Four Dance Music Artists Speak Out About Mental Health
Artists, in some sense, have always used emotion to guide their work. But now that conversations surrounding mental health are slowly becoming less and less taboo, we’ve seen an uptick in musicians overtly discussing these topics — both in their songs and in the outside world. Artists are speaking openly about their struggles and, in doing so, have given hope to the millions of fans who look up to them.
For Mental Health Awareness month, we spoke with four dance music artists who address mental health in their music and with their audiences. Our conversations covered everything from why mental health provides so much fodder for art and how vulnerability creates community to why songs about mental health don’t necessarily have to be sad songs.
Chet Porter | DJ and producer
Chet Porter’s name shot into the dance music mainstream with his 2017 single “Stay,” ft. Chelsea Cutler. He was lauded as the ‘next up’ in dance music. However, during a 2018 tour with San Holo, he decided to take a break to focus on his mental health. Now he’s back — with new music, but the same open, honest attitude.
What role does mental health play in your creative process?
If I’m writing a song, I’ll usually just sit in front of my microphone without having written any actual words, and just sort of let things come out. And it almost always ends up being somehow tied to depression or being depressed or emotionally numb at the time. I would love to say it’s intentional, and I’m trying to bring awareness to it. But it’s just what naturally happens.
Some of your past tracks that have addressed mental health have had a more melancholy tone, but your most recent release, “Life’s So Good,” ft. Cherry Surf can still be considered about mental health, even though it’s very overtly happy.
Ironically, I was really depressed at the time, but I was tired of making depressing music. So I was like, ‘Yo, let’s just make like the happiest song.’ And that’s kind of how it happened. I was sort of pretending I was somebody else.
And did making such a happy song — even while you were in a dark place — help?
At the moment, it was so much fun. It was me and my friend Chaz, and we were crying laughing in the studio. [It was] massive smiles the whole time. Making this song, I was able to break out of that “OK, I’m gonna sit down on my computer and make a song by myself” cycle that I was in. It was kind of a depressing thing. But this time, I was with my friend, playing guitars and screaming into a microphone.
Lexi Norton | vocalist and songwriter for Echos
Lexi Norton is a singer, songwriter, and one-half of rock-pop electronic duo Echos. Along with her production counterpart, Tal Richardson, she — in her own words — “sings sad songs to make you feel less alone.”
What role does mental health play in your creative process?
I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I was also diagnosed with complex PTSD. That really affects me in my daily life, and having a space to put all of that into my lyrics and singing is just so healing for me.
That comes across in your music, both the collaborations with artists outside Echos and your work with Tal. address in mental health is perhaps more overt in the lyrics and songwriting, but how do you tailor the production and other elements of the tracks to do the same?
Tal and I have always been extremely collaborative. If I send him something with a message, he will make sure that he’s adding elements into the production to elevate that story. I feel like the both of us have a really good way of helping each other tell the story, whether it’s adding something sonically or adding something lyrically to help carry the storyline.
It seems then that mental health inspires both of you. Why do you think that so many artists draw on these topics?
For me — and I feel like it’s this way for a lot of people — music is such an expression of self, and it’s a place to discover yourself as well. I feel that music is like a diary; we’re seeing people share intimate and vulnerable parts of themselves through their art.
But I also think that it’s because we have a mental health crisis right now, so a lot of people are being affected, regardless of if you’re in the music industry or not. A light is being shone on that, and I think that the amount of music about it is kind of reflective of the crisis. It’s really important that the arts are reflective of things that are going on in our society, especially mental health.
Eric Sharp | DJ and producer
Eric Sharp is as passionate about wellness as he is about his art. He’s a recovering alcoholic. Through his battle with mental health during the COVID lockdowns, he has made music about his struggles, offering hope to those in its throes — and has become an enthusiastic advocate for mental health in the process.
In addition to addressing mental health topics in your music, you’re also very vocal about it on social media. Have you found that your openness about your mental health has allowed you to connect more with your audience?
In the last year, I’ve started to be more open about everything that happens in my life on social media. That was the result of me taking a marketing class where I learned that authenticity wins. It beats everything. There were things about myself that I was ashamed to put out into the world and on social media, much of which are the struggles I have with mental health. And I found that being honest about those things and sharing them made other people feel less alone and made me feel way more supported.
And are there any artists that you’ve connected with this way as a listener?
Totally. I was on the other side of that as a kid. I had a pretty rough upbringing, and music was a sanctuary for me. That was a big reason I got into making music and specifically making dance music, because that was such a positive, creative outlet for me to go and dance and just be able to lose myself. It would lift me up out of whatever hurts were going on in my life.
RUNN | vocalist and songwriter
RUNN is the singer/songwriter behind your favorite future bass and melodic dubstep tracks. She’s joined forces with the likes of Seven Lions, Illenium, and Dabin, and in these collabs — as well as her robust catalog of solo work — has made it a mission to address mental health and let her listeners know they’re never alone.
You’ve addressed mental health in collaborations like “Alive,” with Dabin and “Knowing How to Break” with Last Heroes. Can you tell us a little about what it’s like to work with another artist when you’re broaching a subject that is so deeply personal?
That was a very raw, vulnerable place to be. When Dabin first reached out to me to be in a song together, I just wasn’t in a good place in my life. He sent me a little bit of guitar, just the start of something, and it really resonated with me, and I just got on the microphone and hit record. I was terrified to send it to him because I was like, “He’s going to think I need to be put in a mental hospital.” But he completely resonated with it. It was like the universe kind of plugged us into each other.
That’s such an amazing story, and I think it’s important to note that although the song initially came from a period of darkness, it has notes of hope, as does your latest single, “How To Be Happy.”
For me, it’s really important that, yes, we acknowledge the pain, and yes, we acknowledge the struggle, but that’s never the end of the story. There’s a lot of songs that just kind of stay and dwell in the dark times, and while we do need to see that for what it is, it will always get better. You can do this, and you’re not alone. I hope that is something that comes across in my music as well.