World Mental Health Awareness Day is just around the corner and during these uncertain times, it has never been more important to discuss mental illness and mental health issues. FOUL BODY AUTOPSY (a.k.a Tom Reynolds) will be releasing his upcoming EP Consumed By Black Thoughts which looks at his own experiences living with mental illness. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham spoke to Tom about the new EP, mental health in general and how he has been coping during lockdown.
First off; the theme of the EP looks at your experiences with mental illness and mental health issues. Could you explain a bit more about this decision to write about this?
I think it was from wanting to show a more honest outlook because for a long time, I was writing a lot of political stuff and eventually you realise with political stuff you’re just screaming into a void and it’s makes absolutely no difference. It also seems like everyone is yelling at each other like the left are yelling at everyone, the right are yelling at everyone and there’s people like me thinking “can we not just talk?! can we all just get on?!”.
I suppose social media and the internet don’t help with this division either as it’s easier to argue online.
Yes, it just turns into these weird online wars and I’m there thinking “can we stop with this ridiculous arguing? there are more important things going on.” After a while, you realise you are just screaming into a void so I wrote something else. I wrote a couple of concept albums which were about Romero style zombie stuff and that is something I enjoy. There were some political undertones to it but it was more tongue in cheek. For example, there’s a song about Donald Trump planning to blow up America using loads of nuclear weapons to get rid of their zombie problem. It does sound like something he would do.
After that, I had done quite a few high profile gigs and it was about a year ago when I had one of the worst breakdowns. I felt it coming because when you’re in remission, you can tell when one is coming and when things are starting to slip. I usually find myself doing more compulsions because I have O.C.D. (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). For example, I find myself locking and unlocking the door ten times before I leave the house. Before I would feel I have to unlock the door to check I have turned the power off and then I would lock the door and then think I had better check the windows. It was stuff like that and it would take me twenty minutes to get out of the house.
It was right before playing Uprising with Napalm Death, about the week before I was doing a Hospital Radio Interview for the gig. I had been drinking a little bit too much at the time, which was my way of coping when I started to wobble. I had gone on an absolute binge and I woke up the next morning experiencing a complete meltdown. So, finally I got seen to by medical professionals on the same day and was put onto medication so it’s not so much of a problem now. I have been taking medication for about a year but it was about seven years before of not taking anything as I have always avoided medication. Most people do as they have this weird thing of “I’m not sure if I want to be on medication” but it was probably one of the best decisions I had ever made as the compulsions aren’t there any more. Worst case scenario, I may double check something but that’s it.
It’s interesting to hear this, I feel less alone hearing this especially checking multiple times on something. I don’t if you would agree that some people seem to think once you’re on medication or had one lot of therapy, they seem to think that it’s gone.
I mean from my personal experience, I got put onto Talopram and people warned me that I was going to hate it since Talopram doesn’t seem to work very well for people with depression even though it’s an anti-depressant. It’s mainly used for anxiety disorders. Weirdly, I didn’t have any massive side effects or anything like that, I was really lucky as I am in my late twenties and it’s very easy to get situated with medication now then it would have been when I was in my teens.
Talking of the EP Consumed By Black thoughts, at the beginning of each track there are samples of interviews with people talking about mental health. Where did find these samples and how did you go about researching these interviews?
The interviews were from the 1950s and 1960s, they were research interviews so they are from research websites for students. At the time, I was on massive waiting list to get treatment so I was doing a lot of research into OCD and anxiety disorders so I came across these interviews. There were a lot of interviews with men and women, as a man I identified more with the interviews with men. Especially with the pressures they faced as of course it was a different time.
I tagged the interviews I found useful and identified with so I could use them later and then I thought I could use a sample at the beginning of each song. So, anyone listening to the record can identify with what’s being said and it’s lots of different voices who talk about having these issues. I think it’s there to help you feel more normal as other people have dealt with this for a long time. For example in World War I, there was shell-shock and that’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The idea behind these interview samples is to help people feel more comfortable talking about these issues.
I was going to ask if you were surprised to find interviews about mental illness back then as it was different time until you mentioned the soldiers with PTSD. Mental illness did happen but it wasn’t as talked about like it is now.
