2016 will be remembered for many things. Unfortunately not a lot of these things have been good.
But if there’s been one encouraging theme that’s persisted throughout the year it’s that we’re finally able to discuss mental health in a mature, progressive way.
Benga was the first DJ to really bring it to the agenda last September with one of the most frank accounts any DJ has ever given to the press. Since then more DJs have revealed the realities of a career that’s turbo charged with long periods of isolation, lack of sleep, unstable routines, time away from loved ones and self-doubt.
Last week Ben Pearce has cancelled his commitments for the year due to depression, other DJs in the last six months to have brought this to the agenda and made people discuss it and accept it as a reality range from Avicii to Sasha and, we’ve learnt this week, rising D&B artist Stuart Maccallum AKA Pennygiles.
Suffering vast drafts of depression over the last few years, with the help of loved ones Pennygiles is currently back in full health. His forthcoming output is proof; his already impressive repertoire is now about to include Metalheadz and Dispatch.
On a mission to channel his positive perspective, this month he’s publically launched a multi-artist, multi-genre album project of which all proceeds go to mental health charity MIND. Little did he know how quickly the project would gain momentum. LSB, Zero T, Villem, Survival, Arp XP, Phil Tangent, Dave Own, HLZ, J Duare, Altitude, Heny G and many more all instantly pledged support and more are expected.
It’s an impressive project born out of a clearly dark time his life. But what’s important for Pennygiles is that no artist feels creatively compromised, pressurised by deadline or ordered according to rank. Read on and find out why in one of the deepest interviews we’ve ever run.
People are finally talking about this now…
They are. And it still surprises me. A lot of the older guys who you always think are very tough edged and would be carrying their previous generation’s torch on depression and mental health; roll your sleeves up, get on with it…
Don’t be pussy, man up!
Yeah! You’re meant to be that alpha male who can handle any pressure all the time but that’s not the reality for any of us. We all need support at certain points in our life and people are realising and accepting this. We’re not sweeping it under the carpet or choosing to hide it behind other vices or problems.
Easy to do in the music industry. Especially as an artist – even when you’re at your most confident, it’s a crushing game of self-doubt and you spend vast amounts of time on your own, constantly questioning yourself.
Massively. You’re on your own most of the time. Unlike a salaried 9 – 5 job where there’s structure, creativity either happens or it doesn’t. You can’t have a boss telling you to do this or do that; music either happens or it doesn’t. So when you have those moments when the music isn’t flowing and you can’t find what you’re looking for it really is – as you say – crushing. So externally people see you on the up but internally you’re thinking ‘why aren’t I getting this release?’ and ‘why isn’t this happening?’ In my own experience I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this, so it was boiling up inside and coming through in my music and attitude. I was very blunt with the labels I was working with and started to acutely criticise everything I was doing.
And so the spiral starts…
Yeah. You have all these people with all the best wishes – labels and mates and peers – all telling you to do more but that makes it worse. On those days when the depression would get so bad I couldn’t face the studio, all I’d be thinking about it what they were saying. I’d try and fight it but nothing good is going to come out of the studio on a day like that. It’s forced. So I dropped off for a while and, yeah, the spiral got worst and worst.
There’s this contrast between long periods of stark isolation and these little over the top party highs. There’s no consistency and, you feel at the time, few people to talk to about it. Throw social media comparisons into the mix and it can become toxic.
Were you balancing a full time job during this too?
I was. I was a baker for a while, I was a stock control manager at a warehouse for a while. I’d be working rubbish hours and it was another factor in it all. Meanwhile I’d be seeing peers who kinda came through around the same time as me all flamboyantly putting up pictures of what they’re up to, where they’re playing, where they’re flying to and I’m thinking ‘fuck, where have I gone wrong?’
The smeared social media windows we all create and peep through…
Yeah but when you’re depressed you don’t see the bullshit because even if that is a very small slice of an otherwise mundane life with as many struggles as mine, they’re still getting some type of opportunity. Every time I saw stuff like that it would make me question every single ounce of my life and my decisions. And all this exacerbated even more when I got made redundant last Christmas, I was struggling to pay rent and things couldn’t get much lower.
