An Interview With Punk Talks

Sheridan Allen of PunkTalks talked with us about how she started PunkTalks, how she deals with negativity, bands who have been outspoken about mental health, and how fans, bands and venues can help create a safer scene. Thanks so much to Sheridan for taking the time to talk to us!

Hey Sheridan! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

HELLO! A bit about me: I am a 25-year-old social worker/grad student originally from northern Indiana, currently residing in the Cincinnati-area. I graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 2015 with a Bachelor’s of Social Work and a BS in Sociology.

I currently work as an investigator for child protection services and I LOVE IT. I am deeply passionate about pretty much everything, but mostly Brand New, NBC Comedies, Diet Coke, and helping people.

What made you want to start Punk Talks, and what is its overarching goal/mission?

Punk Talks has been the best quarter-life crisis ever. I was nearing my last semester of college and feeling very panicked about being an adult and having never even tried to work in music, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I grew up very isolated from any type of scene, and even now, there is not really a solid scene in my area. I felt like the members of the emo and DIY communities were MY people, I just had no idea how to break into it! I had no marketable skills relating to the music industry, so what’s a girl to do?

One morning, mid-blow dry, the light bulb in my brain turned on and I realized that I could use the one skill I DID possess—I could help musicians and industry workers by offering free therapy or mental health services to them. I was largely inspired by Modern Baseball’s meteoric rise to fame, given that most of them were all full-time college students (just like me) while they were touring all over the world. I thought “how do they do it?! I am so stressed and I just have classes!” The rest is history!

How has the reception been to your work so far?

Reception to Punk Talks has been overwhelmingly—and I mean that I am truly overwhelmed by it—positive. Bands are listening what I have to say and they are really reexamining their individual mental health. Recently, I have seen a lot more movement toward actually accessing services, which is phenomenal. I am so humbled every second by the support Punk Talks has received from musicians and fans alike.

How do you deal with negativity?

I try to live my life as a crusader for positivity, but since I am a human with emotions (and also I have a very stressful job) negativity is an inevitable part of that. The go-to method for me to organize my thoughts and emotions is to talk it out. I am very lucky to have the world’s best roommate who is willing to listen to me ramble for hours about anything that goes on in my brain. Utilizing my relationships in a supportive way has always been the most helpful for me.

A close friend used to ask me whenever I had a bad day “what are 3 good things that happened to you today?” Even on the worst days, they would not let me get out of answering, and it was an excellent reminder of the billions of things I am grateful for in this life, rather than fixating on the few things that I’m not. Also drinking a mug of hot tea and listening to Slaughter Beach, Dog has always been a fool-proof way for me to ground myself and clear my thoughts.

Since starting Punk Talks, have you noticed any shift in how the scene handles the subject of mental illness?

I have noticed a TREMENDOUS shift in how our scene has started to handle mental illness. I feel very fortunate that Punk Talks was founded around the time that a more positive shift began taking place. Even mainstream media has begun to discuss the effects that the lifestyle of a musician has on mental health, which is incredible!

We have a long way to go, of course, but I think that we as a community are making really positive strides towards eliminating the stigma associated with treatment, which (in my opinion) is our biggest issue currently.

How do you think the stigma towards mental illness can be combatted?

The stigma that exists toward mental health in our community has been of special interest to me recently. As a progressive, forward-thinking group of young people (primarily), we have absolutely no issue with discussing mental health and mental illness, in fact, we LOVE to talk about it! We are a great voice when it comes to advocating for mental health; the problem lies in the actual act of pursuing treatment.

I was recently discussing this with Evan of Pinegrove, and he wisely asserted the idea that the stigma toward mental illness has manifested itself in our community differently than elsewhere—we aren’t afraid to say “I have a problem,” but we are quick to write off the idea of getting help because we convince ourselves that “it’s not that bad” or, more detrimentally, “other people have it worse, I can handle it.”

The first step in combatting the stigma toward treatment (not necessarily mental health or illness) begins with eliminating the guilt associated with seeking help. Yes, there are far worse atrocities in the world and I am certain that there are people who “have it worse,” but does that make your trauma and your experiences any less valid? Absolutely not! Owning your struggles and seeking/accepting help is scary, but it is crucial.

Are there any people or bands within the scene that have been positive voices on these issues?

Michael Fiorentino (of Somos) decided to cancel their tour to focus on his mental health around the same time that PT was founded, and I think a lot of the open-mindedness regarding treatment is due to his courage to speak about this publicly.

Since then, we have seen many other musicians publicly discuss their mental health and even a few that have had the courage to leave a tour to focus on themselves. I have toured with Sorority Noise for just over a year now and have worked with them to spread a message about eliminating the “glamour of depression.” Cam Boucher has been a wonderful voice that has encouraged many people to discuss their struggles with mental health more openly.

Ryan McKenna (bassist for Prawn and Sorority Noise) has been absolutely crucial to the success of Punk Talks and has done so much behind the scenes to ensure that the DIY and emo communities are aware of and have access to mental health treatment. While Ryan has not been “a voice” per se, his dedication to this issue should not go unnoticed.

