Interview Phoenix from the Flames: slowthai
This time last year, slowthai’s name was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Now, on second LP ‘TYRON’, we find an artist facing his demons but coming out fighting.
If slowthai had his time again, he wouldn’t change a thing. “If I did, I wouldn’t be in the position I am. I’d still be on SoundCloud releasing fully distorted songs,” he says with a sleepy grin on a Zoom call from his home studio in Northampton. “Through every part of my journey, I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, I’m thankful for the people I’ve worked with. Everything. I never would have believed I’d be in LA at Camp Flog Gnaw, eating mushroom chocolate, rolling around meeting Mos Def and being like, ‘I’m fucked, bro!’”
His beaming expression belies the fact that Tyron Frampton’s rapid rise has been tumultuous, to say the least. After a string of assertive self-released singles, brutal 2017 EP ‘I Wish I Knew’ and its follow up ‘RUNT’, his thunderous debut album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ was a catapult to colossal acclaim. Its dynamism and bite had him hyped as the voice of a generation, and slowthai was more than happy to ride the wave. After the inevitable Mercury shortlisting, he caused a national furore by holding up a fake severed head of Boris Johnson while shouting ‘Fuck the PM!’ during a blazing televised performance at the ceremony. ‘HORROR’ exclaimed the Daily Express. ‘FURY’ blustered the Daily Mail. Precisely the desired effect, you imagine.
In February last year, however, there was controversy of a less advantageous kind. At the NME Awards, where he was presented with the Hero Of The Year trophy, a clip quickly went viral of slowthai aggressively launching a glass into the crowd and being held back by security as he tried to fight the audience, one of whom had called him a misogynist. Shortly beforehand, he was seen leering at host Katherine Ryan, saying “you ain’t never had anyone play with you like I’ll play with you” as he pushed himself in her face. It appeared damning, and he was quickly condemned online not only by a right-wing press already out for blood, but by those on the left who believed a veil had been lifted on the ‘real’ Tyron.
slowthai apologised and asked that Katherine be awarded his trophy instead. “What started as a joke between us escalated to a point of shameful actions on my part,” he said in a statement. The comedian, for her part, said he hadn’t made her uncomfortable. “I knew he had lost from the moment he opened his mouth like any heckler coming up against a COMIC - not a woman - a COMIC,” she tweeted. “I was operating 2/10. What a sweet boy. I defused it.” In time a wider context emerged, that it was an inebriated and misjudged attempt to riff on a comedic bit he and Katherine had already established throughout the night that he took way, way too far. Nevertheless, the events have become something of a permanent blot on his record.
He bristles when we ask him to describe the morning after. “It was a LONG day man,” he says before a lengthy pause for thought. “My thing’s always been like, fuck what people think of you, just do your thing, but also you want to clear your name because people are talking. In two seconds, you’ve painted me with a brush that’s made me into a monster. Anyone who knows me has an understanding that that’s not what I am. I had to get my head around the fact that most of the time, people are waiting for you to fail.
“In life you have a couple of things you leave behind and that’s your legacy. The way you treated people and the way you’re remembered. I never wanted to be remembered as someone that’s just in it for themselves; I’ve always tried being selfless, to give people something they can hold on to and lift them up. So the moment when people shine you in a light where you’re one of the people sucking the life out of things and making it negative… yeah. It’s gonna be a long day.”