Regret and Redemption: ‘Still Just Breathing’ by Set for the Fall

In an industry climate that sets up more barriers than ever before for rising artists, it has become incredibly difficult to come out of the gate strong. But you’d never know it from listening to Set for the Fall, who makes mature, melodic hard rock look effortless.

Over the course of just three short years, Fayetteville, NC-based band Set for the Fall released their debut album 3 Nails and landed spots touring with Seventh Day Slumber and later Memphis May Fire. That unstoppable momentum has culminated in Still Just Breathing, a monster of a sophomore album showcasing a sound that instantly pulls the listener into an expansive emotional experience.

Part of the excellence of Still Just Breathing lies in the fact that it strikes a delicate and delightful balance between hardcore sensibilities and post-grunge, refusing to be pigeon holed in one subgenre. The crushing riffs paired with refreshingly technical guitar moments in lead single “Breathe Again” begin to reveal this synergy. The beautifully poised guitar mix from Harrison Muffley and Donovan Roybal is paired with vocals from Joseph Lassiter that reference the post-grunge sound, instantly reminding of bands like Shinedown and Seether.

That unique sound is delivered with musical intentionality and cohesion, from the frenetic energy of the guitars on “Callout” to the scalding screams on the bridge of “Liar.” Those tracks also exemplify the way that Still Just Breathing never wastes the kind of aggression that hard rock naturally provides. They put the full weight of that aggression behind the emotional experience of being broken, being betrayed by someone you trusted.

This album is certainly not heavy in musical style alone. Set for the Fall offers unflinching exploration of relational pain, regret and personal demons. “Paper Hearts” is a scorchingly honest song with a killer vocal hook that talks directly to some of the worst parts of how we react to heartbreak, offering the lyrics that give the album its title: “I know you know I know I’m left here bleeding / I know you know I know I’m still just breathing.”

“Who I Am” takes a look at self-destructive patterns from the outside, the chorus pleading like a dear friend begging someone to walk away from their own sabotage. The melody on this song is instantly memorable, the perfect opportunity for a guest appearance from the soaring vocals of Memphis May Fire frontman Matty Mullins. The project’s other noteworthy feature comes from Ryan Kirby of Fit for a King on “Judgment Day,” a banger of a song that captures cultural discord and descent with a musical fury that builds on the theme of chaos.

Set for the Fall’s voyage into the workings of the human heart brings them to some more mellow moments as well. “Counting Stars” is a lament, regretfully recounting loss. “Forever” is a love song sung from the road, singing about the sacrifice required for both those who tour and their loved ones at home. These ballad-leaning moments prove Set for the Fall has more than one sonic palette in their repertoire.

With an album that clocks in at 12 tracks (plus an intro), there is room for a lot of themes. Regret, loss, heartbreak, chaos: this desperation is deliberately punctuated by answering melodies of hope. “New Creation” fiercely screams the victory cry that comes with being set free from the worst of ourselves: “I am a new creation.” Closing track “Home,” fittingly enough, brings the emotional journey through human highs and lows to its conclusion in the arms of a divine Rescuer: “I’ll face these moments I guess until I see you again / when you finally call me home.”

There is a certain level of dangerous cheese factor that bands in this musical space often have to contend with, trying to connect with the downtrodden without resorting to the pitfalls of over-commercializing and simplifying others’ pain– a trap many rock bands have fallen into in the past. Set for the Fall side steps that hazard entirely, staying laser focused on exceptional song crafting and lyrics that try to tell a story instead of pummeling with trite truisms. The result is the kind of album that has been sorely lacking over the past decade. Still Just Breathing blew me away with its musical maturity, satisfyingly unapologetic rock sound, earnest humanity and resolute message of redemption.

You can find Still Just Breathing on iTunes and Spotify.

Related artists: Spoken, Memphis May Fire, Shinedown, Sevendust, Art of Dying

Meg Hudson of Drive Thru Society

I was 15 when I picked up the bass guitar and began playing with my older brother. The following year, my parents bought me a guitar so I could play at church and start writing my own songs.

Music has always been a way to express outwardly what’s going on inside, and the feeling of creating something so raw and vulnerable was extremely liberating for me. I had always loved singing at church and performing at various talent shows, but it’s a completely different feeling when you get to perform a song that you wrote.

