fes­Ti­val

There’s a great year of fes­ti­vals ahead in 2013, but First Fort­night holds a spe­cial place, and not just be­cause it kicks off next week. Verse Cho­rus Verse, Heathers, Aaron Smyth from Vann and Róisín O tell Lau­ren Murphy why they’re get­ting in­volved

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

As we get ready for First Fort­night, The Ticket finds that it’s good to talk,

HIS WILL BE my third year of involvement with First Fort­night,” says Tony Wright aka Verse Cho­rus Verse. “I re­mem­ber when Alan, our old man­ager in And So I Watch You From Afar, told me about it; I’d only been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der a cou­ple of months pre­vi­ously. He said: ‘There’s no pres­sure, but if you do want to talk about things, you can’. I thought, well, it’s one of those things that helps to talk about it, so I agreed.

“My first ad­mis­sion was ac­tu­ally on To­day FM with Ray D’Arcy. Only fam­ily and band­mates knew about it be­fore that. But once I started talk­ing about it, it felt like it wasn’t an is­sue any­more. It’s when you keep it quiet and hold back, then you’ve got this com­pletely wrong­ful feel­ing of shame, or some­thing. There’s the whole feel­ing that you should just main­tain the stiff up­per lip and just carry on. But as soon as you ad­dress some­thing, no mat­ter what it is, you feel that bur­den lifted.

Why is there such a stigma at­tached to men­tal ill­ness?

“Well, some peo­ple tend not to be­lieve th­ese things be­cause it’s not a phys­i­cal ail­ment. You feel that peo­ple are be­ing a lot more judg­men­tal, be­cause it’s not some­thing you can ac­tu­ally show. When I told the guys in the band, I felt that it winded them a lit­tle bit, too. They didn’t deal with it the best, but that’s no bad re­flec­tion on them – a lot of peo­ple don’t know how to deal with it when you lay out your stall and say ‘Look, I have th­ese prob­lems’.

“But the more that you talk about it – and an or­gan­i­sa­tion like First Fort­night is com­pletely de­signed for that sort of thing – it makes it so much eas­ier to ad­dress it and come to terms with say­ing: ‘There’s noth­ing wrong with me. This is just who I am, and it’s some­thing I will deal with.’

My bipo­lar dis­or­der has been a long, longterm thing, long be­fore I was di­ag­nosed. I re­mem­ber talk­ing to a coun­sel­lor in col­lege and they wanted me to talk to a doc­tor, but I re­sisted be­cause I thought that would make it too real. I guess I just knew I was hav­ing thoughts that I shouldn’t have. I was in a very dark place for a lot of the time, and it was very hard to break free of those thoughts, even though I knew that I didn’t want to think them. I did find that when I ad­dressed it and spoke about it, it helped hugely. You’re ac­knowl­edg­ing that you don’t want to be that way. I can’t em­pha­sise that enough: peo­ple need to know that it’s okay to talk about it and get help.

“Mu­sic was, and still is a huge source of com­fort – I can get a lot done in those dark times, too. It’s a strug­gle to get started, but once you can start, it can help to sort things out in your head. Yeah, it’s dan­ger­ous if you feel like that’s where all your in­spi­ra­tion comes from, be­cause it’s not – but I’m just like any mu­si­cian or artist who’ll take in­spi­ra­tion from dif­fer­ent spots, and the best will write about what they know. And that’s some­thing that I do know about, so I will draw from that. It is a very big part of who I am, and it’s not some­thing I’m ashamed of.

“When I was in And So I Watch You From Afar, we were on the road a lot, but I don’t think that had any­thing to do with feel­ing less sta­ble or ex­ac­er­bat­ing things. That’s prob­a­bly the thing I miss most, ac­tu­ally, and I aim to do that again, as soon as my new record’s ready to come out. I ab­so­lutely adore be­ing on the road, and so many things that I learned about life and about my­self came from those trav­els.

“It’s very kind of First Fort­night to de­scribe me as an ‘am­bas­sador’, but I’m just a guy who sup­ports them in the same way I would sup­port other char­i­ties. It’s al­most like a kind of move­ment for the cre­ative arts, now. It’s a great soap­box for artists and cre­ative peo­ple, and the more in­ter­est the fes­ti­val’s get­ting, the big­ger that soap­box is and the big­ger the reach is for it. I hope in the fu­ture that it won’t just be me say­ing ‘it’s al­right to be this way’, that you can still just get on with things. That it’s okay. That you can talk about it.”

IT’S GOOD TO TALK

Gen­er­at­ing ev­ery­day dis­cus­sion on men­tal health is­sues is one of First Fort­night’s main ob­jec­tives. On that note, we gath­ered to­gether a group of mu­si­cians play­ing the fes­ti­val – El­lie and Louise Macnamara (Heathers), Aaron Smyth (Vann) and Róisín O – to get their take on the fes­ti­val’s sub­ject mat­ter and talk about their own ex­pe­ri­ences.

