The band formed out of the ashes of Palma Violets following their split in 2016, with former members Sam Fryer, Will Doyle and Peter Mayhew, joined by The Big Moon’s Celia Archer and guitarist Adam Brown
“I’ve been very privileged to be in music for a very long time, because I got into it at a very young age,” Fryer told NME. “But that did take its toll mentally on me and I’ve been trying to deal with that and balance that with the old band, and then with this new band I’ve found that I now know how to control my emotions and, hopefully, can enjoy this moment more than I have in the past.”
After Palma Violets broke up, the singer and guitarist turned to long walks and meditation to help process the whirlwind of the band and “what to do next”. “At the time, I was living next to Jad Jamyang Buddhist Centre in Elephant and Castle, which is what I think is the meditation centre in the whole of London,” he explained. Three or four days a week, Fryer would visit the centre to reflect on things.
He continued: “It was a challenge, but a real eye-opener. I don’t know what I’d do without that place. I’d recommend it to anyone – you just need to quieten the inner chatter in your head, because that isn’t doing anybody any good. If you keep your brain a little bit quieter then, actually, other things grow very quickly.”
While Fryer was exploring meditation, he, Doyle and Mayhew continued to write together and eventually brought Brown and Archer into the mix. Brown, a guitarist who had been playing in the south London post-punk scene, was invited to meet with Gently Tender by their old manager. “I was like, ‘Yeah maybe, could be interesting,’ because it wasn’t really what I was into at all at the time,” he recalled.
“But I thought it would be stupid not to go. I didn’t want to join Palma Violets, but when I went along it was something completely different – it was the beginnings of what we have now. And they were alright, as well – I thought they were all gonna be maniacs, but they were actually really sweet.”
Archer, meanwhile, joined after being told the new group were looking for a female vocalist and immediately volunteered herself for the job. “Celia is a bit of a rockstar,” Fryer said. “We’re all trying to catch up to her. In terms of the harmonies that she’s done with the band and the lyrics she’s put into [the song] ‘Right Time’, she’s put so much into the record and she’s really taken the band to a new level in terms of being sonically brilliant. We’re forever grateful for her.”
After releasing a handful of singles, in September 2019 the band headed to Virginia to start working on their debut album, ‘Take Hold Of Your Promise!’, with [singer, songwriter and producer] Matthew E. White. They completed a couple of songs in the sessions and went home, with the intention of returning six months later. Then, the pandemic hit and even when lockdowns were over, the US’ travel ban meant White had to meet up with them at renowned Welsh studio Rockfield instead.
“Everything was pointing towards us making the album in his studio space – he’s got all the brass players and gospel singers in the world, it’s gonna be the biggest album we could possibly make in our lives,” Fryer said. “We were super excited. But luckily they were all very happy to come to Wales.”
According to the frontman, despite the change in plans, the making of the album felt “dream-like”. “I felt quite undeserving of it,” he explained. “It was the first time I’d been in the studio and not felt that impending doom of stress and time pressure.”
Brown added: “Matt knew what the strong point of the band was and just leaned into it. It was all about spontaneity and something being greater than the sum of its parts. We’d have evenings where we’d thought we’d finished for the day and then we’d go back in and have that spontaneity. It’d be like maybe everyone’s not playing the best thing they’ve ever played, but you got the best recording.”
“Our whole band is about just the feeling,” Fryer continued. “There’s no real structure behind any of it.”
Eventually, Gently Tender came out of Rockfield with ‘Take Hold Of Your Promise!’, an expansive and textured debut that, in part, deals with the anxieties and lows that Fryer has struggled with. On the songs ‘True Colours (Sometimes I’ll Get Through)’ and ‘This Is My Night Of Compassion’, he sings about treating those negative thoughts like long-lost friends – a technique that he’s been using for much of his life.
“That’s how I’ve coped since I was 16-years-old,” he explained. “That’s how my mum taught me how to deal with a panic attack – just treat it as if it’s your best friend every day.”
The band name’s, too, has become a mantra to help Fryer remember how to treat himself.
“One aspect of what Gently Tender is as a whole is figuring out who you are in the midst of chaos and strife,” he revealed. “It’s learning to let go and perform in front of many people, learning how to deal with all those insecurities – like doing interviews – at a very young age. I struggled with all of that when I was a kid. But the band name was like a constant daily reminder of how I need to be living my life in order to get the best out of myself. The words ‘gently tender’ immediately remind me to stop clenching my jaw, stop clenching my fists and relax.”
As well as detailing getting through tough moments, the album also has huge bursts of cheer and release within its track list; not least on ‘God Didn’t Leave The Factory’. “That song is a whirlwind of joy and sanity,” Fryer said. “It’s all about the guitar solos – Adam, well done. It’s about that sheer joy through music and shaking away any ghosts in the closet.”
Gently Tender will continue to shake away those ghouls on tour later this year, when they join The Big Moon on the road – a chance to play the songs on the big stages they were intended for. “I really want to hear these songs in a larger room so The Forum with The Big Moon is gonna be great,” Fryer said. “I think our songs belong in a wider landscape and that’s where they’re meant to be.”
Until then, the singer and guitarist hopes that the release of their debut album can be proof to other people having a hard time that they can get out of it.
“When this band started, I lost the ability to write for at least a year and a half because of anxiety, stress and depression,” he explained. “I was traipsing up and down to that Buddhist centre trying to get myself to feel something again. It’s been a real life journey and hopefully people will see and be able to hear the release of a lot of those feelings just going off into the ether.”
‘Take Hold Of Your Promise!’ by Gently Tender is out now.
The band’s upcoming tour dates are below. Visit here for tickets and more information.
19 – Sheffield Leadmill *
20 – Brighton Concorde 2 *
21 – Birmingham Academy 2 *
23 – Glasgow Oran Mor *
24 – Newcastle Uni *
25 – Manchester Academy 2 *
27 – Cardiff Tramshed *
28 – London Forum *
14 – London Omeara (headline show)
07 – Nottingham, Bodega
08 – Leeds, Oporto
09 – Glasgow, The Hug And Pint
11 – Manchester, YES (Basement)
12 – Bristol, The Louisiana
14 – Southampton, Heartbreakers
16 – Brighton, The Green Door Store
*supporting The Big Moon