Monday 2 September 2019

Mental Health In Music: A Musician's Perspective #1 - Paul Priest (has played in bands since 1996)

(Photo Credit: Instagram - os___photo)

Sometime ago now I decided to try my hand at something different. I wanted to reach out to some musicians that I knew and some I didn't, to get their perspectives on mental health with the DIY/Underground music scene and also to learn about their experiences, using a short set of interview questions. It was going to take the form of a big one-off feature and I had written to several participants, but things change and people are busy so I've taken the decision to turn it into a series of features instead.

This first interview features prolific Leeds musician Paul Priest, someone I consider to be a friend (even though I don't make over to Leeds anywhere near as often as I should). Paul's been playing in bands, putting on festivals and gigs for as long time and his energy for music, especially heavy music, is unflinching. He was kind enough to provide an insight into his own experiences with mental health and his insights into how people can help each other. I hope that this piece will raise some awareness of what people face and will maybe help to contribute to conversations about health and wellbeing.


1. The idea of this feature is to talk about the problems that musicians face, especially those in DIY or up-and-coming bands. Would you mind talking about your own experiences with mental health?

A. Just want to start by saying it's an awesome concept. Anything that leads to more open discussion about this topic is a great thing.

Essentially, I've had depression ever since I can remember. I didn't go through a particularly unhappy childhood or anything, but I was definitely more of an introverted loner, inside my own head a lot of the time, preferring to just listen to the radio, read, write, than 'play out' or be particularly social, especially since, as a result of being that way, I was bullied, which just served to push me even further into my shell.

When I was in my mid-teens, my brain definitely felt noticeably wired in a strange way, and I was very down a lot of the time. I felt like I had no enjoyment of almost anything. The clouds over me got darker and more intense very quickly, and the noise in my brain and bleak thoughts would be overpowering. I had almost stereotypical teenage anxieties and wanted to wipe myself out in whatever fashion I could (drink, drugs, self-harm etc), absolute self-hatred and misanthropy for almost everything around me, and it grew until it was barely manageable.

At 16, I didn't think I would make it to 20. 
At 25, I had no intention of making it to 30.
Even more recently, at 38, I embarked on the worst spell of my entire life, and had a couple of years where I was entirely at rock bottom, had given up, all of life situationally had fallen apart as well as the strength in my spirit and sanity in my mind, and was convinced that was the end, but, the resilience in the human spirit can be quite unbelievable and unreal at times, and, whilst I battle every day with the noise in my head, the continuous torture that can be inflicted by a brain that won't stop calling up every single bad moment in my life at the worst possible times (usually when trying to get to sleep!), I feel like I have found at least a basic strength that will keep me away from ending my life, which I'd not had for most of my life previously. 

Along with extreme depression, it can lead to spells of agoraphobia, troubles with sleep at each end of the spectrum, as in I either can't sleep properly for days, or can do nothing but sleep for days, panic attacks, and sometimes endless suicidal thoughts. I'm 42 now, and every day is difficult, but if you can persist, you can find ways of suppressing and quietening the noisy demons of depression. 


2. Being in a band can be an outlet for people to express their feelings and to help them get over certain things in life but do you feel that it can also have a negative effect? If so, what do you think these effects can be and are these linked to writing, recording, touring etc?

The timing of you sending these questions over was quite perfect really, because I saw them the day after getting back from a particularly difficult tour, in terms of my own battles in the mind. 

A lot of the time, I am able to, in a way, press pause and get so engrossed in the fun and cathartic side of touring, playing the loud music that was written to be the very release to get you through the hard times, but, this one I struggled to do that, and had a couple of really bad days on the drives between countries. I felt exhausted and broken even before we had got to the venues, so then add on the load in and outs, the prep, the playing, the social side, the not being in my own bed at the end of it, that side of things can be difficult at the best of times, but certainly so when you're not feeling right.

Thankfully though, I managed to work through a lot of what was troubling me right there and then, so that the post-tour blues, the return to reality that can be really intense, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting piled on top of what was also already going on in my head. Out of all the aspects of being in bands though, that can be a tough one at times. It's hard enough sometimes having just, say, had a good night visiting a friend and then returning home, you feel down because you miss that nice little nugget of good times, but, after a tour, which can be the best and most fun experience a musician can have, if it goes well, to come back to the reality we absolutely try and escape, it can be a bludgeoning back down to earth. 

As for writing, I love writing music, this is where I can channel anything I need to away from myself. It's not always necessarily in lyrics, which most people think it probably is. Writing a really heavy riff is amazing, for purging out really bad things inside your mind, or a big or emotional riff can be incredibly cathartic to play over and over. It can lay periods of time to rest, and help you to get through similar times later on. The recording part of it is that final closing of a certain spell.

It's not always like that, but sometimes it's nice to assign certain feelings, situations, problems you've overcome to specific riffs, that way you always get something out of them when you play them.


3. How do you deal with things now? Have you got any advice for those who are struggling themselves, musician or otherwise?

