After a prolonged hiatus, MayhemTom discovers that songwriting is the cure for pain and heartbreak
Lyrics by Jacob McCormack
Having just returned from the annual meeting of the European Society of Oncology held in Paris this year, MayhemTom is preparing to play his album launch show at Toff.
On the occasion of the release of his first LP The art of flying while fallingwhich was released on September 9, the show will see him and his six bandmates take the stage on Thursday, October 13.
When not working as deputy director of the Peter McCallum Cancer Center in Melbourne, MayhemTom writes and builds songs – a practice which, despite a long absence, has re-established itself as a reliable way to manage the grief and pain for the artist.
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“Writing and performing music is an integral part of who I am,” says MayhemTom. “It’s what I’ve been doing for years and years, so in some ways it felt weird that I walked away from it when I did it, so coming back to it was great.”
A departure from songwriting seemed necessary at the time for MayhemTom, as he was in danger of failing medical school.
“I was in the fifth year of medicine, out of six. We played this gig on a Thursday night in a small bar in Brunswick and continued at 2am, we used to play for two and a half hours. By the time I got home and went to bed, it was 5:30 a.m. and I had an exam at 8 a.m. I took this exam and I thought “oh, I’m fine” – I had passed so far. I failed and at that moment I was like ‘I really have to make a decision here, I can’t keep doing this.’
“So that’s when I left the group, after failing that exam, and I got completely into medicine after that. It was a fork in the road, and I couldn’t not do both, it was pretty clear at the time, I just stopped playing and I stopped writing or doing anything. [Medicine] went global and I didn’t have time to do anything for years and years.
It was the recognition of burnout that caused MayhemTom to reconsider his relationship with music, or rather the disconnect that had occurred due to his dedication to cancer research and medicine.
“You deal with grief, [the patient’s] family grief. For years, I never thought that grief affected me. And then about five years ago I think I just went through a period of burnout and the thing about burnout is you don’t know you’re going through it until you have not recognized.
“There were times when I really got sucked into the grief and the despair and I had a hard time letting go. That’s when I was like, ‘I have to get back to this. I was doing when I was feeling grief and despair” and I went back to music, playing and then writing and this album came out of it. It’s really a dark album.
Although he identifies with the genre of dark indie rock as a way to describe the sound of the new album, MayhemTom acknowledges that his early relationship with classical music, particularly the violin, played a vital role in his musical development.
“I’m more into the same kind of dark, indie bands, like The National, Radiohead – well, I don’t know if you’d really call them indie more – Courtney Barnett, you know those kind of bands that make music where The lyrics contain meat, which make you think or give you an emotional response.
“But I started playing classical music, I played the violin for an orchestra and I was able to continue. It was good to go back and use all this knowledge and information that I had accumulated over the years.
MayhemTom has mostly ditched the violin and recently simplified their songwriting process, opting to generate songs from poems and melodies.
“A lot of these songs [from the album] started with a melody and a poem,” says MayhemTom, “and then built around that. Rather than starting with a set of chords, which is probably my way of doing things. I always tried to put in weird or dissonant chords somehow, but this time it was the other way around, it was the melody that triggered things rather than the chord.
This process seems to be working for MayhemTom, both in a therapeutic and creative sense. Two complementary experiences.
“I hope to release another album. The process continued and I still appreciate it very much.
Follow MayhemTom on social media and listen to his music on Bandcamp here.
This article was produced in partnership with MayhemTom.