Mentally In Tune: Liam Holmes

As a self-described group of four extreme introverts, Brisbane based The Comfort reveal themselves most personally in their music. Their album What It Is To Be shared the experiences of vocalist and guitarist Liam Holmes in particular, whose struggles with mental illness led to him taking a plane to Peru to take part in ayahuasca ceremonies as a last resort for recovery. Learning a lot about himself as well as life as a result, What It Is To Be is the resulting creation, including difficulties, questions, and understandings from the trip and beyond.

It was because of What It Is To Be that Liam was one of the first people I thought of when I created the “Mentally In Tune” series. For those unfamiliar, the “Mentally In Tune” series is conversations with musicians about struggles and things that work for them personally when it comes to their mental health. The conversations aren’t intended to replace professional guidance, but simply aspire to make it clear that as individuals we are not alone in facing struggle, nor alone in trying to find ways to feel at peace and at home in the world.

It had taken some time for Liam and I to work out our schedules and connect with each other. It had turned out that on the day we finally connected over the phone (myself in Melbourne and Liam in Brisbane), we were both feeling somewhat off and I messaged Liam admitting I was feeling ‘a bit emo’. He said that he felt the same, so we went ahead with the chat and the conversation FLOWED from both ends in terms of getting things off our respective chests.

Unrequited Creativity

I started by sharing about the toughness I find when creating that you can work very hard but not necessarily get anything back, leaving you in a state of questioning “Is this worth it? Am I doing the right thing?”. Liam related to this for himself in the context of the album, having had the music complete for some time and having to work hard at other behind the scenes elements that weren’t flowing.

Liam: “We were just sitting there like ‘What are we doing? It shouldn’t be like this.’ When you’re not getting the validation back and you’re not putting anything out, it’s like ‘What’s the point of this idea or artistic expression when it’s just kind of sitting there?’ The more time you have to question something, you just dwell on it more and more. ‘Is this going to be good? Is this shit? Did we do the right thing?'”

Kel: “Do you find that it forces you to look at WHY you’re doing it in the first place?”

Liam: “Oh yeah yeah. So that’s kind of been a massive thought of mine for a lot of last year, and up to a month or so ago. I think we discussed in the last interview where I said that I’m one of those INFPs? Part of that is idealising everything. So from when I was 14 till now, I idealised being in a band and what that meant and things like that. Everything was up on this really high pedestal for me. So everything I got, whilst I’m so thankful for every opportunity we’ve ever received, I was always kind of like ‘Okay, I’m not where I want to be yet.’ Nothing was living up to what I’d envisioned, for ten years in my bedroom.”

My Project, My Self?

A romanticised view of the band, and observation on how it was doing, led to Liam falling into one of the worst depressions he’d ever fallen into last year. It forced him to be honest with himself, and ask some tough questions. “I had to really question, what was I getting out of being in a band? Was it truly serving me in the best way possible? If you’re in any kind of situation, be it a relationship or a job, you have to ask yourself ‘Is this more positive than it is negative? Am I enjoying this? Is it worth what I’m putting into it? Is this serving me, who I am as a person? Would I be better off giving it away because as much as I love creating, is it healthy for me?’

Liam continued “Up until very recently – I just broke up with my girlfriend of 4 years three weeks ago – and so that kind of throws another spanner in the works, so you just start questioning if you’re on the right track or if you’ve been doing the right things. You have to be like ‘Should I be spending all my time and all my effort and all my thoughts and creativity and also money to try to make this band work? Am I only sticking with it because I’ve put so much time into it and it’d be scary to leave? Or am I doing it because I really want to do it, like it’s what I’m meant to be doing’. That had been kind of tearing at me for awhile. Once you get so far into it, you kind of really have to think – how long do I keep doing it?”

Liam admits that way too much of his mental health was linked to how the band was doing. A complete direct link: “If the band was doing good, I was good. If the band was quiet, I was quiet. If the band was bad, I was bad. That just wasn’t a good way to live sustainably. It took me a long time of really thinking and working at it to figure out the answer. I’ve managed in the last couple of months, because I’ve discussed it with a lot of people; I’ve discussed it with friends and with a psychologist I see. I was like ‘I need to figure this out. It’s affecting my person on a very deep level.’ I think what I’ve managed to do lately is I’ve taken a step back from the band, but not in a ‘I’m not putting in as much effort’, I’ve just managed to unlink my emotions a tiny bit. Whereas everything I was getting in a good way was coming from the band, everything in a bad way was coming from the band, I’ve just lessened the grip a little bit. I’ve managed to pour myself into other areas of my life so I can get meaning and joy and happiness from other parts of it, and it’s not just me and the band linked.”

