After her performance for the Coffee House Sessions, Tom Bithell sat down for an in-depth chat, discussing how deep fears, inspiration and change have played a vital role in the 19-year-old’s life.
How did you get involved with music?
That is such a long story! I started writing when I was 15/16 years old. And actually it’s so strange the last song I played here was a song I wrote when I was 16. I always loved music as I grew up and I was always in the school plays and musicals. When I wrote my first songs, when I was 15/16, I played them on an open mic night once. It was then that I kind of realised that this could be something I could pursue. Before that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something to do with music, but I didn’t know if you could become a musician without writing, so it was only when I began to write that I was like “oh I could actually do this”. And then the reactions from people, they said it was good, and they enjoyed it so that confidence in me grew; it made me continue gigging, writing and reporting. Now I am at university in London completing a music degree.
What was the inspiration for 16-year-old you?
Boys! I think my first song was about how I was so lonely. Thinking back now, I was 16, I should have been thinking about other things like school. But also, when I was 16 I went through a tough time mentally. I had a lot of problems with my confidence, anxiety and stuff, so I wrote a lot about that and how to come out of it.
And now it has turned into this!
I know and I think it’s quite lovely how you can turn something so awful into something so beautiful.
So, know you are on the other end, how do you write your songs now? For example, what was the thought process of your latest song?
That song came about when me and Jessie (the guitarist) were rehearsing for this tour in his flat and we ended up talking about our pasts and stuff. We actually ended up talking about counseling as we both have had it in the past with mental things, sad things you know. I just had this really vivid image in my head of being sat in that room with the counselor. It was a white room with just one little window. The one window is supposed to help you to be there but at the time you generally feel suffocated. But obviously in the end it does turn out okay, but at the time you really don’t want to be there and it feels quite trapping. To write the song I just went home and I just had the thought of sitting in those four walls. Normally I would write the lyrics and sing it, then find the chords around it. I always try to start on a chord that I haven’t used before as it keeps the music fresh and not repetitive. So the song wrote itself pretty quickly which I was happy about as I hadn’t written in a while. Also, I live in a house full of musicians so I always feel guilty and unproductive when I see them writing and I am not.
You mentioned you’re at university; what are you doing?
The course I do is Creative Music with Vocals at a specialist music university in London. So my course is an all in one for an artist; we do performance every week where we learn different genres and styles. We learn how to change it into your own style and how to record it, so it really is an all in one for an artist.
How do you manage university and doing things like this tour?
Well we have had two weeks off of uni for this tour and we have assessments when we come back which is a stress, but at the end of the day, personally, I am not at uni for the degree. As an artist by having that degree, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to succeed. And my uni is very understanding about that; they are happy to let us have that two weeks off to progress in that sense.
Tell me something interesting about you?
Something interesting? I am vegan? I can say that but people get annoyed sometimes when I say that. It doesn’t normally provoke good conversations; the response is usually ‘oh you’re one of them’. Also, I am half Philippino and half English. I was born in the Philippines, spent 7 years there. I lived in the Middle East for four years as well. My dad was a teacher and he taught in international schools so we moved around a lot for different schools and stuff.
So have you drawn on inspiration from that?
I think I draw on the fact that I haven’t stayed in one place for very long and that kind of change. As soon as I made friends I would be leaving them behind and going somewhere else. On the flip sid,e however, I think it has made me into a person who really wants change. Now I love change all the time! I was living in Blackpool and was like, I am not going to Manchester University, I am going to go all the way to London! I really like big change and the idea of it.
What do you do in your spare time then?
I don’t actually have mush spare time. When I am not working or at uni I am writing and if I am not writing I am gigging. I work in a Wetherspoons too. When I was younger I was really into swimming so I would like to get back into that at some point; I definitely thought that I might be an Olympic swimmer, but oh my god, the amount of training you had to do!
What is one of your deepest fears?
Settling. I don’t want to become complacent; I always want to be pushing myself and pushing everything I do. I want to always be challenging myself to do difficult things, like this tour. This tour has been incredibly difficult, driving everywhere, constantly gigging and packing down to drive to the next place. The organisation is challenging but I have proven to myself that yeah, I can do it. It means that I can do things like this in the future as well. So I guess I am afraid that I will stop doing these things and that I will settle.