With many struggling with the current pandemic’s restrictions and limitations, Ben Haenow is shining a light on mental health. We caught up with the X Factor winner to discuss life in lockdown and the release of his latest self-penned hit, ‘If You’re Lonely’.
The ballad is an uplifting anthem for those in need of comfort and consolation during these difficult times, with all proceeds of the single being donated to the mental health charity, Mind. The multi-talented singer, songwriter and musician showcases his formidable talent whilst encouraging others to speak out without fear of judgement. Ben’s emotive lyrics and impassioned vocals, are set to steal your hearts once again.
First of all, with all of the crazy things going on in the world, how are you doing?
I’m actually really good thank you. It’s been horrendous of course to see and hear about all that’s going on and going wrong in the world at the moment, it’s been a terrible time for us as a planet, but it really makes you appreciate what you have now.
What have you found most difficult about lockdown and how have you overcome it?
I like to get out and I’m quite a sociable person so not being able to see my friends and family has been the most difficult thing for me. I guess I’ve been using phone and video calling apps to stay in touch and I’ve never spoken on the phone so much as I have recently in all this craziness. There’s still something about Zoom or Skype calls that don’t quite feel like actual human interaction but it has been a nice way to connect with people while we are all having to social distance.
How has the COVID pandemic affected you both personally and professionally?
With no gigs or live shows going ahead, it's definitely been a testing time for me and all in the music industry. Playing live is what I love, the interaction with an audience and the buzz that brings. It’s definitely my favourite part of doing my job so I’ve been really missing that.
On a personal level, with all that’s going on, it’s been tough. You worry about your family members and friends. There is so much uncertainty in all aspects of life now and that has led to building anxiety and feeling low about everything from time to time. I’ve been quite up and down emotionally through all of it really.
With many stuck indoors due to quarantine and all creative industries on pause. How do you keep your creative juices flowing?
It’s actually been great for me creatively. I’ve been writing a lot, and have met a lot of great people through online and Skype writing sessions - so keeping busy. I’ve had more time than ever to reflect and take time experimenting with different styles and sounds so it’s been good fun. I’ve also been making a video for my new single whilst in lockdown which has been a really cool experience... I’m definitely no professional. I’ve been asking fans and friends to get involved and send in clips to feature in it. The response has been great and it’s nice to still be interacting with people that way, so I’m really enjoying putting it all together.
Congratulations on the release of your latest single, ‘If You’re Lonely’. The uplifting anthem shines a light on mental health. What was the inspiration behind this powerful ballad?
Ah thank you!! I have suffered with my own mental health issues in the past, and I’d never really felt comfortable enough to speak out about it. With all that’s going on in the world with the coronavirus and all the uncertainty and worry people are feeling, I think the effect on people’s mental health is more prevalent now than ever. Even people who thought they would never be affected by a mental health issue are feeling lost, feeling anxiety, depressed and low. I wanted to put something out there to help others realise they’re not alone in how they feel and something to spread a message of hope really.
Has mental health affected you or your loved ones personally?
Yes, I’ve had my own personal issues with mental health. There were times when I wasn’t coping very well with things in my life and I didn’t feel I could speak about it, or that actually no one would care or wanted to hear it anyway. As a man, it’s socially wide thought that you have to be strong or ‘man up’. And then who wants to listen to the whining of someone they have seen on TV, and someone who won a once in a lifetime opportunity to make their life great… people just think I won a million pounds and am off ‘living the life of Riley’, so what right do I have to moan about anything right?? That was how I felt at the time and I went a little off the rails. I lost who I was for quite a while.
The emotive song lets you know you are not alone, encouraging anyone suffering to speak out without judgement. What advice would you give to people suffering in silence?
I’d definitely advise them to speak about it to someone but that’s easier said than done for sure. My family were amazing and were the people I felt most comfortable to speak to. They helped me to work through my own problems. Some people find speaking with a third party, or being able to talk with some anonymity is easier. That’s why charities like Mind are so essential to people suffering alone. I would say admitting you are suffering with your own mental health is essentially just admitting to being human but there is still so much stigma attached to the words ‘mental health’.
In my personal experience, it was the thought that not being able to cope makes you weak or somehow not as good as other people. The ‘embarrassment’ of having to admit you might need help, and that fear of being stigmatised or even ridiculed for speaking out and asking for help is what made me and so many of us have to feel that we are completely alone, and that needs to stop. So I’d say speak out, however you feel comfortable but don’t feel like you can’t ask for help.
Proceeds from the song are being donated to the Mind Charity. Why this Charity?
I have friends who have had experience with Mind and the help, support and counselling that they offer. I have seen how it has lifted such a weight, and helped them to open up and work through their own worries and issues. The effect it has when someone feels understood and listened to without being tarred as just a person with ‘issues’ and to feel like they are not the only person on the planet who sees things as they do is a huge help and comfort. Seeing how they have helped my mates with all the incredible work they do is why I have chosen Mind as the charity I want to support.
