Fortunately, more and more artists are opening up about their difficulties when it comes to mental health sharing their stories, courageously helping to keep pushing the acceptance and discussion of mental health issues forward. Chris Corner aka IAMX is one of these artists who has spoken publicly about his struggle. Having battled with depression for years, his latest album Alive In New Light couldn’t have a more suitable title with the English musician overcoming the dark moments in his past, celebrating that personal as well as creative transformation with a powerful return within the alternative-electronic sonic realm that he explores even further this time around.
Perhaps, one of the most significant tracks addressing his journey of coming to terms with his depression and the following inner rebirth is the new single Mile Deep Hollow – a very personal exploration of the issue that is not only a documentation of Chris Corner’s inner life, but also an ode to his loyal fans with him singing ‘So thank you, you need to know that you dragged me out of a mile deep hollow. And I love you. You brought me home ‘cause you dragged me out of a mile deep hollow’.
Visual art always having been closely connected to his IAMX project, the video for Mile Deep Hollow is a visually stunning reflection of the song’s darkness and vulnerability capturing Chris Corner’s struggle with breaking free from his demons, the suffocation and drowning – all documented in slow motion with him jumping through a wall of glass in the end.
We sat down with the former Sneaker Pimps mastermind to talk with him about the long journey to feeling healthy again, taking a big step towards the light and the personal as well as creative challenges during that time. A big part of getting better again also means accepting the fact that this path takes time. Time that Chris Corner spent in his newly adopted home of California after relocating there from his previous home in Berlin. Battling the darkness in a long lapse of time that is reminiscent of the slow motion sequences in the Mile Deep Hollow video, with the IAMX singer, eventually, managing to take a leap forward and leaving his demons behind – shattered in pieces.
Addressing the long process of recovery, Corner says: ‘I had a three or four year period which was kind of rough where I was going through a crisis. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Although that was labelled as a sort of breakdown at the time – burnout, breakdown, depression – the whole package, I really see that as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. One of the most necessary things that has happened to me creatively as an artist. Privately as a human being. It has set me on a new cause. It took me a long time to recognize that. Realizing all of that was the first big step for me. Admitting that you are sick because the way that it all is perceived is so screwed up.’
Fixing the broken
As a society, we are still a long way from treating our mental health with the same loving care as our physical health. Despite being aware of the socio-cultural changes and challenges that we are exposed to on a daily basis and therefore the constant need to ‘fit in’, ‘keep up’ and ‘do well’ striving for the next level of success and happiness, it’s still easier to admit that we struggle with physical issues in contrast to mental issues we might experience. Something visibly broken is easier to fix after all than coping with the depth of your soul and an emotional imbalance.
Chris Corner tells us why this is absolutely ridiculous in his opinion: ‘We see the brain or the mind as some kind of separate soulful entity that doesn’t need to be taken care of in the same way that the body does. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s the same thing. We have created this sense of self that is somehow floating around out there and it is so necessary to just drag it back to the biology and that is the first step with depression. Yes, there are psychological patterns and cognitive behavioural therapy that one must go through to reprogramme your pathways so that biology can catch up and get better. But in the end, it’s a science and that was a huge relief to me. It was confusing to me for a year or two when I had no idea what the hell was happening to me. I think a lot of people go through that.’
‘Once I realized what it was, then I realized that the only thing I could do was to rely on the experience of science and medicine and thousands and thousands of years of humans doing certain things to help their minds rather than thinking I could solve this all by myself. Getting help is the biggest step I think.’
The road to recovery is a very individual one for everyone struggling with depression as Chris Corner knows well:
‘The recipe for recovery and healing is so specific. That is why it’s so messy and it takes such a long time. There is no ‘Hey, I wake up tomorrow and it’s gone…’ It doesn’t work like that. We are all used to medicine in a way that you go to the doctor and get better within a week or something. It doesn’t work like that and that was very confusing for me I have to say. I really thought I would just click back into being the old me…and I didn’t.’
