HATC Magazine Issue 5 Chris Mears Interview

“Who was your favourite teacher?” Chris asks me, as we reminisce over common ground, the secondary school we both went to. As he’s chatting to me from the studio he produces from in Ealing, he tells me how he’s become a bit of a slave for the studio. Having found his groove since retiring from diving, he recently decided it was the right time to open up about the battle he was facing with his mental health behind his Gold medal.

“I think in these situations, you only can talk about this stuff when you feel that you’re strong enough. It shouldn’t be that way but it’s the truth. I’ll be honest when I was in the studio with the BBC and I spoke about some of my experiences, it was like 6 am and I didn’t know what was going on. The news had just come in about Simone Biles’s experience with mental health. I was just chatting with Dan Walker off the air and he asked me to tell him about my story. He mentioned that I seemed comfortable talking about my experiences with mental health with him and if I felt comfortable could I speak about them on air. I remember thinking I should just tell the story as heartfelt and as truthfully as possible. It’s been around three years since my retirement, five years since my actual performance, and getting the gold in Rio. It’s a bit mad that it’s taken pretty much five years for me to feel comfortable enough to say that winning the Olympics pretty much almost killed me. About three months after the games, I was suicidal. I was struggling with a lot of my relationships, my training, my whole regime, everything. To be honest, I was struggling with absolutely every aspect of life, I went from being the most positive person to someone hounding my dreams, I just wanted to crawl into a cave, I was really scared to do anything which I don’t think a lot of people expect. I think they expect that you’ve got everything together and that because you’re an Olympic champion you must be the happiest guy in the world. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.” 

As he takes a moment, I felt the need to interject and to tell him that he doesn’t sound crazy or mad and that so many people can relate, with even more likely to from hearing about his story. Having worked his way to the top of his career I’m not surprised by the fear that surrounded speaking openly about how his profession was killing him silently.

“It wasn’t until the first lockdown when I acknowledged I’m not happy. So I started going to therapy and talked about everything progressively over a year. I mean, there was a lot of stuff from when I was three or four years old when my mum passed away. Just a lot of stuff that I realised I hadn’t any more room down there to keep squashing down. I still check in with my therapist once every couple of months or so, to keep in touch. There were just so many things that I think I was hiding from myself. Now that I’ve gone through the therapy process, I feel I have a much deeper and better understanding of myself. If I’m honest I still have moments where I find it weird because I realise I didn’t know myself.”

Speaking with Chris I recall what I call the cupboard of doom, when you try and push everything into the said cupboard to avoid looking at it before eventually, the door won’t stay shut so with everything falling out.

“That’s completely accurate. I don’t have cats, but I always say it’s like when a cat goes into the garden, sees a bird, chases it, and when it gets it, it has no idea what to do with it. That’s kind of how it felt. For so long I’d been telling myself that I’d be happy once I got this medal. I had been saying that ever since I can remember.

“I guess in a way it pushed me to get to where I did. Obviously, I’m proud of winning the medal but I just didn’t know how to process it. No one tells you there’s no book on how to process being an Olympic champion. I felt like absolute sh*t if I’m honest which was hard as I watched Jack feel like he was on top of the world. I won’t lie it, I was jealous. I was like how are you like that and I’m like this. 

“Although we got psychologists afterwards, it just wasn’t helping me. I guess part of it is I wasn’t being true in my sessions. I wasn’t saying how I felt. I’m relieved in some ways as I do feel mental health is beginning to be spoken about a bit more, not just in diving but sports in general. To me, the lesson is you can ask somebody twice how they feel, and that second time, they might give you a better answer than the first time.” 

Something I think will resonate with many is when it comes to Chris’s story is how most of the time I don’t think you ever think about these things unless you get asked about them. After chasing the next best thing for contentless years I was asked by my mother ‘when will it ever be enough’ something I know speaking to Chris was a contending point in searching for happiness with a diving career.

“As a kid diving was so much fun and I loved school, but I didn’t do much in terms of like the work. The teachers liked to let me get away with everything. When it came to homework and stuff I was just lazy. Music on the other hand I’ve always been interested in, especially since I was 16 when I got ill physically and I was hospitalized. I had to take time off diving, so I went and bought a laptop and I got logic. I just wanted to learn. The thing is I’m a 100% kind of guy. I’m either 100% in or I’m 100% out. I remember before I retired, that in that period I was 60% in and it was crushing me because the whole time I was thinking this isn’t me, I can’t just be 60% in. Everyone was so shocked when I like retired. But I had already cued up music. I didn’t love diving anymore. I started selling a bunch of tracks for ridiculously low prices. Although I didn’t realise I was getting absolutely screwed at the time, I was just grateful to have some bread and butter work, that I was happy, doing what I loved. “

For many, they will only know of Chris as an Olympic champion, far from the trauma he went through when hospitalised suddenly in 2009. I was curious whether having his very serious health scare had any connection to how he felt about diving or if it even solidified his move into music, something he loves. 