Lack Of Control

Unlinking his wellbeing from the state of the band gradually took the pressure off as Liam practiced being content with things going however they will. He aspired for the band to “breathe and do its own thing” and had some distance with which to make clearer decisions.

“In a band, so much is out of your control. 99% is out of your control. That’s why I think so many guys or girls in bands are pretty unhappy. It’s a very common theme. You just have to go on Twitter.. You just have no say in what you’re doing. You get to create and do your art, but outside of that, it’s just luck if you get good opportunities a lot of the time. Every band will have a story where they’re told they’re about to get this awesome tour or this awesome opportunity and it just falls through at the last minute. That’s happened to us twice this year already.”

Losing opportunities has had the impact on Liam learning not to get excited about anything at all until it’s literally happening. And because of high visibility on social media for band members, there’s limitations on how much can be vented about if it goes sour. “You can come off looking so bad. If we wanted to do a post about every bad thing that’s affected our band, it’d be ridiculous the amount of shit that we’ve had to deal with. And I’m sure it’s the same for every band. It takes awhile to learn from and you’ve kind of just got to learn to manage your emotions around things. It’s rough.”

Defenseless

The impact of needing to come across positively on social media also extends to times when the band are misjudged or when things out of their control impact their performance. Liam shared an experience on a tour where they received a negative review for a ‘disjointed’ set. Unbeknownst to the reviewer, The Comfort had had their 20-30 minute soundcheck turned into 5 minutes, and their backing tracks to link their songs weren’t working, and couldn’t be fixed in those 5 minutes. Not keen to throw blame toward the sound engineer, they didn’t respond, but were left feeling frustrated by not being able to explain. “You feel like you can never defend yourself.”

There were other shows where Liam’s space on stage was shared by two drum kits. Receiving negative comments in a review about the lack of stage movement, Liam again felt like he couldn’t explain himself. “Like if I replied to that saying ‘I just didn’t have any room to move’, it’d just look like sour grapes.”

Kel: “It must be frustrating.”

Liam: “You’re a punching bag a lot of the time. Everyone wants to have their say on social media, but if you fight back.. not that we want to fight back, we’re all calm mellow dudes, but sometimes you want to set the record straight if someone’s got the wrong idea.”

“We hate when other bands go off on twitter and talk shit about their own fans. There should be times when you just let it slide, if someone’s got the completely wrong idea and is like dragging you in a review or just fucked your year over, you just kind of feel like you want to be able to just put that out there, ‘so this isn’t how it actually happened..’ but you’ve kind of just got to take it and protect your brand a little bit so you don’t look ungrateful or whatever else.”

Being Heard

I related to the visibility and how the more people who see what I do, the more people have gone behind my back and shared things I had intended to be private. I’m learning to not say anything that I don’t want to come back at me, and having to be careful who I trust with my raw honesty.

For Liam, it’s his bandmate Dominic (Dom) Harper that he confides in. “Dom and I have this thing.. I think it’s mostly me to him. I’ll write a post and it’s mostly just venting and I’ll send it to him like ‘Can I say this?’ and he’ll be like ‘No way can you say that’ [laughs] and I won’t post that. It’s good for me that I kind of have someone that I can go to that will check my spur of the moment thoughts with.”

Most of the time we just want someone to see it, even if we know we wouldn’t necessarily post it. My husband is this for me. I shared with Liam “My husband will go ‘Have you eaten today? Have you drunk water today? Do you need a coffee? [laughs] Maybe come back to it later..’ and by the time I come back to it later, I don’t feel like sending it.”

