Tom Grennan: ‘I still had a lot of things I needed to understand about myself’

Named after the street in Hackney where Tom Grennan lived with his former girlfriend, Evering Road is a soul-baring album that has obviously struck a chord.

Tom Grennan. Picture: Mark Mattock

With sales of over 17,000 in its week of release, it gave the 25-year-old singer-songwriter his first Number One in the UK last month, just days after a high-profile appearance of The Graham Norton Show.

Grennan has described its 14 songs as a “story of love, heartbreak and redemption”. As he settles in a comfortable chair at his parents’ home for our Zoom call, he reflects that “a lot of good” has come from the process of opening up and recognising his own flaws during the relationship.

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“I felt like I needed to go through that to become a better person,” he says. “I realised what I really wanted in life and how I really needed to change, to just put myself in a better crowd. I just had to become a man, I suppose. I was really a boy back then and I was doing silly things. For sure I felt like I needed to go through the bad to get to the good side.”

Penning the lyrics for this album became a form of self-analysis. “For me it was a therapeutic time,” he says. “It allowed me to get to the nitty gritty of what was going on and actually talk about it. Beforehand I felt like it was hard to talk about what I was going through and where my head was at; this allowed me to really open up with myself and others about what was going on. I feel like that really did help me get past it.”

The conclusion Grennan came to was that he “needed to shape up”. “I needed to change what I was doing,” he says. “I needed to take myself out of a bad situation and listen to myself and start to heal.”

Evering Road was originally slated for release last year, but was delayed by the pandemic. The Bedford-born singer says he was grateful for the extra time to digest the emotional content of the songs.

“I feel like I wasn’t emotionally ready for it to come out last year,” he explains. “I still had a lot of things I needed to understand about myself.

Tom Grennan. Picture: Mark Mattock

“I moved back to my mum and dad’s for the first lockdown and that allowed me to kind of re-set, get healthier up here (mentally) and physically as well. I don’t feel like I would have been ready for it to come out last year, to be honest, and I don’t feel like I would have had time to just take a minute out to realise that I did have more problems than I thought I had.

“I had a year to just sit with the album and listen to myself and talk things through with myself, so it was good.”

While some musicians have used lockdown to tweak their recordings, Grennan resisted such temptation. Instead, he says, he worked on self-improvement. “I felt like I had a good album,” he says. “Blood, sweat and tears went into it, but I still had more to work on when the album was finished, and that was me. I had to work on me then.”

Reaching the top of the charts affirmed the singer’s confidence in the record. The messages from fans have been equally as rewarding. “They love it,” he says. “The response has been great. It’s an uplifting album as well as a break-up one, and for the time we’re living in now I feel like everybody needs a bit of uplifting.

“I think my fans have been very understanding of what I went through as well. I put it all out on the table, and I was like, ‘Listen, I’ve been a bit of an idiot, but here I am talking about it, I’ve made my mistakes and I want to better those mistakes and become a better person, and I feel like I have done that and I’m happy’.”

Grennan recently said he felt like Evering Road signalled his growth to a “proper artist”. Although his debut album, Lighting Matches, was a top five hit in 2018, he recognises now that he had yet to find his own voice. “Whereas this time I really understood what it was like to make a personal album. I don’t feel that Lighting Matches was that personal to me; I feel like it was just a collection of songs that I put together and thankfully it put me in a position to be able to make another record, but this one I really understood what it felt like to put every bit of an emotion into an album and open a door to my world for other people to come into and have a look round. That’s what I feel like an album is meant to do in more cases than not.”

As well as the album’s success, he is also scaling the singles charts with Let’s Go Home Together, a duet with Ella Henderson, the song’s writer. “She’d had this song for four years and it just never came out. She sent me the song and I instantly thought, ‘wow, it’s amazing and I’m going to definitely try and put my kind of twist on it’ and it worked out. She’s great and I’m really proud of her for putting out the song, I’m really honoured to be on it too. It reminded me of the good times that we all had, which was normal life. It kind of sets you up ready to go back into normal life and have that freedom to be able to speak to whoever you want to and just have fun. It’s quite a tongue in cheek song.”

A footballer in his younger years, who played for Luton Town, Grennan has been working hard on getting himself match fit again for touring. “When I was younger I was obviously fit but I dropped off doing all that and I kind of let myself go a little bit. This lockdown I’ve just got really fit. It’s definitely helped my mind, releasing those natural endorphins makes you feel good and it just sets your day up nicely. As soon as you get into a routine that’s where it starts to work and I know it has done.

“Getting fit for touring has been the main goal. I don’t want to go back to tour half-fit and when I’m singing just take a minute to get my breath back. Everybody’s missed live shows and I want to be giving it 120 per cent. I want to be an athlete going back into live shows. I don’t want to be an overweight alcoholic.”

As well as a UK tour scheduled for September, Grennan is also doing a short series of Q&A events with his friend Jaackmaate. One is for Crash Records at The Wardrobe in Leeds on October 11. “I wanted to get to different places and actually talk to fans and see what’s been going on,” he explains. “If people have questions for me then I’ll answer them and just connect. I feel like we haven’t connected personally for so long. It’s just going to be nice to be back in a room with people and understanding what the album has done for other people, and what it’s done for me too.”

Evering Road is out now. Tom Grennan is due to play at O2 Academy Leeds on September 17 and Sheffield Academy on September 19. www.tomgrennanmusic.com