“Mole hills into bigger hills, bigger and bigger still/ Can’t keep swallowing bitter pills/ Me and myself, my, me, myself and I/ Conditioned in my mind, couldn’t stop it if I tried,” he sings in the first verse into the chorus. Ritchie has been writing things like this down, in one way or another, since he was that kid obsessed with far-off places. He wrote every day in what can be described as a diary because he didn’t feel he had anybody in his life to talk about his demons with.
“I really hope my music can be comforting to people that are suffering. Initially, I make it because it’s comforting to me," he tells Billboard.
Listen to “Me, Myself And I” for the first time below, and check out his full conversation with Billboard after the jump.
“Me, Myself And I” is the second single off your upcoming sophomore album. Lead single “Time In a Tree” talks about seeking peace, and this song feels like the antagonist to that, where it seems as if you’re admitting to the chaos inside your brain and almost coming to terms with it forever being there. If that's the case, did you do that on purpose?
There’s a part of me that’s, like, I’m trolling myself a little bit. I think it’s almost an acknowledgment how sometimes...self-obsessed feels like the wrong word. It’s just like, you can get really lost in yourself to the point where you’re no longer connecting or you’re no longer in touch with people that you care about. The song is kind of about that, really -- about being so lost in how confusing and confounding life can be sometimes that you kind of just obsess over these things, and you lose touch with where other people are at in your life.
I sometimes find that I can feel like I’m not entirely connected to how other people -- the weight that my woes and struggles with myself adds to other people, I suppose. And so this song, for me, is an acknowledgment. There’s a line in the song that’s like, “You let me indulge in myself, and that’s the thing that I love about you,” which is kind of oxymoronic. Like, the fact that you let me vent is something that I like about you, but it’s about me. You know? This song is an expression of indulging in those feelings -- difficulties that I have within myself and how that takes a toll on other people.
The whole song, and your blunt lyricism when it comes to emotions all over the spectrum, resonates. One line in particular in this song is, “I don’t know why you even try keeping me around.” Does that come from a place of -- I don’t know if it’s self-indulgent, like you just said, or self-resentment? I know, for me, when I get feeling like that, it’s like, I wish I didn’t have to hang out with myself all the time -- I wish I could get away from myself -- so why would anybody else willingly be around me?
Yeah, that. One hundred percent. It’s like sometimes it really confounds me. I don’t know how I have any friends. I dunno how I have a relationship. The way that I behave sometimes. The way that I feel about myself. I don’t know why anybody would want to spend any time with me. It’s like a self-loathing voice that comes into your head.
Is all of this why you chose an astronaut as both the cover art for both of these singles, your tour promotion, and presumably the metaphor for this new cycle?
Yeah. For me, the astronaut thing is like -- for one, when I was a kid I really wanted to be an astronaut, but I couldn’t. I loved the idea of exploration. I loved the idea of going to places I’ve never dreamed that I could see and learning something from that. I feel like in some of my adult years, I’ve started to do that. In a very different way, in a way I could have never guessed when I was a kid. I’m starting to sort of really have to look at myself differently and really explore why I feel the way I feel sometimes. It’s not easy, and a lot of time I do kind of feel like I’m in space and just floating in space. Not connected to the ground, just sort of floating around. That kind of just felt like a really appropriate image to me -- this astronaut floating in unknown space, unknown territory, trying to find their way home.
You call yourself selfish in the chorus of this song. In what ways are you maybe positively selfish, to try and cope with whatever you’re going through, or help yourself?
I think actually my thoughts on this change depending on where my head’s at. There are times where I feel like, “Oh, well, I’m being selfish,” in an unhealthy [sense of the word]. Like, you are finding things difficult in some way and you sort of like put that all on somebody you know you can reliably talk to. But actually, I’m starting to realize that when somebody really loves you or you really love somebody else, and really care about where they’re at in their head and how they feel, the most selfish thing is to not let them in. You allow them to worry about you -- allowing somebody that cares about you to be concerned without letting them in, without letting them know, is selfish.
I think a lot of mental illness is inherently selfish. That might come across as saying the person is selfish, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those feelings you can’t help -- it’s not the person being selfish; it’s illness taking over. You get stuck in your head, and you don’t have space for anything but that.
The illness and the emotions and everything that comes with it pollute your mind and make you selfish, but it’s not you. It’s the illness polluting you.
