Is Tom Grennan a pop star or a rock star? The English musician is not quite sure himself. He strides across the hotel lobby with a Gallagher-esque swagger and an air of cool insouciance, yet there are glimmers of his down-to-earth nature beneath the nonchalant bluster. He has, after all, written songs for Westlife and Clean Bandit, and there aren’t too many rock stars who would be sipping on a freshly-made carrot and ginger juice of a Wednesday morning.
If Grennan had not been painting the town – or more accurately, the village of Glasson, Co Westmeath – red with his Irish cousins last night, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had sat down with the wrong person. The Bedford-born musician’s father hails from Ballycumber, Co Offaly, and he has family spread across Offaly and Westmeath; last night, he indulged in “the best Guinness I’ve ever had” and spent the evening chatting to locals at the bar of a 300-year-old pub. There are, he admits ruefully, no establishments like that in Bedford.
In a quiet corner of Dublin’s Grafton Hotel, the sharply-dressed Grennan, difficult to miss his with trademark mop of curly hair, undoubtedly radiates charisma even if his answers are slightly non-committal, arguably even a little disengaged. Perhaps you could blame last night’s pints. I ask him what the best thing that someone could say about Tom Grennan is. He exhales loudly, thinking for a moment. “That I’ve got a big heart,” he grudgingly yields, with a solemn nod. “And I’ve got a sensitive one, too.”
Grennan has made his name as a purveyor of strident indie-pop songs such as Little Bit of Love and Don’t Break the Heart, and collaborations with everyone from Calvin Harris to Joel Corry and KSI. Now, he is releasing his third (and best) album yet; What Ifs & Maybes comes off the back of 2021′s Evering Road, the album that propelled him to fame and confirmed his capacity to sell out big venues across the UK and Ireland. That album was written after the end of a long-term relationship in which he was a self-confessed “toxic boyfriend”.
“I definitely drew a line under a period of my life after that album,” he nods. “It came out at a weird time, obviously, during Covid. It was quite nice, actually; it was literally just this piece of work that went out to the world, and people could live with it, and I didn’t have to tour it. And I got to work on myself before I started to write this one.”
These dark clouds had gone, and the sun was shining over my head, and I felt happy – and I was ready to write this album— Tom Grennan
The downtime, he says, brought him a degree of clarity and allowed him to find happiness again. “I was in this place where I dunno… I could see clearer,” he says. “These dark clouds had gone, and the sun was shining over my head, and I felt happy – and I was ready to write this album. And I think that’s really come out in the music; it’s colourful, it’s exciting, it’s full of life. That’s what I am right now.”
Still only 27, Grennan has packed a lot into life already. There have been various career paths, although none as fruitful as music; the initial plan was to be a professional footballer, having played for Luton Town at youth level. When that didn’t work out, he studied acting until he was discovered by a label rep while playing a pub gig. There are no regrets about how things worked out, he says.
“The acting could happen still,” he shrugs. “And I still love football, and I get to play in charity games and be surrounded by people who play football – so nah, I’m good. I’ve never dwelled on things. I’ve literally just said, ‘I’m gonna throw myself into the unknown.’ And that’s what this album’s about; it’s about the spontaneity of life, and not knowing where it’s gonna go. If you feel comfortable, then things are easy. If you feel uncomfortable, then you’re doing something right – because you’re able to swim, innit, in the deepest of waters.”
He has grown up in recent years, he says, and had to make some tough decisions as he chases his musical dream. “I’ve had to lose some friends on the way,” he says. “I’ve had to let people know, ‘this is where I wanna get to, and unfortunately this relationship is not gonna happen because it’s not good for where I want to be at.’ I’ve had to be honest and fully open with people, and say, ‘Yo, I need to break away’ – because if I want to get to the next level, I need to.”
He is reluctant to go into detail about why he had to cut certain people out. “I dunno,” he says with an ambiguous nod. “I don’t know.” Bad influences? “Yeah, maybe,” he says, shrugging. “Something in my soul said, ‘I need to get to the next level’, and this is how I’m gonna do it. And I think that’s just being honest.”
His newfound happiness, he says, is down to several factors, including self-acceptance, “an unbelievable family, and an unbelievable missus”. If Evering Road raked through the debris of his last relationship, What Ifs & Maybes sounds like the soundtrack to falling in love, with songs such as Psychedelic Kisses and Loving Don’t Cost a Thing. While he won’t be drawn on the details of his personal life, he admits that his relationship with fiancee Daniella Carraturo had an impact.
“I think she’s definitely influenced a lot of my writing, because that’s the life I’m in,” he says. “But it’s also me falling in love with life again. It’s me being full of life. I’m in love with the person that I am, and I’m not afraid to be that person. And she’s definitely made me like that – and it’s just uplifting, yeah. It’s good.”
I run, it’s good for your head. Just getting out into fresh air, everything; just waking up early and getting ahead of the day. Mark Wahlberg mentality— Tom Grennan
Although it sounds as if Grennan has a natural sunny-side-up disposition, he shakes his head at the notion of being instinctively positive.
“No, no,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m human, innit? I’m not always on, and always wanting to talk, and bubbly… some days, I’m like, ‘Just f*** off’.” He sighs. “And other days, I love life. But I feel like changing habits in my life into positive ones have definitely changed the way I am. Like, exercise. I run, it’s good for your head. Just getting out into fresh air, everything; just waking up early and getting ahead of the day. Mark Wahlberg mentality.”
It will come as no surprise, given his laid-back demeanour toward most things, that comparisons to acts such as Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi – fellow young men with guitars and a bunch of anthemic pop songs made for arena singalongs – are shrugged off.
“I know both of those guys, and I’m a big fan of them,” he nods. “And they’re doing really, really, really good things. But I’m on my own journey, and if I’m honest, I don’t look at anybody else’s career and go ‘I want that.’ I know what I want, but I’m the only one who’s gonna go on my journey. So who knows? But if people are comparing me to them, then… cool.”
A house in Offaly
Like both of them, Grennan is already at arena level, having recently played London’s O2 Arena for the first time. He is undoubtedly ambitious and already hungering for more – stadiums, he says, are the ultimate goal – but he hasn’t forgotten the people who got him here, either. He plans to buy a house in Offaly, perhaps his granny’s when it goes up for sale, for his mum and dad to have an Irish base.
“I hope this doesn’t come across as me being full of myself, because I’m not that; I’m just confident in my ability,” he says with a wide-eyed nod. “And I don’t think there’s a showman that puts on a show like I do in England. And I feel like I’m an arena artist, and I can cement myself there. So I wanna be at that level around the world, in Europe and in Ireland.” He sets his jaw, allowing himself a smile. “I wanna do everything. And I just want it to be a big party.”
What Ifs & Maybes is released on June 16th. Tom Grennan plays Fairview Park, Dublin, on June 30th.