Twenty minutes in to my call with Liam, I realised I hadn’t touched on any of the topics I’d planned (and also sent Liam prior to our chat). I circled back to the topic of how tightly linked a project can be with the self, because I do it too even though my project is in relative infancy. The concept extends beyond just a website or a band though, as Liam expressed:

“The danger is when it becomes everything to you. I think the same when people are in a relationship and their sole source of happiness is their partner. I think you can’t rely on that. Because if you have a day when that isn’t sustainable, or if they go away, or if the band isn’t doing anything, or you don’t have anything to post, or don’t have any articles to write, or whatever it is, and you have these moments where that thing for whatever reason can’t provide that to you, you’re like ‘Ah shit, what do I do now?’.

“Especially for people like you and me. For me the band is literally ME, and it’s obviously Dom and the other guys as well, for my part, it’s just me. The lyrics and the songs are my thoughts. The band is just a tangible representation of who I am, so it makes sense that if people like the band, I feel like they like me, and if they don’t like the songs, it’s like ‘Oh, they don’t like me’. It’s like everything I do, I put it into the song and that’s how I want it to be as well. I want The Comfort to represent who I am.. Yeah you’ve just got to make sure you’ve got other stuff going on, which is something I’ve been able to figure out lately. For awhile it was just way too crazy [laughs]. The link was too strong.”

Genuine Content

We talked about the ‘game’ of social media, as well as the common approach of quickfire media instead of there seeming to be room for people to create how they naturally prefer to. Liam expressed a sense of pressure about the need to comply, at least a little bit. “We probably play the game less than we should. Probably a lot less than we should because we’re not big online social media content people. But you’ve got to, otherwise people forget about you these days. It’s got to be constant content or it’s just not going to work.”

Kel: “Do you think that’s true? Because I come across that too in writing/editing. Like.. can I just be myself and spend a week with an album and that be enough? That’s an exaggeration, but there’s that game of ‘Here’s a new song in a PR email, we’d love you to write about it’ and many other publications copy and paste the press release and that’s the ‘article’ and they put that out. I refuse to play THAT game, because I’m a creative person too. I’m not just going to tick a box and that be enough of an article.. but I feel like it may be to my detriment that I’m NOT playing that game, and that my articles are these creative pieces, where it seems like everyone else around me is playing the quick game. Everyone that Google searches for that song or that artist is going to find that ‘article’ where they won’t necessarily find it on Depth. I’m frustrated that it seems like you have to play a game and surrender parts of your integrity, and I feel like I have to fight against that every day, because I don’t want to lose the quality of Depth that I really appreciate; being genuine, not doing stuff just because I think it’s going to get attention.. because that’s just the worst for me. I don’t want that fear – I don’t want fear to drive a project either. I don’t want this fear of being forgotten about to make me do anything. I think you can feel that fear in a project when you take it in.”

“You’ve got to back your original idea to the extreme” – Liam Holmes, The Comfort

Liam: “When I started this band, my main thing starting out was ‘I’m going to do whatever it is that I want to do. I’m not going to do things based on what other people are doing or anything.’ And I don’t think we ever really have done that, but yeah I always wanted to be the band that just did whatever it wanted to do. Like when we put out the first song that we’d ever released, it was a six minute song that had a three minute instrumental outro. No band would do that if they were smart. [laughs] And we probably shouldn’t have done it..”

Kel: “What makes you say that you shouldn’t have done it?”

Liam: “I don’t know. NOW I think that it’s the right decision, because it was art, but I don’t think that any other band would have been like the first song you put out is a six minute song in business terms. No one would agree to that. What I’ve learnt more recently – to go away from my original point – going from What It Is To Be until now, is that you’ve got to back your original idea to the extreme. For us, we’re an artistic band. So if we do something that goes outside of that, and it doesn’t pay off, we’re going to be doubly disappointed in ourselves. Because if we back ourselves and do what we want, and it works? Great! And if it doesn’t work? Fair enough. We did what we wanted. But if we make a decision not based on artistic merit and it backfires? Then you’re going to be like ‘Well we just cheated ourselves for nothing’.”

The First Single

Liam described how he and Dom have dreamed about how they’ve wanted their first album to be since they were teenagers. How What It Is To Be ended up being is how they wanted it to be, and he “wouldn’t change a fucking thing”. But there was a challenge when it came to releasing singles in the lead-up to the album release.

In Liam’s words, “There aren’t any obvious singles on that album”. What It Is To Be was designed to be listened to in its entirety, with each song working together to set the emotional atmosphere. Their choice of singles to release was influenced by how they thought others would react, instead of their own preferences, and Liam feels regret about that.

