Gravehuffer is a punk/sludge/extreme metal band from Joplin Missouri and Ritchie does their guitars and vocals. The reason I was so excited about this is the subject matter Gravehuffer writes about is incredibly varied.
There’s a song about Edward Mordrake, the man with a superfluous, some say evil, second face on the back of his head and how it tortured him, a song about the exploitation of indigenous people, and one about Buzz Aldrin ( Sights to the Sky, on which Dan Morgrain from Voivod guests) so I was sure Ritchie's opinion about mental health would be thought-provoking.
In the three or four years we’ve been acquainted, any time he's stopped to chat with me it’s been interesting. This was no different.
Me: Why do you want to talk about this? What is the purpose of bringing the topic of mental health as it relates to music forward?
Ritchie: I want to thank you for having me and appreciate you giving me your time. Firstly, I have noticed mental issues having a significant impact on not only influencing the music and lyric but also affecting the outcome of their careers as well.
Me: Which outcomes do you mean? How do you suppose we could maybe change the outcomes?
Ritchie: The unfortunate outcomes can be anything from giving up on music to suicide. The arts tend to be somewhat of an individualistic field, so there’s not a lot of help offered to artists of any kind. We’re pretty much left to our own devices and that can be a very difficult path if not prepared for it. Coping skills being taught, anger management classes, how to handle addictions, money, and just basic life skills that maybe you weren’t aware of.
Me: I think those are good points. Two particularly caught my ear. Anger is just sadness or fear with boots on. People will be afraid of you if you lash out in anger. But people might ridicule someone who deals with these feelings by crying. You also touched on life skills. There are no longer as many opportunities to learn self-care skills like balancing a checkbook or how to sew a button in public schools. Lots of people didn't learn that because there was no one to teach them. What would you want to see done about these problems?
Ritchie: I remember learning to balance a checkbook and to sew, cook, bake, all that stuff. I feel like as a society we’re a little too hung up on academia and not really much of anything about basic life skills. I’m pretty sure the thought process is that parents should teach their children these things and not the education system. What about the kids who are in dysfunctional households? Maybe they are being raised by grandparents, or in the foster care system. I work at a university mailroom, and I’ve only seen a handful of students properly address an envelope. They usually have to ask me how to do it. Who’s failing these kids? There needs to be a better balance of academics and social skills being taught. We also need to do our part as parents, teachers, or just caring people in general.
Me: The cost of living is part of this too. Lots of good parents are working as many hours as they can because they are good parents and are scrambling to have enough. And so, things like how to write a resume and things like that are less important than some other life skills. I agree with you that emotional intelligence is needed to be taught too. Do you think what we should do to promote mental illness is preventative? What else?
Ritchie: Exactly! Very good point. It’s difficult to be a provider and a teacher in such a short amount of time. Preventative is definitely the most obvious choice for pretty much any health-related issues that could arise. That’s not always possible, so sometimes there needs to be more outreach and education available to the public. I took an anger management course about twenty years ago, and my therapist said that he thought that it should be a required class for people general. It was definitely more about proper life and coping skills than managing anger. Mental health seems to be more of a specialist field, when it should be something that any health professional should be educated about as well as sentimental.
Me: We’ve been talking about the environment, how someone is nurtured. Do you think that’s the most important factor?
Ritchie: Ultimately I really think it is. It can be changed if you are raised in an unhealthy environment, opposes definitely proven that it’s more difficult to learn something new the older you get. The opposite can happen of course, but it’s easier to revert to a previous behavior than learn a completely new one. Myself, I was raised in a pretty good environment. I think a big part of my issues is a much more recent onsets. Almost all of the anxiety and depression I’m having lately is fairly new to me, so I’m having to learn coping mechanisms that I was never taught. Part of it may be the classic ‘midlife crisis’ and I do know some of it is PTSD from being trapped in a house during a tornado with my wife and four children. Life has not been the same for us since.
Me: How does this relate to music? How can that environment be improved to help people stay healthy?
Ritchie: Music tends to be the outlet for a lot of people that don’t have the proper coping skills to handle anything, life throws at them. It can produce very powerful art, but it can also come with a price to pay, by not properly channeling that emotion. It can lead to unhealthy relationships with band members, significant others, or even other people in the music business who you rely on to help further your career. With the proper coping skills being learned before getting into music, you are better equipped to handle the challenges that you may face.
Me: What do you recommend to keep from keeping things healthy between band members?
Ritchie: From personal experience, communication is definitely the most important thing. Misunderstandings can cause so many problems. It’s very important in the creative process to know where everyone stands. Otherwise, resentment can build up if you don’t communicate your thoughts to the rest of the band. Tact is very important too. Sometimes people are in completely different moods from each other, so it’s a safe bet to not come out all guns blazing or joking around at an inappropriate moment. Respect each other’s thoughts as well. Be constructive with your criticism too.
Me: I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for hanging out to talk about it, Dude. I hope the conversation continues with anyone who spent the time reading this.
Check these guys out! You can find Gravehuffer here: https://www.instagram.com/gravehuffer/ https://twitter.com/Gravehuffer gravehuffer.bandcamp.com