In college, I was heavily involved in our campus ministry and met Greg (my now husband) through playing on the praise team. We had always talked about our love for rock music and desire to take positive messages of hope and grace into the dark parts of the world. We got married in 2011, and shortly after we broke away from the praise team to create Drive Thru Society. As most young rock bands, we had no clue what we were doing when we started, but we played passionately and fumbled our way into the scene.

The longer we wrote and pursued music, the more we started to draw material for songs from the stories of people we would meet at shows or online. Our song “Ghosts” stemmed from this exact scenario. My best friend had struggled with undiagnosed depression for years, and after some time of building our relationship she finally told me her story of her attempted suicide. She was 19 and felt that she didn’t deserve to live, that she wasn’t worthy of God’s love, so she decided to overdose on a bottle of pills. She didn’t expect to wake up the next morning, but was surprised when she did and was surrounded by nurses in a hospital room. She said it was in that moment of weakness that the Lord reached down and told her that He wasn’t done with her and started to re-write the negative thoughts that were in her head telling her that she didn’t have what it took and that she wasn’t worthy of His love.

I personally had never struggled with those things, but I felt the Lord had softened my heart to empathize with her story and used my mouth to speak for her by writing the song. While I was in the studio, she actually sent me some lyrics that made it into the song. I thought it was incredibly neat that it came straight from the source.

Through writing this song and playing it live, I can’t tell you how many texts/emails we’ve received regarding the impact that her story has had on others, which made us realize the responsibility we had to encourage and steward those who shared their story with us.

Our heart to those who have personally struggled with suicide is that it is tough right now, there’s no denying that. However, it gets better. I think as teenagers and young adult its hard to see just how big the world is. We get so narrow focused on what’s right in front of us that we can’t even comprehend that we’ll ever get past this. But suicide ends the possibility that it’ll get better and doesn’t allow us to trust the Lord to use us and teach us through those dark times.

My best friend thought she was so damaged and that no one would understand her pain (after years of being rejected because of it), but because she allowed someone in (me) and received love through that, she was able to fully receive God’s grace for her decision and step into the freedom that He has for her. You are not defined or damaged by your mistakes. When you receive the healing power of Jesus, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done because He stands in for you and makes you clean.

Genesis 50:20 says “What you intended for harm, God intended for good.” This was coming from Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and endured years of feeling unworthy, but ultimately saved them through God’s sovereign plan. There are so many moments where we intend to hurt ourselves (whether through believing negative things, self-harm or self sabotage), and we intend it for harm, but God in His grace and mercy can turn it around and use it for good like He did for my friend. Joseph was wrongly imprisoned for a time, but Genesis 39:21 says “The LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.”

Sometimes when we struggle with mental illness our minds can feel like a prison and that we are trapped to feel this way forever, but commit that scripture to memory and remember that the Lord has promised “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 / Deuteronomy 31:6). It’s easy to only look at our current circumstances and think I’ll never make it past this, but even in those moments trust that the Lord has you and will get you through it. It may not be the way you planned, and you may be in that season for longer than you expected, but trusting the Lord always outweighs us taking things into our own hands and trying to solve the situation on our own.

Remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12. Remember who the real enemy is.

Through our understanding of scripture and listening to the stories of people that have been moved by our music, it encourages us to continue writing about difficult topics that our culture is facing. We know that music has a power that’s difficult to explain in words, but is more something you feel. We want to continue to write and create in a space that uses our platform to ultimately glorify the Lord and then encourage our listeners towards His goodness.

In April 2017, Greg and I experienced one of the lowest points in our music career and really had to re-evaluate why we were pursuing this in the first place. We had aligned ourselves with people in the industry that we trusted, and after a few months of working with them we realized that we were not on the same page and did not have the same convictions. I personally had felt attacked on a level I had never experienced, and my once confident demeanor was whittled to practically nothing. Self-doubt ran rampant, and I second guessed every decision I made because I was belittled in almost every sense of the word working with those people.

We stepped back and were now faced with a huge ok God, now what? moment. Everything we had been working towards since college had just been ripped out from under us, and we had to decide how we were going to proceed forward. I was given a book during that time called Follow the Cloud by John Stickl, and I had no idea how much it was going to impact me during the lowest point of my self-esteem. John talks about how God leads us one small step at a time to prune us along the way and to deepen our obedience to Him. It would be nice if the Lord gave us a giant roadmap and we could just move through it, but then it wouldn’t develop perseverance, plus taking one small step at a time refines our character and increases our trust in the Lord.