Is that when you reached out for support?
That’s when I realised support was always there. In friends. In my family. In my fanbase who I never thought would even understand or appreciate this or even care because we’ve all got lives of our own. Most importantly it was down to my girlfriend who really helped me through this in an amazing way. I can’t speak on behalf of other people who have suffered depression but for me a lot of things start as fear which then manifests as frustration and anger. I was so scared of losing the person I loved the most in the world that I pushed her away to protect her against what I thought was inevitable. But she fought through that because she knew it was worth fighting for and helped me see a way through it and start talking about things. Talking is the most important thing you can possibly do; bottling everything up just builds up so much negative pressure.
All the proceeds of the album will be going to MIND. Did they help you as well?
They didn’t because of the strong help I had personally. But I know another artist who has worked very closely with MIND, I know they’re an incredible charity who do amazing work for people with mental health problems. So I’m using this boost, this momentum and positivity that’s happening and putting every penny their way.
How did the album start?
I was thinking of starting a label initially because I knew how much good quality music out there that’s still unsigned. But then I looked at all the labels I’d be up against and there’s already so much amazing music with a lot people dedicating their careers to getting it out – people like label managers. So then I thought about a label that gives all its money to charity. So there’s no ego at all, just a message which, if people are interested, will spread. Then eventually I decided on the album project.
Who was the first person to donate some music or show an interest?
I played in Dublin for a night called Spectrum. Steo, the MC, runs the night and he put me in touch with Zero T who could relate to what I’d been through. We shared a release lately and I sent a message to him asking if he’d be up for contributing and he came back straight away saying he’d help in whatever way he could. From there I’ve had guys like LSB, Villem, Phil Tangent… More and more people started getting involved from there and from other genres too. Heny G from the dubstep world is also really interested in helping. We met at a festival years and years ago and stayed in touch. It turns out he’d been working on a similar project and album and documentary about depression and stress so he could completely relate to this and wants to help. I had no idea until he told me.
This is it. People keep things under such tight wraps. Just as you did.
It’s a total isolation chamber. You feel like to evolve and progress as an artist you have to constantly persist in the studio at the price of a lot of social connections. With gigs thrown into the mix any slight level of routine you have it completely thrown into disarray. There’s this contrast between long periods of stark isolation and these little over the top party highs. There’s no consistency and, you feel at the time, few people to talk to about it. Throw social media comparisons into the mix and it can become toxic.
Yeah. We’re always in danger of not keeping in touch but rather comparing ourselves.
Exactly man. Gone are the days when you’d take things on face value. You’d go to record shops, you’d speak to people face to face or on the phone. There would be less opportunity to read something into what’s being said and less opportunity to be negative for no reason, or a complete narcissist. As you say, we rarely actually use it just for keeping in touch. There are layers of bullshit.
But this is real. The album is still at its development stage right now isn’t it?
Yeah I’m just speaking to as many artists as I can about this, seeing who is up for contributing and when they can contribute. I don’t want to set any deadlines for people, I don’t want to cause any additional pressure or stipulate any style. It’s not limited to big names either; I’ve had some guys who haven’t had any releases out yet send me some incredible stuff. The album has to be ego free and have complete creative freedom; all genres, all levels of artists, all money going to MIND.
Amazing. Anything else you want to say to anyone reading who might be in a similar situation that you were earlier this year?
Yeah especially to young musicians… Don’t ever feel like you’re in a pecking order. Don’t ever think you’re lower than anyone else. We are all on the same level and if you make music with real emotion and come from the right creative place then your music will be listened to. I used to get so down when I sent music to people and they didn’t get back to me. I’d take it as a personal thing and think my music sucked. But the reality of that is that people are busy, people can’t listen to everything they’re sent and it wasn’t personal. So now I’m a lot more pragmatic and have faith that if I am emotionally connected with the music, the people listening to it will feel that and respect it too.
Listen to Pennygiles: Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud