Verity Vincent caught up with Andy Bell on his GLOKtober tour to talk, music, life and why he invited TONIC along for the Ride (sorry couldn't resist).
So how has the tour been going so far?
Really well, the last gig was in London at The Grace. It was a great night with family and friends, and a really good support act called C.A.R. She wrote a song called ‘Entanglement’ with me on the GLOK record, so she sang it with me as a duet at the London show, which was really cool.
That song has become a favourite of mine to perform. I was looking for a way to humanise my GLOK gigs a little bit because when I've been out doing this sort of thing before, I've done it all instrumental as one long piece of music, so I wanted to create gaps to talk and have some vocals, so it makes it easier for people to find a way in which is where I'm trying to go with it now.
For people that might not know, how does the GLOK project differ from the music you were doing before under your own name?
In the last five years or so I've done two albums as Andy Bell and two albums as GLOK. Both of those things started around the same time and developed during Covid. I already had one single out as Andy Bell which was something Nat Cramp from Sonic Cathedral asked me to do. (Sonic Cathedral is the label for my Andy Bell music and Bytes is the label for GLOK.)
I put a few tracks out under the name GLOK anonymously about 18 months before all of that happened because, just through a random chain of events, I became interested in making electronic music and really developed skills in that area. I was learning and started making tracks like that and I was trying to get into TV or film music, like a John Carpenter thing.
So I kept my name away from it because I thought - that's not going to help. I wanted it to just be a separate thing so did it anonymously and no one gave a fuck about it for 18 months. Basically I was just thinking, I'm going park this, it's not really worked - leave it and move on to the next thing. But I got a call from my friend Joe, who's supporting me on tour, and he said “I heard a rumour that this track is actually by you, is that right?”, and he wanted to know if he could put it out as a record.
I put out five or six tracks at that point and so GLOK was becoming more of a thing. I think that they'd collected all those tracks and put it out in 2019, just before COVID. But during COVID was when I worked on the follow-up album which was a full-length record.
I was making a little mini album and then following that up with a double album. So that all happened because of COVID really. It all just got a lot bigger, I had more time and more mental space to look at it all and I needed something to do as well. Home-school here, doom-scrolling there. A bit of music in the middle.
You've had TONIC with you on this tour - What was it about the charity that resonated with you about what they're doing?
It's the first time I've ever known of a charity to deal with music mental health. So because I am in music I felt very touched that someone would think of doing that. A friend of mine had a personal connection with the charity in terms of being helped by them and actually ended up working with you. So he’d spoken for a while about what he was doing which really interested me. Then I went to see the Peter Doherty gig at the Royal Albert Hall,
which you were at also so we made the first connection (despite the stage riots).
From there the conversations I had with TONIC made me think we could do something great together. Having a rep from TONIC available to talk to anybody at a gig is great because it doesn't really matter if the gig is small. You can't have more than one conversation at a time so even if you had 10 people at a gig, five useful chats could still happen. This is what made me think that the GLOK tour could be a good way to start that partnership so I ended up saying - would you like to come on this trip around the UK with me - and here we are!
I couldn't have imagined how good it would work. Immediately when I arrive I've got friends at the venue and that helps me to settle in.
A music mental health charity is so important, especially now because musicians have been shafted so badly by events via the pandemic. We didn't get any kind of help through that, we were just left to get through it ourselves, so to have someone say ‘we are a mental health charity for you’, really meant a lot to me.
It's been nothing but positive, I think there's a window now for mental health to be discussed and acknowledged as an issue for anyone really so if you're allowing that to be talked about in a gig that's another good place for it to be talked about.
I would like to hopefully involve you guys in more things that I'm doing.
Do you think it's shifting in the industry for mental health to be spoken about more now, both publicly and behind the scenes?
Yeah, I think that a few years ago it might have just been seen as uncool or “that's a silly word”, maybe something to keep hidden or deal with yourself, but times are changing and everything seems to be a lot more raw. The world is a lot more raw, but also people are a lot more open. It seems like there's a lot more discussion around mental health across the board. We hear about it a lot more now, in news stories, organisations having a mental health element and looking after people more - It's not as much of a hush-hush thing.
We need to carry on talking about these things, bringing them into the open and just acknowledging that we're not all made of steel. We're just people. We have bad and good days. We might have underlying problems for years and not have realised.
When I look back at some of my musical heroes, I wish there had been someone around to help people like Syd Barrett in the late 60s before he self-medicated himself into a different place completely. Or Peter Green. A lot of people whose music I love were in really dark places.