For the most part, you're in bands with your friends, and so, you get to a stage where you can just pull even just one person aside and say 'You know what, I'm not doing well' and try and work out getting a bit of space or help, but, sometimes it can be difficult to even say anything, depending on the kind of person you are, depending on how open the other people are about stuff like that. Generally, especially in the sort of music we all play, the people we gravitate towards as a result, there are other people in the bands or other friends there that go through similar, and so it can be easier to just get the feelings out in the open. Particularly on tour, you can have daily spells where there isn't much you can do, so take a hour out, away from the other people, just let your mind breathe a little in a quiet space, go for a wander away from the others. Nobody is going to mind, everyone will understand.

But, for anyone... No matter how difficult it is to say something, when you're feeling at your worst, always remember how much better you feel once you've said something, just one thing, one sentence, a few words asking for a bit of help or friendship can make unbelievable amounts of difference, right there and then AND in the future too, because it then becomes easier to say something again further down the line.

I've generally been someone who doesn't say much about problems at the time, and prefers to work through them myself. Sometimes this works out good and sometimes not so much. Internalising can be dangerous, but, I've got much better at knowing when are the times I know I'll be alright to sort things out, or when I need to speak up and ask for help.

Occasionally I will post up long rambles (can you tell with the response to this?!), big brain dumps, to friends, just to kind of update what I have been feeling, or where I am / where I've been, mentally, usually it is AFTER getting through the situations. That's in a way my closing account and the final purging I need to be able to move on, gain the strength needed from what has happened, and (from what some people have said to me) it helps others in their personal struggles as well, which, if that's the case, then amazing. It has been worth going through if it helps others as well.

A trick that has worked to a degree for me, and has for others, is to physically write down the particular thoughts that are repeating, or causing trouble in the mind, then, walk away from it for a little bit, come back, read it, and dispose of it, rip it up, set it on fire. That's literally emptying your brain and destroying the toxicity inside it. You can do the same with typing something out, saving it, closing it, opening it up again, reading it, chucking it in the bin! 

There's always ways. Some people hit the gym, go for a run, put on loud music and throw themselves around, some comfort eat. To be honest, whatever release you find in times of need, just do it.

At the end of that though, there is nothing better than just saying something, anything, to anyone. Text any friend saying 'Help, I feel shit', or put up a post on social media saying 'I'm not feeling right, and I don't know what to do', or call a helpline. They will understand, they will know how to put you at ease, they will be the voice you need. Just don't go it alone, because your brain can take you to some terrible places if you let it.

It took me a long time to accept that all of this side to my personality is never going to fully go away. It's chemical, it's been heightened by situational stuff, but, how I am now, I am happy in myself, as contradictory as this sounds. I've accepted that all I can do is manage this sometimes debilitating illness, sometimes I will be able to, sometimes I won't, but I have conquered so many spells over the course of my life, that I have decided I'm never giving up on myself. I've got this far, so I may as well see what other interesting, fun, weird, twisty adventures this life can throw at me.


4. What more do you think can be done in the underground scene or even the wider music scene to support people who may be struggling?

I think, generally, it's already heading in a good and positive direction. From what I see around my circles of friends, people are a lot less afraid to make that first statement of not being alright, to let people know that they've had a bad spell, or to bear with them whilst they work through problems. 

The music we listen to, the musicians making that noise, a lot more of them are able to speak up about their battles, it's there in the lyrics, in the sounds, it gives people hope, it makes people feel less isolated or lost. The scene is growing at a huge rate, and with it comes more people, more future generations that are less scared to put their hand up and say they have struggles. 

Normalising the feelings of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, to a degree helps people focus less on them and more on something positive, that they can use these 'brain quirks' to be creative, to help others, to be compassionate, to be selfless, and if you can dig deep and find the energies to accomplish any of these, to any level, then the possibilities of feeling that little bit better about yourself as a whole are increased.

The simplest way of putting the best advice is 'TALK MORE'. There's a spate of graffiti that, I believe, started in Leeds, I saw it quite a bit, and it's ingenious and perfection. 

There's still talk that there are stigmas attached to problems with mental health, and, maybe that's the case in different areas or types of people, but certainly in the 'alternative' or 'creative' worlds, I think that stigma is at least massively eradicated, so hopefully that can continue on further throughout the world. There's always going to be some people who ruin that goodness, but, I think they get shut down and told why they are wrong to be so thoughtless, and people aren't scared to take the side of those in need, and those in need are seemingly getting less scared about asking for the help.


I want to take this opportunity to thank Paul for taking the time to talk about his experiences. His message is a positive one and If it helps one person, it'll be worth it. Please reach out if you want to talk via the comments section below or via social media.

As mentioned in the title of this feature, Paul's been playing music for over two decades. More information can be found via Metal Archives -

If you're struggling or you know somebody who is, please talk to someone like Leeds Mind at Also, if you would like to donate to this very worthwhile charity, the proceeds will help them to provide more support for those who need it. Thank you.

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