“I just had so many issues. I just hid it behind a bit of bravado. I was in a coma for, five days and I basically should have lost my life. After that, I think I almost had a midlife crisis at the age of 16. I still had a little bit of that rebellious kid in me so I began to focus on music instead of diving. I used to write all of these books and poems and send them to my mates. Sometimes they’d be super dark. There was something inside of me that wanted to like create. I feel so blessed to be doing this every day because in all honesty I almost felt like I’d been starved my entire life at that point. It’s been the thing, so I have to nurture it. With diving, I feel like it was mainly because of mental health that I wasn’t enjoying it, but with music I’ve realised I can’t fall out of love it.” 

It’s something I don’t need to be told, seeing his passion and love for music in front of me. Having produced with some incredible names as one half of Bloodline, including collaborations with The Vamps, I found myself asking who he is passionate about wanting to work with in the future.

“I like rock music. When I was a kid, I used to listen to metal and rock, especially really obscure death rock. There’s a common theme with all my like childhood listening. I didn’t like anything that had any like raw emotion in it. I’d love to work with Bring Me The Horizon vocalist Ollie Sykes. Mine and my cousin’s project Bloodline has let us work with amazing people. I’d love to in the long run get to work with Miley Cyrus on a crazy dance track. That would be insane. But even more so I’m more interested in working with songwriters that are under the radar.”

Before we finish chatting I wanted to route back round to his openness with his mental health experiences and what he finds helpful that he thinks could help others.

“I think that what I would say is that I regret letting it fester. I think learning how to ask yourself in the morning, ‘how you feel?, is what helps me. The last four days have been super intense. I woke up absolutely exhausted. But I didn’t feel physically exhausted. I felt emotionally exhausted. So I woke up and I was like, how do I feel right now? I used to shut myself off from everybody, so I’ve learned that a daily check-in with yourself is important. 

“I think when you’re deeply unhappy, and you’re hiding it, to check in with yourself daily, will help you at some point, you will be honest with yourself.”

It’s advice that will relate with more people than Chris can imagine as well as it being advice that will connect so many people in an industry still struggling to be open to discuss mental health. Chris along with other courageous names whether they realise it or not are helping to make a change that would have taken years to start, or even worse never would have happened. He will be, without a doubt a lifesaving voice for many.

Words: Alice Gee

Photography: Dean Sherwood

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HATC Magazine Issue 3 EYK Interview

Rhys Kirkby-Cox and Harvey Kirkby comprise our favourite new duo, Everyone You Know. Hailing from London the brothers combine hip-hop, punk and house with smooth indie guitar riffs to create a unique and captivating sound. 

After a few Zoom technical issues, we really should be able to figure this out a year into the pandemic, we dove straight in and caught up with the boys and what they had been up to over the last 12 months. 

“We’ve just been trying to use the time to our benefit, and make as much music as possible. We’ve both been working out pretty heavily as well, just trying to keep and in good nick. And we’ve just been making like a fuckload of music to be fair.”

“Before, when the pandemic first kicked off, we didn’t release any music at all, everyone was really hesitant about releasing music so we didn’t put anything out for like eight months. Then we decided that wasn’t a way to go. We thought what we’ll do is just keep releasing music, we’ve got such a back catalogue of tunes now there’s no point just sitting on it. Because we’re not going to progress by not releasing anything. We just thought, cool, let’s get some songs out, one every month, leading up to this EP, which is coming up in May.”

Bands have really had to embrace social media since its the only way they can connect with their fans on a personal level now gigs are out the window. EYK have been making sure they keep their followers as engaged as possible in interesting, if not, unconventional ways. 

“At the beginning of lockdown, we were doing a load of competitions and stuff just to keep people interacting with us. But now it’s all because we’re releasing music regularly.” And the Fifa Championship? “It was an EYK vs the fans sort of thing. And if you could beat me at FIFA, you got a ticket to one of our shows, but the tour was rescheduled again, and thankfully no one beat me anyway. It keeps people involved and gives people 15 minutes to spend with us as well. I just thought moments mean more than anything at the moment. It’ll be a nice little thing to do for the fans”.

The brothers grew up surrounded by music with family members who wrote and performed so it wasn’t much of a surprise when they decided to make a go of it themselves. “Our old man was bang into DJing, and my uncle used to produce and MC out of his bedroom. In our whole family, no one was musicians or in bands making music and shit like that, but people were obsessed with it. There was always tunes playing in the house, and that’s where our love for it came from”. 

“We were around so many different genres of music from like East Coast hip hop, Biggie Smalls and Big L through to Chaka Khan, Oasis, Arctic Monkey, so we draw influence from so many different genres. On top of that, we’ve got our friends and family around us as well who have influenced us massively so it’s hard to pinpoint one specific artist or band that influences us”. 

This, Rhys explains, was the trick to finding their collective sound - combining all these musical influences while not sounding too broad and all-encompassing. “We’ve grown up around so many different genres of music. Also as you’re growing up and go through school different sounds are popular. When I was in school, Jamie T and all that sort of stuff was massively popping off, and then like Kano and Gets everyone was into the grime thing. So you’re around so many different scenes and so many different sounds, you just pick up influences from everything, we draw from all of that. We were never like cool let’s go be a rock band. or let’s go be hip hop artists, or let’s go make drum and bass, we were like let’s just nab a little bit of everything from all the genres that we love and make our own sound”.

