For enigmatic electronic producer and musician Thomas Gandey, holed up in rural France, lockdown has been about going back to nature, reflecting on the past and finding new ways to get out of his head…
Lockdown is so fucking tiresome, isn’t it? It’s a relentless Wagnerian lament; it’s the most boring guitar solo ever initiated; it’s like driving a car down an endless road full of potholes that make you keep spilling your drink over yourself.
Like many, I had very high hopes for 2020 (despite the ending of free movement among EU countries, but that’s another story…). 2020 had such a futuristic ring to it. The Olympics were on, Glastonbury looked good, but little did I realise this year of the rat would turn out to be such a frankly unpleasant and dystopian Orwellian experience.
I got the ‘Covid-19’ (always sounds best in a Geordie accent) virus pretty early on in March, just in time for my birthday. I felt like I had been poisoned, as if I’d drunk a nasty tincture that had boiled my blood and knocked me down for a couple of weeks. It didn’t go onto my chest and I didn’t get a cough, but I had the fevers, migraines, nausea, loss of smell, and a tiredness that certainly didn’t fit at all with my usual playful energy and gay abandon. And this kickstarted an apathy and disconnect that would come to signify most of the ongoing feelings I have under lockdown.
An enforced rest period
As a touring musician and producer I’ve always experienced ‘rest periods’, however this time I’ve seen the live music industry evaporate into thin air and have had to accept that we will be among the last to unlock and assimilate. The luxury of fun and live entertainment isn’t deemed as essential as IKEA. But chin up, eh….
Before, if I stayed beyond three weeks at the Ranch I would start to go a bit loopy
I live nestled in a valley in the Cognac vineyards on the South-West coast of France, down on the ‘Ranch’, as I like to call it. It’s an idyllic 500-year-old farmhouse, and my delightfully clever partner and I are used to getting out of here at least every couple of weeks for work. Her for radio presenting, and me to hop on a flight to perform a gig or to work remotely in a studio with other recording artists. For me a flight has always been an essential vein, as easy as hopping aboard a bus.
You see, you find out very shortly after you leave a city and live in the country full time that you have to create your own magic. Literally everything has to come from within. We are so very lucky to live here, but we need to get away regularly. Before, if I stayed beyond three weeks at the Ranch I would start to go a bit loopy. Now that loopiness is ingrained. An enforced travel sabbatical has had to be accepted, and I have to find my pleasure in simpler things.
Without the pressures to hit numerous deadlines or to manoeuvre the endless logistics you perform to take your show on the road, you have more free time to create in the studio. But somehow you don’t have the same inspiration.
I am writing this while ‘Gilbert’ is tuning my beloved 100-year-old grand piano. Reminiscent of Giuseppe of Pinocchio fame, Gilbert is only the second person to enter the homestead since the Ides of March brought the lockdown in with it. The first was a mate en route to the Balearics from the UK.
Gilbert is proper analogue, at his happiest with tuning fork in hand. I admit it begins to feel triumphant as he ascends his way up the keys, tuning the old girl up to the concert pitch 440 Hz (shame there are no concerts, huh…). I am his first client in the 12 weeks since lockdown started in France. The cogs here sure turn slowly, but it seems we have managed to grind into first gear again.
Different coping strategies
About a quarter of the way through the (severe) French lockdown I did a live-stream poem in a Liverpudlian accent about how I felt up and down ‘like a fucking yo-yo’. I started writing poetry and acting characters, lost any sense of ‘selling the brand’ or indeed giving a shit. It seemed pretty ridiculous to sell anything.
To the people who say they have enjoyed it – horses for courses, sure, but you really need to get out more. I have sulked, binged, drunk, punished, laughed, cried, banged my head and sat in a vacant stare, all in the space of one afternoon. I have felt a grief, and all the stages of it. The denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, the dragging acceptance.
I have felt a grief, and all the stages of it
But here’s the thing: I managed to get fit when I hit 40, and am still in better shape now than when I was a teenager, having shed some 30kg of excess weight. These days, I keep myself fit, I practise intermittent fasting, I train every day, do fasted cardio and body resistance. I meditate, I juice, I grow my own food. My BMI is resoundingly balanced in the middle of the green zone, which was no mean feat for a bon vivant such as myself with a challenging propensity towards addictive behaviour.
