Andy Burrows and Matt Haig: We’ve got quite similar neurotic, anxious, slightly depressive tendencies and a real hankering for pop music
Former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows and novelist Matt Haig have teamed up for a musical collaboration based on Haig’s autobiographical book Reasons To Stay Alive. Burrows talks to Lucy Mapstone about their unusual but inspiring partnership, why he’d work with Haig again in a heartbeat, and his tricky relationship with one-time bandmate Johnny Borrell
Andy Burrows is musing over how much he really loves a drink, particularly a pint in a pub. We’re sitting in a slightly musty, dark, wood-panelled boozer in central London, and he’s loving it.
“I love a pint in a pub,” he sighs while cradling a glass of something amber.
The former Razorlight drummer is reminiscing about his days in the band in the mid-noughties, and how he’s glad to have had that time in his life because it was wonderfully “textbook rock and roll”, fuelled with plenty of drink and full of experiences that he now can’t quite remember.
But he does recall one time that he quit the sauce. For a short while, anyway.
“When I left the band I stopped drinking for like, four months, but that’s the only time I’ve ever done it,” he says.
“I don’t get paralytic, I just like the fuzzy feeling. On the whole my relationship with it is quite good.
“My only thing that I get annoyed about with drinking is that if I’m really anxious, I’ll go to it.”
Burrows is surprisingly open about both his fondness for drink and his experiences with mental health issues, both of which conspired to kickstart his latest project — a collaborative album with author Matt Haig.
The pair channelled their complementary talents into an album loosely based on Haig’s best-selling 2015 memoir about his battle with depression, Reasons To Stay Alive.
“I’d started reading Reasons To Stay Alive and I found Matt quite fascinating on Twitter,” Burrows explains of their thoroughly modern meeting.
“He’s quite annoying but also really brilliant and quite feisty — he’s not scared about getting into a bit of a spat.
“One night when I was touring with Tom Odell, after a show I was a bit tiddly and I plucked up the courage to send Matt a message — I noticed that he followed me.
“I sent a message saying, ‘Would you be up for meeting me and, I don’t know if you know my music or like it, but I wondered if you wanted to work together?’”
The duo met and bonded over their love of music and other things, and initially discussed doing something for children because Haig has written children’s books and Burrows composed the music for The Snowman and the Snowdog in 2012.
But it wasn’t quite the right fit, and they swiftly settled on creating some “straight-up pop songs” together, with lyrics by Haig and music by Burrows.
Haig had never written songs before, which he reveals via email as he’s unable to make the lunchtime pub rendezvous.
“I’d written some poems, but songs and poems aren’t the same thing,” he says.
“But I find myself getting more inspired when I do new things. That’s why I have written so many different types of books — kids’ books, adult books, fiction, non-fiction. It’s all writing — it’s all expression.
“It’s easy to overthink the differences between art forms, but it’s all just articulating an emotion. The emotion is the important thing.”
The novelist and journalist adds that working with Andy was a breeze because they are on the “same page” — a sentiment matched by his collaborator.
“We’ve got quite similar neurotic, anxious, slightly depressive tendencies, and a real hankering and love for pop music,” Burrows explains.
Haig would write lyrics and send them to Burrows, who brought them to life with compositions. Burrows jokes he’s the Elton John to Haig’s Bernie Taupin.
On title track Reasons To Stay Alive, Burrows knew immediately that he “wanted it to be quite widescreen, quite epic”, but on others, he had to work on them a little bit to get the sound that he wanted.
Other tracks on the melodic, pop rock-esque album include the Radio 2 A-listed song Barcelona — penned by Haig from the point of view of someone having a panic attack, but that Burrows made sound “up and happy” — and How To Stop Time, which was named after another of Haig’s books.
There were no disagreements between the pair (“I know that’s the boring answer,” Burrows jokes), and the working process was rather fluid.
However, Haig does admit to doubting himself in writing songs for the first time because “that’s what having anxiety does to you”.
The collaboration is the latest in a long line of projects for busy Burrows, who has been the drummer for Razorlight and We Are Scientists, and has also worked with Editors’ frontman Tom Smith and singer-songwriter Odell.
He’s also written the music for a new Ricky Gervais Netflix series and, perhaps most famously, the Bafta-nominated soundtrack to Channel 4’s sequel to beloved festive cartoon The Snowman.
“What I’ve learnt about myself over the years is that I clearly like it like that... I feel calmer if there’s lots of stuff going on, and I’m quite erratic — I don’t do anything for very long,” Burrows says.
“After I left Razorlight, I made it my mission to make sure I did as much stuff as possible.
“If you’re going to leave a band that’s doing really well, everyone’s going to call you silly, which they did.”
Burrows left the indie rock band, known for hits including America and Wire To Wire, in 2009 after five years.
“I think it was very necessary to leave because it was a very unhealthy band to be in,” he discloses, adding that, while he gained a lot of confidence from being in the group at first, it became “detrimental” and “very toxic”.
His’ relationship with frontman Johnny Borrell was known to be fraught back in their heyday, and still is now.
“I saw Johnny on Denmark Street in London about three or four years ago, and it really affected me because I hadn’t seen him for like, five years,” Burrows recalls.
“He acted like I was a stranger — it was the weirdest thing. I think I went off and got extremely drunk, but I felt very weird for a couple of days... it was almost like seeing a ghost.
“When you’ve been that close to someone, because me and him were really close — like close enemies but close friends, it was all a bit complicated — it was so weird running into him and him acting like he didn’t care.”
For now, at least, he’s nailed a working partnership that is genuinely a bit of a dream, and as easy and satisfying as they come.
“It’s a very open album, and it’s about not letting depression debilitate you completely, and knowing that you can get through it,” Burrows says, summing up the new record.
He adds: “I found it immensely elating, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“It’s better than going to any counselling. I can recommend it to anybody to write a record with Matt Haig... it might be a tough gig to land, but I recommend it.
“Try tweeting him! Learn the guitar or the drums and tweet him. Hit him up,” he advises.
Reasons To Stay Alive is available now. Andy Burrows will be touring the album across the UK from February 11-21
Belfast Telegraph Digital