But while they both worked on their craft from an early age they focused on completely separate projects, it wasn’t until around 2015 they started to fuse their talents.

“We both started making music really young. We were making it individually for a while, for years in fact, and then we decided let’s come together and just make music exclusively together. Rather than, I was doing my thing with my powers, Harvey was doing his own thing and he was like why are we doing things separately? Let’s both put our minds together and start making changes together.” 

Working and touring together can be enough to test even the tightest of sibling bonds, so we asked the cliche question of how they stayed in each other’s good books. “We’re pretty good to each other, Rhys doesn’t get on my nerves, I probably do his f***ing nut in!”.

EYK have achieved so much in the past few years, from recording a Maida Vale session with Jack Saunders, to playing to huge crowds at a variety of festivals. We were keen to know what memory has left a lasting impression on the duo. 

Rhys: “It’s got to be the tour. When you tour and you go up north to like Stoke on a Tuesday night, and you play like a sold-out show to a few 100 heads in the middle of nowhere, the whole town’s dead, except for this one venue that you’re playing at. Doing things like that is wicked because you just don’t expect to have that sort of audience and love in places like that. When you’re travelling five hours up north to a show and you’re selling out something on a f***ing freezing cold Tuesday night, that’s a wicked feeling to have love all the way up there”. 

Harvey: “I think Brixton Academy was sick. It was such a high point of our journey so far. Soccer AM as well, we’ve grown up watching Soccer AM and to be on that three times now is mental. I remember every Saturday as a kid you’d always watch Soccer AM and then there’d be the football on after, so we’ve grown up with that. Being on FIFA as well, ‘She Don’t Dance’ featured on FIFA 20, which was another big bucket list thing for us, we’ve grown up playing that, every September you go buy the new FIFA so to be on that and have all the boys be like ‘ahhh your tunes on FIFA’, it’s wicked”.

We are grateful that EYK, like all the artists we talk to, were willing to be so open about their mental health struggles over the years and how it still impacts them today. Harvey explained “I think everyone goes through their journey with it. I’ve had a few experiences in the past with anxiety and whatnot. But I’ve always found exercising, having a routine, having a good diet, and being open and honest about things with your close ones is what really gets you through those tough times. But I still think it’s quite hard for blokes to talk about, I think there is still quite a stigma around it, which is something that I’d definitely like to change in the future. It’s different for everyone, but that’s my experience with it anyway”.

Suicide is still one of the leading killers of men in the UK, patriarchal toxic masculinity enforces a huge stigma around male mental health which results in pent up emotions and feelings of painful loneliness, something Rhys admits he struggled with. “I’ve always really struggled to talk about my feelings. I’ve always felt like I never wanted to be a burden on anyone, but since having my daughter I’m definitely able to just talk more and almost swallow the pride and let people know how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling like things are on top of me I’m happy to express my feelings and understand that that’s why you have relationships with people. That’s why you have friendships, and that’s why I have people like my brother, my girlfriend and family, that’s why you have these relationships to be able to talk to people about when you’re not feeling your best. Once you realise that the people around you are there for you that’s when you can push through it and deal with it”.

But having a routine and structure and reaching out to loved ones can be particularly difficult when you’re playing shows till late, going from town to town, separated from your home. 

“When you’re on tour somewhere it’s almost like you’re going on a lads holiday for two weeks, you got people drinking and partying and it’s hectic. It’s difficult, but you have to have discipline and willpower to say, right, tonight I’m gonna get pissed then the next night I’m gonna have an early one. I’m going to get my head down, get some rest, have some good food, and just chill out. You’ve got to know when to call it a day, but you’ve also got to know you’re on tour and it’s good to have a blowout every now and again”. 

 “Even when you’re away from home, you don’t ever feel isolated or like oh god I’m halfway up the country and I’ve got no one to talk to, I’m with my brother so it’s cool. The people that we’ve toured with are sound, our sound engineer is a fella called Rampton and our drummer Paige, we’re all really close so it’s really nice vibes, it’s like family vibes. I think 100% having Harv there means I’m never thinking I’m here by myself. When I go on tour I get into the mentality that although I’m here to have fun and enjoy myself I still need to get the job done.”

The boys are setting up for a massive 2021 with the release of a twelve-track mixtape.  I still “It’s our lives from the past year, our lives through the lockdown. We’re really proud of the tunes we’ve gotten so far, we think they could all be single contenders there’s not one filler track on there. There are tunes in there, like our next release, that are so relevant and current to the times now. We’ve been sat on that tune for a while actually and it feels like now is the best time to put that song out. The project as a whole is gonna hopefully take us to the next level in our career, and get us out there a little bit more and allow us to start working on an album, a proper album, next year.”

“There’s a lot of songs on there that are party anthems as well. So when we’re out of this shit and people can go back raving and back down the pub, there’s gonna be a lot of soundtracks to them big nights out”. 

Just for the Times will be the first EP EYK have released since 2019 and after the year we’ve all had we can’t wait for some good party bangers.

Words: Eloise Adger

Photographer: Betty Martin

Styling: Alice Gee

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