We talked to Tom Barber, the lead singer of Chelsea Grin, about his difficult relationship with the music industry, the online trolling he has experienced, and the risks he has taken to be in the band. Read the full text below, and watch our video, shot on their Eternal Nightmare EU Tour 2018!
Did you always want a career in music?
No, I wanted to be guidance counsellor when I was younger, but I felt the pull of community that came with music. The local scene really supported me, that’s how I got into it. There was a sense of comradery. But then, the more people that know about you, the harder it gets to be in music, and the comradery fades away. People begin to put you down for no reason, and that’s happened to me a lot. I try to ignore it. That’s the only thing that I can do. But hate is all over the place.
What do you do in your downtime?
I play video games, I am into hip hop too, and I also write a lot. I let out my pain and angst through writing stories, poems, and streams of consciousness’. It’s really therapeutic for me. People say that they understand me but they don’t. Writing is a way of expressing myself. I have a lot of anger.
Why are you angry?
90 percent of the people in the world are garbage, and it’s hard to be alive with these people around you. The world needs to change. People like Drake, they are multi-millionaires, and they have the power with one song to change the world, but they don’t do it. It’s not cool, and it’s partly because they are under the control of a bigger power. But people need to wake up and take a bigger perspective. Like with politicians, as soon as someone has money and power, their true colours show through. What about doing something good? There is so much evil out there. People are corrupted easily because they have weak souls, and they put money first. You can’t take money with you when you die. People just think in the moment. They don’t care about their impact. Like with the planet, people think it’s not their problem now. It’s gross and parasitic.
Do you think that more money and power would change your morals?
No, I would do the right thing. I know what is important. It’s the little things that make life better for me. Things like talking to my niece or making someone smile. It’s the small gestures of humanity. My upbringing allowed me to realise what matters. I can’t really put my opinion out there though, sometimes I feel like I don’t have any control. This is the age of diversion, we have all of this info, but is it even real? Americans are caught up in politics but no one does their research to see what is really happening outside of what they see in mainstream media. People live in a bubble of comfortability. They don’t look deeper to the truth, what is being fed to them. Like when I was in Texas, there were so many commercials there about joining the military. And also, some people don’t want the truth to come out. For example, Dr. Sebi came to American in the 1990s, and his message was about curing aids through a plant-based diet. But then when he went to court, people could see what he was saying was real through what his patients said, so he ended up dead. People can ignore what is happening, they can pretend it’s not happening. They choose not to see it. They are so caught up in Game of Thrones or in the latest football game. They are living in distraction, and the truth hurts.
Do you use a lot of social media?
I would like to stay off social media. I only use it for promoting the band. I hate it. I don’t like that people are constantly on their phones, no one cares about real connection, it doesn’t matter to them. People want to be negative online, and it’s not cool. Maybe it’s just that they have a lot of hatred. But I don’t care if they cause pain because they are in pain. Some of the people who have had the most painful experiences, find ways to deal with their pain, and they aren’t destructive, so I don’t have any sympathy for haters.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when you joined Chelsea Grin?
People telling me to kill myself. Saying that I’m garbage. Saying that I’m ugly. When you get a platform, people hate on you. That’s the way it is. Like there’s this kid who wants to be a rapper but he’s different. People will use his difference as an excuse to spread hate. But I expected this when I was asked to join the band, I couldn’t eat for days, I was so anxious about it, I knew joining the band would bring in a lot of change. Right now, I get around 60 percent love, and 40 percent hate.
Have you taken any major risks for the sake of your career?
Mental health. And also, being away from my family. I have changed so much as a person since my first band, I have become more negative and cautious, but also more understanding, patient, and focused. I try to keep off social media now. I don’t want to be on the internet at all. I just want to do music. There’s this obsession of knowing people. Like Justin Bieber, people are obsessed with him but they also hate him. I wouldn’t be a musician if I could do it all again. It has made me a different person, and it has destroyed my mind. I struggle every day with negativity and anxiety, and there is a lot of shit that people say about me. And I know that knowledge is gained through understanding, not pain. People have to change their life before the pain. People don’t give a fuck until it’s too late.
Aside from music, what is the most important thing in your life?
Family, marijuana and video games.
What is the best part of being in Chelsea Grin?
Being able to play music and travel. I loved going to Barcelona, Spain. I met so many selfless people. The people there made me want to cry in a good way. When people know who you are and respect what you do, they make you feel so grateful. There is an understanding between you. It was incredible.
What’s the craziest thing you have done on tour?
Being on tour itself is crazy. Being away from home for two months, it’s the worst. I don’t have friends, just family. I really respect my bandmates, but they have known each other for a long time and I joined the band late. I respect them but it’s more business than friendship. It’s hard to step into a band that has already been around for years. We do our job, have good times, but my bandmates all have their own lives. David has his wife and children for example, and that takes up his time. I’m just someone in the mix. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be in Chelsea Grin, and I will always do my best for the band.
What is the best thing about your fans?
I don’t think I have fans, the band has fans. I have a little community around me. It’s just a small group of kids who want to talk about their problems. I have a buddy Nick who sends me stuff in the mail, things that I really like, like video games. But people hit him up just to get my contact details. People think they deserve instant access to me. That’s not the way it should be.
How do you stay close to this community?
I’m open with them, I talk about my problems, and this makes them comfortable to talk about their problems.
What have you learnt from your time in Chelsea Grin?
In this genre, sometimes a friend turns into an enemy, and I just want to create music. Like Johnny Depp says, he has never watched any of his own movies. For me, I put all the hard work into my music, but then what happens isn’t interesting. I make what I make for me. If you are not true to yourself then what is the point? If you are being moulded, your work won’t be good. I don’t think about my audience, I will always do music for myself.
What are your plans for the future?
We will see if the band still wants to be a band for a few more years. Then I would like to change the planet in the biggest way I can. Maybe I will open a dog sanctuary and rescue animals. It seems crazy the idea of doing music in 10-years. Yes, I will make music, but not in this way. I will make music while being anonymous. It’s the best way to stay away from all the bullshit.
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