Looking at the other side of it too, Tonic Rider helps music lovers as well as those in the industry. What do you think it is about music itself that helps people who are struggling with their mental health?
There's no denying that it does. I know when I've been down, sometimes music has become massively important to me, even more than normal as it's my life ordinarily. When I'm making music, I'm not necessarily listening to it that much. But there have been times in my life when I've been really down and I've been leaning on it heavily, as a therapy almost.
So I know from experience that it does touch a nerve because it comes from emotion, doesn't it? Music to me is about emotional connection and if you're a listener, you're at one end of that connection and the person making the music is at the other end of it.
A piece of music can be life changing and it can reinforce the truth that you're about to realise.
It's a bit like the I Ching - it’s full of good advice and whether you believe it's random or it’s throwing the dice or whatever you do to get the I Ching, whether you believe that's actually what's causing it or you're getting some good advice that you take on board, it’s just as valuable either way.
Everyone's interpretation is so personal. That's the magic that you take advantage of as a musician and what we missed when there were no gigs allowed. You can stream any gig you want, but you're not going to fall in love with somebody sitting alone in front of a computer screen, watching a gig in the same way as when you’re in a mosh pit or in the bar afterwards meeting a new person. The things that happen in real life at gigs are so important, the music is just a backdrop and half the people that like an old Ride song are probably thinking back to a great time in their life.
And looking back over different points in your career, do you think there were times you could have really benefited from support, like Tonic?
I want to shout out a book that's come out actually - Tamsin Embleton wrote a book called ‘Touring and Mental Health’. It's a handbook for touring musicians and when I looked at the chapter titles I thought, oh my God, wow. It's things like inter-band dynamics, self-medicating.
I didn't realise all these things could be in their own category like that.
But it makes you think - I suppose we do all self-medicate, or I guess we do have difficulties within bands because bands have dynamics and that can be a thing that you could write a chapter of a book about, you know, it's literally not being done.
So in the same way that I think it's good to have a charity for mental health musicians, it's also great to have this little handbook that tells you how to deal with these situations a bit better.
Jeordie who created the Tonic Rider programme for us, wrote the chapter for that book on Mental Health in the Music Business, so TONIC are also really in support of that book.
Are there challenges that you see in the industry now that younger musicians may face?
Definitely. One thing is this constant need to create content. It’s not everyone's cup of tea. I’m really shit at it but I’ve found ways to do it authentically. I can at least do a few Instagram stories and if I'm on tour, I’ll post a few photos of my own or if anyone tags me, I'll repost it. That’s my content.
I just feel that it’s all too much. For example at 19, I wouldn't have wanted to go anywhere near Social Media because I was so in my 19 year old headspace of “it's all about the music”. It's a big part of how I started, we had loads of rules of what we wouldn't do. And it was all about mystery - no band members names anywhere, no saying who does what, no A sides, no B sides, just a circle of tracks and no pictures. It created some mystery.
I think at the moment people might feel there's only one way to be a musician in terms of having a bit of reach, but I think if you stick to your guns and don't worry too much, it can work for you. If you take the band Sault, they're completely quiet on social media, so when they do post something, everyone notices because of the fact that they're a really good band.
It was much easier for people my age to start bands. I'm old enough to remember a time when you could make money off records. To be out there now trying to start it, that's hard. You're basically playing gigs all the time, it’s the only real route to your living, I suppose. Everyone's scraping after the last penny in the industry now. It didn't always used to be like that.
In recent years, there's been organisations, like TONIC, that have expanded their services surrounding mental health. From your experience in the industry, are there areas that you think need more support?
It's hard to think of any element of being in a band that's not dysfunctional! You know, we just kind of make our own way and make it work the best we can.
I'm still marvelling at the chapters in that book to be honest, I think that and the work you’re doing is basically covering most of it.
What’s next for you after this GLOK tour comes to a close?
After this tour, I don't have any more gigs to do this year. I'm going into home-mode to spend a lot of time with my family, do some remixes and some writing. Basically get healthy before the next year starts in January and I start touring with Ride again.
We’re starting off in America and have a joint tour with the Charlatans where both of us will be playing old nineties records, an ‘album in full’ tour. Then we'll be playing new material because we have a new album ready to go. So that'll be coming out early 2024 and hopefully there'll be lots of festivals, lots of good Ride touring going on next year!