Of all the things that musicians have to deal with, from record deals to publishing to managers to touring, it’s their own personal welfare that often gets pushed to the periphery. Artists who are pursuing a full-time creative career are willing to go without food, job security, financial stability, normal working hours and stable personal relationships.

While the conversation about mental health is opening up in music, it’s been too late to impact some high-profile artists. Mental health struggles contributed to the recent passings of artists like Aviici, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell and Dolores O’Riordian. It is a problem that has always been in music, from Whitney to Amy and back through the rock’n’roll era where mental health issues were more commonly masked by drugs or destructive behaviour.

Even this morning, the news came that Frightened Rabbits’ singer Scott Hutchison has died with family and friends saying he was in a poor mental health place. It’s an almost weekly event. An all-too common thing to break on social media.

In the UK, an organisation called Help Musicians, recognising that a career in music is taxing on health, was recently set up to address the mental fitness of musicians, and there’s early plans for some mental health help for musicians in Ireland in the near future too. First Music Contact is working with clinical professionals from the UK and Ireland, along with Help Musicians to produce a series of Mental Health Check in Sheets for musicians and those who work in the music industry.

Nationally, artists like Bressie are talking openly and encouragingly about mental fitness, while Sinead O’Connor has had a very public battle with her own well-being. Meanwhile, those who aren’t known to the public are absolutely struggling with their own issues, away from the public.

So why do would you put yourself through such a precarious lifestyle in the first place? One answer, albeit a simplified one, is because music is therapeutic. It’s a nourishing thing to create and make. But the practicalities of being a working musician, especially an independent one, in today’s landscape isn’t easy.

Joe Panama performing at Other Voices 2015.

Music as therapy

“Music comes with a lot of the same emotional stresses as anything else but it can also comes with much greater emotional relief than anything else I’ve done,” says musician Joe Panama who was formerly with the band Overhead, The Albatross.

“I was bullied in school and music was something I could disappear into. I met two of my closest friends through playing shitty covers in each other’s houses and eventually trying to record our first demo. That was effectively therapy when I look back on it. My mental health was never better than trying to solve a musical problem or writing with the lads and making loads and loads of noise.”

A recent University Of Westmininster study called Can Music Make You Sick? which polled 2,200 people in the industry found that musicians are three times more likely to experience depression yet only a third said they would seek help.

Selfmade

Galway musician Julie Hough of the band HAWK found herself overwhelmed in the pursuit of her music career while living in London a few years ago, heightened by the lack of structure in trying to make it as a working musician.

“I pretty much denied that I needed to address it at first,” Hough shares. “But I remember one day, looking at my ‘to-do’ list and feeling too overwhelmed to even do the first thing on it: ‘Go to bank.’ I totally broke down and was really troubled by my reaction afterwards.

“I understood that I needed to start working towards more structured goals than making music and ‘putting it out there’, and to accept that there were aspects to the music job that would be ‘unknown’ probably for a long time, and that this was okay.”

Joe Hough with her band HAWK.

Most bands starting out have to do all the admin and management themselves like most startups and it can have a creeping and crippling effect on your well-being.

“This work has little place in the final product – in music, shows, and articles,” Hough says. “Of course, it doesn’t make good PR to talk about social media strategies. But I think a lot of bands believe they aren’t allowed to admit publicly the level of work they put in, never mind to celebrate that work. We just don’t talk about it. It ends up creating a false idea that bands have been snapped up out of thin air, because of sheer talent.”

“Financial strains are a big one,” says Panama, “A lot of the pressure comes from how precarious that arrangement is. It’s possible to thrive within that lifestyle, but when your entire life is ad hoc and your mind is wobbly enough as it is, that can be very difficult.”

“It can be really difficult to convey the nature of pursuing music to your friends and family,” explains Hough. “The minute I started to talk to other artists about this, I started to feel more at ease and less isolated.

Hough is among the organisers of an event called SelfMade, the next one takes place on June 9th in Dublin. Their first event in February, included a panel on “the realities of getting a music project off the ground” which explored issues of mental strain, funding and image.

“A lot of what motivates SelfMade is to see the reaction of this on a larger scale. We have so much shared knowledge and experiences as artists, and if we can’t discuss the most arduous aspects of the job in public, then we can at least come together to explore this and celebrate in a safe space.”

Panic attacks and anxiety

According to the Westminster Study, Over 70% of musicians have experienced panic attacks. Performing in public and self-expression can bring out its own issues. Le Galaxie’s Michael Pope is aware of his anxiety and does his best to deal with it, but pre-gig nerves are a part of a musician’s life but they can lead to difficult situations to cope with.

Photo: Ruth Medjber from the recent Repeal gig in the Olympia in Dublin.

