Many musicians provide fans with a form of therapy, but for Silent Planet frontman Garrett Russell, his offstage background gives him a unique perspective. The vocalist, who lives with bipolar depression and anxiety, has a master's degree in psychology and field experience as a mental health therapist.
Although he isn't officially working as a therapist right now, he is using the skills he's developed from the platform that his progressive metalcore group provides. Its latest album, When the End Began, includes the single "Visible Unseen," which discusses the topic of homelessness among LGBTQ youths, and Russell says, "On tour, we've met people isolated by bigotry, marred by addiction, scarred by loss — these songs are for them and anyone else grappling with these situations."
For our continuing "Songs for Black Days" series, presented in partnership with Hope for the Day, we asked Russell to share some of the music that has helped him through dark times. Below is what he offered up.
This song brings me back to being 18, a freshman in college, having just moved to Los Angeles. A couple days prior to discovering this song, I had broken my foot playing rugby, leaving me immobilized and unable to skate the single-mile gap between the dormitories and my college classes. I'll never forget the way I felt in that moment ... stupid, weak and generally ashamed of the fact that I was just another college kid with no idea of why I was a college kid. I remember my iPod mini was shuffling (it was 2008) [laughs], and this song came on — one I would previously skip through. The music builds up and Aaron Weiss yells, "God is love and love is real and the dead are dancing with the dead." I didn't really know what it all meant at the time, but it made me believe I was supposed to be exactly where I was. It was in that moment that I decided I wanted to write. If I can ever write anything that simultaneously confuses and inspires someone, this is all worth it.
Fast forward one year, and I'm sitting in a Del Taco parking lot with my friend, Nathan. This song is 13 minutes of emotion, instrumental build-up and then the longest thematic denouement I had encountered in music. This song helped teach me that it's OK not to have the answers and to leave the listener in an ambiguous emotional place. For me, living with bipolar depression, I've learned to find comfort in the unknown.
I'll never forget my brother blasting this song in the back of his little cylinder, RSX. Our playlist was mostly metal and rap ... soundtracks muddied by souped-up subwoofers that fueled our small town, testosterone-angst. But then this one would come up, and I found something so genuine in Ben Gibbard's storytelling. This song, as it vacillates between raw, aggressive washed out guitars and cymbal crashes, all the way down to a quiet piano reprise — has been a source of calm for me in many moments where fear threatened to capsize my mind especially when feeling susceptible to anxiety on tour.
For those of you who are actually reading this, you'll notice that a lot of my most meaningful songs are predictably sad indie-rock tracks. This one isn't. Honestly, I have no idea what the lyrics are about — I think some sort of intergalactic invasion — but the way this band makes use of ambience and builds the momentum all within a prog-death-metal track ... this really helped me to understand how heavy music and meaningful storytelling dynamics could be combined. I remember listening to this song and knowing that anything is possible.
My high school girlfriend actually burned me a mix CD with this track when I was like 15. (I wonder if current 15-year-olds would even know what I'm talking about.) This track has sort of acted as a personal litmus test for my soul: If I can listen to it and visualize some remote coastal inlet, that probably means I'm alright. Sometimes, however, I've listened to this and really felt nothing and that's usually a sign that I'm in a bad place — even if I've convinced myself I'm fine — and try to do something about it.
Oceana was sorta a "screamo" band that put out two solid albums, and then went through a dramatic sound change, putting out the four-song Cleanhead EP before changing their name (and sound once more) to Polyenso. If you like live rock music, I couldn't recommend this enough. This resonated with my entire band when it released in 2010, and it really has the fingerprints of their producer, Matt Goldman. This particularly just has a raw honesty, mixed with push and pull of a purposeful full-band dynamic that continues to inspire me. When I'm in a dark place, I can listen to something like this and really feel the hope of live music just sorta come through.
I'm a little sad that this is the only hip-hop track on here, because hip-hop has probably informed my taste and musical approach more than any other genre. I guess the majority of hip-hop hasn't quite registered for me in the "emotional" headspace, with Talib/Mos Def, Common and the Roots being obvious exceptions. The level of lyrical descriptiveness, mixed with the somber beat, it's a combination you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. When I was a teenager, I spent some time living Tenderloin district for a few weeks, just volunteering at soup kitchens and walking around San Francisco. As I passed between the borders of poverty and privilege, generally separated by a single sidewalk or billboard, I recall listening to this song, trying to figure out exactly how this can all be happening in the same microcosm of city.
It's clear that I'm a sucker for lyrics. It's pretty much my only artistic skill I've developed at this stage of my life. This is a track that is well-written, using descriptors that carefully place you in the hell of war. I've been able to listen to this song and zoom out in a way that makes more and less sense of why humans each other kill for political reasons. The lessons I learned from this song informed my writing of "Panic Room" as it continues to help me find a purpose in our very nihilistic culture.
I have this memory that sometimes recycles as a dream/nightmare. I was 17, competing for Shasta High in the coveted "River Ball" high school basketball game against our cross-town rivals, Enterprise High. It was the main event that Friday night in my small, homogenous town. And I'll never forget, in the middle of all the competitive chaos, this little xylophone melody lead in, followed by singer Aaron Marsh repeated asking, "Where's my head?" I was dissociating, and coming to a real meta-epiphany, leading to the only time I ever asked a coach to take me out of the game. All at once, I felt guilty for losing my focus, and peaceful in knowing that this whole sports thing was ultimately, meaningless to me. I think we lost the game — but I'm pretty sure we beat them in the subsequent rematch.
Full Disclosure: This is the only artist I'm listing who I know well enough to consider an acquaintance or hopefully friend? You'll have to ask Bri. So I could be biased, but this song gutted me pretty hard when I first heard it live. Now, anytime we are near enough to wherever Bri might be living/touring, I always want her solo project, Many Rooms, to be part of our shows. As a person of faith, I'm pretty challenged with her questions that explore God and gender and other cultural/spiritual constructs in her life. If you like acoustic music, I heavily recommend this.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of resources.