Anthony LaMarca on serious illness, managing worry and the life affirming quality of dogs.
Anthony LaMarca, acclaimed songwriter, also known for his role as guitarist in The War On Drugs released his latest album PETRA this week, under moniker ‘The Building’ chronicling a man forced by fate, to confront life’s hardest truths.
Can you tell us about the challenge of being diagnosed with such a serious illness?
Being diagnosed with multiple myeloma at 28 was such a huge shock and such a big unknown.
That was the real challenge; learning that life is all unknowns and nothing is guaranteed.
The thing is not letting those feelings turn into bitterness and anger.
Not that you can’t be mad or disappointed, but we need to deal with those feelings in a healthy way.
Finding out I had cancer in my 20s, immediately fear sets in.
Primarily for me, fear of death.
At a certain point though, I had to face the reality that everybody dies, and nobody knows when.
Tomorrow is not a guarantee for anyone, no matter how healthy they are.
I’m not saying I have fully overcome that fear, but I have found great reward in focusing on the present moment only (as much as possible…it’s hard!).
What do you think helps your mental health?
One of the biggest things is my dog. I’ve never had a dog until four years ago. She’s the best.
Her happiness in a lot of ways depends on me and my wife being able to provide for her.
So, almost everyday starts with a long walk in the park.
That routine is something that our dog thrives on, and it also is a really wonderful way to start a day.
Being outside, seeing the seasons change, seeing how the plants grow…it really is healing.
Being there makes my dog happy and she in turn gives us love and affection, which makes us want to give her love by keeping up this routine..
I truly believe that if every world leader had to start their day with an hour long walk in the woods with a dog, we’d all be much better off.
I also run. Exercise and diet are kind of obvious things that help anyone feel good, regardless of mental health.
Also, making time for things that you enjoy.
There’s so much pressure to always be busy, but it’s also really important to take some time for you.
Not doing all of those things!
I find that I always feel better with tasks.
Even stupid little things, like going grocery shopping, or mailing something.
Just having little things to get done.
When I feel like I’m not doing anything is usually when I get down.
Worrying about the future, even just anxiety before going on tour.
Sometimes I’ll worry about stuff like, where am I going to eat?
What if I get sick? Also not talking to anyone about my worries.
What role does creativity play in your wellbeing?
My creativity is a massive part of my wellbeing. Having to write and think about these things and share them publicly is in a way therapy for me. I have to be open and honest and real or else you feel like a phony up there on stage.
Being creative, whether it’s in the studio, live, or visually gives a sense of worth. (Which can be a little dangerous, because when those things fail or go away…there goes your sense of self worth!)
It also gives a sense of accomplishment.
A lot of musical creativity is collaborating with people, which I think is also a really positive, healthy thing.
What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment?
I just finished reading John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley’.
Him and Richard Brautigan are my favourite authors.
I also just read a couple of books by Fred Rogers. What a beautiful spirit he was.
My favorite newer album is Adrianne Lenker’s ‘abysskiss’.
The new Angel Olsen album is awesome.
I’ve also been digging back into John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’.
I don’t regularly watch TV or movies, although I do love Jerry Seinfeld’s show ‘Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee’.
I feel like there is a really close connection between comedians talking about doing standup and musicians talking about touring.
What is your go to music if you need a boost?
I guess that changes with my mood. But if I’m looking for a genuine boost? AC/DC ‘Powerage’.
What are your favourite foods?
All…all food. I love to cook and I’m always hungry.
Being Italian-American, pasta has to be my all time favourite though. Homemade cavatelli. There’s really nothing better.
Coffee…I love coffee a lot. On my last album, ‘Reconciliation’, I wrote on the back cover a bit about how comforting food can be. I feel like nothing can make you feel more at home quicker than familiar food.
My grandma is 96 and she and I love to cook together and talk about what we’ve been making on the phone.
She really helped give me that love of cooking and taking care with what you eat and what you feed to those you love.
Do you like to exercise or meditate at all?
I mentioned that I run earlier. That’s really the only exercise I do.
I like to ride my bike, but I don’t do it often enough to count.
But I try to run every other day, just a few miles at a time.
Especially on tour. I don’t meditate, but I’d count my time walking in the woods with my dog as meditation.
It’s quiet time that I can just think and not be distracted by the day.
I leave my phone in the car and just have that time to myself.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received in regards to your mental wellbeing?
My wife has really taken the lead in my family in terms of her addressing and dealing with her own mental health.
She talks openly about it and tries to show people that it’s not this thing that can’t be talked about.
The same way that if you had a cut on your forehead that was bleeding, you probably wouldn’t deny that there was a cut on your head.
I’ve never been diagnosed with any cardiovascular issues, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still go for a run.
How have you changed since 15, and what advice would you give to that person?
Wow. I hope I’ve changed completely since I was 15! First bit of advice to 15 year old me…change your wardrobe!
Looking back at so many stages of my life, it’s embarrassing to think how much I thought I had it “figured out”.
I guess that embarrassment is a sign of growth? Hopefully? I guess I’d tell my younger self that you should always assume that you might be wrong. And that you always can use help or advise.