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Slowthai: “The whole album is about the ups and downs of being a human”

Celebrating a number one album that deals with “the ups and downs of being a human”, we chatted to Slowthai about his mental health struggles, crying while watching Soul and how he dealt with suicidal thoughts.

Slowthai is sat in his studio – a basement room in the house in Northampton he shares with his fiancée and his mum – with a wide smile on his face. Wearing a vibrant purple dressing gown, he’s talking excitedly. And with good reason. It’s the night before his second album, TYRON, will be declared number one album in the UK charts. Though it’s not been confirmed, it seems fairly certain. “I don’t wanna be like, ‘Yeah, it’s happening’ and then I jinx it. It seems pretty certified but you never know.”

He got his moniker because his name is Ty (Tyron Frampton) and he spoke slowly as a kid. But here he speaks quickly, his thoughts zig zagging around. He talks about his mental health, how the album “is about the ups and downs of being a human” and how he wants the message to come through that you should ‘never be afraid to be yourself’. The fact this album uses his real name underlines how personal it is – a collection of songs that see him explore who he really is with a refreshing frankness. 

TYRON was not the album he had planned to make, but because of everything he was going through it became the album he had to make. “I’ve mapped out the albums I wanna do but the album that I wanted to be my second album was a completely different thing. I can only talk about my experiences and I was just generally feeling like shit and it became clear that’s what I had to talk about.”

“I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing. I was just autopiloting through it.”

The year that saw him burst into the spotlight with his astonishing debut Nothing Great About Britain didn’t bring the happiness and contentment he’d imagined. “I’d gone from literally being no one to then being in the spotlight… [and] I think I felt maybe getting to a point of success would feel a lot different. So my expectations of things were different to what they actually were.”

The touring lifestyle and the excess it brings also took its toll. “I was exhausted. I hadn’t really enjoyed or taken anything in, I hadn’t appreciated or been grateful for everything. I don’t know if it was just travelling all the time, or just abusing my body and my mind, taking too many substances—using them just to feel like I’m having fun when I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing. I was just autopiloting through it.”

“When you just live like that and you’re not just comfortable, it starts driving you a little bit mad.” Things all seemed to come to a head after a now-notorious incident at last year’s NME Awards when he tried to be funny with host Katherine Ryan but the joke turned sour. He quit drinking after that and decided to make some changes. 

“I needed to talk to people on a level and kind of knock a few things on the head with these controversies happening and bringing you back down to reality. I knew I had to surround myself with people that genuinely care and open up to them about things, rather than being a closed book.”

The feelings that he was holding on to were weighing him down and it became increasingly clear they needed to come out: so what started as an EP grew and became a mixtape. “Then I was like ‘fuck the mixtape’ I want to just make albums so it grew into this record.”

The result is a striking and captivating record, one split into two halves: The first seven tracks are closer to his debut – visceral, bristling songs written out in capital letters (‘VEX’, CANCELLED’, ‘DEAD’), the closing seven are sensitive and introspective and in lowercase (‘focus’, ‘i tried’, ‘adhd’). As Ty puts it “The whole album is about the ups and downs of being a human. At one point it’s this over energetic, ‘up’ album and everything seems good but it’s not as it seems. And then when you go on the down side, you’re crashing down. That’s why I wanted it to be too halves – there’s the down part in the first half and then it’s brighter, more optimistic in the second.”

The introspective, raw feelings didn’t come easily at first. He had to push himself to open up more, to make the honest record he wanted. “It was kind of hard to put everything I was feeling into it – it was a battle to get past a certain point? I’m there. I want to say these things, but I don’t want to say them, you know? But the moment I climbed that fence, it was like I was always poking my head over and having a little nosy and I was like ‘Come on’.” 

But once he got past that, the emotions and feelings started to flow like a tap. “I could just open up and it got easier and easier. And then by the end of the album, I just felt like I got it all off my chest and had a lot of realisations. It was maybe just natural serotonin coming out in my mind and feeling naturally happy, not relying on anything to feel it.”

“That song was my cry; it was like a cry without crying.”

Not that he had intended for it to be an album about his mental health. “I wanted it more to be, rather than mental health and how I was feeling, I wanted to just explain more of me as a person. Which I kind of did. But it just ended up being my therapy basically – my way of finding some kind of clarity in the way I was feeling.”

That’s what makes the record – this feeling that he’s reaching inside himself to find more understanding. “The main theme is just ‘Don’t be afraid to be yourself’ really. Don’t compromise for the sake of anybody else. I also learned that you just have to persevere, no matter how hard or dark it may seem.”

