Frontman Ashley Mulimba on anxiety, mental health issues, and the band's return...

About a year ago HAUS were riding the crest of a wave of hype, several single releases and countless red hot shows under their belt. But then something happened – they seemed to take a step back, the wind slowly released from their sails.

Something wasn’t right. Returning with new single ‘Shameless’ - taut, laced with ideas, yet utterly in control at all points – the band opened up as never before, with singer Ashley Mulimba’s lyrics speaking directly about mental health issues, about anxiety, depression, and his struggle with the pressure of being a frontman.

Speaking to the musician on the phone, it’s clear from the tone in his voice that this past year has been an important one. It’s been a year dominated by obvious change – he’s moved to Brighton, for one – and rather more subtle, as he alters his behaviour to remove the warping power of stress.

“It happened around this time last year,” he explains. “We were playing our first European shows in Holland, and I came offstage like, that was terrible! But everyone else was excited, buzzing to be away… and I wasn’t in that headspace.”

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Recognising that something wasn’t quite right, Ashley reached out to family. “My dad was the first person I spoke to about it,” he recalls. “I basically left it for a while until it started to affect the band, and I was more OK with how it affected me socially but I think as soon as it began to affect my stage performance I was like, right, I need to do something about this.”

“So I told my manager and within a couple of days he put me in touch with a therapist, which was daunting and scary at first but it’s definitely helped me understand the roots of a lot of my issues, I think.”

The band took their foot off the pedal, completing a run of festival shows while Ashley worked on his mental health issues. “I think one thing about therapy which helped me was being able to be honest with myself again,” he says. “I think that was my main ethos before I went through that phase, and it totally switched around my song concepts, so I wasn’t speaking from my heart any more. And I think therapy definitely helped me; in that I would speak about something, come home, write about it, and move on from it. Or at least lay it out on the table and understand it a bit more.”

Coming to an understanding about himself has been one of the defining traits of the 12 months in Ashley Mulimba’s life. “I’ve learned how to remove myself from intense situations, and learn to be relaxed instead of turning anxiety into excitement. Letting it build up. Trying not to think about each individual show too much, because it never meets your expectations. Just playing it by ear and waiting to see what happens.”

But if January offers a new start then so too does ‘Shameless’, an exhausting cry that might be one of the most vital things HAUS have yet done. “It represents how I was feeling back then,” he notes, “and how it affected my relationships with people – my girlfriend, my family, and the band – and also my performance onstage.”

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The singer is confident, though, that much better lies ahead, that once he’s broken through this wall new work will pour forth. “It’s been very, very productive,” he comments. “I’ve found a new way of writing, which is basically me and Daniel (Hylton-Nuamah) will come up with the core of a song, and then take it to the band, rather than doing it the way we used to do, which is getting into a rhythm and seeing what happens. That’s always great – occasionally – but I think to produce the best, for us, this is working a lot better.”

Seeking out new producers and new studios, HAUS have their next step firmly in mind. “We’re playing it by ear at the moment,” he says, with clear relish in his voice. “We have a rough idea of who we want to do the next run of singles with. We’re still in talks at the moment. But it’s a producer who’s been willing to work with us for a while, and we’re big fans of his work, but the timings haven’t really worked out.”

And how about the possibility of an album, we ask?

“We actually discussed this whole thing with our manager yesterday,” he chuckles. “And I think the album will be coming sooner than a lot of people think. I don’t want to get too specific about that because plans tend to change. But we’re talking about it.”

Talking seems to be the best way forward; opening up communication can help find solutions, whether that’s musical or personal. We note that some HAUS fans might well relate to the lyrics, and might struggle with mental health issues themselves.

“Talk to someone that you trust first,” he advises. “It’s a lot easier than going to the NHS and asking to see a therapist. Whether that’s a family member or even just a friend. Or maybe just write down how you’re feeling – it can be a big help. I can definitely recommend seeing a professional about those kind of stuff because they do shift your brain, and shift your way of thinking about those things, and how to tackle those kinds of things.”

But for now, Ashley is content to work on new material, focus on the upcoming live shows, and find himself at ease in his new home on the south coast. “Brighton has also helped with my mental state,” he says. “Everyone’s polite down here, the atmosphere is la-dee-da and happy-happy so it’s easier to feel happier in a chilled out town. And it’s quite left wing!”

Sea air, green values, and music; perhaps Brighton is on to something...

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Catch HAUS at the following shows:

1 Sheffield Café Totem
2 Glasgow The Garage (Attic Bar)
3 Newcastle Jumpin Jaks
4 Leicester The Cookie
5 Leeds Community Room
7 Manchester Soup Kitchen
8 Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
9 Bristol Hy Brasil
10 London Omeara
12 Southampton Joiners
13 Brighton Sticky Mikes

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