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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Punk Talks works to change the conversation about musicians and mental health

Posted By on 03.14.17 at 01:13 PM

Punk Talks founder Sheridan Allen - NICK KARP
  • Nick Karp
  • Punk Talks founder Sheridan Allen

Social worker Sheridan Allen grew up loving emo and has been going to DIY shows for at least a decade. Among the punk and emo musicians she's seen, depression has often seemed to come with the territory—she's long had the impression, from talking to them after shows and listening to their lyrics, that many artists simply accept it as a fact of life.

A 2016 survey by the University of Westminster (published by Help Musicians UK) suggests that musicians may be up to three times as likely to suffer from depression as the general public. And for years Allen has seen the illness exact a price from the scene she loves—both because musicians don't address their own depression and because their fans mistakenly romanticize the problem.

"It's not fun and it's not fruitful. It's miserable and it turns productive, capable people into shells of who they were," she says. "It's very possible to love emo music and be mentally well."

These days Allen, who earned a bachelor's degree in social work in mid-2015, is getting an even more complete look at the daily stressors that weigh on many touring musicians. In January 2015 she founded an organization called Punk Talks (soon to become a nonprofit) so that she could help people in the music industry—especially those who can't afford care—address their depression and anxiety.

Punk Talks is based in Newport, Kentucky, where Allen is from, but in recent months she's taken her fledgling organization on the road. She's toured with bands such as Connecticut-based Sorority Noise and Nashville's Free Throw, and at their shows she sets up a table with information on how to seek help for depression and other mental health issues. In a couple weeks, her travels will bring her to Chicago. Punk Talks hosts a fund-raiser on Friday, March 31, at the Auxiliary Arts Center, with sets by four midwestern emo bands: locals Dowsing and Mother Evergreen, Joie de Vivre from Rockford, and Annabel from Akron, Ohio.


"Touring is a really interesting experience, because you get to interact with so many people every single day," Allen says. "But it's extremely isolated. You're meeting all these new people every night, but you're also going thousands of miles away from your loved ones and your support network. It's exhausting."

Right now, Punk Talks has a simple process. Musicians seeking mental health services contact the organization, and it determines whether they fit its criteria. The rules aren't exactly carved in stone—Allen says Punk Talks accepts clients on a case-by-case basis—but in general the person seeking therapy must work full-time in the music industry and be unable to receive mental health assistance through traditional channels. If clients can afford services through their insurance or can seek out local help, Allen helps match them with mental health professionals in their communities. But Punk Talks also has a small roster of volunteer therapists who can work directly with musicians, providing free care to those who don't have any other options.

Most of Allen's work so far has been in referrals, because Punk Talks currently has only three therapists—Allen herself, plus one in Chicago and another in Boston. Between them they have three current clients, but Allen says she's referred hundreds of people in the past two years. If she gets her way, her organization will add three more therapists in 2017.

Musicians connect with Punk Talks' therapists over the phone for 30- to 45-minute sessions. Scheduling depends on the client's needs—some call in weekly, while others play it by ear, waiting till they feel like they need a session. Punk Talks has been operating without formal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status while it raises funds, but Allen says she hopes to change that in 2017 as the organization takes on more clients. Punk Talks set up its first information table at a show at 2015's Bled Fest in Howell, Michigan, and this summer it's getting a new home—it's moving to Philadelphia in order to become a presence in a larger local music community.

"Every single musician who has ever picked up a guitar experiences mental health issues, and every human being experiences mental health issues," Allen says. "Just the same as everybody gets the flu, everybody feels negativity at some point in their lives."

On tour with Free Throw this February, Allen says she got requests for mental health services every night. She often finds herself giving mini therapy sessions next to her table at shows, discussing personal issues with fans and musicians alike.

Dowsing front man Erik Czaja, who helped Allen book the Chicago benefit show, has firsthand experience with the strain of road life. "She's trying to help these people that are on tour for three months, and all you have is each other on tour—but having another outlet is super important," he says. "It's a really good tool for people trying to go on tour a lot. It's nice knowing someone else is out there looking out for you besides your bandmates."

With Trump in the White House, though, Allen has been having more and more conversations about health care coverage—more specifically, about how people will get by without it. As the new administration continues its efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, many musicians are preparing for the possibility that they'll lose their health insurance, and with it their only access to mental health services.

"[The Affordable Care Act] was designed to help people like musicians, who work really, really hard but just don't make enough money," Allen says. "[Repealing the ACA] then creates additional stressors for people who are already very stressed because their jobs don't pay anything and they're living a grueling lifestyle. They're already not living healthily, so you add that on top of a total lack of access to health care. It's a recipe for disaster."