 The final track on TYRON, ‘adhd’, is the cornerstone of the album  – a song where all those themes come together. He talks about how he can’t be alone and how he needs his friends with lines like ”They can’t see the tears through the raindrops / Tough lad and I always put a face on” and “I obsess ’cause I ain’t got control yet”. It’s Slowthai’s favourite track on the album, a track that “was underlying everything I was feeling. A track I could put everything I was feeling in.”

“You know when you cry man. That’s one thing I’ve realised now – after you cry you come out feeling good. Everything could be proper shit and then you just have a little cry and you feel good. That song was my cry; it was like a cry without crying. I felt a new perspective man after that. That’s why it’s my favourite song on the whole album. That’s the one I’m most connected to, the one I put the most work into. And just the most honest.”

There’s also a touching moment in the song when he calls his mate out of the blue, just saying that he misses him. In fact he made 10 – 15 different surprise calls that didn’t make the album to the people he cares about most. “I just wanted to tell them how much I love them and how much I appreciate them. And it was just nice to hear how they reacted because it was this out of the blue phone call.

Does talking to mates help him get through times when he’s struggling? “It’s easy to push things to the back of your mind but if you’re not dealing with what you’re feeling at that point in time it always just builds up. And then eventually it gets to the point where you either have a meltdown or, if you are on your own, your mind just runs away with itself. And I think being around my friends definitely helps. But there’s times when I’m around my friends and I might not just ever say it. It could just be that we just get on with it. But it’s about taking the effort to try and explain stuff to them.”

“There was a period where it was continuously happening, I would wake up and it was just like ‘Oh man, I’m fed up, I’m sick, I feel done.”

“I’ll tell you one person who really helped me – James Blake. I was in Electric Lady studio in New York recording with him and I was at a point in time when I was really depressed and I hadn’t spoken to anyone about it really and we just started talking about our past and traumas from when we were kids. He allowed me to open up a lot and talk about things that I’ve never really spoken about with anyone. We had a heart to heart and really got stuff out there.”

The result was putting down a track called ‘I’m The Rain Cloud’, “the first time I’ve made a song and I cried,” he says. 

In the midst of everything he was going through and his spiralling mental health, he found his thoughts turning to suicide he says. In early 2021, he  took to Twitter to explain just how low he felt, writing: ‘This time last year I thought bout killing myself, I’m so thankful I’m still here… persevere and it will get better.’ On the track “i tried,” the first song on TYRON’s B-side, he deals with this explicitly, exploring his suicidal feelings and ‘tumbling down black holes’.

Talking about it now, it’s clear everything got on top of him: controversial incidents, the demands of fame, exhaustion from everything that was happening. “It’s like a battle in your mind – because your mind will be telling you one thing and you’ll be constantly battling it. And it is all based off insecurity.”

“And there was a period where it was continuously happening, I would wake up and it was just like ‘Oh man, I’m fed up, I’m sick, I feel tired, I feel done and can’t be arsed. I CAN NOT BE BOTHERED. But then there’ll be little moments of joy but the down moments would outweigh it consistently. I needed to separate all this exterior bullshit and try and push through it. Tell myself ‘I can get through this’. You know, what I’m saying? I don’t know – life’s just up and down, man. And it is a lot when you’re on your own.”

That idea of being on your own made him realise the power that speaking out about how he was feeling could have. “I know a lot of young people that might not be around so many good people and just generally don’t have people to talk to or might not be comfortable in other avenues of their life. I want them to know it is important to just ask for help. I know it seems like no one cares – and that’ll be a thought in your mind consistently – but there’s someone out there who does want to help, and they will help.”

Now he has a different outlook himself – something that came from the realisation that “if you’re not smiling when you’re doing it, what’s the fucking point?” He’s tried to find those little moments that bring joy. “I just watched this film called Soul – it made me cry because I felt that for so long I felt that i didn’t have a soul. And I’d been missing everything, every little tiny thing. I was trying to focus on these big moments and make them out to be these big things that are going to make me feel good internally when I’d really been missing going outside, being up early enough to see the sun come up, seeing your mates. I think that’s the key to it. But it’s hard. It’s definitely hard.”

And now – with a number one album and the catharsis of writing and making it – a weight has been lifted. “I’m flying, man. I can’t find a negative in my life right now. I’m flying high, I’ve got everything off my chest. There’s obviously underlying things I’ve still got to do and it’s a gradual process that I’m still taking steps – as we all are – but I’ve got a beautiful fiancé who cares for me and loves me unconditionally. My family are happy and they’re all living their best lives, as best it can be in a quarantine.” 

He also takes visible pleasure from the fact he can see that the album is resonating with people. “I’m getting 1,000s of messages a day saying ‘Man you don’t understand, I needed this’ and that’s what I’ve done it for – for me to share my experiences to help other people. Once the album’s out it’s no longer mine. It’s just beautiful to see people really connect with something. Just because I know what it’s like.”

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