Following your rise to fame through the success of the infamous tv show, X Factor, in 2014. As a winner of the show were you weighed down by pressure and expectations?
At the time I felt I dealt with it all quite well, but it was such a whirlwind experience that you just get swept up in it all and your feet don’t really touch the ground until it’s all over. I think it was such a huge pressure and given that I had seen what previous winners had been through, you can’t help but feel a bit defeated before it even begins. Some of the press stuff doesn’t help either. But it’s both expectations from the label, and the expectations you put on yourself. It’s that pressure that is enough to just make you feel paralysed and procrastinate about every song and every choice you make. I felt like “right, I’ll never get this opportunity again” and you know that if your songs don’t chart that you’ll be out the door. I was so new to the whole industry so I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing at all but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The show offers a whirlwind journey, throwing individuals into both the music industry and public eye. What was this experience like for you? Do you have a crazy memory that stuck with you?
Ha! Yes, it was a shock to the system. It was difficult having every aspect of your life out there on display, the media leave no stone unturned when it comes to your personal life or career so you learn a lot about who your real friends are during that time. But there are loads of crazy memories and amazing things that came with it too. Some very surreal moments. Some things that I guess I’d never tell but I mean going from being a van driver one minute to spending a crazy night in a club with the One Direction lads and James Arthur... I remember someone had a massive snake around their neck at one point in the night but the rest is quite blurry. Being at the Brits and seeing THAT Madonna in the cape performance are two that are also top of the list.
What does being an independent artist mean to you?
It’s a double-edged sword. It’s very liberating! Having total creative control over what you do is great but also quite a scary thing too. You’re your own A&R and everything else so it can feel like quite a lot on your shoulders. With little to no help for some of us, it’s daunting dealing with all the things you don’t usually have to think about when on a major label... registering tracks, PRS, publishing, distribution, marketing etc... and you don’t have the budget for anything like they do with all of that. But it’s that pressure that keeps you on your toes and I’ve learned more about all aspects of the industry as an independent artist which has been great for me. I’d advise any singer or musician to learn about all parts of the industry they want to be in.
It’s also about building a good team and network around you with people that you choose and trust which doesn’t always come so easy when you’re signed to a major label as you don’t really know the people you’re working with and can sometimes just feel like a number. I was lucky enough to work with and have some really lovely people around me at that time though. With all of the social platforms and stuff, it’s easier for independent artists to engage and reach more people and that’s a really good thing for music in general.
Do you feel you have more control over what music you produce and release?
Yes for sure, it’s kind of all on me which tracks I want to put out and for me to say what I think sounds good (in my opinion of course) or not so good. But I think I can be quite critical of my own music, like most writers I guess, so I think it’s always good to get opinions and let other people listen to get feedback before a release; be it good or bad.
You are recognised not only for being a talented singer, but also a songwriter and musician. When did you first fall in love with music? And why?
Well I was never good at sports or anything, I’m still not! But music just got me from a young age. I remember my dad used to have this old rack system with his record and cassette player and he used to play everything really loud, I was pretty young but it was Led Zeppelin’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and Steely Dan’s ‘Do It Again’ that I first fell in love with as a kid. Growing up, I always sang and wanted to be Robert Plant from about the age of 11 onwards. My uncle used to play guitar and me and my brother both got Squier Strats for Christmas when I was about 13, but I didn’t have the attention span to learn. After a month, I couldn’t play like Hendrix so I just gave up!! I stuck with the singing. My brother carried on and is an amazing guitarist. I picked it up again in my 20s when I started wanting to write my own songs and my love for music just carried on from there.
What music have you been listening to, to help you through lockdown?
Lots of bluesy and old R&B stuff. Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Donny... I love the storytelling in that sort of music and the vibe too. I really like Marcus King at the moment and some Joe Bonamassa. I’ve had time to listen to so much recently and to discover new music as well so it’s actually been pretty cool.
COVID-19 has put a lot into perspective. What lessons have you learnt from the global pandemic and is there anything in particular you will change in life after lockdown?
I think it’s one of those cliché things, but just take every day as a blessing. I think I’ll try and spend more time with my family and friends and make more effort to check in on people. It’s more difficult for me to do once work picks up again but I definitely want to make more effort to see the people I love.
Reflecting on the government's limitations and restrictions, what are you most looking forward to doing once this crisis has passed?
Playing live shows again is top of my list! Along with having a beer or twelve with my mates and going out to a restaurant for some food. I enjoy cooking but I’m running out ideas... it’s going to be great to go out and eat something I haven’t had to cook... and not have to wash up too. :)