All around the world, music is a form of art that has been an essential part of human existence for centuries. There is hardly a context where music does not play an important role in our lives. It is simply everywhere. Despite the fact that it brings joy to most people, it has been the subject of a new study conducted by the University of Westminster and MusicTank that focuses on the question ‘Can music make you sick?’. As a part of the MAD (Music And Depression) campaign led by the organisation HELP MUSICIANS UK, the largest survey of its kind explored the mental health issues faced by musicians and the music industry.
The results are astonishing to say the least. According to the study, 71% of its respondents had suffered from panic attacks and 65% confirmed that they had even suffered from depression. Reasons named for this high number of mental health issues among musicians are e.g. ‘poor working conditions’, ‘a lack of recognition’ or ‘issues related to the problem of being a woman in the industry’.
The story of artists batteling with sickness in multiple forms is as long as art itself. It somehow feels as if mental health and music can’t go without the other. LANA DEL REY and SIA already opened up about their stage fright before, BON IVER is still fighting against the demons of his sudden success which might be one reason why he recently cancelled his entire European tour. Michael Angelakos of PASSION PIT has been pretty open about his bipoar disorder in the oast and even Grime rapper STROMZY recently spoke about his battle with depression. So, that’s not a new thing but while the question ‘Can music make you sick?’ indicates that music itself is part of the problem, we weren’t really sure whether this is the ultimately truth. On the search for a different opinion we met with Irish-born singer and songwriter Chris Morrin aka ROBOTNIK who contradicts this idea and who has been suffering from mental health issues himself for years. Now based in Berlin and ready to release his second album The Death of Robotnik, he talked openly with us about his personal struggle, the illusory world of success and what helped him to feel better.
Experiencing reality in a different way
It’s been nine years since ROBOTNIK released his debut called Pleasant Square. With his new album he wants to shine light on depression, mental health awareness and the psychological pressures he and many others have to face. The ‘lost album’ was already written and recorded in Dublin in winter 2011 before he moved to Berlin and his mental breakdown prevented him from further pursuing his career.
Speaking of his condition, Morrin explains it thoughtfully: ‘It’s almost like a stereo feeling in the mind. When I was going through this experience three years go, I was looking at reality in a different way. I felt it in a different way, too. My brain was feeling differently and it still does. Every day. I love it. In the beginning I thought I was losing my mind until I realized that I was actually gaining something original in my head. It was a kind feeling.’
When being confronted with the Help Musicians UK study theory that music makes people sick, Morrin seems outraged because the problem is an entirely different one in his opinion:
‘They say music makes people sick, but music doesn’t make people sick. It’s a larger issue.
We’re living in an era where if you don’t have any money, you’re left in the dirt. It’s brutal and there is so many lies and manipulation.
It’s dog eat dog out there.’
He further more explains: ‘Being a musician, you’re working late, you work in weird environments, you’re an entertainer, you don’t get much cash. It’s not music that makes you sick, it’s the money machine.’
Not only does the lack of money contribute to musicians feeling sick. It’s also a lack of social connections, ROBOTNIK adds: ‘It’s quite a lonely time as a musician when you’re a solo artist. It’s easier when you’re in a band. It’s a lot more of a challenge to do all these things by yourself. I see people trying too hard. And I see people getting hurt as well in the music business. I definitely took it quite hard. It’s not easy to feel okay in this world. It’s such a narcissistic, fast-paced, hedonistic environment.’
An especially tough one, too, when you are striving for success and any kind of acknowledgement. However, ROBOTNIK has one very good advice on how stay sane instead of getting caught up in self-doubts about what you are doing: ‘Fuck the idea of trying to be successful. The ego is such a bitch. I’m very excited about letting go of my ego. I was struggling with fear and controlling things for so long. It’s not like I’m happy. It’s just that I’m willing to let go or even understand or know what happiness is even in the first place.’
‘Music is one of the saving graces of our time. It’s one of the few things that is genuine. Unfortunately, music has become so diluted. The value of music has totally deteriorated. That’s the truth of it. Musicians have become a victim of that.’
