Interview: Anthony Green shares his experience with mental health, offers hope and light amidst the darkness
September 30th, 2016 | 1:30PM | By Lauren Rosier
Anthony Green | photo by Andrew Swartz | courtesy of the artist
It’s undeniable that Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green has been one of the most influential musicians not only in the Philadelphia music community, but also within the post-hardcore and progressive rock scenes for over than a decade now. But he’s also something of an advocate.
I spoke with Green in the midst of several calendar events intended to draw awareness to mental health issues. September is the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. October 10th is the World Federation of Mental Health’s World Mental Health Day. And this Sunday, October 2nd, is the American Foundation for Mental Health’s Out of the Darkness Walk at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Advocates that work for these organizations are constantly striving towards improving suicide prevention and destigmatizing mental health issues – since these issues are not uncommon. According to NAMI, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. – nearly 44 million or 18.5% – experiences mental illness issues in a given year.
In the past few years, Green has become more open with his personal struggle with mental health and addiction. Ahead of his headlining appearance at Union Transfer tomorrow, he was gracious enough to speak with me not only about his music and tour, but about his story, how music has been therapeutic for him. Green offers up some advice to those currently going through similar struggles – read our conversation below.
The Key: How has the tour been so far?
Anthony Green: The shows have been super fun and it’s a rare thing that I get to tour with like a backing band, with these guys, so every night has been kind of magical.
TK: Brendan [Ekstrom of Circa Survive], Tim [Arnold of Good Old War], and Keith [Goodwin of Good Old War], are with you, right?
AG: Yeah, Brendan and I have been working together in Circa and I’ve known Tim and Keith since high school, and I feel like all of us share like a really unique, creative connection with each other. There’s definitely something undeniable that happens when we get together, like lots of non-verbal, creative unfolding. It’s really special for me as an artist to be a part of it. We only get to do it every couple years when they’re available to do this stuff. It’s been really cool. I know today’s one of the last shows, tomorrow’s a day off, and then we play Philadelphia and that’s our last show. It’s kinda cool because it’s our hometown and it’s always a very special time.
TK: Yeah, every Philly show I’ve been to for your solo shows and Circa shows, are always absolutely nuts. I’m sure it will be a great show.
AG: Yeah, I can’t wait.
TK: Thinking back to when Juturna came out in 2005, when you left Saosin, and Circa started touring and whatnot, do you think that was when your mental health struggles began or was there anything that particularly triggered it?
AG: I honestly feel like I’ve had serious mental health issues for a lot longer than that. You know, I think like as a kid, you know, as a young kid, I was very awkward little kid. I think I was almost better being around adults than I was being around kids my own age and I definitely think when I was really young, I started experiencing mental health issues. I definitely think that at the time when I was leaving Saosin, I was around 21, 22, I was starting to really heavily self-medicate. It was always something that I dabbled in, but I think that combined with sort of untreated, undiagnosed mental health issues was a huge part of it. It took me a long time to even be okay with admitting I had mental health issues, that I had mental illness. Actually, even saying it, it’s strange to say, yeah, I have mental illness. It’s something that people are really afraid to confront; there’s a stigma behind it, that you’re unstable. In reality, it could be that you’re ultra-sensitive, a lot of things work for you as much as things are working against you in that way.
TK: I saw your post at the beginning of the month about when you wrote “East Coast Winters” and when you played at the Ottobar three years ago. What was different about that night for you?
AG: The part about this night recently?
TK: You said in the Instagram post, that at your performance three years ago at Ottobar, you were really struggling and thinking about committing suicide and what not.
AG: So I think that it’s not even just that occasion – like, that’s a great example — but the reason why you asked me how the tour’s going. It’s so much of a relief to stand on stage and play a song like “East Coast Winters” and feeling as if I’m on the right path and I’ve made the right decision. Nothing in my life is exactly how I want it, you know, and that’s not how it fucking works, but the hand that I can play, I’ve been playing it really well. I’ve been doing what I need to do for myself and for my family. Being on stage and singing that song is a celebration to me of finding my personal strength. Anybody who’s kind of gone through something like that and asked for help and really done what they had to do in order to survive something can understand that feeling. I think it’s important to let people know that there’s definitely another end of the pendulum.
TK: That kind of goes into my next question. LIke you mentioned earlier, society kind of tends to put a stigma on mental health, when it’s kind of something we need to be more mindful of, and you know, talk about with counselors, and family and friends and what not. For you personally, at what point did you realize you needed to get help?
AG: I think the first time I ever went and got help, I was in like a manic low. Like lower than I’ve ever felt. And I wanted to kill myself. What I wanted to do was escape. The thought of how badly I wanted to escape the feeling that I was feeling that I would kill myself made me realize like furious I felt about it made realize and say okay, this is always going to be a possibility, I know this isn’t good. I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. It’s like a last ditch thing, like fuck it, I don’t even care. I’m ready to do this; I might as well come clean about it, if there’s hope for anything getting better. I was lucky that I had people in my life that were prepared and able to get my back. A lot of people aren’t fortunate enough to have people that understand or even understand enough to say ‘I don’t know what’s going on right now, I’m going to reach out to professional help.’ Once you start dealing with people who have depression or who were created bipolar, there’s a lot of information out there. It’s very jarring for someone who doesn’t know what to do.