He explained “If I had my time again, “Heavy Heart” would be the first song that we release as a single, even though it has a two minute intro and it’s five and a half minutes long. That’s what I wanted to be the first taste of the album, and I should have pushed for it. Since I was 17, I wanted a song like “Heavy Heart” to be the first song on my debut album, and so I wrote it, and it should have been the first single to come out instead of being like ‘Oh “Dissolve”‘s like a pretty punchy song’. As much as I love every song on the album.. there’s no song I don’t like, but I should have just followed the artistic thought down to the T and not changed it because I was scared about people not liking parts of the album or whatever. Because at the end of the day, none of the singles panned out. Like, we didn’t get Triple J play outside of Josh [Merriel, of Short Fast Loud, and also co-owner of Greyscale Records] playing them.”

They picked “Die Alone”, which seemed like ‘a good Triple J kind of single’, but it didn’t get any airplay. “So when that’s the decision maker, and it doesn’t pan out, it’s like ‘Well that kind of sucks’. The thing I’ve learnt now and have discussed with Dom, it’s like ‘From now on, we’re an artistic band. We’re just going to put out what we want.’ So even if it’s not a single, I’d rather put out a song that represents us, and is the best representation of who we are, rather than hoping that someone will see something that’s a bit more easily digestible. And then maybe hopefully get into the other stuff. But if you put all of yourself out there, you’re going to get that back, and maybe the people that don’t like it – they’re not meant to like it.”

Lean In To Yourself

This tied in to Liam’s point of ‘backing yourself to the extreme’, and I wanted to talk more about this with him, knowing I’d personally benefit from doing more of it instead of looking around in comparison mode. It’s easy to constantly question if you’re doing the right things, especially when there’s a lull in engagement.

Liam shared that he had come across Gary Vee (Gary Vaynerchuk), a marketing inspirational guru, and his ideas about social media. I’d come across him too. Both Liam and I related how there were elements of his approach that were really not aligned with our typical approaches to things, but still had spent time taking in his viewpoint.

Liam: “He’s like ‘You’ve got to have hundreds of different things of content, constantly, all day, every day or it’s not going to work’. And I’m like ‘Well that’s fucked’.”

Kel: “I saw that, and was like ‘Nope, that doesn’t work for me!’ [laughs]”

Liam: “So that’s hard. But one thing that I’ve realised is that you’ve got to lean in to your self. You’ve got to lean in to what makes you YOU. I don’t have a problem putting out content that represents us. So I’m fine to put out a lot of content that’s who we are. I don’t want to put out a lot of content that’s not who we are. I’ve realised we’ve been anti-constant content. We’re not that busy on social media. Every now and then we’ll post some stuff, or every now and then we’ll post a long blubbering emotional blurb saying thank you or whatever it is. Because that’s who we are! That’s how Dom and I talk to each other, it’s how we think about everything. I’m fine putting something out if it’s about us, so that’s what I want to do a bit more of, from now on. I’m fine with content – I just don’t want to do the content that other people are doing and what other people want. So I’m fine to post ten videos within a week, if it’s who we are. I don’t want to post ten videos in a week, ten photos in a week or some bullshit that we’re doing to play the game. I want the game to lean in to who we are, if that makes sense. I’m not sure how to apply that to you though!”

“The biggest thing I’ve learnt is you’ve got to be yourself because everyone has their little part to play.” – Liam Holmes, The Comfort

Kel: “Well I see other people posting memes and I think ‘Holy shit, that got hundreds of likes and a whole bunch of shares!’ But memes are just not me. Like, I like memes. I enjoy them personally, but the world of Depth is not a meme kind of world. Depth is all like thoughtful and introspective and stuff like that and memes just don’t fit. I can’t copy someone else.”

Liam: “Oh for sure. And I think you’ve got to do who you are and do what you do. I started reading and checking Depth fairly regularly a little while ago. I think it was a Deadlights article you posted and I read it like ‘Oh cool, someone’s actually giving press to a decent band and actually looking into what’s behind it’, so I kept an eye on Depth, because ‘Oh someone’s actually giving a shit here’. And so I was interested in that because that’s who I am. I don’t want to read a copy and paste article, especially like for my own band or my friends’ bands. Bands talk about all the articles. People post them all the time. So if we get an article post, we screen shot it and send it to our chat group and we talk about it. All the time, and I’m sure other bands do that as well. So when we get one of yours, we actually talk about it. We’re really close with the She Cries Wolf guys, because Dom used to be in that band a little while ago, and we spoke about the review you did for them. You actually looked into shit.”