Czaja says a shortage of money is the biggest problem in most musicians' lives, and that ACA repeal would add to that pressure. "If you have to pay for your own health insurance, it's just another cost to go on top of your life," he says. "It's like, 'Do I pay for this or do I go on tour?' Can you afford to see a therapist if you're going on tour all the time? Probably not."

Organizations like Punk Talks shouldn't have to exist, but our current health care system does so little to provide security at a reasonable cost that all sorts of nonprofits have stepped in to try to patch the holes in the safety net. Allen wants to make sure that no musicians have to go without mental health care, regardless of their financial situations. And the people who reach out to her every day online and at shows have proved to her how important this work is.

"It reaffirms to me that accessibility to mental health treatment in this particular community is absolutely vital," Allen says. "It's a crucial and necessary resource."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Sheridan Allen's social-work training.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jon Fine talks about the 90s indie scene and his new memoir, Your Band Sucks

Posted By on 05.27.15 at 01:10 PM

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Life on the road in an indie rock band can be rough, but that only intensifies the simple pleasures. A cold beer, the crack of a snare drum, the sunset on the horizon, the blue stage lights . . . It's addictive, even when the show's a total bust. Jon Fine still savors these moments. Now executive editor of Inc., Fine revisits his decades-long former life as an indie rocker, when he was a guitarist for Bitch Magnet, Vineland, and Coptic Light, in Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), a rock memoir that's worthy of the underground's golden age, or at least the tour van library.

Fine's definition of "indie" is a throwback to the late 80s/early 90s when American bands emerged from hardcore with noisy, unruly guitars, pummeling bass lines, smart-ass lyrics, buried vox, challenging time signatures, and lean, mean production. These bands didn't smile, they didn't jangle, and they booked studio time with Steve Albini. Chicagoans know the type.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

How local psych-pop band Ghastly Menace grew from a duo to a six-piece

Posted By on 01.30.15 at 03:00 PM

Ghastly Menace
  • Courtesy Ghastly Menace
  • Ghastly Menace

Ghastly Menace has tripled. Four years ago, the band was just Andy Schroeder and Chris Geick, two former posthardcore musicians that got together to play pop. Now, the psychedelic outfit has six members. A rotating cast of characters simmered down to a steady lineup during the recording of the band's debut album, Songs of Ghastly Menace, which came out on Tuesday via The Record Machine.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Smith Westerns break up: An exclusive interview with front man Cullen Omori

Posted By on 12.19.14 at 10:00 AM

Max Kakacek, Cullen Omori, and Cameron Omori of Smith Westerns
  • jaein lee
  • Max Kakacek, Cullen Omori, and Cameron Omori of Smith Westerns

Things always moved fast and furious for Smith Westerns. Not long after their 2009 self-titled debut—an adrenaline shot of glam rock—the three teenage Chicagoans were thrust into the indie-rock stratosphere. By 2011's Dye It Blonde, they were a full-throttle, undeniably confident touring force that, for better or worse, ranked among the buzziest of buzz bands. That they've seemingly out of nowhere decided to call it quits isn't entirely shocking—bands that burn so hard tend to flame out quickly. Judging from the seemingly tossed-off tweets that front man Cullen Omori made last week, in which he announced that the band was going on "indefinite hiatus," the end arrived abruptly. The band, which includes bassist Cameron Omori (Cullen's brother) and guitarist Max Kakacek, will play one final Chicago gig, sans Kakacek, on Tue 12/23 at Lincoln Hall.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Behind the making of local art-pop group Brontosaurus' forthcoming LP

Posted By on 12.12.14 at 12:30 PM

Brontosaurus
  • Matthew Joel Schwerin
  • Brontosaurus

It's been almost four years since local art-pop group Brontosaurus put out their first record, but they can hardly say they've been on hiatus. The band never stopped—instead, Nicholas Kelley and Nicholas Papaleo spent that time tightening their grip on the jagged, math-rocky chamber pop they've crafted together since 2010. After the release of their debut, 2011's minialbum Cold Comes to Claim, the pair pushed themselves to new levels of perfectionism, running over their songs until each and every piece locked into place. Last week, they released four new tracks from an album due out in 2015, the second batch of recorded songs they've ever made public. EP2014, the simply titled release that's now available as a pay-what-you-can download on Bandcamp, comprises the first four tracks from the still unreleased full-length Foundations Shake. It's an ambitious record, full of sharp turns and grand sweeps that the duo only started to trace on that early recording.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