TK: I can definitely relate to that… From the point when you said ‘yes, I understand I need to get help’, what kind of helped you cope with all the emotional and physical pain you were dealing with?
AG: I mean, my whole life, I really have self-medicated. As soon as I discovered drugs and alcohol, I used and abused everything I could in order to escape the emotional pain. But when the heroin got really bad, I was addicted to heroin, I stopped drinking, I stopped doing all hard drugs, I stopped self-medicating. The one thing that was still there, that has always been there, that has always been consistent, is music and art. And for me, finding a way to express myself and my emotions, in a way that I could process them, in an honest, non-judgmental way. I think I drew when i was a little kid. I think art is an amazing form of therapy and self-expression. To me, I get to say more in my songs than I get to in a conversation. Music is my most cherished form of therapy.
TK: With depression and anxiety or any other type of mental health diagnosis, it doesn’t only affect you individually, it affects your friends and family, as well. When you were dealing with that how was your wife able to cope with it while raising a family especially when you were on the road?
AG: She has a lot of love and support from her family and I think that was always a huge thing for her. She found a lot of strength in her family and she still does. I know my family was right there supporting her. I also think she was just hanging on for dear life. She honestly loves me and held strong for me as a human being and through so much stuff throughout the time that we’ve loved each other. It’s hard to imagine something being able to change that. There’s like a foundation of love and respect that’s there. She has an unwavering thing in love more so than anybody I’ve met in my life. I think she gauges a lot of her decisions she’s made based on her passion. She’s a very passionate person, she’s like a fire pleader, and I think she just powered through it. I’ve seen her do it through a lot of things and she’s inspiring me everyday.
TK: With Circa Survive, how did that impact your relationship with the guys in the band?
AG: I mean, honestly, those guys stuck by me like family. They said “Hey, we’ll do whatever you want to do. If it’s the best thing for you to do for your mental health is to close this chapter of your life and not be a band, we still love and respect you, and we’ll do whatever. All we want is you to be good for your family.” We were taking baby steps to see how it felt. To make sure we didn’t jump head first into something and push our chips forward and lose something we weren’t prepared for.
TK: I think saw in one of your other interviews you had mentioned Safe Camp. Safe Camp for me, has always felt like a very tightknit community, where you feel like you’re not alone, and that has been a tremendously influence for me. Your solo music and Circa over the past 11 years now. For you, what does Safe Camp mean to you?
AG: The Safe Camp symbol to me represents just a music fan. I don’t think it necessary has to represent Circa Survive or me, I think when people see it, I hear stories all the time people meeting other people from a Circa Survive shirt. You automatically go up to a person and go “I love that band!” and you automatically know that person’s appreciation for music. It’s not necessarily because our band are excellent musicians or anything, we’re just really extra special music fans, and somehow got lucky enough that we were able to architect this community of people who really love to be a part of making art that is inclusive and based on feeling. For me, it’s like a badge, like throwing up a sign. Music has been the biggest thing in my life – I couldn’t even measure the good that music and being involved has got me in my life and musical intuition. It like only fits to have an all-inclusive music appreciation, celebratory symbol. In a non-denominational genre.
TK: With the new record, Pixie Queen, a lot of the material is based on your relationship and marriage. How do you feel it represents your transition from the dark place you were in compared to now where you’re building a life with your family and friends supporting you?
AG: Every solo record I’ve done, they’ve all been stacked with different songs, disoriented, diverse in a lot of ways, but not cohesive. This is the first album I’ve done dramatically about relationships, about my relationship with my wife and other relationships of mine. Also, sonically, the cohesion is the whole album being drum, bass, piano, vocal, acoustic guitar. There’s a cohesiveness sonically and thematically.
TK: What kind of advice can you offer to anyone who is dealing with mental health issues?
AG: Even when shit is the worst, there is 100% still hope there, and there is 100% a silver lining there. It’s almost impossible for you to see it at the time, but there ways to get yourself out of it. Talking to people is the first thing you can do. And just trying to never forget is that there is hope and everything will end up being okay. There is a balance and that your life will be okay, this is part of it. Part of it are ups and downs. You just have to get through them. There are ways you can get through it that is healthy. There are ways of preventing it that are natural. Talk to people and tell them what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling.
Anthony Green will be performing the final stop of the Pixie Queen tour tomorrow at Union Transfer. Tickets are still available, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
For more information on the Out of the Darkness walk this Sunday, October 2nd, go here.
If you are dealing with similar issues, please do not hesitate to ask for help. Talk with your family or friends, or get confidential help via the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.
If you feel more comfortable with online chat, they also offer that as well. Help is available 24 hours a day.
Anthony Green . 09.30.2016 . The Key Interview
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