Kel: “I cried. [laughs] I cried when I saw Luke’s [Luke Harriss, She Cries Wolf vocalist] post appreciating the review on Facebook. I was literally having a moment of ‘Why the fuck did I spend three days reviewing an album? Does it matter? Where is this going?’. Then yeah, it was the next day that I saw that and I literally started crying. Like ‘FUCK YES IT MATTERS!’ [laughs]”

Liam: “Dom and I hung out with the other Luke [Gallows] – the drummer – on the Friday night, the day they released the album. So you put your review out a few hours before we saw Luke, and he was like ‘Yeah I was just sitting in this bar before, reading her review and I almost cried’. What you’re doing.. and I’m sure there’s going to be people out there who haven’t told you. There’ll be people out there that are connecting, but like me and whoever else, they’re introverts. They feel what you’re doing, but they don’t reach out to tell you, because that’s not who they are, unfortunately. There’s going to be those people there. I was reading Depth fairly regularly, because I check it at work because I’m on a computer all day. So I open it up and see what’s going on. But because I’m not doing that with you know.. insert other copy and paste online things. I want to read what resonates with me. So the biggest thing I’ve learnt is you’ve got to be yourself because everyone has their little part to play.”

Kel: “True!”

Liam: “What Dom and I talked about a little while ago is that we have to lean in to who we are more than ever because if we ever, for whatever reason, were struggling and we need to write some more like ‘friendly’ material that could be more mainstream appealing, we may leave behind the kids who only like who we truly are, and then we no longer provide a sense of comfort or solace for them. And then we’re letting them down by not being true to ourselves. We could appeal to a bunch of other people who already have hundreds of people to appeal to, or we could appeal to our little niche market of people who don’t get what they need from the more mainstreamy scene. I can’t think of many other people apart from you who make us excited about an article being posted. I’m not getting that from someone who’s just posted our press release that Josh wrote. I’m like ‘Cool thanks for giving us the attention’ or whatever, but I’m not affected on an emotional level that our band is when you do a review, or like She Cries Wolf is when you posted their review or something like that. While it’s kind of sad that more people don’t like that? You’ve just got to as much as you can be thankful that there is a small amount of people that you do affect in a positive way. Keep leaning in to who you are, because if you stray outside of that, you won’t affect those people anymore, and they won’t have that little pick-me-up. Because like, I’m sure there were other things that affected She Cries Wolf really well that day, but I know for a fact that your review affected them the most. If you didn’t do that, maybe they wouldn’t feel as good for the next few weeks, It’s just those little things, that unfortunately don’t always make their way to you.”

Kel: “I have to remember that. The numbers can’t be the only focus.”

Purpose (and Hurdles)

It still seemed like we weren’t strictly focused on the topics we’d intended to, even though we were having a really great (and honest) conversation. But when it comes down to it, mental health does include these things: “Am I succeeding? Am I failing? Does it matter? What’s my purpose? Who am I?”. It all comes into it.

I expressed this out loud and Liam agreed, specifically with the question of purpose. “I think you’ve nailed it there. I think what took me 25 years to realise is that.. I feel – it’s an assumption – that the cause of most peoples’ depression comes back to purpose. I think that some people aren’t as good at understanding their own emotions or understanding their thought patterns and where they originally stem from. Everyone’s different and everyone’s thought processes are different, and all the cognitive behaviours are different. It took me 25 years of being depressed to realise where it came from and I’ve realised from my sense of purpose and meaning. I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like if everyone was truly honest, that that’s where it comes from, as much as you might realise that’s where it’s from. Because like I didn’t realise that when I was 17 and depressed or 19 and depressed, or 22 and depressed. I was just depressed. Like ‘Why am I depressed?’ And it took me a long time of several different forms of trying to get healthy, like ‘Okay this is the problem’, and it took me this fucking long to figure it out.”