As the front man of his electronic project IAMX, the musician did not only face the challenges of seeking help and getting better again as an individual, but also the challenges of adjusting to the effects that his mental state had on his creativity and the process of making music:
‘Part of being a creative artist is tied to deep self-confidence issues and self-doubt and ego waves. You are navigating that constantly because of what you do. And you do it because you are navigating it constantly. It’s a cycle of feeling great and feeling worthless. That can be a little bit challenging to stabilize the mind. I did work a lot on self-surrender, acceptance and self-love as well as self-compassion. That can be a huge step in relaxing into healing because one of the biggest problems is just coming down and being able to heal. Self-love is a big part of that.’
A breath of fresh air
While working on his eighth album Alive In New Light, the reclusive singer was able to open up again, even to the extend of collaborating with well-known tattoo artist Kat Von D. A process that made Chris Corner feel nervous at first as he admits:
‘If I collaborate with someone it’s always a bit awkward for me anyway so if that person isn’t genuine it’s not going to last very long. Luckily, she is very genuine and very talented. She is now a new friend. She is absolutely devoted to indie and alternative music. She understood the energy and attitude behind the project so I basically invited her to work with me quite quickly. She was a bit nervous and I was a little nervous that people might consider that as some kind of cynical promotion angle. We both don’t like bullshit. She is very driven. I’m very driven. We can really connect over the art and we got straight into it. That was a really nice breath of fresh air into the project and into my social life.’
In early 2019, IAMX will embark on another tour through Europe. While being on the road for weeks can be a challenge on many levels, Chris Corner emphasizes that it is, in fact, also a very joyous time for the band:
‘Touring is a bit like going to war. Your daily routine becomes very basic and you repeat yourself. There is comfort in that structure, but you are constantly repeating the same jokes. The level of social interaction is very childish. I love that because I spend a lot of time being very cerebral in the studio, being very passionate about psychology and reading books and being very mature. Getting on the road is a huge relief to that. Everybody connects over the stupidity and ridiculousness of it all. That’s where a lot of the fun comes from. Also getting onstage and being very theatrical, playful and emotional – it’s all part of that childish feeling of play. We are getting our fix from that.’
Balancing lightness and depth
Despite being a very thoughtful, smart and eloquent conversational partner, Chris Corner’s good sense of humour isn’t one to underestimate which quickly becomes obvious when exchanging thoughts with him. Does it happen that people mistake him for being ‘too serious’ though, sometimes?
‘I’m not very serious at all in social situations. If I do interviews I really have to ground myself and dig deep to be relatively thoughtful. I fluctuate a lot between wanting to just be light and ridiculous and wanting very quickly to go deep. I see them as co-existing. I don’t like bullshit. I don’t like talking around things. Sometimes I think that can come across as being a bit serious.’
If he is not immersing in the depth of exploring sonic realms or childish jokes on tour, Chris Corner’s passion for reading books with a psychological and philosophical angle remains unbroken. After learning a great deal about himself on the road to recovery in the past few years, Chris reveals that the book The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung has made a big impact on him lately:
‘When I was really depressed I immersed myself in this slightly mystical psychology which Jung offered as a bit of an antidote to Freud and the whole mother-father-breakdown. It connected very much with this idea of the unified field which I still love. I grew up with science as well as art. Even though it’s still not really defined, I feel like there is something in that realm of the unified field and the collective unconscious that we feel, but we can’t quite deconstruct yet and can’t quite get to grips with it yet. As an artist, I feel like I’m almost constantly connected to whatever that is, but that’s probably as spiritual as I would get. To me it seems obvious that everything is connected. For example, I am this table right here. We are all here, connected. I am you. You are me.’
Speaking of connecting with others, fans of IAMX will have the opportunity to take part in special discussion panels on the upcoming Mile Deep Hollow Tour that will hopefully bring more awareness to mental health issues on selected dates, all in collaboration with YouRock Foundation that aims to spread awareness by encouraging bands and artists to be a catalyst for communication.