If Rae Spoon had only written Mental Health as a record of personal trauma, it would still be a bold, frank, and at times gorgeous document of the ways the mind can play tricks on itself.
In songs such as “There’s No End” and “Again + Again + Again”, Spoon stares down the abyss and walks away alive, celebrating that survival with a wonderfully vital blend of electronic beats, rock-band dynamics, and uplifting brass. But while the nonbinary musician readily admits that most of their 10th full-length draws on their own experience, they’ve found a way of making it a gift for all of us who, from time to time, feel the gravitational pull of the void.
“A lot of it is autobiographical, but it’s also coming out of a few years of losing people to suicide and things like that,” Spoon explains. “Also, belonging to the transgender, nonbinary, LGBTQ community, the amount of oppression people experience, I think, contributes to having higher amounts of stress and mental-health things going on sometimes. So I sort of felt that with that happening in my community, addressing it was really powerful for me. Like in the song ‘Again + Again’, I’m thinking of people who didn’t reach out, or who didn’t have the resources, and it’s very close to my heart, that issue. And also I wanted to not create something that tells people what to think, but more a space where I talk about what I’ve lived through, what I’m experiencing, and what I’m hopeful about—and I’m hoping other people can kind of find space for their own stories in it.”
The darkness is real, Spoon continues, but so is the antidote.
“It took me a long time to understand what the opposite of the void was—or, like, the opposite of alcoholism or the painkillers that I’ve used or other folks have used,” the singer and multi-instrumentalist explains from their Victoria home. “It’s actually human connection, I think—which is probably the hardest thing to find when you’re looking at the void. It’s the last thing I’d think of seeking out, but it is actually the opposite of being lonely or in pain. So, yeah, working through stuff like that for myself led to some peace.”
Spoon encourages others who might be in distress to seek help—from friends, from medical professionals, from suicide hotlines—but doesn’t downplay the pain, or the struggle, or the fact that despair can lead to the kind of paralysis that makes reaching out all but impossible.
“I think there’s a lot of discussion of mental health in public and in the media—a lot of discussion about getting help,” they allow. “Which is really good and important, but I haven’t heard as much talk about living with mental-health issues, you know, and the fact that there is no end. It’s sort of like talking about having a ‘caring culture’, and people think a caring culture is when someone goes and gets treated and then it’s over. Which is actually not true about most mental-health issues. They’re something that is a lifelong issue for most people. So finding ways to survive, that’s kind of what I’m trying to go for.”
The new record, they add, is largely “about the cyclical nature of life. There’s always going to be times that are lower and more difficult, but even if it’s very difficult, quite frequently there are some different spaces of beauty or rest, hopefully, in between all of those things that are difficult.”
Spoon notes that they feel privileged to be a musician—a member of a profession that, despite an increasingly challenging business environment, regularly trades in both human connection and moments of beauty. “I feel lucky that I found my people,” they note, and some of those people contribute materially to Mental Health, which boasts performances from Victoria songwriter Northcote, Gabriola Island trumpet player Tina Jones, and Vancouver-based singer Becky Black, from the Pack AD. Others will turn out for Spoon’s upcoming CD–release party, which will also be a showcase for the artists on their Coax Records label, including Kimmortal and LAL.
“It’s really great to get to kind of mentor other artists, or help other artists get their ducks in a row—and it does help me create community for artists,” Spoon says of their venture into label management. “We’re getting lonelier and lonelier, because a lot of people just make their records and put them up on Spotify and don’t talk to anyone. So it’s an attempt to make space where sometimes there isn’t so much space for people.”
Once again, connection is all.
Rae Spoon hosts a CD–release party for Mental Health at the Fox Cabaret on August 14.