Relating, I knew what it was like to feel like you were just failing at functioning in a normal world for no reason, where if you were truly honest with yourself, you might hit upon things that are unfulfilling, or ways in which you’re held back. I recognised that hurdles that could prevent someone following their purpose were everywhere. “As an example,” I shared, “I’m obviously an older person in the music industry. If I’d said to myself ‘I’m too old to start a new project’, or ‘This industry’s really young, most people are in their early 20s. I don’t belong in it’, I could potentially not even be here. Not even start doing Depth. There could be all these little things that prevent people from – what was the phrase you used before? – intensely backing themselves in doing what they’re called to do and what they enjoy.”

Though he’s younger than me, Liam isn’t immune to worrying about age either. “I feel old. I’m the oldest in the band. How long do you keep going? And you see all the new bands pop up that are 20, 21, 22 and they kick out ahead of you doing what they’re doing. Like ‘Fuck, how long do you keep doing it?’. I feel weird sometimes because there’s so many kids younger than me. But at the same time, I’m glad I’m doing this band now. Because if I was doing this band when I was 20, 21, 22, it would suck. Like I’ve got my whole life’s knowledge now that I can put into this band. Like if we started at 21, we’d have three shit albums about our ex girlfriends under our belt. Like I don’t want that! We have an album about purpose and mental health and meaning and belonging under our belts, which I am proud of. If I did this any younger, it wouldn’t be the case, and I’d hate half of our music. I’m glad that I got to grow up before we did anything purposeful or it would have been wasted time, really. Or it wouldn’t have been a good representation of who you are, and then you could potentially get stuck. Because I liked pop punk a lot more when I was like 20. So then we’d have this pop punk beginning that we’d be scared to grow out of, and then you’d have to write the same album twenty times in a row.”

As something that could potentially hold you back, I shared that I felt that it just needed to be owned, saying  “Yeah I am older than these other people doing this, but I’m also bringing with me all this experience.” Having worked with emotions professionally, I couldn’t necessarily write how I write now when I was 20.

Fear

Liam: “One of the best things I’ve kind of only just recently tried to force myself into a regular pattern of thinking, is if I’m thinking about doing something related to the band, and the only reason I can find NOT to do it is related to fear.. like a fear of being judged or anything like that? Then I’m going to do it, because that’s a fucking stupid reason to not do something because of how you’re going to look.  You shouldn’t let fear make any decisions for you. Which is very hard to do, because I’ve let most of my life be governed by fear [laughs].”

Kel: “Mmm hmmm!”

Liam: “But yeah it’s a stupid reason to let it be the basis of a decision because it’s purely an internal thing. It’s an idea implanted in you by yourself that you shouldn’t do something and you shouldn’t listen to it.”

Kel: “What do you personally do with your fears when they come up?”

Liam: “I try to address them as much as I can. Something I’ve learned more than anything is that avoidance is the worse thing you can do. Because you just kind of stew on it for a long time. And part of my whole deal is trying to better myself as much as possible. So I try to be as self aware or mindful as possible. If something comes up, I’ve learned that you have to deal with it, or it’s going to be a problem for as long as you don’t deal with it. It’s always going to be there kind of nagging at you. You’ve gotta address the dark in yourself to turn it into a positive thing.”

Kel: “Absolutely.”

Liam: “One of the best lessons that I’ve learned about depression is that if you’re depressed, it means something is wrong. It’s not just because there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. That’s not the whole story.  That’s what we’ve been told for a long time, but that’s not actually how it works. Depression is a symptom of something being wrong and you have to look at what the cause of it is. That kind of helped me come out of the funk of being too attached to the band last year.

“I was like ‘Why am I so fucking depressed?’. Because my entire life revolves around this band and my entire validation system was revolving around this band and I had no form of connection to other people! And that’s what the root cause of that depression was. I wasn’t connecting with people which was a fucking massive part of life and I had no purpose or meaning of connection with people. I figured that was the cause. It wasn’t because we weren’t on a cool tour. It’s because my source of connection and meaning was taken away, and that’s a massive thing for a human being and that’s my own fault and my own doing, that I let it get to that point.

