Joe Thompson is a young singer-songwriter from Yorkshire unafraid to tackle the big issues – politics, love, sex, society and life in general. He’s back this month with a beautifully bruised new single called Boys Don’t Talk, which tackles the difficult topic of men’s mental health head on.
We caught up with Joe for an exclusive interview.
The new single Boys Don’t Talk tackles a serious topic. What drove you to write about mental health?
I think personally, this was one of the easiest and hardest songs I’ve ever wrote, as although it’s something I feel incredibly strongly about, it’s incredibly hard to find the right words sometimes. Unfortunately growing up, I have had two classmates lose their battles with mental health, and I myself have been seeing mental health services since I was 13, so the issue has been foremost in my life growing up. In the last few years, it has become increasingly apparent we have a mental health crisis in this country; the NHS is underfunded, waiting times are up, and it’s clear to see there isn’t the resources to cope. One of the common questions I get about Boys Don’t Talk is why I chose to make it about men specifically, and for me the answer is I really wanted Boys Don’t Talk to go somewhere to break the stigma of the strong male role. Men often internalise, and even from birth we have gendered toys and forced ideas on children about how they should be. More women than men are diagnosed with mental health conditions, yet 78% of suicides are men, and suicide is the main cause of death in men aged 20-49, and I’m sure that this is in no small part to the tendency of men to feel the need to bury and internalise their feelings.
If you could curate a dream festival line up, which five acts would be on your main stage?
What a tough question! I go through phases in music quite a lot, as does everyone, so who I’m listening to on repeat right now could be totally different in a few months’ time, so I’ll have to pick some of the most important acts to me from throughout my life.
- Jack Johnson – Jack Johnson was the absolute first artist I fell in love with. I remember watching the Curious George film as a kid, and absolutely loving the soundtrack, so I begged my parents to get me a CD copy of it, and it was by Jack Johnson. I’ve listened to him ever since, and still love him to this day.
- The Stone Roses – I can imagine this is one of the most common artists people pick in dream line-ups, but to me they are one of the most special bands I’ve ever heard. My parents were fans, and as a naïve kid I thought they were a rubbish band. Once I grew up and re-listened to them, I totally fell in love with their songs, and how they don’t quite sound like anyone else! I saw them at the Etihad a few years ago and it was one of the most special days of my life.
- Peace – I think Peace are one of my favourite bands ever. I’ve seen them live 4 or 5 times, and each time was an incredible experience. I think they’re probably one of the best live bands in the UK right now, and their ability to make melodic, powerful guitar music is truly special. Their third album in particular spreads such a positive message of love and kindness, and I think it’s so important for musicians to use their platform for good.
- Augustines – Augustines were the first ever gig I went to, and as such hold a very special place in my heart. The music they made is incredibly powerful, and their lead singer has such a raw, powerful voice. Unfortunately, they had to break up due to financial issues, and as such I went to see them on their last ever tour, so they were my first ever gig, and I was part of one of their last!
- Zuzu – Probably the most recent act on this list by a long way! I started listening to Zuzu as I saw she was friends with another artist I love, and I just think she is absolutely wicked. She sings with an unapologetic Mersey accent, always interacts with fans on social media (even drawing pictures of some of them) and seems like an absolutely lovely person. She deserves every success she gets!
Outside of music, what else inspires you?
When I decided to make my own solo music, one of the biggest reasons for me doing it was because I wanted to make music with meaning. I think music as a format is one of the best ways of spreading a message, or expressing your views. In 3 minutes, you can get more said in a song than some people manage to get across in an entire speech. Each song I write comes from a place of feeling strongly or passionately about a topic, whether it be something personal to me, or something I hear about in the news. I’m massively into politics, and have all my politics programmes on series record! If I see something that gets me thinking, I’ll look into it and try and put it into a song. I also tend to look introspectively quite a lot as I find writing music is a brilliant way to get my feelings out, and is incredibly therapeutic. Whether I’m finding inspiration internally or externally, I always want to make sure that there is meaning and a message behind everything I write.
You’re based in West Yorkshire – what other acts should we be looking out for from there?
The West Yorkshire music scene is wicked at the moment! I first started playing in a band about 4 years ago, and took time out from music after we all fell out and the band broke up. Coming back into it, I’ve already met some fantastic musicians and seen how much music is going on here. As for acts, I think Heir are absolutely fantastic, they write super melodic poppy music, and their lead singer is something else! I recently played a gig with Ella Playford, and even though she’s still in college, her song-writing ability and voice are already refined and incredible. I have to admit I was getting a bit emotional when she played her song ‘smiling’, but to be so young and so talented, it’s really something special. I also highly recommend Tranqua Lite, as someone who started out playing jazz piano, I love it when bands play around time signatures and aren’t afraid to experiment. Tranqua Lite songs are more of an experience than a song, and I challenge anyone to try and tap out the beat on their first listen! There’s also The Hyde, who not only make funky guitar songs, they also seem like genuinely lovely people. They have a YouTube channel, and are always so humble and thankful towards anyone who supports them. But there’s so much talent in West Yorkshire, and so many great events showcasing artists to the public and giving them an opportunity.
What are your plans for 2019?
As basic as this answer is, I just want to release as much music I possibly can! There’s a fair bit of investment getting music out there, which I pay for by dog-sitting (the greatest job ever), so once I can afford to release a song, I’ll get in the studio and take it from a bedroom demo, into a fully produced and realised track. I love making music, and it’s all I can ever seem to think about, whether it’s writing lyrics or listening to artists or thinking about where I’d like to take my music in the future. I’d also love to step up my live game as well. I’ve played a bunch of gigs solo this year, but it would be fantastic to get a couple of musicians together to form a band, so I could go from just me and my guitar/backing tracks, to putting a great show on. Whatever I do in 2019, it’ll all go towards making my music the best it can possibly be!
Find Joe Thompson on Twitter at @joe_th0mpson on Instagram at instagram.com/joe.th0mpson and Facebook at facebook.com/joethompsonmusicc now.