A more honest definition of success
Music has been an important and huge business for so long that the actual meaning of a song as well as the artist’s intention often seem to be secondary to the number of sales. But these old rules don’t apply anymore in the world of 2017 although a lot of PR agencies, labels and even musicians think it’s supposed to be that way. It is not surprising that more and more musicians are unable to cope with this kind of pressure. During our conversation, Chris Morrin confesses: ‘I was let down by that idea of trying to be successful, but I got more strength from understanding that I was just a victim of the system. I was on the brink of quitting everything and leaving it all as a private hobby or something. I couldn’t.’ The wait for the big breakthrough that might never come is a frustrating one and it’s not appealing anymore as his singer/songwriter colleague ALICE PHOEBE LOU recently told us as well.
‘Success is about being able to talk about feelings and about being able to be more honest.
Also being able to enjoy the simple things.
That’s real success.
The rest is a bonus.’
As ROBOTNIK prepares to get back onstage again soon, he reevaluates carefully what it actually is that he wants to do as he says: ‘I’m definitely scared a little bit of playing and singing songs, genuinely. Just singing from the heart. I’m taking on the challenge clearly by even releasing music again. Robotnik became a persona. It seemed like I was hiding behind it. Right now, the shit I’m writing is fairly straight forward.’ Like his new song Sellotape for example: ‘That song reminds me so much of the demos that I did when I was 15. Just having a simple, shitty guitar in the background. That gets me very excited. If I get fat and bald as I get older, I don’t want to be wearing mascara looking like that…Actually, I might look amazing!’
It is hard to imagine that the funny, deeply reflective and life-affirming Irish songwriter we meet for a cup of tea in Berlin Neukölln has been through such an exceptionally difficult experience in the past few years. Yet, his personal journey gives hope that the growing awareness of mental health issues continues to help people to get better.
When ROBOTNIK speaks about this period in his life, his words are thought-provoking: ‘I had a complete existential crisis. It took a complete reflection on understanding my troubles and my lies to myself. You can’t escape difficulties. A lot of it goes back to my parents and most of it to the shit that I saw as a child. That stuff stays with you and then you really have to deal with it. I think a lot of musicians don’t actually deal with it well, especially successful musicians. The deep and dark places in the mind that they don’t want to go near to. I think I want to go near that. I did it with my second album.’
‘My new album is about the obsessiveness of getting attention. It really is about intimacy. I think my biggest addiction was to not get too close emotionally to somebody. I come from a background of complete collapse of any idea of relationship. I learnt to not trust or embrace intimacy.’
Again, all roads led to Berlin
When the pressure became too much for Chris Morrin, he found enough strength to risk a fresh start far away from his home in Dublin. A decision that still seems right as Morrin explains: ‘I had so much spiritual and psychological baggage on me. I was suicidal for about 8 months. I was getting more depressed trying to play the roles that were given to me in this society. I had enough. I packed my bags, followed my intuition and came to Berlin. It was a very existential trip and I haven’t regretted a single day of it because I’m writing again.’
Berlin has been a place of refuge for many artists over the years. However, it is a city that can most definitely swallow you up if you are not careful. An observation the songwriter is very much aware of: ‘It challenges you. Berlin eats you. Berlin fucks you. Berlin shapes you. Berlin makes you see you. You can go to India or just be in Berlin and dance with it for a couple of years, it’ll show you who you are. It’ll spit you out if you’re not careful. I think a lot of artists can’t handle Berlin. It becomes too much of a cycle of madness. Luckily, Berlin has been very good to me. I have some really good friends to thank for that.’
‘Truth is one of the things that I’m trying to do as much as I can because I’m so afraid of falling back into a loop of lies. I’ve taken 5 years off to actually understand how fucked up I was.’
After years of struggling and coming to terms with his past and the effects these experiences had on his present life, ROBOTNIK is determined to look ahead with one particular future outlook on his mind which he reveals at the end of our conversation: ‘The heaviness is something that I will hold close to my heart, but the easiness is close to my soul. It’s my way forward. Easy.’