. “It was a time that I learnt a lot about who I wanted to be and where I was at that stage in my life,” Grennan elaborates. “And, at that point, I was in this relationship that I shouldn’t have really been in. I thought, ‘D’you know what? This is actually more of a thank you to this person, because if I would’ve stayed in [the relationship], it would’ve just got worse and I probably would’ve become worse as well and, yeah! I think you just always need to remember that relationships and life experiences come – and there’s always another person involved with these relationships, really. And I didn’t wanna be nasty, either, d’ya know what I mean? That was a big chunk of my life and some breakup albums are really like, ‘You’re this, you’re that, you’re this, you’re that,’ but I had to say, ‘Actually, I was this and I was that, and thank you for kind of like, I dunno, teaching me that I didn’t wanna be that anymore’.”

Unlike many performing artists who felt hamstrung by lockdown restrictions, Grennan ponders, “Lockdown, for me, was a period where I really kinda just got to press the reset button; I stopped drinking for a while; I got really, really fit; I moved back with my mum and dad for the first lockdown so I got to have that experience of living back with my mum and dad and my brother again, which was really nice. So I think, for me, lockdown came at a period of my life where I struggled a lot with different things. And I needed lockdown, because I would’ve burnt myself into the ground, I suppose, and I don’t know that I would’ve had the success that I’ve been having now if I didn’t have that time to kind of just sort myself out.”

When he was coming up on the scene, Grennan honed his craft by performing acoustic shows in pubs around London. “Pub gigs are hard when people don’t know you, and everyone’s drunk, and everybody’s kinda just there with their mates,” he points out. “And some people don’t wanna listen to music, some people don’t wanna listen to some kid singing – at that time – slow, sad songs.” So did punters constantly approach Grennan to request Wonderwall by Oasis during these early gigs? “They would, but I would always tell them, ‘I don’t do covers, mate, so you get what you’re given’,” he recounts, laughing.

But these acoustic performances definitely fed Grennan’s hunger: he wanted to do this full-time. “I’ve always been a performer and my mum’s always said, like, ‘You belong on a stage’,” he shares. “I think, for me, what I learnt most from that time [performing in pubs] is: I love performing and I love being on stage and giving to people, d’ya know wha’ I mean? When you see a song connect with people, that’s the real moment and the magic of it so I probably learnt that I just wanted to do it forever and not ever do anything else.”

Grennan’s big break proper came when Chase & Status handpicked him to supply guest vocals on their single All Goes Wrong (2016). “It was such a long time ago now, I was still at university!” Grennan marvels. “So I was just about to sign a record deal and then [Chase & Status] heard one of my songs and messaged and said, ‘Do you wanna come into the studio?’ I’d never been into a studio before – and obviously I was a Chase & Status fan as well – so when I got there it was a pretty crazy experience. And we wrote All Goes Wrong in a day. I just remember going back into uni and going, ‘Fuckin’ ‘ell, I’ve just written a song with Chase & Status! They probably won’t use it, but what an experience!’

“And then they rang me, they were like, ‘It’s gonna be our next single, do you wanna come and play this festival with us?’ And I was like, ‘One hundred percent!’ And it was in a place called Finsbury Park, which is In London. And about four to five months before that, that’s when I was just about to sign a deal or had just got spotted by a record company who were havin’ a beer in a pub across the field [from the festival site]. So I was playing to like, I dunno, 20 to 30 people in this pub – it was an open-mic night – and then five or six months later I could see the pub from this stage I was on [performing to] 75,000 people at Wireless Festival! It was crazy.”

So how did Grennan deal with experiencing such a huge career peak so early on in his career? “I just took it in my stride. I was like, ‘Here we go then, this is what I wanna do,’ and, yeah! I’m like a dog with a bone, I want, want, want. And, you know, when you get pushed in straight away you’re kinda like, ‘It’s gonna be like that from now on,’ and I had to learn you’ve gotta be patient with these things. So I did, like, 75,000 people with Chase & Status and then I did my own shows and we had to build it from the ground up, you know? So I had to learn it isn’t gonna be like that all the time, you’ve gotta put in the hard work and be patient with success, and with patience comes longevity as well, I suppose.”