“Anticipation and nervous excitement before shows is a totally healthy part of my life as a musician,” he says. “Sure, I might be fidgety or uncommunicative in the hours up to a show but when you step out on stage, that energy is adapted and transformed into exhilaration. It’s the elevated experience of my life. But it was when my mind went beyond that initial feeling that things started to get out of control. It can manifest itself in endless ways, but in the moment you can barely see six inches in front of your face. Your body just sweats fear.”

For Joe Panama, the thought of a gig was enough in itself, as it exacerbated his diagnosed issues. Things were becoming too much.

“There were gigs I absolutely dreaded having to get out of bed for,” says Panama. I considered hurting myself so I wouldn’t have to play a gig in Galway at one point.”

Panama made the tough decision to leave the band in late 2016 to address his mental health issues.

“Things were darker than anyone around me knew,” he says. “In my mind, I was doing the lads the favour of not having to kick me out eventually.”

Michael Pope has learned some tough lessons, particularly related to mental health while touring. It’s a case of being professional and looking after yourself instead of falling into the trap of the played-out rock’n’roll lifestyle of drink and drugs.

“On a string of dates I need to keep my drinking under control as it’s an alien environment,” Pope says. “I know it might sound trivial to some but a disorientating and unsettling hangover is rocket fuel for panic and anxiety. Recreational drugs aren’t part of my life but there will always be a Xanax in my breast pocket when travelling. Sometimes it’s taken. Sometimes it’s not. Either way it makes me feel better. Travelling is tough. Ideally, Le Galaxie would just play exclusively in one Dublin venue and people from different parts of the world would come to see shows. ‘Hey, this Friday is Cork night, bring your Cork passports’. Would that it were so simple.”

Helping your health

Hough says that physical exercise has helped her maintain her well-being along with soliciting advice about the practicalities of the industry from others.

“On top of the obvious fitness benefits, it’s meditative and forces your body to focus on something other than the day-to-day running of things. And you need that headspace, to get your mind around the music industry.”

Joe Panama meanwhile is in regular contact with his counsellor but admits that his mental health, while in better shape, isn’t enabling him to return to music right now. He hasn’t attended a gig he wasn’t playing at since 2015 and he misses writing with other people.

“I don’t know, maybe this is a big letdown to anyone reading this but I threw in the towel,” he says. “I pushed as far as I could push and then it was too much for me. I’m still in treatment for my mental health but I’m in better shape than I was a year ago for sure and I think taking a step back from music is a massive part of the reason.

“Honestly it’s very difficult for me to think about music sometimes. There were times over the last year where I physically couldn’t be in a room if there was music being played. I can’t tell you how scary that can be. So I’m happy to take baby steps.”


If you need to address your mental health, talk to someone, either personally or professionally. Here’s some info on who to contact:
8 Irish organisations that can help you if you are suffering from mental health problems

Posted on May 11th, 2018

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Hawk‘s new track ‘Can’t Explain’ tackles themes of ignorance and how the privileges of power can silence voices that need to be heard.

The band who re-located to Berlin last year have taken on a more harder hitting sound with this track introducing heavier grunge and rock elements to their style.

The video for ‘Can’t Explain’, by directed James Byrne was inspired by The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army.

Posted on November 23rd, 2017

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Hawk’s recent track ‘Take It Away’ was inspired by Julie Hawk’s friend who was followed home one night.

The video for the song by James Byrne adds an off-kilter element by filming Julie performing the song topsy turvy.

‘Take It Away’ is from the new EP, She Knows which goes to be released March 17th.

Hawk are going on tour with BARQ and Harbouring Oceans under the banner Big Giant Head. “There is no headliner for this tour. Just one BIG GIANT HEAD.”

Dates in March take in London, Cork/West Cork, Dublin, Kilkenny, Waterford and Limerick as per this list.

Posted on February 20th, 2017

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London-based band HAWK have released a new song inspired by Galway vocalist Julie Hawk’s friend being followed home on a night out.

‘Take it Away’ is a tumultuous slice of indie rock with layers of vocals and an impending harmonic creepiness that sets the backdrop for the story.

Her friend was told that she “shouldn’t have been out on her own at that time” but Julie says that comments like that “miss the point and are the main cause of the problem” in that it’s not the fault of the person being followed but the man who takes away her freedom to walk back home on her own.

It’s taken from a new EP called She Knows due March 17th on Veta Records.

HAWK’s last single, ‘Mirror Maze’ addressed society’s expectations of women, while ‘Once Told’ addresses the Irish abortion issue.

Posted on January 11th, 2017

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These songs represent my favourite new tracks of last week. Check the new music section. The new music playlist is available on Spotify and is updated weekly.