I mean I think the reason the interviews with the men sat with me was because there was a lot of stigma back then and being open about those issues in that time on camera was a very brave thing to do. Since back then, all the people that did those interviews are opening themselves up to a lot of stigma. Back then, there was things like asylums where you put those people away and they’re not part of society anymore. Now, mental illness is understood and it can be treated.
When you found your interview samples for the EP, did you have in mind what ones were going to go with which song or was it a case of playing them and seeing what worked with the tracks?
It was pretty much as I found them so I found one sample that I liked, then I take that sample and drop it in. I would run through the interviews I tagged until I found one that would work with the track. So it wasn’t that thought out, it was more accidental than anything really but it worked quite well. I would then base the lyrics around the samples because I identified with these particular interview samples.
That slowly answers a question about song writing that I ask a lot of bands and artists. What is it for Foul Body Autopsy?
Normally it starts with the music, I might have lyrics kicking around for example a sentence might come up and I will write that down. For the most part, it starts with a riff or a chorus, then I will base the entire song around the same four-ish chords. For example, Phantom Of The Heart is four chords. There are three chords with moving melodies, which means it sounds busier than it actually is because it’s the basis of the song. It’s a classical technique having the same bass line, but then it also became the pop technique as well. It quite well as you can build and progress melodies on top of that.
I have noticed that these tracks are very good at representing the feelings one might experience when having a mental health breakdown, particularly in the song Liberation In Death. Am I right in thinking it looks at considering taking your own life and reaching that point?
When I wrote that song, I was having a long period of depression. With depression, you start to think about death constantly and it was thinking about that but it was more of a case of sleeping a lot that provided temporary relief. So that was what that song was about, it was about this idea of death would be a liberation from that.
Pushing into that area, I don’t advocate for suicide at all but it’s more talking about it from a matter of fact approach of what it’s actually like at the time. It’s dark and honest because when it comes to talking about mental health, people try and make it positive weirdly but it’s never been a positive thing for me. It’s not the case of a suffering artist, I can’t work if I’m not well.
You have a launch show planned for this EP.
Yes, if things go to plan. It will depend how things go because the rules are as clear as mud at the moment. At the moment, they are along the lines of “so, venues can open but we can’t perform or venues can’t open but we can perform or we can do it outside if we’re wearing tweed and carrying shotguns.” It sounds like you only meet up if there’s a card machine present.
If it turned out you can’t perform at the venue, would you do a live a stream?
Yes. I had a tour planned for this year but lockdown fucked that up royally. So I did a run of dates live from my spare room but I turned it into a live room. It was going to be a cinema but of course everything fucked that up so I thought “it’s going to be a live room now” and I did a bunch of videos from there. I have a plan A, B, C, D….I have a full alphabet of plans in case this goes wrong so I will make sure something happens on that day.
During these Covid-19 times and lockdown, I personally noticed my mental health dipping. I wasn’t sure if you have noticed that too with your mental health.
I’ve been mostly OK as I have been busy but I think it’s mainly being fed up with stuff. I’m not depressed or anxious, I am just bored and I am trying to find things to keep busy. If I’m keeping busy, I’m fine. There’s certain friends I haven’t seen since February and I really want to see specific people, I think that’s what’s bothering me at the moment.
Has there been anything that’s helped you cope with lockdown?
For me, it was working on the record and then the live stream tour was a lot of work too. If I can just keep busy and keep the ball rolling, it feels like something is at least happening. For musicians who have only just been able to get back into the rehearsal room, that must be awful for them because they had all this stuff planned but they can’t do anything.
For me, I decided to do a lot of stuff online and if it works then great. I did that Live Stream tour and added links to charity so people can donate so for example Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis and a couple of mental health charities. I didn’t have any merch at the time so I linked them to charities instead. Especially during lockdown, charities like Women’s Aid were extremely important since at the time there were women who were living with the worst person for them and they can’t leave. So they were effectively trapped with their abusers at that point.
What signs of mental health slipping would you tell people to look out for?
I find it’s easier to spot in other people so if you haven’t seen someone post online for a while and if you message them and they don’t read it, that’s when you know something isn’t quite right. Usually people go very quiet. There’s that stigma of reaching out for help because people don’t want to be a burden. You’re not a burden, you’re my friend; there’s a massive difference. So I think when people suddenly go very quiet is when you need to start worrying as they’re not venting. If you can vent, that’s a good way of getting things out.
Thank you Tom for taking time to speak to Rock Out Stand Out today and best of luck with EP release.