In a time where I wanted nothing to do with the music industry and felt completely disabled to write music, I felt the Lord telling me “it’s not over yet, just keep following me one small step at a time. It will make sense eventually.” It was all I could do to take those small steps day by day and slowly allow my heart to forgive and heal from the beating it had just taken.

Through that season of healing and restoration, the Lord showed me that it didn’t matter where I was or what the end game would be, but that I am making a difference even in the daily routine of life. I didn’t have to sell a ton of records, I didn’t have to have a top radio single, I didn’t have to look perfect all the time or meet certain weight expectations in order to be effective for the Kingdom, but that an open heart towards those God loves and obedience in the small steps were what God honored. It seems so simple now, but at the time it was revolutionary for me.

My encouragement to you is that you don’t have to know the big picture, you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to compromise in your personal convictions to be used by the Lord. We took almost a year off of music and finally felt we could start writing and creating again because the Lord realigned our focus with His kingdom in mind, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since!

You are enough, and in those times when you don’t feel that way, God provides grace to make up the difference. Don’t let fear hold you back from being obedient in the small things and trusting God through the small steps. 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. the one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Step into the freedom that God has granted you through Jesus and set your fear aside because the Lord is with you!

A few months ago with this renewed heart the Lord has provided multiple opportunities for Drive Thru Society, including our song “Ghosts” being featured in an upcoming movie called Worthy. We’ve talked with Bruce Snyder (head of the project), and our hearts towards ministry and art are definitely in alignment. He’s been encouraging from the beginning and affirming that we are where we’re supposed to be. We’re very excited to be working with him and the rest of the Worthy crew on this project!

Greg and I have one more single to release, most likely in early 2019, and then we will record a full length record. We started writing a few months ago and are excited to tell more stories and share more art with everyone. We’ve talked about playing a few shows here and there, but have no immediate plans.

I hope you’ve felt encouraged to stay the course and be persistent even in moments when it doesn’t make sense and you can’t see what’s around the corner. Remember that you are loved and that you never know where the Lord will lead you next. You matter and you’re making a difference!

Three Days Grace Shares Musical Bonds With Kenyan Tribe

It is often said that music is a universal language, connecting people from different corners of the earth despite language and cultural barriers. Two members of Canadian post-grunge and alternative rock band Three Days Grace recently experienced this phenomenon firsthand on a trip to Kenya.

The excursion took place in September, after two band members were invited by friends to travel to Africa to “soak in some culture on the other side of the planet,” according to a September 7 Tweet.

Embarking on the African adventure were lead singer Matt Waist and drummer Neil Sanderson. Sanderson has been transparent about his battle with anxiety through a partnership with Team 55, a fundraising program that raises suicide awareness in conjunction with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The expedition to Africa quickly became a moving and eye opening experience for the band mates. As they reflected on their travels in a concluding social media post, Waist and Sanderson shared “we had the honor of meeting so many beautiful and resilient people. We experienced some heavy challenges that people are currently facing, but are clearly determined to overcome. Hope and bravery was around every corner we looked. 3DG has always been about connecting people to overcome their struggles.”

During their time spent in the tribal villages in Kenya, they shared amazing moments through music. On arrival, the Luworo group from the Taveta tribe welcomed them with a traditional song and dance that are “100’s of years old.” Check out the beautiful display of culture in this 3DG Instagram video.

Evidenced by a subsequent video, they had the opportunity to “share some of [their] music back–” in this case a Bob Marley acoustic cover, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” to a dancing and joyous crowd. In a later post on Facebook, they are shown playing an acoustic Three Days Grace tune to the “sweetest mosh-pit ever!”

Learn more about Matt and Neil’s trip by following Three Days Grace on Instagram.

Three Days Grace formed in 1997 and in March 2018 released Outsider, which features their latest single “Infra-Red.”

Fierce Courage: ‘Hope for the Broken’ by Convictions

There are few albums that can sling a fiery arrow to the mark, piercing the heart and washing away the drudge of anxiety that threatens our very existence. This is exactly the effect of the latest release from Convictions, an Ohio-based metal band featuring Michael Felker’s powerfully incisive vocals.