What was your first re­ac­tion when you were ap­proached to take part in First Fort­night?

Louise: We were de­lighted. One thing we really wanted to do re­cently is try to spread the word about men­tal-health aware­ness – that it’s okay to talk about it. I per­son­ally had ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause a friend com­mit­ted sui­cide two years ago and ob­vi­ously that had a huge af­fect on me. Af­ter that, we really wanted to try to spread the word and help to get it out there that it’s okay to talk about things, and I think a great way to do that is through art and mu­sic. First Fort­night is some­thing that ev­ery­one en­joys – lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, go­ing to plays, art ex­hibi-

Róisín: It’s the re­al­i­sa­tion that so many peo­ple are af­fected by it, too. When you see all th­ese peo­ple talk­ing about it and shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences at some­thing like First Fort­night, it makes you feel more com­fort­able if there’s some­thing wrong with your men­tal health. I was thrilled when I was asked, but I thought ‘Well, I haven’t really per­son­ally been af­fected by de­pres­sion’. But think­ing about it later, I really have been. A lot of my songs are about de­pres­sion, even though I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily have writ­ten them strictly about that topic. I have one song called Hold On that was writ­ten for a friend of mine, who has suf­fered from de­pres­sion and been hos­pi­talised on and off for a long time. Heathers, you’ve writ­ten a song re­lated to the topic, too – For­get Me Knots.

El­lie: That song was writ­ten for our friend. And also, when we were writ­ing this al­bum, my­self and Louise went through a lot of stuff – so a lot of our new al­bum is a lot to do with the mind and men­tal health, and try­ing to deal with th­ese kind of thoughts and wor­ries and anx­i­eties. Why do you think there's such a stigma about speak­ing openly about men­tal health is­sues?

Aaron: I think it’s an in­her­ently Ir­ish thing – there’s this ‘oh, just get on with it, keep your

prob­lems to your­self’ sort of thing.

Róisín: talk about Yeah, gen­er­ally, def­i­nitely. It’s es­pe­cially not some­thing the older you gen­er­a­tions kind of thing. – there’s a ‘stop be­ing so dra­matic’

Louise: peo­ple talk­ing You go about to the go­ing States to their and ther­a­pist, you hear and here, ev­ery­one it’s like ‘God, talks don’t about men­tion it very it’. openly – yet

Aaron: said he’d Spring­steen suf­fered from re­cently de­pres­sion came out for and 20 years come out – I and doubt say that that, a whether big Ir­ish it’s fig­ure a politi­cian, would or mu­si­cian, or some other big name. And when some­one like Sinéad O'Connor is open about her bipo­lar dis­or­der, she’s la­belled as “crazy” . . .

Róisín: Ex­actly. When you’re in the pub­lic eye, I think you have to have this cer­tain per­sona, too. It’s like you don’t want peo­ple that you don’t know per­son­ally know­ing your ‘weak­nesses’, or per­sonal de­tails of your life – there’s that worry of peo­ple look­ing down on you be­cause of it. Are you wor­ried that if you talk about men­tal health is­sues pub­licly, that it’ll de­tract from your mu­sic or change peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of you?

Róisín: Not really. If any­thing, I think it’s good to talk about it, es­pe­cially if you’re in the pub­lic eye. Some­one in the pub­lic eye talk­ing about men­tal health does some­how make it less of a taboo.

Aaron: I think at­ti­tudes are chang­ing slowly. I see the way my sis­ter is with her kids, or my friends are with their kids – it’s dif­fer­ent to how our par­ents would have been with us. It’s a lot more open, in a way. I think that at­ti­tude of keep­ing things to your­self is cer­tainly chang­ing. What do you want peo­ple to take from First Fort­night?

El­lie: Just to spread the word. You hear of so many hor­ri­ble things hap­pen­ing, es­pe­cially in Ire­land and with young peo­ple, it’s just ter­ri­fy­ing. And the more we’re able to do things like this and talk about it like it’s a nor­mal thing to talk about, the bet­ter.

Róisín: And es­pe­cially not just ‘hav­ing bipo­lar’ or ‘be­ing de­pressed’. There are lower lev­els of it that can turn into that. But if you talk about it more and get to young peo­ple, it helps. When you’re in school, you can get very de­pressed and caught up in your head around your peers – that’s where it can some­times start, and turn into some­thing much worse. But if you can catch it at that early stage and talk to some­one about it, that’s really im­por­tant. It can really help.

Clockwise from far left: Tony Wright aka VerseCho­rusVerse, The Man Whom, We Cut Cor­ners, Chris Camp­bell, Kopek, Ste­fanie Preiss­ner, writer and lone star of Sol­padeine is My Boyfriend, Heathers, Róisín O. Be­low: Tony Wright

tions and ev­ery­thing else. It’s a really nice way to [raise aware­ness].

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