Grennan also featured on By Your Side by Calvin Harris, which dropped last year. How was Harris to work with? “Amazing! Calvin is just a pure light of energy. He’s such a nice guy. I’d say he’s a genius; he’s the biggest DJ you’re gonna have, d’ya know what I mean? And he just knew what was hot and he liked what I was doin’ and just put me on and, yeah! We created By Your Side and it was pretty surreal, but it was amazing.” When asked whether they collaborated IRL or remotely, Grennan clarifies, “All of it was remote. I’ve never met him. I’ve only met him like how we are now [on Zoom]. But it just shows you, like, during that lockdown period and stuff we had to adapt, and we did adapt and created something like that so, yeah! It was great. It was just a really, really cool experience and I still chat to him now so, yeah! He’s a friend.”

He’s already checked off some bucketlist collabs, but Grennan reckons there’s still “a few” he’d love to manifest by saying their names out loud. “I’d love to work with – gosh, this is big names – but I’d love to do something with Tony Bennett, I’d love to do something with Miley Cyrus, I’d love to work with Gaga – I think she’s great. I’d love to work with Kendrick Lamar or something like that. Listen, these are big dreams and big hopes, but you never know.”

Grennan has recently been in the studio, busily prepping album number three, and confirms, “I’ve finished it! It’s all written. There’s a few little production things to do but, apart from that, like, the album’s done and it’s ready to go.” So how does he feel about his new material? “How do I feel? I’m really, really excited. I really do think this is the best music that I’ve ever done so I’m excited and, yeah! Just ready for this new chapter – or new adventure – and hopefully people love it as much as I do. I don’t have a date for when the album actually comes out, who knows? But I’ve definitely got the next three to four singles in the bag ready to go as well.”

The recently released first taster from Grennan’s upcoming third LP was recorded with British songwriter/producer LostBoy (Dua Lipa, Rita Ora). Titled Remind Me, Grennan’s latest single glistens with flawless vocals, optimistic melodies, hand-clapping beats and a stadium-ready “OH-Oh-oh-OH-Oh” singalong – it easily rivals Little Bit Of Love in the earworm stakes.

“I probably wrote that maybe eight or nine months ago,” Grennan reveals. “It was one of the first songs that I wrote for the album… I think, for me, it was that kind of moment where I wanted to be reminded of a good thing – and the good times – and, when people listen to the song, I wanted them to have that moment where they can escape and put themselves in a different world. As you know, we’re living in a crazy, scary world at the moment and I just wanted people to, I dunno, switch off and have a good memory… I wanted the song to just bring people back into their moment when things were good.

“When I was writing the song, it really related to me because I let something good go at one point and when I got it back I was reminded of like, ‘Wow, how have I let this relationship go?’ And then when we came back together it was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’ve missed you this much and I can’t believe it’s happening,’ d’ya know wha’ I mean? And that’s what the song’s about and that’s what I wanted people to take away from it, really.

“When you put a song out, it does become other people’s and I’m just the guy who sings it. And I’ve gotta let go of what the song meant to me at that point; I kinda forget what songs mean to me because, when they take on another life – it’s somebody else’s, kinda thing. So when I write a song, for me, it’s more like I have to get something off my chest and allow myself to feel these feelings and emotions. And when the song’s done, it’s kind of like, close the door on it, or, ‘Well, that’s that done; I can put it onto somebody else now’,” he says, laughing. “So it’s a bit like therapy, I suppose.”

Ahead of Grennan’s debut Australian tour, Little Bit Of Love has reached Platinum status in this territory. When congratulated on this outstanding achievement, Grennan enthuses, “Wow! Thank you so much, yeah. It’s crazy just to think, like, my music is travelling across the world, d’ya know wha’ I mean? And I’ve never been to Australia so I’m really, really looking forward to getting out and I know, like, the support over there’s just gone mad so it’s gonna be a good time when I’m out there, for sure.”

Although heaps of musicians relied on live streaming as a source of income and to stay connected with their fanbases throughout the global pandemic, Grennan considers, “The internet is a good thing and a bad thing, but for me I love being in the moment – the internet’s not for me. I love meeting people and I feel like, with me, when people meet me that’s when they get the real kind of personality and they really, like, understand me; I don’t think that comes across as much online. So I’m looking forward to gettin’ to see people, gettin’ to meet people in these different countries like Australia… I’m worried, because I’ve been told Australia could really grab me and I won’t want to come home. So I’ve warned people, ‘You might not see me again, because I’m going to Australia,” he trails off, chuckling.