New Noise Magazine reached out to a diverse group of artists and asked them to speak about their personal experiences with dealing with their overall wellness. The topic of being in good physical and mental is an exclusive spotlight coinciding with Issue #32 of the print magazine, deemed The Wellness Issue. Each artist speaks with a refreshing transparency on the struggles they face and how to better go about their own health.

Featuring Al Scorch

Al Scorch
Photo by Nick_Karp

The newest Bloodshot Records signee, Chicago’s Al Scorch,  released his second album and label debut, Circle Round The Signs, on May 13. He’s a banjo player with the heart of Woodie Guthrie and John Prine, who perfectly melds punk rock with Americana roots music. Now, Scorch has some advice for all the gentlemen out there…

I know a lot of guys read New Noise, so this is for them.

As men, especially as musicians, we need to improve our emotional health and the health of our communities by improving our emotional literacy and relationship skills. When we can identify and communicate our emotions, we treat ourselves and the people around us better. We have a better shot at being emotionally fulfilled and content when we are able to articulate how we feel, what we need, and why we need it. When we take time to reflect on our feelings and consider the feelings of others, we avoid hurting other people and ourselves. 

We hurt ourselves with drinking and drugs when we can’t figure our shit out. We throw ourselves into our work and music when we don’t want to face the problems in our lives and relationships. We hurt others when we use sex and relationships to make ourselves feel emotionally fulfilled instead of addressing our own inner shortcomings. We drain women by relying on them to perform emotional labor for us like identifying our feelings, working through challenging social situations, solving our own internal emotional problems, and emotionally supporting us when we’re down.

Music creates a space where dudes can express emotions and work through their shit onstage, which is an important part of the healthy emotional life of an artist. But if the stage is the only place you express yourself and work through things, then other aspects of your life might be suffering.

Two great books to get you started on all this are “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson and “Will to Change” by bell hooks.

Featuring Kacey Johansing

Kacey Johansing was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and raised in the mountain towns of Colorado. After leaving Berklee College of Music in Boston, Johansing relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spent a decade creating a community of musicians, artists, and filmmakers, cofounded the duo Yesway, and released two solo albums. She has toured internationally and shared the stage with such acts as Kings Of Convenience, Angel Olsen, Chris Cohen, and Little Wings, and has collaborated with members of My Morning Jacket, Real Estate, Fruit Bats, and The Range Of Light Wilderness.

She released her third album, The Hiding, on June 2 on her own Night Bloom Records. Johansing lives and works in Los Angeles.

Navigating Social Media

A couple of years ago, I broke up with my best friend and bandmate. We had a duo called Yesway and played together for nearly six years. After the split, I felt a wave of anxiety every time I’d sign on to Facebook or open Instagram. It felt necessary for the two of us to stop following one another, just as a couple would have done. There were times when I would see what she was doing and feel jealous of not only her musical accomplishments, but also of her ability to be more confident than me on social media. However, after some time apart, we have been able to rekindle our friendship and truly support each other. I’ve learned to shift my perspective and continue to be inspired by her. In doing so, it also helps me shift my feelings of jealousy into feelings of admiration.

Social media can be a useful and self-sufficient way to share what’s going on in an artist’s personal world. However, addiction to social media and the need for constant validation can get out of control. I personally try to avoid Facebook and need to take occasional breaks from Instagram, though I realize that it may have some effect on my career. I think it’s healthy to have personal boundaries in regards to self-promotion. Joanna Newsom is one of my musical heroes, and she doesn’t participate in social media at all.

Because our society is currently so dependent on social media outlets, it is all too easy to compare oneself to the successes of others. We forget that our purpose as artists is to remain true to ourselves and, hopefully, bring more beauty into the world. I think as long as you are excited about what you are doing, it doesn’t matter how many “likes” or followers you get. I think it’s important to learn how to remain curious and confident as a musician and to create what you love, not what is cool or trending.

Featuring Neil Holyoak of Holy Oak

Photo By Ip Hoi Wan

Singer-songwriter Neil Holyoak—better known as Holy Oak—has been bouncing around, living the life of a rolling stone, from Los Angeles to Montréal with lots of stops in-between. His 2008 self- titled debut album was recorded with Dave Bryant of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and he’s released two EPs, Better Lions in 2010 and Silver Boys in 2013; another full-length, Rags Across the Sun, in 2014; and his latest LP, Second Son, on June 9.

Coping With Loss

In April of 2016, my close friend and bandmate drowned herself in the Saint Lawrence River, south of Montréal. We had just finished making our third record together.

She was a generous and dedicated songwriter. Her songs were bittersweet and courageous, more prayers or proclamations than pop songs. She once led a choir of 30 in singing:

“From this moment onwards / We will be brave / We will be honest”

For every one of us, it was more than a lyric—it was a promise.

As a musician and a songwriter, I’ve always felt that songs should serve a useful purpose to the listener. To me, if a song can evoke a sense of movement, a questioning of purpose, or even just a quiet reprieve from the endless chatter of the digital age, it has served its purpose. Ultimately, I had always entertained the thought that the greatest songs have the power to heal.

After Katherine’s death, my faith in that promise was deeply shaken. What remained of Katherine’s work was painful to listen to. Countless times over the years, she’d come over and I’d help her record songs in my bedroom. Now, instead of a person in the room, I was left with a low, quivering voice coming through the speakers. Still, I would listen often.

The life of an independent musician can be a difficult one. In addition to long hours, unstable working relationships, and lack of financial security, musicians are constantly forced to defend the value of their work against both outside criticism and their own self-doubt. Katherine had often said that music was what would save her, but before her suicide, she lamented that she was unable to play anymore. She had lost even that final joy.

Years ago, I saw Jonathan Richman play a show in Montréal, and one piece of stage banter stuck with me ever since. In between songs, commenting on the life of a touring musician, Jonathan said—half to the audience and half to himself—“You gotta have love for this thing… or else it just isn’t worth it.”

After years of playing music to empty rooms, bad deals, and tough times along with great shows and transcendent moments both onstage and in the studio, losing Katherine was the first thing that ever made me question the work. I often questioned the industry before, but never the value of the work.

I wish that I had an easy answer for musicians out there dealing with loss. Unfortunately, it was not easy for me. The music seemed so weak and vain in comparison with the real tragedy that had overtaken my life. The new Phil Elverum record, about the recent loss of his wife Geneviève Castrée, [Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me], was a gateway to the possibility of writing about death in a real way, devoid of vague metaphor. “Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about / Before I knew my way around these hospitals.”

Over the year since Katherine’s death, I have been taking time to reacquaint myself with the simplest parts of music. After almost a year away from guitar, I picked it up again and strummed a chord as if I was just learning how to play. The industry and shows drifted to the back of my mind, and at the front is the simple joy of fingers on frets, the warmth and glow of vacuum tubes amplifying sound, and the joy of singing to myself.

The art will never be enough to make up for what’s been lost. I may never be able to gain any deep insight or transcendence from actual death and loss. It always sucks, and the work cannot touch that. Once I was able to let go of my search for answers, the music began to open up to me again. Not in grand movements, but in small moments of appreciation: “I like how that chord sounds,” “I like that song on Spotify,” “I like how these notes make me feel.”

Maybe music can’t be an IV drip or a freight train or a power plant. But perhaps it can be, as [Smog’s] Bill Callahan says, “Like a candle. Like a horseshoe. Like a corkscrew.” And those are still useful things.

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