The follow-up to 2016’s hard hitting I Will Become delivers every bit of their self-declared aggressive worship in an impactful, unforgettable way. Hope for the Broken brings to life stories of heartbreak and anxiety while blending those real struggles with a message of peace and victory.  A front-to-back trip through this project will generate myriad emotions before reaching a destination: the desire to be transparently broken before the throne of grace.

The album begins with “Exodus, The End of Us,” which starts out softly and mysteriously before building into a robust journey of letting go of self and seeking God for healing.  “Deceptive Heart” sets the stage with a loud blend of minor chords and fever pitch vocals for an account of relational agony causing heart-wrenching anxiety.

The battle for healing continues on “Voices (They Want Me Dead),” which features a  perfectly peaceful tone set by keyboards backed by a soft yet steady rhythm on high-hat cymbals by drummer Zach Schwochow. It is in this moment of clarity that hope creeps in with a fitting reminder to “Just breathe in / Just breathe in now” in the midst of deception caused by apprehension.

Where many of the tracks on Hope for the Broken are prayers to help conquer internal battles, “Divided” is the battle cry, and declaration of victory: “You’ll never stop us / Like a thief you’ve come to kill and destroy / You’ll never stop us / God, bring us life and lead us to live full.”

Perhaps the most impressive and musically creative song on the record is “We Are Violence.” Alternating smooth and crisp vocals with energetic and controlled screaming, backed by the perfectly edgy and raw chords dropped by guitarist Josh Canode and John Fleischmann on bass, this song is about being transparent and honest when the going gets tough.

Radically worshipful composition “Reckless” admits shortfalls and cries out for redemption, followed by “Reverie–” a melodic instrumental providing a brief pause from an otherwise emotionally gripping experience.  The harmonies in this intermission add an unexpected sense of overwhelming peace in the midst of a whirlwind of emotions that have been stirred up by the previous tracks.

The title track, “Hope for the Broken,” brings the story of heartache and suffering to a gentle yet bold close as a flag is planted firm on solid ground, declaring the Lord as our rock and deliverer even in the darkest hour when we feel furthest from Him.

Convictions’ Hope for the Broken is an emotionally intense experience for those suffering from anxiety and heartache, songs which will bring a sense of spiritual peace, rest and hope.

Find Hope for the Broken on Spotify and iTunes.

Related Artists: The Devil Wears Prada, Phinehas, Fit For A King

 

Songs That Saved My Life: Compilation to Bring Awareness and Hope

Big Picture Media recently announced that they are teaming up with Hopeless Records to release a compilation called Songs That Saved My Life.

According to the announcement on social media, the compilation will be available on November 9 and will feature Taking Back Sunday, Against Me, The Maine and more. These bands “come together to share pivotal songs from their lives.” In addition to the quality tracklist, purchases will “benefit charities such as Crisis Text Line, Hope For The Day, The Trevor Project and To Write Love On Her Arms,” according to the post.

The first single from the album is “Torn” by Neck Deep, and is available now.

According to the mission statement on the official Songs That Saved My Life (STSML for short) website, the brand is “centered around music that played a pivotal role in the lives of artists and fans that benefits mental health and suicide prevention charities.” The goal is to share music and stories with the world.

Hopeless Records is an independent label dedicated to making a positive impact through music. Big Picture Media is a full service entertainment public relations agency based in New York City. Learn more about them by visiting their website.

To learn more or check out the first single “Torn,” visit www.songsthatsavedmylife.com. Keep up with the STSML movement by following them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Strength in Conviction: ‘Strong + Brave’ by Adelaide

Adelaide has been steadily gaining steam on Christian rock charts and stages nationwide, and with good reason. The band’s steady centering on a guitar-based sound paired with singer Adelaide’s compelling alto create a combination rarely heard on recent release calendars. But more than their sound, Adelaide is focused on their mission.

That much is clear on their latest song, “Strong + Brave.” This anthem holds up hope and truth in the form of Jesus, urging “We are here, united / And we won’t be silent / We raise our banner and we won’t deny it / We’ll face the day strong and brave.”

The rock groove and vocal style harken back to the best of bands like Barlow Girl or Benjamin Gate. It fills an important musical role in our contemporary music scene, but more importantly offers true conviction of the source of our strength and courage.

Hear “Strong + Brave” on Spotify or iTunes.

Related Artists: Barlow Girl, Benjamin Gate, Fireflight

Songs for the Lost: Meet Living Scars

Living Scars has been steadily rising to widespread familiarity with determination and grit– both in their work ethic and in their massive hard rock sound. To mark the release of their dynamic new single “Wide Awake,” we spent some time getting to know Living Scars and the heart behind their music.

Let’s start with your new single, “Wide Awake.” What was the concept behind that song?

“Wide Awake” was written in a way that our listeners can relate to in their own lives. We battle an enemy that tries to break us down every day. As people, we need to find our way out of the shadows and allow our convictions to ultimately point to our Creator. Only then will we truly be Wide Awake.

This song precedes a full length album. When can we expect the album? What are some of the themes?

“Wide Awake” is just one of 13 tracks within the new album! We haven’t released the title or release date of the album YET, but… you can expect a very new side of Living Scars that you never saw in our first album.

This album focuses on how dark the world truly is, and it conveys just how deceitful the enemy can be, but it also points out, time and time again, that there is always a way out of the darkness.

Tell us a little bit about your journey as a band that got you to this point. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What have been some of the biggest victories you’ve had along the way?

The journey has been a LONG one, but to make it short and sweet, we really just started as four guys wanting to play music because it was cool. It wasn’t until we found our true desire in life that we found our goal and mission as a band to glorify God with our music by showing the lost that they’re here on Earth for a purpose, and that they are NEVER alone! Shortly after this realization, we found our bassist Adam, who added his epic screams and passion to our mix, which has changed Living Scars’ sound for the better!

As for challenges? Time has always been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as a band. After a great year in 2017, we decided that it was time to get in the studio and start producing this second album. Since that decision was made, life decided it was going to hit us in the face and make it increasingly difficult to find time to record. But once we all reached that spark of motivation and commitment, we began our recording process and haven’t stopped since so that we can release one of our best creations to those who both want and need to hear God’s love and the realities of life in our music.

What is your main goal in making music, the motivation that keeps you grinding out the hard road of rock and roll touring and recording?

Our ultimate goal is to be able to reach people for Christ through music for a living. We are also motivated by many things! One of the big ones is our Living Scars family. Fans, friends, wives, parents, brothers, sisters… They are all one big family unit that motivates us to keep going!

And another thing… Folks may or may not notice, but we huddle and pray on stage before each show. Part of that prayer is a hope to reach at least one person that day. If we reach someone for Christ, we’ve succeeded substantially!

How do you believe that music impacts this world in a positive way?

We are big believers in the truth that music can change lives, but it isn’t always necessarily in a positive way. The direction that the mainstream music industry is heading is actually quite frightening in the sense that people, adults and kids, are becoming more lenient to the ways of the world. Drugs, sex and impurities of all sorts are becoming a norm, as if that’s just the way the world is supposed to be.

We believe Christian music is an escape from that. It exposes worldliness for how dangerous it is, and points us to what truly matters. As long as you see the name Living Scars or any other up and coming Christian rock bands, you will know that you’re listening to folks that desire to unleash the light of positivity and love in a dark world that needs it so desperately.

Does Living Scars have any dreams for the future, any guiding goals?

Of course we have dreams for the future! One of our dreams or goals as a band is probably similar to most other artists in the music ministry industry, and that is to do what we love for a living! Serving our God through music and outreach while jumping around screaming and singing on stage? Who wouldn’t want that?!

Since day 1, we’ve always wanted to tour with bands like Red, Memphis May Fire, Fit For A King, etc… But lately, after getting to know the great people in Rockfest Records, we’d LOVE to be a part of one of their tours. Doing what we love with other like-minded bands has been a great dream of ours. So if any of y’all are reading this… hit us up!

What is the best way that fans can support what Living Scars is doing in this season?

The Living Scars family can support us in a number of ways! Firstly, you can pray for us! Pray that we stay strong and have patience in our journey forward as a band. You can also support us by buying our new single “Wide Awake,” telling us what you think about it, sharing it with everyone, and being patient with us as we finish up this album for you guys! That alone would be a huge blessing to all four of us.

