Name the DEMONS // World Mental Health Day

Three years ago today, I released Icarus for the first time as a single. Today, on World Mental Health Day, I’m releasing DEMONS, a duo of stripped-down versions of Icarus and Antidote (from The Shoebox EP). But before you hear them, I have to tell you a little story. I have to tell you why these things go together. 

Four years ago, I had just begun living in New York. People back home were excited for me, and I tried to reflect that back to them. But honestly, I hated it. The city felt massive, anonymous, and cruel. As winter set in and the days darkened, I stayed in more and more. I stopped calling people back. I fell behind at university. I didn’t know what was happening to me, so I tried writing about it. Icarus came tumbling out in a few nights: it felt somehow fitting to write about flight and the skies to get out of feeling so low. And while it didn’t solve everything, a bit of the weight seemed to lift. When the new year rolled in, I moved, met some of my now-closest friends, and tried to put that strange winter behind me.  

A year and a half later, I left to study abroad in Paris, France for six months. Being half French and (for a change) utterly in love with the city I was in, it felt like coming home. But little things kept tripping me up: coin denominations, cultural habits. Meeting new people was exhausting, and I missed my friends and family thousands of miles away. The little things got bigger and bigger. All I could think was, “You can’t do anything right. Nobody likes you. You don’t even deserve to be here.” I spent many, many nights with that voice chasing round my head. I didn’t know how to make it stop. All I could think to do was pick up my guitar and try to scratch the voice out on the strings—because that's what I had done before. And that’s how Antidote was born, on the bare wood floor of my tiny studio. In my head these songs are like siblings, wrapped in pretty imagery—mythology and masks, a heart gone dark, poisons and cures. 

Neither of them feel pretty now that I know what really birthed them: Icarus was written during my first depressive episode. Antidote was written in the middle of another episode, and at the onset of an anxiety disorder. I manage the anxiety daily, and the episodes still recur—often (though not always) in the winter, like echoes of those two years. Altogether, I've seen half a dozen doctors, called a Paris hospital at 3am, and gone to the emergency room for symptoms of anxiety and depression that manifest physically. I've blown off friends and opportunities more times than I would like, because I'm so terrified of doing, saying, being the wrong thing. 

Some good has come of all this. The good was YOU. When I released Antidote, I thought it was one of the most personal songs I’d ever written. I even thought it was too specific, too knotted up in those long wintry Paris nights to make sense to anyone else. So imagine my surprise when many of you reached out to me and told me you understood Antidote—that it put words to something you’d been struggling with for a long time. Even now, it staggers me, that something I wrote to exorcise my own demons is helping you with yours. And you, in turn, helped me put names to those demons, to ask for help with what I’d ignored for so long. I can’t be sure, but maybe if I had listened sooner to the doctors who suggested mental illness was a possibility, if I had felt less ashamed of what I was going through, it wouldn’t have taken so long to learn to manage it. (And believe me, I’m still learning.) I'm hoping that the stripped tracks on DEMONS will help you better understand the places they came from, and maybe even help you take that step toward help if you feel like you're struggling. 

No one wants to admit they need help. I’ve even wrestled with myself about whether or not to write this—whether my experience even matters, compared to what others have been through. (There is a reason I call myself the "poison." There is a reason I was “too scared to say that I’m tired.”) But then I remind myself that every experience is valid, and important, and someone out there might recognize themselves in it and take heart. Having been through it, I would never wish that kind of silent suffering on anyone. So let’s take the shame out of it. Let’s talk about it. 

If we can’t cast the demons out, at least we’ll know their names.

Hello! + Mic Week

Welcome! I've wanted to have a space like this for a while; writing comes fairly naturally to me, and I feel — hope — this will be somewhere I can share thoughts with you that social media captions can't quite sum up. So let's catch up . . .

It's been a little over six months since I released The Shoebox EP. In those six months, I've written and scrapped a dozen new songs. I've headlined two live shows. I've felt restless, unsatisfied, hesitant. This summer, circumstances have aligned so that I have some downtime — a chance at respite, at recentering. So I set myself a challenge this past week:

Play one open mic every day.

I've always said that performing for an audience isn’t my forte; just doesn’t come naturally to me. I also tend to make music in a bubble much of the time, forgetting there are other, unique, talented musicians just outside the door. This challenge was twofold: An inner goal of strengthening my performances, and an outer one of starting to form a musical community for myself.

Unsurprisingly, this week has gone by at warp speed. Some places were packed, others sparse; some whooped and hollered, others clapped politely. Some nights I played almost first, some in the middle, and once I stayed four hours to be able to play one song. I also set myself the additional challenge of playing different sets of songs every night.

I didn't think one mic a day would be too daunting, but it turns out, it's not just going to the mic. It's building time for practicing my own music back into my day (I hadn't for months). It's preparing more songs than I need, so that I can play a set that fits the feel of the venue. It's getting to the mic (sometimes an hour away) good and early to get a slot — or sometimes getting there, and having to turn around because the lineup is full. In the case of this particular week, it's getting someone to film my set to keep myself accountable — sometimes, complete strangers. Turns out, a mic a day takes all day, not just those couple hours at the bar.

There have been some rude awakenings: Because I was writing and practicing during the day, then traveling, then performing at night (sometimes well into the small hours), I've become weirdly nocturnal. Most mics also have a cover or bar item minimum, or both — and while I do see these mics as an investment in my community and musical future, they are a financial commitment. I've (re)learnt many lessons: to show up on time (or else risk not getting a slot, which happened Sunday); to practice my material offstage, and regularly; to stick it out and pay my dues as a musician (yes, even by staying four hours). Most of all, to follow through, even if — actually, especially if — I don't "feel like it." (Bonus: Friday night open mics seem to be mythical creatures, not unlike unicorns.)

But here's the thing. I do feel more comfortable now getting up onstage, playing trickier songs, even bantering a little with the crowd. It's not a transformation; I still fumble with fingerings, and my heart still races before my name is called. But by making performing just a part of my day (night?), it feels like I've taken some of the fear out of it. 

There's an even bigger thing to take away from this week: I got to hear and see delightful, heart-wrenching, sometimes downright weird art every night. I met some thoughtful, talented people, and could hear reactions to my art in real time. I am so lucky to have a supportive audience online, no question: This week in particular, though, was about bringing faces to my music — getting real people in a room in this city to hear what I’m doing.

It made it feel real. 

So here's what I'm not going to do: go to an open mic every day. (Sorry. I need to protect my sleep and my bank account.) What I am going to do is carve out time going forward for the things that I have enjoyed from this week: performance, practice, and people.

And on that note, I hope to see you, real people in a room somewhere in this city, very soon. xx P