“But you have to look within yourself and realise what the problem is, because if you don’t, you’re not going to figure out what the solution is. So I took that as far as I could. I discussed it with my psychologist, I discussed it with like Dom, I’d think about it all the time. i was like ‘Okay, how do I figure this shit out.’ and it moreso just resulted in me loosening the grip on the band, and looking at some other things as forms of enjoyment. You have to look within yourself to find the solution. You can’t avoid the pain or you aren’t going to heal it. It’s like the fact of the matter. When I first realised that I was kind of depressed, and I wasn’t who I am now and I wasn’t as aware of who I am and how I think about things, I was just like ‘I’m depressed. Someone please make it stop.’ And that was kind of like what the extent of my thinking about it was. It was like ‘I’m not a bad guy but I’m depressed. I’m fucking depressed. Why is this happening? Someone please just take it away from me’. I wasn’t thinking ‘How can I fix it?’. So I went on anti-depressants for two years or so, probably five or six years ago now.”

Anti-Depressants & Ayuhuasca

Liam’s experience with anti-depressants was that they worked for a short while, and allowed for him to look to alternatives aside from just constantly feeling bad. As someone who thinks and feels deeply, his experience of ‘numbing’ that the anti-depressants offered wasn’t enough for him, and he recognised that it didn’t touch the core of his depression.

“It’s like I had a broken leg and took painkillers. You can walk for a little while, but once you get used to the painkillers, the pain keeps coming back and you’re like ‘Hang on, maybe I’m still broken’. The pain just went away, and that’s what anti-depressants were like for me.”

While recognising that anti-depressants can work well for many people, Liam wasn’t happy with how he felt while on them, and wanted to do more to actively solve the problem. That’s when he stopped taking them and went to Peru for the first time for the ayuhuasca ceremonies. “I went from taking the painkillers, and then I went and got soul surgery kind of deal. [laughs]”

Liam went to Peru wanting for his depression to be ‘taken away’, but there was more to it than that, which he soon realised. He began to understand that the problem was coming from deep within himself, and that it was up to him to figure out what the issue was and get answers for it. “That’s what ayuhuasca did for me. It doesn’t fix you, it tells you how to fix it.”

Sharing his experiences when taking ayuhuasca, Liam says “It gave me answers in the way that I wasn’t asking for. Like when I entered into the visionary state, I felt like I was in this dialogue with something, whether it was the self or whatever you want to believe, I was saying ‘Please take my depression away. Please heal my depression.’ and I was getting these things.. like a vault, like a slamming door, like ‘Nope, we’re not doing that now’. Like ‘Oh, okay, that’s why I’m here?’. But what I got from it was, it’s literally up to you, and that’s IT essentially. You’ve got to be the one to drive the change. You can’t drive around looking for an answer. You’ve literally just got to be the starting point for everything.”

Positive, Long-Term Beneficial Choices

Part of the driving of change and recovering came back to decisions for Liam. Spanning over the entire day are countless opportunities to make choices. While it’s not necessarily easy to make choices and take action upon them when you’re struggling, it’s something that Liam found extremely beneficial and something he has worked at.

“One of the main things, as fucking stupid as it sounds, is to make the positive decision at every juncture. Like if you come home from work and your two options are getting a burger from somewhere or going out for a walk or going to the gym, you’ve got to make the right decision at every turn. So like when I come home from work, do I play FIFA for five hours until I go to sleep? Or do I pull out my guitar even though I’m not feeling it, do I try to write music? So I try to rewrite my brain, or rewrite my thinking patterns to the point now, where two or three years on, I’m not having to think about it in the moment. It’s just making the right decision 99% of the time. Everything in life is just down to almost routine or pattern building. Depression is when you get locked in the negative cycle of thoughts. That’s what depression and anxiety is, you get stuck in these thought patterns that you need to break.”

I wondered out loud how Liam would determine what the ‘right’ choice was, knowing that feeling low doesn’t make it easy to find joy nor follow it. He said “A lot of the time it’s the hard decision that’s the right decision. Like you’ve gotta be 100% honest with yourself. It has to be the positive, right, long-term beneficial decision. So like what’s beneficial for me long term? Eating the chocolate bar that I’ve got in the freezer? Or going to the gym? What’s going to be better long-term? It’s going to the gym. That’s how it is. Of course, especially for someone like me that needs down time, that can’t be the majority. I got semi-addicted to playing FIFA and Playstation games, where that was like my default and that was what I’d do when I have free time..”

Kel: “Uh, me with Fortnite… [laughs]”

Liam: “I’d come home and be like ‘Oh I just really want to play FIFA’ and I’d be like four hours in and be like ‘I didn’t do anything’. I didn’t write, I wasn’t healthy.”