We promise to give back to you with our new music, our smiling/awkward faces, and our commitment to playing every show like it is our last!

You can get “Wide Awake” on iTunes and Spotify now. Connect with Living Scars on Facebook and at livingscarsmusic.com.

Photo credit to Breanne Ciccone Photography

Sailing Through the Dark: Fit For a King’s ‘Dark Skies’

Fit For a King seems to be the band that can’t stop. The Texas based post-hardcore band has been grinding out an explosive, aggressive sound through tireless touring and four studio albums finished in the just five and a half years that they’ve been signed to Solid State Records. The latest of those albums, Dark Skies, might be their most musically and lyrically intense yet.

2016’s album Deathgrip upped the ante for Fit For a King, making a mark at number 5 on the Hard Rock Albums chart. The video for the title track is sitting at well over 2 million views on YouTube. Instead of being intimidated by the task of following that up, Fit For a King did what they do best: they went to work, pushing themselves to dive even deeper into the complexities of human struggle and the reality of relief.

The first two tracks released from Dark Skies, “The Price of Agony” and “Tower of Pain,” provided good context for what listeners can expect from this project. Dark Skies is aggressively brooding, pumped full of searing self-doubt and depression, fueled by punch-in-the-gut guitar riffs. On “Tower of Pain,” vocalist Ryan Kirby asks the thesis question of this album: “Will I rise from the ashes we create? Will I fall into oblivion?

The rest of the album hinges thematically on this question. “Engraved” begins deceptively mellow before a towering wall of guitar from Bobby Lynge crashes to the fore, leading towards an irresistibly melodic chorus. “Backbreaker” and “Anthem of the Defeated” are songs of suffering, ripping through scorching screams and vicious breakdowns.

Several of the tracks feel poignantly pointed for our unique moment in cultural history, a time where division, isolation, and depression are all sky-high. “When Everything Means Nothing” is a sort of musical existential crisis, with a melody reminiscent of a punk influences mourning “I was born in the rain / Answers never seemed so distant / The terror of missing out blurs my vision / Am I enough to live up to the expectations of a world that won’t stop moving?” The following track “Youth | Divided” could be an anthem for the dysfunction of a generation, its disquieting intro tone leading into a dynamic metalcore sound in keeping with giants like Oh, Sleeper and Memphis May Fire.

In some ways, this album plays like a narrative, with the anger and heartache all culminating in the interlude “Debts of the Soul.” Over stormy instrumentation, the vocals beg “raise me from the dead.” The answer to that plea is “Oblivion,” a hard rock hymn that screams for redemption and clings in desperation to divine grace.

On Dark Skies, Fit For a King sails through the roiling clouds of regret and despair with a gritty determination to reach the clear skies on the other side. It has crushingly heavy moments that should satisfy the most avid hardcore fans, while taking hooky melodicism up a notch for their most memorable choruses yet. This is an album for emotional release, for going hard in the mosh pit, and for catching glimpses of solidarity and hope in the resounding promise that even in the darkest skies, you are not alone.

Related Artists: Beartooth, Memphis May Fire, Wolves at the Gate

Find Dark Skies on Spotify and iTunes.

Rock and Roll Helps My Family Overcome

In the Bible, James 1 reminds us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. These words are a lifetime challenge, one that I’ve been wrestling with since growing up in a Christian conservative household.

As I grow in age and gain wisdom, these words have taught me that by taking time to listen to others, it turns out everyone has a story of struggling through difficult seasons. Not everyone has an addiction to overcome, or actionable suicidal thoughts, but everyone– if we’re honest– has struggled with some form of anxiety or depression.

This is the story that has been written so far about my family, our shared struggles with depression and anxiety, and how rock and roll has been therapeutic in bringing us together.

As with most true stories, this story has a beginning. The term “beginning” might be misleading, because I don’t believe anyone just wakes up one day and starts to experience depression or anxiety. These mental health challenges are deeply rooted and creep up on us over the course of time. Often we don’t even realize it’s on us until we are at a crossroads, which is where this story begins.

A few years ago on one of the last hazy days of summer vacation, my wife and our four kids were visiting my mother-in-law and swimming in the pool. At the time our oldest son was about 7 or 8, and our youngest was an infant. I was working about a 3 hour drive away from where they were for the day. It was a routine kind of day, nothing out of the ordinary– until I got a phone call from my frantic mother-in-law. My wife had passed out while swimming. Emergency help was on the way.

