“I don’t think of myself as a confident person at all. But I’m very good at pretending I am.”
Slowcoaches are a UK punk trio, consisting of vocalist/bassist Heather Perkins, guitarist Oliver Shortland and drummer Sean Hughes. They make bold music with a lot of social commentary and their latest single ‘Found Down’ is no exception. We chatted to Heather about the glamorisation of mental illness, the effect food has on our mood, the importance of relaxation and much more…
Your new single ‘Found Down’ is about how labels often try to glamorise the struggle of bands or artists, whether that’s mental issues, financial issues, or something else, in order to add an authenticity to their music or their character. Is this a result of personal experiences and how do you think artists should go about standing up to major labels?
I think there’s a fine line between talking about mental health more, which is a great thing, and exploiting it – using it as a gimmick or ‘story’ in a way that is not constructive or helpful to anyone. It feels like there’s a lot of like.. ‘so and so nearly DIED when they were writing this record’. Which in some cases is actually true but in many it isn’t. It feels like these sensationalised stories are sometimes an attempt to make a mundane output more interesting. They do it on X Factor and stuff too. Everyone has to have a sad story. It’s not okay to just ‘have anxiety’ or ‘suffer from depression’ – truly destructive, challenging things – it seems that these things have to be glamourised, made even more dramatic, when actually the reality is that they are boring, horrible, difficult, annoying, nasty things. They are by nature often very un-dramatic. I think artists are complicit in this too.
Your lyrics are very direct and songs such as ‘Complex’ show a lot of frustration, but also confidence. How have you managed to get to a point where you have the confidence to stand up to disrespectful men in the industry and tell them that they’re wrong? For a while did you suppress those feelings of anger?
I actually read something today that I really liked which was ‘Don’t get bitter, get better’ and that’s what I’ve been trying really hard to do lately; to channel those negative feelings and experiences into positive stuff, instead of just going on the internet and shouting about how pissed off I am. Anger turned in on itself is so destructive.
I don’t think of myself as a confident person at all. But I’m very good at pretending I am. It’s kind of a defence mechanism. And if you pretend for long enough then you start to feel more confident.
You’ve previously spoken about having DPRD (Depersonalisation Derealisation Disorder) – can you talk a little bit about what this is for those who haven’t heard of it + explain the effect that it has on you? How do you manage it?
DPRD is an anxiety disorder that is increasingly common but very under-diagnosed, mainly because it is quite hard to describe. The symptoms can vary but in basic terms, if you are going through intense or prolonged anxiety and trauma, it is a defence mechanism that your brain can trigger to try and protect you from more trauma. It is worth mentioning that it can also be triggered by smoking weed or other drugs. I’m sure everyone has heard of the phrase ‘I left my body’ when people are describing being in an accident or experiencing severe trauma. Well it is essentially that but for me, it can be triggered by stress and anxiety. The first time I got it, I felt like my whole body had gone totally numb and I couldn’t move. I looked down at my hands and they looked like someone else’s. It was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in my life. I thought I was having a stroke and I almost called myself an ambulance.
Now I’ve learned what it is, it still freaks me out, but I can manage it better. Some people feel that the world around them isn’t real, like they’re watching it from behind glass or from inside their own head. Other people, like me, describe it as a feeling that they themselves aren’t real. I’m on the board of trustees for the first UK charity for DPRD. We’re still building the website but you can go and sign up at unrealuk.org and we’ll send out some more info soon. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of DPRD, you’re not alone and you can contact a mental health support service such as Rethink, Mind or the Samaritans for crisis support. You can also go to your GP but be aware that a lot of GPs aren’t aware of the disorder yet, so it is a good idea to take some information with you!
What has been your biggest life challenge and what did you do to overcome it?
My anxiety. I’m still overcoming it.
How important has music been to your mental health?
I get asked this quite a bit and honestly I’m not sure. Sometimes it is a friend and sometimes it feels like my worst enemy. All I can say is that when I’m touring or recording or playing a show, I feel a sense of purpose that is missing a lot of the rest of the time.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
A day with no anxiety.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”
Being able to get support when you need it.
Who was your best friend at school? What was the funniest thing they did?
That’s a funny question. My best friend at school was called Sharn. He’s named after his mum’s friend Sharon… but without the ‘o’. He is still a friend of mine. He was the funny guy in school. He was like the smart, good-looking one that didn’t care at all that he was smart or good looking. In fact, he did pretty much everything to reverse that, like breaking his nose twice and never doing any work. He was always in trouble but the teachers all kind of liked him and hated him at the same time. He rode a BMX and I’d always get a ride home on the back of his bike and I’d always be secretly shitting myself. I thought he was just awesome. I would have literally followed him to the ends of the earth. The time his car burst into flames on the way home from visiting me in Leeds is a particularly strong memory. I see him maybe once a year now. He lives in a caravan in Glastonbury.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?
Write it all down.
What three songs lift your spirits?
This changes all the time but at the moment:
Happy Accidents – A Better Plan
Sigrid – High Five
Outdoor Miner – Wire (OK this one is a staple for always)
Do you have any routines that help you through stressful situations, such as right before a live performance?
I’m still working on this. When I’m extremely anxious before a show, there’s not a lot I can do that works, except hold the hell on and just go for it. Usually once we get going I can release some of that adrenaline. Sometimes I enjoy myself. Sometimes I can have a panic attack that lasts the duration of the show. Every show has a surprise in store! My pre-show routine usually involves a couple of glasses of wine.
What do you eat to stay healthy?
I’m currently on this diet, which involves me eating a high fat breakfast to reduce anxiety. It actually seems to work really well for me and is an excuse to eat a fry up every day. I drink tea but I avoid coffee as much as I can and try not to have too much sugar. I definitely notice that caffeine and sugar heighten my anxiety.
I always make sure I have lots of snacks with me too. If my blood sugar gets low, it can trigger a panic attack.
On a different note, I’ve started growing my own herbs and veg now! I have a little garden and it really helps to give me some purpose and routine. It also gives you the passing of time to see things in your life (hopefully) growing and flourishing is really satisfying.
Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?
It totally depends how I feel. Some days I feel really bad but I know I need to make myself go for a run. Other days I know I just need to stay home. Or hang out in the garden. When my anxiety was really peaking at the start of this year, one thing I did start doing a lot more was like ‘Okay let’s just see what happens if I go for a run now’. Like I felt so dreadful I got to the point where I was like ‘Okay then. Show me what you’ve got. If I collapse and die whatever ’cause it’s better than this. At least it’d be something real and not just in my head. As long as I get up again and keep going I don’t care’.
I think in doing that, I’m getting better at listening to and understanding my body and pushing myself at the right times, but also letting myself be super lazy if I need. Sometimes if I’m super anxious and don’t feel I can leave the house, I’ll try like a HIIT workout or some star jumps and 9 out of 10 times I feel better. I think the key is whatever you do, do it fully. Like if your body is telling you to do nothing all day, take a really good nap and just let yourself be super lazy. Do it properly. Don’t lay in bed kind of working, or feeling guilty. You need to let your mind repair itself. Having anxiety is like your brain (and body) running a marathon every day.
‘Found Down’, the new single from Slowcoaches, is out now: smarturl.it/founddown