New music chart

  1. Emmanuelle  – ‘Free HiFi Internet’
  2. Mmoths – ‘Deu’
  3. Disclosure – ‘Magnets’ (Jon Hopkins remix)
  4. Jaakko Eino Kalevi feat. Farao – Everything Nice (Popcaan cover)
  5. Bagels – ‘To The End’
  6. Aidan Knight – ‘All Clear’
  7. Kodiak Blue – ‘Orbita’
  8. Badlands – ‘Caramisou’
  9. Hawk – ‘Sleep’
  10. Jamie xx – Loud Places feat. Romy (John Talabot’s Higher Dub)
  11. Meltybrains? – ‘New Don’

Soundcloud version

The Nialler9 New Music Weekly Spotify playlist. Updated weekly.

 

Posted on December 1st, 2015

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The London-based band Hawk have been invited back to play Other Voices in Dingle next weekend.

For their new song ‘Sleep’, the band’s Galway-born lead singer  and Irish speaker Julie has dreamed up an Irish language kids TV show that never was  called Tromluithe Ruairí (Ruairí’s nightmares), inspired by a guilt-ridden lack of night’s sleep.  Then she made a video (including everything in it)

Julie explains:

Firstly, the idea that this is a single episode of an old lost Irish kids show called Tromluithe Ruairí (Ruairí’s nightmares), which the world has long forgotten about.
Secondly, there’s the meaning of the song itself, which is quite simply about not being able to sleep because you’re harbouring guilt about something. Just like Ruairí has to shed his mask to finally find peace of mind, the song is also about wanting to come clean and even be punished, so you can clear your conscious and sleep peacefully. The ‘Visitor’ is tempting Ruairí by offering him more elaborate masks, but Ruairí defeats him by shedding his own!

 

The song will feature on the band’s next EP due next year.

Posted on November 25th, 2015

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Following last week’s preliminary announcement of Richard Hawley, Lapsley and more for Other Voices this year, the TV show and event in Dingle between Friday 4th – Sunday 6th of December, has announced more this week.

Making their trip to the main room at St. James Church also are:

Low, Jack Garrett, Keaton Henson, Glen Hansard and The Academic.

The Irish acts of the IMRO Other Room are:
Gavin Glass, Saint Sister, Talos, Bitch Falcon, Hawk with another TBC from the viewer’s choice from the open call.

For those heading to Dingle for the weekend, who may not get tickets, fear not, there’s a load of music happening for free in the pubs and venues of the town as the CPL Music Trail is back with 45 live acts including:

David Kitt, Sorcha Ni Bhriain, Declan McLoughlin, My Tribe Your Tribe, Eve Belle Mongoose, Chanele McGuinness, Hannah McPhilimy, Johnny Stewart , Hare Squead, Marc O’Reilly, Rusangano Family, Conor Walsh, Shookrah, Chapter 2, Slow Moving Clouds, Maria Kelly, Sample Answer, Callum Orr, Bad Sea, MKAI and Rebecca Collins

Listen to the first Other Voices podcast.

Posted on November 16th, 2015

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From Thursday to Saturday this week, seven venues will be occupied by 104 Irish bands playing the Hard Working Class Heroes festival playing to music fans, interested parties, industry delegates, bands, friends and all sorts. There are free daytime gigs, a convention in the Liberties speed sessions, panels, tech companies, talks and much much more. Tickets are €20 per day or €45 for the three days. It’s one of my favourite weekends in Dublin of the year. There’s a great buzz about.

Here are 18 new bands to see this weekend, I kept it strictly to bands that have not released a debut album yet. Enjoy.


Thursday | Friday | Saturday


1. Rusangano Family

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Energetic talented Limerick rap trio.

Thursday October 2 – 10pm @ The Button Factory

Anyone who witnessed these two Limerick MCs (Murly goes untitled for now) live and producer John Lillis, like last Friday night’s Minimum Maximum Block-T show has felt the relentless energy of their music: an all-moving, all-interacting proper show. Plus, they have released one of the best Irish albums this year too.


2. Planet Parade

pp

Kildare band return with a rich new sound

Thursday October 2 – 8.45pm @ Meeting House Square

Michael Hopkins and Andrew Lloyd played their first gig in four years with four band members last Friday with us and  showcased a new sound that traced a line between electronics and indie with rich songcraft and confident style. They used to sound more like The Police, now they sound more like they’re own thing.


3. Dear Desert

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Dublin emotive pop purveyors.

Thursday Oct 2 – 10pm @ The Workman’s Club / 14:00 @ NDRC, In The City

A new band formed from Futures Apart and Hush War Cry, the two songs so far featuring production from Darragh Nolan have suggested an elegance and a quality in the arrangement and songwriting of these Wild Beasts-style ’80s throwback synth pop tracks. ‘Give It Up’ is a particularly exciting track.


