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Tim O-T On Music, Mental Health And Making It Through

12/09/2016 13:12

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Photo credit: Molly Zacharias

We meet in Tim's messy Norbiton flat, it's early in the morning and his clothes are strewn across his sitting room floor. He's just moved in and immediately apologises for the chaos. It's been two years since I last interviewed Tim and much in his life has changed. After a break up, job losses, and numerous album delays, I had expected him to be in a despondent mood when we met. Yet despite these setbacks, I enter his flat to find him positively buoyant. He tells me how he's recently taken up swimming and how it has completely changed his outlook on life. What's more he's just had confirmation that, after a year in the lurch, his debut album Let It Rain is going to be released on Banquet Records in early September. For a songwriter so heavily associated with Kingston's impressive music scene, this is entirely fitting news.

"Kingston is my hometown; I was born and raised here. I've always been into music so it was kind of inevitable that I would get involved with Banquet, arguably the best record shop in the country". Inevitable or not, Tim's relationship with Banquet Records is one that has been slow burning, built over a number of years. He continues, "I messaged Jon [Tolley] the guy who runs Banquet and I didn't hear anything back. I didn't want to hassle him too much so I just sort of left it. I got round to thinking 'ok I'm going to release it [the album] independently without a label'. Then I messaged him basically with the master head, 'look I'm going to release it independently just thought I would check one more time, I'd love to do it through Banquet' and he got back and it all came together! It's amazing cos the amount of respect I have for Banquet is difficult to put to words, it's incredible, so to work with them it's amazing."

Let It Rain was recorded at Amazing Grace studios in Hoxton with Sam Duckworth [Recreations. Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly] at the helm on production duties. It was this meeting of musical minds that allowed the record to come to fruition. "I met Sam when I played with him at The Joiners in Southampton. He was a lovely guy and we sort of got to know each other that night. Then slowly over that year we got booked on more and more gigs together." After a pause Tim alludes to the breakup that helped shape the album and its direction saying "something happened in my life, I was quite upset, and he could tell I was quite upset and the subject of recording an album came up." The experience of working with Duckworth was a formative one, "it was brilliant to work with an artist, with a producer who is a songwriter as well. He's not identical to me but he's got songs that are in a similar genre to me. I knew straight away that he knew what he was doing and I didn't have any qualms whatsoever with him saying maybe you should have the drums there instead of there, or maybe the cello shouldn't come in here."

One of the hardest songs to listen to on Let It Rain is 'Diary', a song that chronicles a stormy and dysfunctional relationship. It's a song that Tim is aware could cause some discomfort. "There was a point when I was worried about certain songs on the album. 'Diary' is about how in relationships you can just be a total piece of shit. You can be emotionally controlling and not even realise that you're doing it. When I talk about that song, even now I feel a bit uncomfortable, that song is about an abusive relationship from the point of view of the abuser. Talking about it now it sounds like I'm saying I'm an abuser when really I was in abusive relationship, and I was trying to figure it out. I was trying to think about it deeply, 'why do we act this way?', 'why do we do these things to each other?'"

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Photo credit: Molly Zacharias

The record also touches on mental health and the psychological toll that can take place on a person when playing small, dingy, and often empty bars. "I think talking about mental health is so important" Tim says with earnest. "I think a lot of people are scared to do it. If someone says to me 'I'm really depressed and I want to kill myself ' the only thing I can do is sit there and listen. Sometimes I feel like I wish I could do more and I wish people like me had more training I guess. Organisations like CALM [Campaign Against Living Miserably] are perfect." Explaining his own experiences with mental health battles, Tim describes how CALM was able to help him. "When I was going through some trouble I spoke to CALM and it was literally like talking to your best mate but who was also a trained therapist. There's only so much you can do. I've had some really tragic situations with friends who have gone through mental health. There were a lot of the times where I wanted them to open up to me and there was a lot of time where I felt all I can do is sit here and watch you destroy yourself and it was absolutely heart-breaking to do that. I don't know the answer to be honest, but I definitely think we need to talk about it. People need to accept that this is a thing, this is an illness and it kills. Suicide kills more young men than cancer, it kills the most people."

With the record coming out, Tim is off once again on a DIY tour of the UK. Playing in bedrooms and backrooms is an experience that has become familiar to the young songwriter. He explains, "it's just like knocking on doors basically, cold calling saying 'hi can I play in your pub' sort of thing. In the UK now I can book a tour really quickly because I've done it for four or five years, I know people all around the country." Yet on these DIY tours, the familiar always mixes with the unknown. "Sometimes we would do 600 mile journeys and we would have no idea what the gig was going to be like. It was just hit and miss, totally hit and miss. The first European tour I did was amazing, all the gigs were good. The last one there was one or two dead ones." With our conversation coming to a close Tim adds "you can look at that and be disheartened or you can just have a drink and accept it and wait for the next one. I can't expect people who don't know who I am, to come out on a Tuesday night, to a bar that's maybe even on the outskirts of the centre to just sit there and listen. People have lives to lead and you know, but I enjoy it either way."

Let It Rain is out on Banquet Records.

For more information about Calm [Campaign Against Living Miserably] and the work they do click here.

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