Local Current Blog

Caroline Smith, Astronautalis, Justin Pierre, and Adam Levy talk about music and mental health

Presented by McNally Smith College of Music, Healthy States, and the Current, Dissonance: Mental Health in Music was a refreshingly honest conversation covering topics of mental illness, substance abuse, and creativity.

This year’s iteration of the annual forum featured a panel of four local musicians that have been, in some way, affected by mental illness. Adam Levy (the Honeydogs), Justin Pierre (Motion City Soundtrack), Andy Bothwell (Astronautalis), and Caroline Smith participated in a panel hosted by Sarah Souder Johnson (McNally Smith director of student life and counseling) and mediated by the Current’s David Campbell.

Involving themes of obsession, acceptance, and spirituality, the musicians’ discussion ultimately arrived at an agreement that creativity can occur without tragedy, distress, or self-loathing. Each guest shared his or her history with mental health, paired with a related song.

Coming from a family with a history of mental illness, Caroline Smith admits to thinking that she needed to end a good relationship so she would have something to write about. For as long as she can remember, Smith has seen a therapist; her mental illness has “always been kept at bay.” Her therapy, along with a strong support system and hobbies outside of music are preventative measures she has adapted to stay healthy.

Adam Levy has faced twofold tumult in his life, first as an alcoholic and second as a father dealing with his son’s suicide. Levy said he drank because he was “chasing what I call oblivion.” His son refused the help Levy offered him, deepening Levy’s depression. Through taking up boxing and ridding his life of emotionally draining people, Levy was able to develop healthy habits that replaced his alcoholism.

Stricken with manic-depressive tendencies he refers to as “idiosyncrasies,” Justin Pierre had dealt with alcoholism from a very young age. After realizing he needed to go to rehab, Pierre decided he “should go to a place that scares (him).” Through Pierre’s healing, he learned the importance of accepting missed opportunities and letting go of the past. Willingness to make changes and setting goals has allowed Pierre to escape his old habit.

After experiencing the toxicity that can come from spending too much time on tour, rapper Andy Bothwell (most commonly known as Astronautalis) takes time to put energy into activities other than music. Bothwell remembers the terror of growing popularity and dependence on fans for happiness, thinking “if I stop, someone will take my place.” Riding his motorcycle helps Bothwell take a break from the stress of managing music and business.

Watch the discussion on video below; the event will also be broadcast on the Current this Sunday, Dec. 14 at 10:00 p.m.

Madie Ley is studying journalism and art history at the University of St. Thomas. She writes about music and art.