4. Voids

voids

Ambient bass-toned duo from Galway

Thursday Oct 2 – 8pm @ The Workman’s Club / 1:30pm @ HMV Henry Street

This Galway duo make ambient electronic music with cold tones from a warm instrument, a bass guitar and the singer Alison’s icy voice. Their new EP Begin came out last week on High Society.


5. The Academic

thea

Mullingar indie-pop band on the up

Thursday Oct 2 10.40 @ Bad Bob’s

Four Mullingar school-friends with a penchant for pop hooks and charming indie-rock music. They’re on the way up, this weekend is a good time to catch them.


6. Atriums

atriums

Baldoyle singer-songwriter

Thursday Oct 2 10.40 @ Bad Bob’s / 1pm @ Jo Burger

Dublin singer Gavin Farrell is still in early days but citing Perfume Genius and Youth Lagoon as two influences on his bedroom folk pop has me intrigued. He’s just released his debut EP tell me we both matter, don’t we?


Thursday | Friday | Saturday


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Posted on October 3rd, 2014

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Hard Working Class Heroes today unveiled 100+ artists who will play the festival’s 12th year in Dublin from Thursday October 2nd – Sunday October 4th. This year the festival is sponsored by HMV Ireland and as is now established will feature a conference taking in mentoring, panels, advice and involvement from the tech space.

500 bands applied for the festival this year and they were judged by music people at home and abroad (including me).

Here is the list of bands that will play this year. Deeper delving into the lineup will commence here in September.

The bands

A Lazarus Soul
Acrobat
Affleck
Arborist
Atriums
Benihana
Benny smiles
Brian Casey
Buffalo Sunn
Buffalo Woman
Carriages
Carried By Waves
Cfit
Ciaran Lavery
Cloud Castle Lake
Clu
Codai
Color Sound
Columbia Mills
Conor Walsh
Contour
Deaf Joe
Dear Desert
Death In The Sickroom
Dogs
Dott
DVO Marvell
Eamon bode
Elaine Mai
Elastic Sleep
Elephant
Eoin Dolan
Fallen Rule
Floor Staff
Florence Olivier
Frankenstein Bolts
Galants
Ghost Estates
God Knows + mynameisjOhn
Grim
Hags
Hare Squead
Hauer
Hawk
His New Atlas
Hugh Hick
I have a tribe
I’m Your Vinyl
Imploded View
Jet Setter
Kobina
Kormac
little xs for eyes
Liza Flume
Low Sea
Maija Sofia
Maud in Cahoots
Me & My Dog
Me Auld Flower
Meltybrains?
Mere Moths
MKAI
moossmann
Myles Manley
Neon Atlas
Old Hannah
Otherkin
Paddy Hanna
Participant
Planet Parade
Princess
Red Queen Contest
Replete
Satori Je
Silences
Sisters
Skelocrats
Sleep Mc Evox
Somerville
Spies
Subplots
Tell No Foxx
The Academic
The Bedroom
The Black Sea Fleet
The Boxing Plot
The Clameens
The Debutantes
The Hard Ground
The Late David Turpin
The Loafing Heroes
The Magpies
The Pale
The Run Ons
The Shaker Hymn
The Statics
The Vincent(s)
Tino Ras
Val Normal
Vann Music
Voids
Walpurgis Family
Wild Promises
Yes Cadets

Venues

The Button Factory, The Workmans Club, The Mercantile, The Twisted Pepper, Bad Bobs, The Grand Social, Meeting House Square.

Tickets

Weekend Tickets €45 + fees, Nightly Tickets €20
http://entertainment.ie/hwch14.

HWCH is also supported by The Arts Council, Failte Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the NDRC.

Posted on August 13th, 2014

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HAWK are a band fronted by Galway lady Julie Hawk, who are now based in London. The band began in 2012 when Julie started working with Matt Harris before Chris Handsley and Sam Campbell rounded out the band.

It’s Hawk’s vocals that are the main draw here. The band’s debut single ‘Take Off Your Suit’ showcased Hawk’s squeaky timbre and range set to a relatively forgettable musical backing. ‘Seasick Summer’, the lead track from their upcoming The Sum of All Things EP fares better, it has that histrionic voice at its centre and is a free download.

There’s an acoustic cover of Tears For Fears’ Head Over Heels too:

The band are touring Ireland next week:

Live Irish March dates

Saturday 1st – Cyprus Avenue, Cork
Tuesday 4th – Dolans – Limerick
Wednesday 5th – Flirt FM session, Galway
Thursday 6th – Roisin Dubh – Galway
Friday 7th – Homebeat – Dublin

Posted on February 26th, 2014

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