Another coping strategy is breathwork, which I’ve been studying and practising for a while, through a few YouTube gurus and various old books around the house. I have a pretty severe stutter triggered by anxiety, and breathwork has certainly helped. ‘Getting high on your own supply’ as Wim Hof coined, is a fantastic way to get out of one’s thought cycle and head. Too long inside your own head and without enough stimulation can make you begin to over-analyse every tiny thing.
Too long inside your own head can make you begin to over-analyse every tiny thing
Sometimes my mind still races with thoughts like ‘Am I just going to write songs if I no longer want to “play the game”? What about all the unreleased music that’s sat on my countless hard drives, all that work I have done, all the late nights and events I missed, the albums I never released? Why am I doing this if no one’s ever going to hear it? What’s the point of any of this?’
Ok, stop there Gandey. It’s time to get out of the house and go for a bike ride, meditate, sow a seed, plant a flower, play the piano, have a bath, offer some support to someone else, call a friend, be kind, find a distraction, give your partner a kiss. Just get out of YOUR head for a bit…
There is much to be thankful for
In one way I’ve been a Doomsday prepper for many years, a magpie collecting shiny things. The smallholding we have here provides much of our culinary requirements. To have everything at hand has given me a sense of achievement and a validity in the process it took to get to this stage. I always over-spec’d a camping trip at a festival, ice and tomato juice still in my hamper on the fifth morning of Glastonbury. So the fact I was somewhat ready for the ‘rug to be pulled’ gave some satisfaction.
I do my best with my garden, but I know I am also at fault with the heavy carbon footprint I have laid on the planet
The slightly naughty misanthrope inside me took some salvation seeing the humans getting their bottoms spanked and nature getting a beautiful, albeit temporary, reprieve. I have a deep-rooted eco anxiety. It twists me up how powerless I am to stop the rampant destruction of the balance of the natural world. I do my best with my garden, but I know I am also at fault with the heavy carbon footprint I have laid on the planet. So for now I’m glad to not be stuck in mindless traffic jams, and the cleaner air that brings.
Mother nature is EVERYTHING. I think about rich, vibrant oceans full of life and colour. Blue skies and tropical islands. Trekking through jungles, diving the barrier reef, sailing in the Aegean. The gentle throng of a beach club in the distance with not too many people dancing barefoot in the sand.
A paella in Sa Caleta on Ibiza with my partner, a taster menu in San Sebastian, a party that goes on all night with a few best friends. Spinning some tunes and giving people a great time. Searching for new outfits in Japanese boutiques. Snowboarding on a fresh powder day in the Alps. That feeling when you write a new song that for one moment feels like the greatest track in the world. Playing my synthesisers and creating soundscapes, and of course going on tour into the unknown. These are all rewarding experiences, where you are totally in the moment, and yesterday or tomorrow don’t matter.
Now, I’m thankful for harvesting about 10 kilos of mulberries from the tree over the past few days and watching the various birds flock to devour them. Seeing the first strawberries ripen and picking a punnet of golden raspberries. An unusual insect on the nasturtiums, the petunias grown from seed, the taste of the first courgette of the season.
I am a keen naturalist and am very proud of the wild garden here at the Ranch. I have never weeded so much in my life. I started to get OCD about the garden, actually watching the plants grow, willing them to flower and the insects to feed upon them.
When I can face it, I will go back to my roots
During lockdown I’ve been thinking about my childhood home in East Sussex. In some ways where I live now is a carbon copy of that, albeit a long way from Brighton. It’s the same set-up – a magical setting in which to enjoy and celebrate life, just with a warmer climate.
I remember crying when we moved away. They were packing up the lorries and I was bawling my eyes out. It was an incredible Tudor barn conversion built by my parents right on the river, and I’ve never been able to go back there. I just couldn’t face it.
It’s funny, thinking about it now. I loved that place and I guess the deep-rooted memories of growing up there with a close community of crazy friends around me as teenagers will imprint such a beautiful memory on a young impressionable mind.
Now, with time to reflect, I realise it’s a bit silly to deprive yourself of something just because you haven’t dealt with it. So when I can I will make a point of going back there and walking along the river again.