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.
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.