By the time I arrived at Hershey Medical Center, my wife had been flown there by helicopter and was awake and seemed well at the time. She would have a type of pacemaker installed when a heart condition was determined to be the root cause. Later, lab testing would reveal that three of our kids also share this genetic heart condition. Our story, and our battles with anxiety and depression, began on that hazy, routine summer day.

My oldest son had the composure to go ahead and call 911 when my wife passed out in the pool, then sat with our younger kids watching the scene unfold. He didn’t know how to process this emotionally at the time, so I suspect there was a lot of buildup that festered over time.

Fast forward to February 2017 on Super Bowl Sunday.

I’d recently had battles with my own depression, to the point where I had contemplated and even researched suicide. At that time, I chose not to seek help for myself .

Our oldest son came home from church that day, rabid to play video games. I shut that down because of concerns I had with behavior that morning. His response was unexpected, to say the least: he went to his room and covered himself with his blanket in a fit of rage. He made what we assumed to be empty, unknowing threats of self-harm and suicide. As parents, we took the first step of discussing it with him, hoping he’d understand that those are not words to speak lightly. He doubled down, so we took him to the Emergency Room, hoping to prove that what he was saying was serious and that we care so much about him that we will seek medical attention.

What they don’t tell you in the parenting handbook is that mental health is not to be messed with. I think he got so nervous at the hospital that things escalated to the point that he simply didn’t know how to respond, and we wound up staying two nights in the ER. After that, my son would be graciously admitted to an outpatient psychological center for further counseling and evaluation– about 3 months of outpatient, daily counseling for him. During the ER stay, I really connected and felt I fully understood “Love Feels Like” by Toby Mac (featuring dc Talk). I truly was “poured out, used up, still giving; stretching me out to the end of my limits.”

Later that summer, we had to say a very hard goodbye to our dog, who was 12 years old when we put him down. That was particularly hard on my oldest son, who had become attached to our dog while going through counseling. It was at this time that I started to introduce my kids to Skillet songs like “Invincible,” and my older boys used the Echo Dot to find more and more songs by Skillet.

Shortly after these traumatic events in 2017, my wife and I had the privilege to set sail on the Jesus Freak Cruise. This cruise was much needed for us after a difficult season. It also connected me with my roots as a Disc Jockey and writer in the CCM industry, and even more so my passion for positive rock and roll (dc Talk was one of the original Christian grunge rock bands I listened to).

Earlier this year I experienced another season of extreme thoughts and high anxiety. Life has taught me that this will be a lifelong ongoing battle, and the best thing to do is find a community to be a part of (enter the influence of the rock and roll community). Getting involved again in the music industry last fall (first with NewReleaseToday, and now with Rock On Purpose) has helped me to connect with my family in so many ways.

One of those was a shared interest in Skillet. Turns out, boys really enjoy banging their heads and screaming lyrics about feeling “like a monster.”

We went to Uprise 2017 together to see Skillet live, which ignited a passion for singing and rock and roll in my boys that help us to relate well together. Matt Baird, lead singer of Spoken, took time to take a picture with my boys and I and to sign posters for them. He was genuinely interested in chatting with us. I think those moments can have a lasting impact for our children.

My son is doing better now, and music is still a very important thing in his life.  He listens to Imagine Dragons and Skillet, both bands having a big impact with a positive message.

As for me, after walking through a very dark time in December and into winter of 2018,
rock and roll music has kept me alive and fighting on many days. Lacey Sturm, Skillet, Seventh Day Slumber and the community of fellow rockheads and the various rock shows I’ve attended this year help to be a reminder to me that life is worth the pain, and we’re not in this thing alone.

I stand here to say this: the struggle with depression and anxiety is real, but positive and deeply meaningful music with an edge to it has been a therapeutic escape. It’s also OK to seek professional help.

Our community that is rock and roll is an example of the best medicine: love each other well, remind those around you that tomorrow needs them. Remain so tightly connected, pray for one another and make sure absolutely nothing is off limits in our conversations with each other.

The best part of it is that our fellow rockers have James 1 figured out: listen well, speak slowly.

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