David Yow's monolith, and other over-the-top album covers

Posted By on 04.27.13 at 09:00 AM

David Yows Tonight You Look Like a Spider
  • David Yow's Tonight You Look Like a Spider
One of the fun parts about putting out a new album is creating a concept for the cover art. In honor of David Yow's recent announcement of his upcoming solo album, which comes with a monolith (yep, a monolith) that he made himself, here are a few impressive—and perhaps over-the-top—album packaging designs that artists and musicians have joined forces to create:

Local rockers Sybris recently released a special-edition EP in the style of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure module. The Voyage of The Stag Party includes an illustrated book complete with maps and features the band members as prerolled characters.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Breaking up the band: When to call it quits

Posted on 04.20.13 at 09:00 AM

Every summer, I volunteer as a band coach and teach little kids how to play music at Girls Rock! Chicago. And every year, someone inevitably quits the band—usually it's only for five minutes, but still.

My first year at GR!C, I wasn't expecting this situation. The band I was coaching had been working for almost a week in preparation for a showcase where they'd only get to perform one song. Two days before the show, the drummer presented a completely new song to her eight-year-old bandmates. It was a great song, and she'd stayed up all night working on it. But it was a little more advanced than her bandmates could play, and with the show mere days away, there just wasn't enough time for everyone to learn the skills required. The band voted to stick with the original song they'd rehearsed all week. The drummer, devastated and, I'm guessing, humiliated in the face of her creativity being rejected by her peers, immediately quit the band and took refuge under a desk. Naturally. I had no idea what to say to get her to crawl out from under her tiny fortress, much less how to get the band back together again. I have to admit that a little piece of my heart broke off watching her hide under that desk—I can't even tell you how many times in my life I've wanted to do exactly that. So I ended up telling her that, and then launched into an off-the-cuff speech about diplomacy and how sometimes you have to take one for the team and about how you have a lifetime to see a song through to fruition. Little did I know at the time, I would end up giving a version of that speech every year to the girl who quits, and little did I know, I was actually giving some advice to myself to stick it out with my own band.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Road Tip: Free admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Posted on 03.30.13 at 12:00 PM

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • Jason Pratt
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Spring is coming (supposedly) and that means it's tour season. One (of many) reason(s) why midwesterners are badasses is because we have to endure driving through some of the most boring terrain on the planet just to get out of here. If you're headed to the east coast, you'll most likely roll through the not-that-exciting landscape of Ohio, but the state does in fact have some cool things to do. If you're a band on tour, you can get into Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum for free. You have to prove you're a touring band, though. You can enter by flashing a tour laminate, but if you don't have that, they'll settle for a piece of merch. And if you don't have merch, just be annoying. Reader associate editor Kevin Warwick claims that his band got in by disarming the gatekeepers with a silver tongue. "We pretty much just wore them down," he says.

While you're there, check out this permanent exhibit that includes fellow midwestern musicians Bob Seger, Prince, and the Coug.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dream Machine: Devin Davis on harnessing the power of your sleeping musical mind

Posted on 03.23.13 at 12:00 PM

dreammachine-magnum.jpg
Remember a little record called Lonely People of the World, Unite! from 2005? You know, the one that's quite possibly on your list of all-time favorite records? On the heels of its eighth anniversary, local musician and recording engineer (and, full disclosure, my "special friend") Devin Davis crawls out of the woodwork for a guest appearance on this episode of Band Life. Here's Devin on writing the songs of your dreams. Literally:

The greatest gift you can ever receive as a musician/songwriter is to hear a song of your own creation in a dream and then remember it after you wake up. It's like a winning lottery ticket that, having circled forever on an endless breeze, suddenly flutters down and sticks directly to your face. The phenomenon is, for lack of a better word, miraculous.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

WHAT?! A guide to earplugs

Posted By on 03.09.13 at 09:00 AM

Anatomy_of_the_Human_Ear-magnum.jpg
The only thing you should ever put in your ear is your elbow. At least, that's what my trusted otolaryngologist told me after he inspected my ears and vacuumed out a mass of my own hair and a pussy-willow catkin from the yard or something. I was nine years old. I liked to stick nontraditional items in my ears, so what.

Ironically, when it comes to earplugs, I'm a hater. I've even managed to form a loud band with other anti-earplug enablers. One of my bandmates describes earplugs as "condoms for the head." And they are: they dull your present experience, yet protect you from stuff you don't want to deal with in the future. And hey, it's your body—the only ride you get—so the choice to wear earplugs is yours. But admittedly, earplug rebellion is bad behavior.

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