Mental health is a prominent issue within the music community, so New Noise Magazine reached out to a diverse group of artists and asked them to speak about their personal experiences with mental illness. This is an exclusive ongoing spotlight—coinciding with Issue #31, The Mental Health Issue, of the print magazine—that showcases a refreshing transparency on the struggles many individuals face and the coping mechanisms they’ve developed to overcome them.

Keller Harbin of Holy+Gold

Holy+Gold band 2017

Formed by previous members of Norma Jean, The Glass Ocean, and The Chariot, Atlanta post-hardcore ensemble, Holy+Gold, debuted their sound with the single “Bat-Bird” in March of 2016. In November, the band of brothers—which features Keller Harbin, Scottie Henry, Heath Ladnier, Brandon Henderson, and Justin Graham—gave the song a proper home on their self-released debut EP, Feral Children, which will get a limited physical release in April.

Are there any personal experiences with mental health issues you’d like to share?

I have had bouts of depression and anxiety/panic disorder for most of my adult life. It has been a mostly private struggle, only allowing some family members and friends in on my secret. 

 How does your mental health status interact with or inform the way you make music? 

When it first started surfacing, I actually didn’t understand what was going on. I thought I was dying most of the time. It was so exhausting going through these ranges of emotions that I quit music completely. I didn’t feel anything, and for me, music [and] writing lyrics is 110 percent about feeling. It shut me down for years. 

 What are some mechanisms you’ve developed and/or discovered that help you cope?

I was on medication for a while; I decided to stop after about a year. It helped level me out and gain some control, but I didn’t like my mood. I was accustomed to the rollercoaster of emotions I normally had. I started developing little things along that way that helped me cope, mostly breathing exercises and checking my pulse about 30 times a minute. Eventually, I was able to overcome it—so I thought. I went to a doctor about a year ago, and he told me I was having panic attacks. I, again, was convinced I was dying. He prescribed medicine—that I didn’t take—and rather decided to go headfirst into this. I’ve found natural remedies and, most of all, started listening to my body and mind. I eat better, try to sleep more, and stay away from shit that triggers my depression [and] panic. 

 Are there ways you think the music world could better accommodate and/or include those living with mental illness?

I think that there is an intense amount of pressure on artists to be that character you perceive them to be. I think the strangest thing I’ve seen in this industry is the social anxiety disorders that run rampant. As a touring musician, you are never alone, constantly bombarded by people and press. I think you need to remember we are not a product, we are all human here with real problems, real families, real pain, and real joy. I think this surpasses the music industry though: we need to put more focus on the cause and cures of these diseases. 

With all of the negative things I have said about the inherently burdensome life one lives with these diseases, I have learned from it a great deal about myself, my relationships, and how I fit into them. I would prefer to not have these conditions, but there is hope—I find it in my children and my wife. I find it in the work I’m doing now with Holy+Gold. I constantly search for the silver lining. It has helped me, and hopefully, it can help you.

Fynn Claus Grabke of The Picturebooks

Photo by Ariane van Ginneke

German garage blues-rock duo, The Picturebooks—made up of vocalist and guitarist Fynn Claus Grabke and drummer Philipp Mirtschink—released their first full-length, Artificial Tears, on Nois-O-Lution in 2010—it’s now available via Nuclear Blast—and made their North American debut with the follow-up LP, Imaginary Horse, through RidingEasy Records in 2014.

On March 10, The Picturebooks released their newest album, Home Is a Heartache, with the help of Another Century Records. The new record features the track “Inner Demons,” a personal look into Grabke’s struggle with panic attacks.

Are there any personal experiences with mental health issues you’d like to share?

Hi, my name is Fynn, and I’m the singer and guitarist of the band, The Picturebooks. We’re a duo and have been a band for over 10 years now. We’ve gone from a local act in our hometown, Gütersloh in the heart of Germany, to a worldwide touring band—that’s what we always wanted to do. We are on tour all the time. Luckily, I have an awesome girlfriend for over 10 years now who has always supported what I do; otherwise, I would have probably ended up like most of the dudes we meet on tour, taking all kinds of drugs and getting hammered every day.

In a way, I’ve always envied these people who just don’t give a fuck. I clearly give way too many fucks, and I am always on the hunt for vegan restaurants, nice cafes, or organic grocery stores to keep me healthy and to keep on being able to do what I love to do the most, which is be on tour and see places I’ve never seen before.

But that wasn’t always the case. 

While we were touring for three years straight, I started getting really exhausted. Like, really fucking exhausted. I would just lie in bed all day on days off and sleep really bad. To get into stage-mode, I would always drink two to three beers before the show and almost always have a couple of beers after the show, which made me sleep and feel even worse.

At some point, I was getting sleep paralysis. My body was sleeping, but my mind was fully aware of what was going on around me. It was the craziest thing in the world. I remember falling asleep once in the car, and I could hear everyone talk, but I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t even move. I was getting super scared. At some point, I managed to move one of my fingers and that woke me up. “Kill Bill” moment right there. 

All in all, I started getting stressed out, depressed, and anxious. We had a friend who was our roadie for the tour, and typically, he was the biggest party animal and was causing all kinds of trouble, which made it all worse. I remember taking a shower once, and all of a sudden, I thought that I was about to blackout. I don’t know why, but it triggered something. The next day, after our show in Southampton, I had my first real panic attack in a Starbucks right by the ocean. I didn’t even know what it was and tried not to take it too seriously. I dragged myself through that tour somehow, hoping it would get better. 

The first time one of these panic attacks hit me onstage was that one night we played in Vienna. Out of nowhere, I was scared to death in the middle of our set. I felt like I was suffocating, and I was afraid I would blackout any second. My hands and legs started to cramp and my knees shivered like crazy. I could feel my heartbeat pumping in my head louder than anything—and we’re a super loud band—which didn’t calm me down at all and made it all worse and worse.

For some strange reason, though, I was still capable of acting normal. No one saw it or recognized it. I even asked my drummer Philipp and our live mixer—who is also my dad, he should know best—if something looked weird this night, and they said not at all and that it was a great show.

I hoped that it was just a thing that happened that night and would never happen again, but they started coming back more and more. I would get them while we were having lunch or so. The worst part about it was I started to get scared of being scared. I couldn’t think of anything else. I always knew when I was doing my vocal warmups that I will get one or two panic attacks as soon as I go onstage. That scared me so much that it stressed me out more. After every show, I had cramps in my jawbone, arms, fingers, and stuff.

Still, no one recognized it. I was selling merch after the show, talking to the people with a smile on my face, feeling like the biggest piece of shit. At some point, I was so desperate, I thought I was haunted or something like that. I doubted and at the same time believed anything. I was burnt out! 

Somehow, we finished this tour and went home for the first time in three years. No show ahead of us. That scared me, but I knew I needed it right now. We started setting up in our studio in Gütersloh and started writing. I still had panic attacks, but I learned how to live with them. I started accepting them. I was having full planned-out days. I went to the gym as often as possible. Ate healthy. Became vegan after being a vegetarian my whole life. Most importantly, I had a daily routine.

I learned so much about myself in this time. And now, I try to have a daily routine on tour too. It’s a lot harder for sure, but it’s possible. And I have a lot more fun on tour, because I feel like I’m more aware of where I am, what I’m doing, and why I am doing this.

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