By Mark Ireland

Elements of mental health can be a coat of many colours for many people. It can be fleeting for some or it can be an ongoing battle for others. From what I found with the musicians I interviewed is the commonality of music and community that people are a part of is something that is cathartic as well as a deeply personal journey to help them with their mental health.

Geoff Corbett from Six Ft Hick described his ongoing journey with mental health as a  “long term dance” and something that he has come to accept. 

Melbourne based Americana artist Matt Joe Gow was quoted as saying  “On and off, I think many artists who are often introspective will have moments of trying times.” Whilst many introspective types will experience mental health issues, there is no one particular type it can affect.

Tim Woods states, “At times I have had mental health issues, but music has always been a great outlet for me, it’s always helped me feel worthwhile.”


Geelong musician Robby Wood has said music has had an immense impact on his life and it’s experiences have been like going to church, Robby is a war veteran and has seen a lot of friends that have/had suffered from depression, PTSD etc, so he has seen the incredible benefits music positive aspects can have on someone's life. 


The connection of music that all these different musicians speak about is something deeper that the tune, deeper than the performance, it’s something that will always be there, something that will never leave them. 


Rohan Brooks from Rudely Interrupted, said “it’s indescribable, what we take away from seeing live performances, regardless of the genre, it's an intangible experience” and apparently the United Nations have listed it as an intangible heritage.   


Local based singer Lucy Dwyer  speaks candidly about how music has gotten her through rough times in her life. “Singing for me is like primal scream therapy,  I used to listen to Jeff Buckley a lot. I felt like every note in every song was just what I was aching for but could never quite get there’. ‘The place he created was the place I went when I was low. I don’t listen to Jeff so much these days. When I do I hear it differently. It’s so much less sad and more melancholy. If I’m feeling low I generally crank up some Aretha Franklin, or some old school hip-hop. Always puts me in a good mood.” 


During this unprecedented time in history, no one could say lockdown hasn’t affected them in one way or another especially if you are a musician, your whole livelihood has been taken away from you. 

Geoff Corbett said that the loss of live music for him has been particularly tough, because playing live has been therapeutic for him, as for the creative side “I think I’m more creative on the way down. Tap into the depression side for as long as possible, the problem without live performances I feel adrift and it’s messing with my head.” 


Lucy Dwyer said during lockdown her mental health hasn’t suffered because “For someone with social anxiety, I don’t have to worry about the daily stresses of life.”


Johnny Rock said the lockdown has had a considerable impact on his mental health and has felt suffocated, “even though I have had a lot more extra time on my hands the feeling of hopelessness has meant being creative has been difficult.”


Local musician Christopher Newton who was used to playing between 15-20 shows a year, said the lockdown had been hard because of the restrictions on the live scene, but felt grateful because he was one of the lucky ones that had employment during these times. 


Songwriting for some musicians can be an exorcism of sorts, it can let people release the emotions that they unable to release otherwise, the pen can be a scalpel what they put down on paper can be blood from within, Geoff Corbett said the song he wrote called ‘Catamaran, he describes it being about the intersection of mental health and AOD, a field he has worked in for 22 years. Robby Wood wrote the song ‘False Alarm’ which is directly inspired about losing friends to suicide, he said the song was considered “Sacred” and didn’t want to include in set lists, it allowed him to release an emotion that had so much positive feedback from audience members that has become a staple in the setlist now. 


For some, band members can be like family, Geoff Corbett said during lockdown seeing his bandmates  is like seeing a digital representation of themselves and it's not the same. 

Being part of a musical songwriting community can mean so much to so many people, on such a deeply personal level it can be an amazing cathartic experience for some, Rohan Brooks said “Music keeps me grounded , it's a personal puzzle for me to work out what melody works best for a particular song, when we speak to infants, our voices go up in pitch, and the biological reason for this is to help stretch the hearing capacity of the infant, through human voice.”


Geoff Corbett said being part of Six Ft Hick has bought him so many incredible experiences on stage. “Being totally fucking exhausted mentally and physically when a show has ended and just laying back and feel my eyes roll back in my head and thinking this feeling is pretty close to an orgasm, all those juicy neurotransmitters squirting like crazy, like nearly the best drug ever dragging you across the line.”


Lucy Dwyer said ‘When a stranger compliments you on a performance that completes the circle for me’. 


Johnny Rock had an insightful explanation on the catharsis of live performance, ‘As a performer playing music live becomes a sort of meditative experience. “Having to concentrate and be mindful in the moment in order to perform means that I am ultimately not thinking about other things that could be troubling me in my life. At the end of it, I may be sweating like a pig, but I feel rested. I've given my mind the break it needed. I feel energised and ready to continue with whatever life throws at me. Watching live music has a similar effect. If it's music that I really like and that I connect with, I am also performing internally and being present in the moment, being all consumed by the music. When I leave I am happy and rested. Albeit also very sweaty again!”


From all the amazing musicians I interviewed, they shared so many incredible insights to how music benefits their lives and how they balance their love of live music with their mental health, Australia all over has such passionate performers, and our musical communities support each other tirelessly , organisations such as Support Act assist artists in so many ways, with financial assistance, if they have fallen on hard times, its organisations like them that have helped so many during these difficult times .

Written by Mark Ireland.

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