Talking Heads is a new series in collaboration with DreaminIsFree where we talk to local bands from the north about mental health and coping with life in lockdown.

The music industry has been propelled into a state of limbo as live music in its raw form has been stripped for the foreseeable future. Live performances are not only a leading source of income but a way of life for many musicians; having so much uncertainty placed on both a passion and career naturally has an effect on mental health.

In our first discussion we chat with Sophie Scott, the magnetic vocalist from Sophie and the Giants who have gone from strength-to-strength since 2017, particularly in their adopted hometown of Sheffield.

We chat to Sophie about lockdown pressures, live streams and the love received from their latest single ‘Hynotized’ with Purple Disco Machine.

The VLM: We’ve just had Mental Health Awareness Week 2020. Do you think that it is important to share our experiences with mental health, and if so, why?

Sophie: Yes absolutely. It’s imperative that we share our stories and experiences to let people know that they’re not alone and they’re not abnormal to experience these feelings. Most of the population have their own individual struggles and experiences with mental health, we’re all human and we have complex lives and our mind affects us in crazy ways that we don’t always totally understand.

We might not have exactly the same experiences, but I think a great place to start helping people is to show them they don’t have to isolate themselves and deal with it all by themselves. Support is how we all thrive and get better; having people say you got this and you are not alone.

When you look back at the times you have had challenges with your mental health what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

How important it is to be kind to yourself. You can’t always control the things that happen around you, but you need to take control of how you treat you, look after your body and empower yourself. Look at yourself with love and respect and it’ll become more difficult for the outside world to take that away from you.

When you overcome things that may have taken over a large portion of your time, you can’t feel guilty for it looking back but instead focus on how much you have grown getting through that time.

Lockdown and COVID-19 are naturally having an impact on people’s well being. People may be facing mental health challenges for the first time – what has been helping you to cope during this period?

Music, staying creative as much as possible, and cleaning helps a lot. It may be exhausting to think about but I’ve managed to sort out a lot of things that I never thought I would get the time to sort out. It’s a big weight off my shoulders and you can do it all while listening to music and have a little dance while you’re at it to get your endorphins going. Also try doing something new you’ve always wanted to do, you might acquire a new skill that helps positively impact your mental health.

16-24 year olds are less likely than any other age group to seek help with mental health issues. What message do you have for any younger fans?

The scariest thing is that a lot of people don’t even know they’re suffering from mental health issues and probably just think there’s something wrong with them, because of the lack of information we’re given on mental health growing up it’s not surprising.

I was depressed and suffered from awful anxiety for over a year when I was 19 or 20 and for most of it, I thought maybe I was sick, because I was so tired all the time and my head and eyes felt foggy. I would get really dizzy and faint, I couldn’t function the way I usually did at all, that in turn caused massive amounts of paranoia, panic attacks and lack of food and sleep.

When I think about that time it’s just a big blur, I went to the doctors, had blood tests and all sorts but nothing was physically wrong with me. Because I have a strong character, I really felt like whatever was up, I had to deal with it by myself and I just didn’t talk to anyone about the extent of it ever – until it became way too much and by that point I didn’t really want to even exist if that was what it felt like to exist. I couldn’t remember ever feeling positive about anything and I felt so guilty about that. It felt like there was no way out and I lost a lot of awareness. So eventually I opened up to my sister and also found out through my mum that both of them had experienced similar things around that age and that I wasn’t by myself and no I wasn’t sick, I just needed help and needed to know it can get better. After that confirmation from them, only then was I able to start progressing, just knowing what it is makes dealing with it easier.

There’s so much strength that comes with opening up about being scared and that relief you feel when you suddenly don’t have to carry this crap on your shoulders all by yourself anymore is so rewarding, you can actually start to feel hopeful about it. So talk to each other and let people know they can talk to you. If you hear about people suffering with mental illness, don’t look down at it, do you research and help people, no matter who you are, it can affect you.

There seems to be a big pressure on people to use lockdown as a period of productivity. Have you felt this pressure?

I really think social media makes us feel like everyone is doing everything and you’re doing nothing in comparison, but you only ever see a small portion of people’s days. You need to make sure you don’t have that outlook on it, social media is a great place to share information but it can become too much and makes us feel awful sometimes.

We shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on ourselves, do what feels rewarding to you, and part of feeling good requires having that self-care, knowing when you need to have a break. If you feel tired and emotional for no real reason, your body is probably telling you, you need a break, so listen to it.

If you’re feeling anxious, a lot of that comes from the gut so maybe focus on making nice food and eating more frequently if you’re not already. There are also ways to be productive without draining yourself like making playlists, discovering new music, drawing, you can still learn and experience a lot from watching films or documentaries and reading or listening to podcasts.

Never Caught Sleeping: Sophie and the Giants | Picture: Brianna Hebber

Have you been able to strike a balance between this and having some time to yourself?

This week has definitely started to feel better, the first few weeks I was trying way too hard to do too much and eventually one week nothing had changed but I just wanted to cry constantly and couldn’t move from the sofa. I was having really negative thoughts, but I realised that was my body saying, chill out, you need a break.

I think lockdown for me has definitely become more about getting in touch with my body and learning how to balance being hard working and relaxing without guilt, which I’ve always struggled with.

We’ve seen the band have been able to do live streams. With the loss of touring has this helped in any way to connect you with the fans in the way that live playing does?

Yeah definitely. I mean nothing compares to seeing your fans face-to-face and hanging out with them at a show and having like an actual relationship with them as human beings, but it’s been great that we still get to perform and there’s still a level of communication kept.

I do really miss the atmosphere a lot and being able to see people’s expressions. It’s hard but definitely not all bad. We have a great time putting on live streams.

What have you been listening to during lock down to keep your spirits up?

Amyl and the Sniffers, they help me stay happy, and she’s a bad-ass. I release all my tension when I’m shouting along to their tunes. Blondie too, always helps me.

‘Hypnotized’ has hit one million streams now – that must have been one of the high moments for you these last few weeks?

It’s been so incredible seeing the reaction to it. I think it’s a really uplifting song so I’m really glad it came out when it did and that it’s helped people in this time more than anything.

We can tell from your socials that you have been working on some new stuff.  Can you reveal anything?

Yes we have been working very hard on our next few releases and future releases. When they finally drop into the world, it’s gonna be an incredible feeling, but unfortunately I can’t give any dates or anything just yet. I can tell you it’s very soon though and I reckon it’ll be worth the wait. This is the most excited I’ve ever felt about releasing music, it’s gonna be really special.

Have you learned anything new that you didn’t do before lockdown? 

Mostly just learning to relax. But I’ve become a better writer I think too, and I’ve just been absorbing so much art. I feel like I’m seeing art a lot more in everything.

When all this is over how are you going to celebrate?

Go to the pub with my band mates and have a pint! Then go on tour…

Finally who are you going to see first when this is all over?

I hope I can see my family, I miss them so much! (and Chris our drummer who we haven’t seen since the start of Lockdown)

You can stream Sophie and the Giants’ latest single ‘Hynotized‘ with Purple Disco Machine now and watch the discussion on mental health with Sophie and Debbie from DreaminIsFree below.

You can find a list of mental health helplines here and The Samaritans phoneline is open 24 hours a day on 116 123. 

About The Author

Debbie Cannon

Music nut from Greater Manchester with an insatiable appetite for new music. Generally found at gigs in and around the north west. Three favourite bands: Sophie and the Giants, False Heads, and The Howl & The Hum

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