Back from the Brink

Lon­don Gram­mar singer Hannah Reid has re­turned even stronger af­ter a burnout that saw her miss a flight – and a tour, writes Bron­wyn Thomp­son.

Sunday News - - ETC -

Most artists reach a point where they know if there’s any more time on the road, they’ll burn out. For Lon­don Gram­mar, that mo­ment came when front­woman Hannah Reid sim­ply didn’t turn up to the air­port to go on tour. ‘‘We were go­ing to Aus­tralia and Ja­pan, and the trip was we had two days at home and we were meant to fly to Ja­pan, go and do a show, turn around and get straight back on a plane and fly to Aus­tralia,’’ she says. ‘‘And I was so ex­hausted by then, I didn’t even turn up at the air­port. I was like, ‘I just can’t. I can’t. I ac­tu­ally can­not get out of bed’.’’

This was news to her band­mates, gui­tarist Dan Roth­man and drum­mer and key­boardist Do­minic ‘‘Dot’’ Ma­jor. ‘‘It was re­ally, re­ally dis­ap­point­ing for the fans and ev­ery­one, so it was at that point we were like, ‘OK, we have to stop tour­ing now. We need to fig­ure out how to do this bet­ter be­cause it’s not work­ing for us’,’’ she says. ‘‘So that was fun for Dan and Dot, go­ing to the air­port when I never turned up!’’

Be­fore they reached that point, the elec­tronic in­die-pop trio from Not­ting­ham, Eng­land, had spent 21⁄ years tour­ing the world on the back of their de­but al­bum, 2013’s If You Wait. The ac­claimed set, which landed at No 2 on the ARIA Al­bums chart in Aus­tralia, took Lon­don Gram­mar from nought to 100 overnight in­ter­na­tion­ally – a lot to take in for a young band Roth­man de­scribed at the time as ‘‘just ba­bies in the in­dus­try’’.

‘‘You can’t ever an­tic­i­pate what’s go­ing to hap­pen, but we were just so young at the time,’’ Reid says. ‘‘I think it hap­pens a lot: you’re kids when you start out and you make some­thing re­ally spe­cial. It was amaz­ing, but we did need a bit of time at home af­ter­wards, for sure.

‘‘The first year was fine, but it was dur­ing the sec­ond year that things started to un­ravel a bit. I’d been away for that long and my voice started to go, re­ally. But you get through it be­cause it is such an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. And that’s the thing – it’s al­ways amaz­ing do­ing the shows and meet­ing fans, but it wasn’t all rain­bows and sun­shine.’’

Re­turn­ing home, the three strug­gled to set­tle back into every­day life. In fact, it took them a year-and-a-half to get a roll on writ­ing the sec­ond al­bum – some­thing that had many as­sum­ing the band had qui­etly split up.

‘‘That was weird, but I won­der, with our fans, it was ob­vi­ous there was some kind of drama that went on, with a few can­cel­la­tions [of shows]. And I think maybe the im­pres­sion some peo­ple got was that I’d just lost my mar­bles and maybe we’d split up,’’ Reid says. ‘‘We def­i­nitely hadn’t; we were like, ‘Let’s make a sec­ond al­bum and see how that goes’. We’re not ones for the lime­light in that way, re­ally.’’

Work­ing with pro­duc­ers Paul Ep­worth and Greg Kurstin – of Adele fame – Lon­don Gram­mar have built on their famed at­mo­spheric, moody in­die-pop for the grand, cin­e­matic, re­cently re­leased sec­ond al­bum Truth is a Beau­ti­ful Thing, which reached top spot on the Bri­tish charts and No 3 in Aus­tralia. But the qui­etly am­bi­tious front­woman isn’t about to bathe in the glory of its strong crit­i­cal re­cep­tion.

‘‘It took us about 18 months and it was re­ally hard,’’ Reid ad­mits. ‘‘There was a lot of pres­sure – I think nat­u­rally there al­ways is, for a lot of artists that have suc­cess­ful first al­bums and want to make a sec­ond. But it’s prob­a­bly an­other learn­ing curve; by the end of it we re­alised, ‘You know what? You can’t think about it or you’re not go­ing to do your best work.’ And I think that’s an­other les­son to take for­ward!’’ she laughs.

‘‘I think I both grew as a writer and also shrunk away. I think there are some amaz­ing songs on the sec­ond al­bum that I re­ally love, but I view this sec­ond al­bum as the step­ping stone to our third one. We wanted to find a new sound and there is a new sound in it, but it has the po­ten­tial to be re­ally, re­ally amaz­ing but it’s not quite there yet. That’s how I view it.’’

While the trio aren’t ex­actly mu­sic vet­er­ans – they’re aged 26 and 27 – Reid is the first to ad­mit they’ve come a long way from the kids that made the two-mil­lion­selling If You Wait.

It seems there’s noth­ing quite like be­ing thrown into the deep

‘ I’m much bet­ter than I was. Re­ally, so much bet­ter.’ HANNAH REID

end and tour­ing for nearly three years to pol­ish off any in­dus­try naivety.

‘‘It’s the only way to learn, but the thing that I think is quite dif­fi­cult for young artists is you don’t re­ally learn,’’ Reid says. ‘‘You learn your craft and you learn how to per­form on stage, but there’s no-one there to re­ally tell you about the busi­ness side of things – how it’s sup­posed to work, what you have con­trol over, what you have no con­trol over. I think that’s quite an in­ter­est­ing part of the in­dus­try that could be im­proved upon, for young artists.’’

And when it comes to per­form­ing on stage, Reid has had to learn more than most. Hav­ing suf­fered crip­pling stage fright through­out her ca­reer, it’s still a work in progress but a whole lot more man­age­able than it has been.

‘‘I do think it’s a re­ally unique thing for mu­si­cians. That if you write songs, more of­ten than not that per­son has writ­ten it with one other per­son or by them­selves, which is a very in­tro­verted process. So a lot of mu­si­cians are in­tro­verts and find them­selves in this sit­u­a­tion where it’s like, ‘Oh now you have to per­form it live, in front of peo­ple’. And I think that’s why there’s a lot of al­co­hol and drugs that get taken, to cope with that pres­sure,’’ she says.

‘‘I’m much bet­ter than I was. Re­ally, so much bet­ter. I think how ner­vous I al­ways was con­trib­uted to me get­ting ex­hausted on the first al­bum, be­cause ev­ery night I was just ter­ri­fied, and that’s not nor­mal. And com­ing back this sec­ond time, I’ll al­ways be re­ally ner­vous, but I’ve learnt to ac­cept it.’’ ● Lon­don Gram­mar are sched­uled to play a one-off show at Auck­land’s Spark Arena on Septem­ber 30. Book at Tick­et­mas­ter.

Singer and front­per­son Hannah Reid still isn’t en­tirely sat­is­fied with Lon­don Gram­mar’s lat­est sound, de­spite their most re­cent al­bum hit­ting No 1 in the Bri­tish charts.

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