Yeah. And this song is very specifically about my relationship. My girlfriend has put up with so much, and she wouldn’t think of it as “putting up with” in the same way that I haven’t felt since I met her that I’ve had to ever put up with anything. But when you are so close to somebody, you share space and you share your days together -- I guess it can kind of relate to family and friendships, too -- you can sometimes take for granted their energy that they put into you. It’s weird because I’ve thought about stuff since the song. This song is winking at it.
I’m not saying everything I say in this song is actually a particularly healthy way to think, but I have been thinking about it. Since releasing the song, my thoughts have changed on some things. I think it’s really important to talk to people. Talk to people who love you if you can -- it’s not selfish. It doesn’t stop you from feeling that way sometimes, which I can completely understand. I’ve closed off and been really quiet and ended up going into myself.
You’re very front-facing when it comes to mental health. This time last year, we spoke about your biking across the Sahara Desert for Campaign Against Living Miserably. Is making music your way of contributing to mental health awareness and, more than that, therapy for yourself?
I hope so. For me, it definitely does. For me, it definitely serves that purpose. It’s the most comforting thing in the world. That is my outlet. That’s how I am able to talk about where my head goes sometimes is in writing music. It has been since I was a kid. I really hope it can do that for other people. I feel like with the album and certainly at the moment, I do feel like there’s this responsibility that musicians have to talk responsibly and healthily about these things. I hope that “Me, Myself And I” doesn’t encourage somebody thinking it’s not OK to feel selfish sometimes.
It’s not OK to sit in those feelings sometimes. It’s really difficult, and it’s something that a lot of the time -- I know from personal experience -- is really complex. You’re feeling all of these things. They’re real in your mind, and they’re kind of involuntary. I certainly feel like when I’m in a really bad place, it’s not because I’ve chosen to be in a bad place. I don’t know if that really answers your question, but it’s really important to me.
What characteristic of yours do you think would be buried underneath all of those involuntary feelings and things that you struggle with, if not for being an artist like you are?
Where would I put that energy? That’s a really good question. It’s a difficult question to answer because when I was a kid, I used to just write in my exercise books. I used to write in notebooks and stuff. They weren’t songs. I literally just wrote because I didn’t feel when I was growing up that I had anybody to talk to about these things.
I was just writing them down for myself, and then when I felt better I could look back at them and be like, “Oh, I feel better today than I did last week!” Really just a diary. I’m not sure how exactly that would manifest itself in another career path. I’m sure there are lots of careers. I think, and I would say for anybody else, it’s just finding somewhere, finding something, where you can express yourself honestly -- doesn’t have to be a job, could be a hobby, whatever. You want to express in the most honest way that you can without shame. That’s the function music has for me. So, I hope that whatever job I was doing if I wasn’t doing the jobs I do I would at least make space to have that outlet. Whether it’s a hobby or something I get paid for.
You’re a self-proclaimed “sad boi,” but you’re also a multidimensional human being. I was watching This Is Us the other night, and one character said to another, “The joy in you is as much a part of you as the sadness.” Feels appropriate here. What would you say is your joy?
[Laughs] I dunno if you’re asking me that at the right time! I’m trying to figure that out for myself. I like spending time with my girlfriend. Spending time with her brings me joy. My dog. My dog is just the simplest little amazing creature that I just find fascinating. The crazy thing about dogs is because they’re not human it’s like all they are is emotion and response. [Larry, his schnauzer] doesn’t have that block on him. Even though he can’t speak, he doesn’t have that human block where you second-guess yourself, question yourself, and in a weird way I find that inspiring. It’s amazing to just respond in the way that comes in your head. It’s all so simple.
I could ask you 10 more questions, but this is my last question. When it comes to touring, being someone who is so emotionally intelligent and feels things wholly and admittedly lives inside your own head, what is your experience performing these bits of your soul live for people?
It really varies because, like you say, I’m not really good at pretending in a lot of ways. I just write what I feel. When I do live shows, the only way for me to sing those songs is to sort of work out what that song means to me on that day, in that hour, on stage. It’s almost like you have to relive it, but sometimes those songs take on a new meaning for me, weirdly. Sometimes I sing “Stronger Than Ever,” and it could mean something completely different in Bristol than what it means in New York. It’s a really weird thing that I find difficult to describe. I re-experience those songs on stage, and then it allows me to not get caught up in performance. It’s just like what’s the vibe in the room [and] what’s the day been like.
Raleigh Ritchie U.S. & Canada Dates
Dec. 4 -- San Francisco @ The Independent
Dec. 5 -- Los Angeles @ El Rey Theatre
Dec. 7 -- Santa Ana, CA @ Constellation Room
Dec. 9 -- Toronto @ Mod Clu
Dec. 11 -- Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg