When Thomas Gillespie took an extended 12-month sabbatical from making music, he couldn’t see a way back to doing what he loves the most. Battling depression during that time, he looks back on a dark period with introspection and positivity.
Known to many in Ardee as Tommy-G, the hip-hop artist released his new album Worship No Idols earlier this month. Available now to stream on Spotify and Apple Music, it is his biggest musical undertaking to date.
Following on from the huge successes of tracks Wherever My Spirit Roams and In Touch, the latter of which features on his new 12-track LP, his new album focuses entirely on the subject of mental health.
The 20-year-old wants to start a conversation. He has come face-to-face with the devastating effects of depression. Personal tragedy was informed his outlook now that he’s on the other side. He considers himself fortunate to have a creative outlet in which he can channel his thoughts.
“I felt like the dialogue is not there and people are afraid to talk. I feel as if there’s a stigma to saying you’re not okay,” he tells the LouthNow.ie. “Even though things have gotten better in the last few years, I wanted to open up a dialogue and say communication is key.
“You can communicate in thousands of different ways and there’s loads of ways to turn your negatives into positives, channel your energy differently. That’s what I did on the album. I’m not going to sit down and burden someone with my problems. I wrote it out and it helped.
The result is an album consisting of tracks that are as a raw, true and visceral as you’re likely to hear. Gillespie is opening himself, and those close to him, up. Four videos from album tracks have garnered approaching 50,000 views on YouTube. Once again, Tommy-G linked up with long time collaborator WHISPR (Ciaran Sarsfield).
“My goal was to let communication flow and communicate through my music what I was going through and hopefully that would inspire other people to communicate through what other art form they choose.
You can communicate in thousands of different ways and there’s loads of ways to turn your negatives into positives, channel your energy differently. That’s what I did on the album. I’m not going to sit down and burden someone with my problems. I wrote it out and it helped.
“That’s opening that dialogue and getting people to talk about mental health and understanding how big of an issue it is, especially in Ireland. I feel it’s overlooked,” he adds.
The rapper says music has provided him with a solace of sorts, an outlet to channel emotions and a project to work towards where before there was nothing. The album is personal, and as early as the first listen, that’s clear to hear.
“I tried a lot of bad ways of dealing with it (depression),” he said. “Self harm, alcohol – the bad ways. This is the only really positive outlet I’ve had. I’ve done.”
“You need to try and channel the negative into positive. Drinking, drugs – it never helped me. It numbed me and then it would come back ten times worse. I had stopped writing because of how I felt. I didn’t feel there was anything for me. I felt it was done, I’ve wasted money, how many years of my life, how much time chasing this dream that’s never going to come true.
I tried a lot of negative things. It was going to kill me regardless, so why was I helping it? Everyone should fight it, not try and occupy it and make it more comfortable. You have to try and break the cycle.”
As well as working with his producer, Gillespie also collaborated with engineers Alwyn John and Daryl Walker, videographer Ovie Williams and concept artist Chloe McManus on the project, recorded in full at Westland Studios in Dublin. Chloe Halpenny sings on When You Grow Up.
The fifth track on the album is entitled Rhia’s Interlude. It’s based on a conversation Gillespie never had with a children friend – Rhia. It touches, in part, on the subject of validation. A friend since birth, she died tragically a number of years ago.
“She walked in front of car and was killed. That happened right in front of me,” he recalls. “I had never addressed it before. I thought what would she think of me now? It’s me asking that question of her.
“The overarching feeling throughout the whole album is guilt. I feel guilty for things that have gone wrong in the past and that’s what led to me feeling depressed.
“Where I wanted to get after I finished writing it was in a better place. Music has always been a huge part of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to get to. That was a huge step in getting me there.”
There is the better place. Now with the album out in the public domain, Tommy-G can experience a different kind of relief than the sort when be penned his thoughts to paper and then laid to track. The public reaction has been more than welcoming and very encouraging.
“It was amazing,” he recalls. “I felt like I was sharing a lot of myself with the people so to see so many people share it too, it was great.”