While I was deciding whether to write this piece or not, I was hit with many insecurities. Am I qualified enough to even speak about these sorts of issues? Would the people I ask to comment feel comfortable enough to answer my questions? How would I piece this all together into a concise and interesting article? 

Well, I found out that I’m very lucky to surround myself with musicians who not only feel comfortable speaking about these issues, but who also speak about it with a fervent vigor and enthusiasm.

Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being of a person. It’s about how we think, feel, and behave and I’ve struggled with mine for as long as I can remember. I’m not ashamed to say that. In fact, I’m incredibly lucky to have been brought up in a household where being honest about your mental health and consistently working on it is an incredibly important aspect of day-to-day life.

When I slowly started slithering my way into writing – songs and other forms of it – I found myself edging quickly towards having to face my mental health issues head-on because the subject matter I was touching on was slowly edging my issues to the forefront of my psyche. 

This made me wonder whether there was a broader link between mental health and the arts? Does it help being slightly unhinged, or more connected to the darker parts of our psyches, to create art that truly makes people feel? And if the answer is yes to these questions, what is the price we pay and is the outcome worth it? I decided it would be best to ask these questions to a few of my musician friends and see if they were under the impression that with great suffering comes great reward. 

My first question was do you need to suffer emotional or physical pain to create art that’s more “real”? I don’t think so and  Andre Leo (ex-Medicine Boy, Wombed) agrees, telling me that the whole tortured artist idea reeks of “mediocre nostalgia” and that we learn through living and living can sometimes be suffering.

Donny Truter (Taleswapper) makes a valid point however by saying that through almost any endeavour there will be sacrifice and that with a music career you need to, “love music almost as much as family to get anywhere with it.” So instead of interpreting this as you have to suffer, maybe it just means that if you want to execute your art properly you will suffer.

With that being said, it’s normally during my waves of heavy emotions or manic episodes that I have been at my most productive. I work on pieces at a devilish pace and use incredibly honest and open language, but when the “hangover” ends it’s pure agony and I normally sink into a creative slump, sometimes for weeks.  

Lenny-Dee (Bye Beneco) explains her version of this artistic “hangover”’ by saying it feels like the existential self starts to creep in and the internal self deprecating “chit chat” begins after a spell of sweet productivity and starts asking how this is all relevant? Adding to this internal battle of creativity and the feeling of purpose she remarks,”What the fuck are we doing and why? I want to create. I want to feel inspired. But is it necessary? What’s the point? I mean, I can’t imagine a life without music”. It seems as though the pendulum of creativity quickly swings both ways.

Chatting to Lucas Swart (Dangerfields) he adds that we definitely romanticise the whole notion of needing to manifest some sort of feeling or issue to “cope” with when it comes to writing. Something to be ‘up against’ you could say. I completely get that, I often need to feel like it’s me versus something or someone. 

This can become, “one-dimensional and fucking predictable,” as Leo so eloquently remarked in a similar chat we had about only using one emotion as a catalyst or inspiration for writing. It becomes shallow.

“It’s much more interesting and daunting (and far more difficult) to examine and attempt to dissect subjects like darkness, love and all the usual players from a clearer state of mind,” he explains. “These subjects are so multifaceted. It takes discipline and courage. Where the other way takes none of these. I’m not saying great work doesn’t come from moments of physical and mental torment. They do. But to rely solely on those moments is just sort of boring.” 

With this all said, I wanted to delve deeper into the consequences of allowing yourself to embrace the darker, slightly unhinged part of your psyche for the sake of creating art that will leave scars that can’t hide behind neon lights and leather jackets.

I have found myself in dark places during my music career but not always from internal issues. Most of the time it’s some external trigger that sends me down a path of self-doubt or just pure unbridled depression. Perhaps I am more susceptible to this because I’ve allowed myself into these parts of my psyche when I’m creating. I’ve opened the door and forgot to lock it on the way out, you could say.

Truter however sees it more positively, saying that by working with such dark and honest subject matter, he feels it helps to get whatever is bothering him out of his system. “It’s always dark somewhere in the greater confines of my mind, there is a conveyor belt of darkness being served up to me as the material for my life’s work. There is a reason for that darkness but that’s for a different occasion,” he shrugs.

For any musician who’s struggled with the aforementioned concepts I think it would be wise to keep these following principles in mind. The dark will always be there but it needs to be to balance the light. Be aware of your own mental health and don’t sacrifice it for the sake of art. Balance is key and too much of one thing can lead you to becoming boring and predictable. Allow yourself to feel everything, cry, scream, laugh but learn from all of these feelings and use them to create art that will make the world cry – tears of joy and of pain. 

But it’s Leo who probably sums things up the best by saying,There’s no way forward without acquiring some scars. And there’s no reason to hide them. Just don’t sit around picking at the same old ones.”

Photo courtesy of Pierre Rommelaere.

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