Modern Baseball and all its members have also been day one supporters of Punk Talks and Brendan recently addressed his own mental health publicly following a decision to cancel a tour to seek treatment, which was incredible. His experience was chronicled on their new album and documentary and is truly beautiful. Dikembe also recently released a live Pay-What-You-Want album to benefit Punk Talks and dedicated a lot of their new record to addressing this issue.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with depression?

Unfortunately, working through any type of negativity will never be an easy experience. Of course, my first piece of advice is to SEEK THERAPY! Therapy is so so so important and everyone everywhere should engage in therapy if they can.

And if they say they can’t…well…luckily I run an organization that offers it for free. Another way that can help with situational depression (not the mental illness) is to focus on gratitude. I have found that focusing on what you are grateful for in this life can turn any day around.

Do you any self-help tips or other similar advice for those who may be dealing with anxiety in their day-to-day lives?

Well, let me tell you, I am FULL of anxiety and if you know me personally, you are probably laughing because boy, I exist in a constant state of pure panic haha. When I am feeling especially overwhelmed, I use an app called “Stop. Breathe, and Think.” It is focused around the practice of mindfulness, which teaches people to focus on each moment as it happens to avoid over thinking.

The app has a “feelings log” that suggests different meditations based on your emotional state that day! How sick is that?! There are lots of soothing meditations that can help keep you grounded and focused.

I would also suggest creating a playlist with soothing songs, I have one that is my go-to for when I feel the crushing weight of existence and it helps remind me that I am significant and that everything will be okay, as it usually always is.

As you may know, a lot of our focus here at Safer Scene is on harassment and discrimination. What do you think needs to change specifically in order to help create a safer music scene for everyone?

I wish there was a magic wand that we could all wave to create a safe environment for everyone always. I think the baseline of discrimination begins with a lack of compassion. Failing to gain an understanding of people different than yourself just creates ignorance, fear, and hostility.

Alternatively, those who are a part of the minority or oppressed should also be compassionate in their teaching and discussion of their struggles. No one likes to be attacked, and if you are attempting to educate someone about an important part of your identity, you attract more flies with honey! Be nice to leave.

What role do you believe the following people should have in promoting a safer and more inclusive music scene, including for those with mental health problems?

Fans

Compassion, compassion, compassion. Patience is also key, here. I would just implore fans to really examine what they are saying to bands and industry workers. You put an IMMENSE amount of pressure on a musician when you tell them “you saved my life.” 1) No they didn’t, you saved your own life. Don’t discredit your hard work and 2) imagine if you had made a drawing for a friend and they said “that saved my life.”

After that, you would be so stressed out about making more drawings…what if the next one isn’t as helpful? What will happen if anything you create isn’t good enough for someone? Will you be responsible for the end of their life? These are the ways that we place unreasonable responsibility onto bands who, honestly, are just regular humans.

Musicians

Musicians, you have a literal platform. Use that platform to create positive change. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to seek help. You are not helping ANYONE, especially not yourself, by being too proud or stubborn to get the treatment you need. If you are struggling, avoid substance over-use or abuse on tour. Lead by example. You are expected to be a human with emotions, no one will ever judge you or feel upset that you are practicing self-care.

Venues

I’ve had the privilege to tour with Sorority Noise many times, and most recently, Tiny Moving Parts, Prawn, and Free Throw. I’ve had the opportunity to be in many venues and interact with lots of venue staff and WOW sometimes some compassion and patience could serve as a reminder of the service you are providing people with! It is so easy to get frustrated when a bunch of 20-somethings roll into your club, get drunk, and drive you crazy all night. But impatience and frustration causes bands to feel unsafe and especially causes fans to feel unsafe.

In March, I was on the last night of a tour with Citizen, Turnover, and Sorority Noise in Chicago. I went outside of the venue to my car to pay the meter, and in the 5 minutes I was gone, I was groped by a drunk man on the street. I returned to the venue visibly upset (of course) and while my friends in the bands comforted me, the venue brought me water and asked if there was anything they could do to help.

That kindness really resonated with me in that moment of vulnerability. Further, venues can work together with bands to ensure the safety of fans (similar to the Modern Baseball, Speedy Ortiz, and PWR BTTM hotlines). We are all in this together!

What are your plans for the rest of 2016?

I am quickly realizing that 2016 is half-way over, which is CRAZY. I am planning to attend both Wrecking Ball and FEST ’15 this year, but due to working full time and attending grad school full time, my touring plans are very limited.

I recently created my Dream Team of volunteers, so we are really working to expand Punk Talks and we are focusing heavily on outreach to musicians and industry workers to promote awareness. 2016 has been a wild one for PT so far, and I will say what I always say when I get asked this question…I am seeing where Punk Talks takes me.

Thanks again for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

EVERYONE IS THE BEST! FIND US ON SOCIAL MEEDZ (@punktalks)! WOOOO!

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Author: Safer Scene

Safer Scene aims to raise awareness and provide education about assault and discrimination in the alternative music scene.

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