Blast the music until it’s louder than the pain. Louder than the anxiety and panic. Louder than the depression or suicidal thoughts. Louder than the self-doubt. Louder than the abuse echoing in your mind like an earworm.
Using music as a coping or healing mechanism is the reason a lot of musicians and music lovers alike turn to music and the music community as a refuge.
Take the band Pierce the Veil. The first time I ever saw them live was in 2013, when they were co-headlining the Spring Fever tour with All Time Low, one of my all time favorite bands. The only things I knew about Pierce the Veil at the time came from this funny little PowerPoint someone on Tumblr made and from checking them out on Spotify the week before.
I wasn’t much for music with screaming in it at the time but I had gotten into A Day To Remember from seeing them live a few months before in that same year. When I saw that Pierce the Veil had a song with the Jeremy McKinnon, A Day To Remember’s singer, I was immediately interested. I clicked on the song in question, “Caraphernelia”, and this became the song that first piqued my interest in Pierce the Veil.
Their elaborate set design was the first thing that caught my attention. The next thing was a point during their set where lead singer Vic Fuentes asked the crowd if their lives had ever been saved by music. As I looked around the venue, Jannus Live, I saw many hands, including my own, go up.
As my eyes hit the stage, I saw that lead guitarist Tony Perry had his hand raised as well. This was another moment that imprinted itself on my brain. I thought to myself, ‘so not only are these guys talented musicians who care a great deal about their live show set up, they’re also going or have gone through the same thing that I have?’
There’s been a debate in recent years that “oh music didn’t save your life, it just gave you the power to save your own life”, but I see that as hair splitting more than anything. Sure, there are disingenuous people that say this or tweet this to bands just to get attention, but they’re just an (unfortunately) vocal minority.
I know I’d be dead right now if I hadn’t found solace in music at a young age. I’ve always struggled with depression/suicidal thoughts and anxiety; I just didn’t know for sure that’s what they were called until 2015.
In fact, the first time I found out what depression even was was at one of the first Warped Tours I went to in 2007. To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit organization that works to give hope and help to people struggling with depression, anxiety, suicide and self-injury, had a booth there with information on depression. It’s probably not much different than what’s on their table now: information on symptoms, where to find local help, and other things designed to pull struggling people out of their head if only for a moment. I’ve been suicidal at three different periods in my life and, each time, one of the only things that helped me feel less alone was knowing someone else out there was struggling just like I was.
Pierce the Veil also has a song called “Hell Above”, which is, says Fuentes,
“…for our fans who feel like they don’t have a home or a place that they fit in. It was inspired by the letters, messages, and conversations that we’ve had with them over the last couple of years. In the choruses I sat [sic] “this is a wasteland, my only retreat.” I am referring to the shows that we play as a temporary home for those who need it. It may not be much, but at least it’s a place where we can forget about our problems for a little while.”
That’s part of the reason why they have such a fervent fan base. Having been to three Pierce the Veil shows since I first saw them, I can truly say it does feel like that for me every time. Also, it’s fun to scream lyrics that mean so much to you at the top of your lungs with 100+ people who are doing the same.
Hope For the Day, a nonprofit organization that focuses on suicide prevention and mental health education, even has a whole series hosted on Alternative Press’ website called “Music Saved My Life” featuring bands such as Tonight Alive, Set It Off, letlive and the Color Morale.
So many people look down on music as a career, gloss over the impact it can have on a person, or are confused as to why anyone would be so passionate about such a dysfunctional industry.
The thing is, if you find the right people, bands and/or organizations, it’s more like a supportive, inclusive and positive community and that can be a hard thing to find. I first discovered this in 2005 when I got heavily into my first two pop punk bands: Yellowcard and Fall Out Boy.
I don’t remember where I heard Yellowcard’s “Way Away”, off 2003’s “Ocean Avenue”, for the first time but I do remember the impact it had on me. When I first heard that violin, the first thing I thought was, ‘a violin?? In a rock song?? What? That’s so weird. Maybe these guys are weird like me’. I identified with the song’s bridge instantly: “Letting out the noise inside of me/every window pane is shattering/cutting up my words before I speak/this is how it feels to not believe…” which lead into the chorus: “Way away away from here I'll be/way away so you can see/how it feels to be alone and not believe/feels to be alone and not believe anything…”
“Way Away” came out the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I was bullied for years in middle school and my thoughts would bounce from the bullies to anger to sadness and then spiral down from there.
Listening to “Way Away” and Yellowcard in general, was the only time my thoughts would stop fighting each other and I would feel slightly better. I didn’t know it then but this was the beginning of my love affair with music and wanting to work in the industry. Another song off “Ocean Avenue”, “Empty Apartment”, was featured on one of the first episodes of “One Tree Hill” and I freaked out.
“One Tree Hill” was a teen soap opera based around basketball and music (at least in the first couple of seasons). I heavily identified with the character of Peyton as she was the music lover who, I felt, often voiced thoughts that had been rattling around in my own head. They weren’t happy thoughts. The majority of them were about self-loathing, self-doubt, abandonment issues, and hinted at depression and suicidal tendencies. There’s even a few scenes in the first season where she purposely runs red lights because she feels guilty about her mom dying after coming to pick her up one night.
I used to be one of those people who kept everything in, didn’t know how to articulate what I was feeling and didn’t know how to recognize this was even a thing I needed to pay more attention to. Seeing Peyton’s character and hearing a sad song from a band I’d come to love was the first time I felt like I had someone to relate to in that way. Or that someone “got it”, even if that person was some Hollywood scriptwriter.
“One Tree Hill” is one of the few TV shows to treat a character with a possible mental health issue as a whole person instead of some broken feeble embarrassment or something. This was consistent over the seasons I watched (up to six of the nine, I believe). They also showed there are other ways of showing support to someone in Peyton’s place: by being there, talking to the person and supporting their art and reminding them it matters. It also showed the power of music.
The show was on around the same time Fall Out Boy was first gaining popularity. Peyton wanted to put on an all ages show at the local venue since music is what she wanted to do and somehow she convinced Fall Out Boy to play her tiny town. This led to a fan wish fulfillment type plotline where she met Pete Wentz while setting up the event and they got to talking, she told him she loved his lyrics, specifically “my pen is the barrel of the gun, remind me which side you should be on”, from “The Pros and Cons of Breathing” on their first album, “Take This To Your Grave”. They even had a sort of fling on the show, which was more emotional based than anything.
Discovering more bands like Issues and “Sempiternal/That’s The Spirit”-era Bring Me the Horizon helped me become more accepting of my disorders. They also reminded me that I wasn’t a freak of nature because there were other people who had the same issues and were successful in pursuing their dream!
Discovering that gave me hope that I could go after what I want despite the difficulties presented at the time by what I’d been told was severe anxiety/panic attacks. In fact, having Bring Me the Horizon’s “That’s The Spirit” on repeat is the thing that finally spurred me to seek help for the depression part of my mind. I found myself identifying way too much with lyrics that were a “celebration of depression”.
Newer organizations such as HeartSupport and Can You Hear Me Now? have only furthered my education on mental illness and how to both deal with it in a healthy way and how to help others who are just coming to terms with it.
I sit here listening to “Savior’s Robes” from Yellowcard’s final album as I write this and even though I felt this was coming even before they announced it, I still can’t imagine life without Ryan Key’s voice, the band’s lyrics or Sean Mackin’s violin and backflips. They are one of the bands that has been there for every significant part of my life and always have the perfect song for any situation. It’s almost like losing a friend, but I know why it had to happen. I also know that even though I’ll always have the music, I’ll still miss them like crazy.