We talked about the difference between doing something for fun or doing it and zoning out while not getting any positive feelings from it. Liam decided to prioritise doing things that benefit him every day, instead of this zoning out.

Exercise (And Its Cascade Of Benefits)

Getting out, getting active, and joining a football/soccer team has been another important thing for Liam and getting him out of his depression. But he’s aware that people don’t necessarily like to hear this kind of thing; that it can feel dismissive to the seriousness of their experience. But the benefits seem to go beyond ‘just exercising’.

“I joined a football/soccer team, because I hadn’t played for a number of years and that was my biggest passion when I was in highschool. I dragged myself out of depression by exercising. People don’t like.. there’s a lot of blowback to that, where you see people being like ‘Oh people don’t need medication, they need to go outside’ or whatever. And that is simplifying things too much.. It’s literally been proven scientifically that exercise is as good as medication for depression. That’s a scientific fact. You can look up the research on it. Because on the surface, you’re just exercising – that’s not what it is. One, you’re bettering yourself, which was important to me. You’re improving at something. You’re getting a dopamine reward from improving and bettering yourself. Just the act of exercising releases endorphins. You become more organised and it flows into every other part of your life. You sleep better.”

Liam was finding that exercising had a cascade of effects in improving his life in many ways. And that sleeping better led to ongoing changes in his life for the better.  “There’s a scale of depression. Correcting your sleep patterns improves you on the scale as much as taking anti-depressants does. Sleep is the most underrated thing that exists. It improves you so much more than you think it would. I grew up and I’d watch bullshit shows at 2 in the morning and then get up at 6am to go to uni or whatever it was. Everyone has those periods.

“Now I go to sleep and I wake up at the same time every day. When you start exercising, you’re like ‘Oh, maybe I should look at my diet, because I want to get the most out of my exercise’. So you start eating better and don’t end up going to work and buying a $15 burrito or something. And you save money, and you’re more organised, and you’ve got all your stuff planned for the next day. It’s like that thing people say, if two people start at the same point and one person changes their direction like three degrees, and at the end that person who just changed three degrees is going to be that much further away in one direction. That’s kind of what it is. You just change one small thing, it can lead into so many other directions that you might not realise at the start.

“To me, I can’t stress enough that exercise has literally replaced being obsessed with the band for being obsessed with exercise. Dom and I discussed last night that at the end of the day it’s something positive, that there’s not really any negatives to exercising a lot other than maybe getting injured. I think exercise is the best thing that anyone can do. I love going for long 7-8km walks, because all you’re doing is breathing and moving your body and for me it’s like an active meditation. I’m clearing my head, I’m moving my body. I come back from exercise and I’m just like ‘Ahh, I’m good. That cleared everything out.'”

The Energy Of Anxiety

Liam also wanted to share something that was helping him but was a bit more ‘hippy leaning’. He’d learned that depression and anxiety were forms of energy, and that when left unattended, they could potentially consume and override you.

Using this philosophy, Liam has learnt to pour that energy into things outwardly to move it as well as benefit him; typically exercising or directing it into creative expression. He shared that he will “go for a walk for an hour or I’m going to sit down and try to write a song. You’re channelling that energy into something and you get rid of the energy by doing something with it.”

Liam acknowledges that there’s many different ways to move this energy, and people should choose what they naturally are drawn to. “Everyone can find their own way to do it. You can do whatever the hell you want to do. I started weights and football because that’s what I like doing. You can do whatever you want. Turn it into drawing or painting a picture. The energy’s just going to grow and grow and just blow you out.”

Social Anxiety

Liam also touched on the topic of social anxiety, sharing that interviews are something he struggles with, and that being in a band has demanded a stepping up into being sociable. “We’re four guys who are all very introverted, like severely so. It makes it so difficult when networking is such a big part of it and that’s something that’s stupidly scary to you. Like we have so many stupid arguments within ourselves when we have to go and talk to someone. We try to guilt the other person, like ‘I’ll do this for you if you go and ask this guy a question’ or whatever it is. It’s so stupid. It’s mostly Dom and I, and Izaac [Calrow, The Comfort’s drummer]. Marcus [Parente, The Comfort’s guitarist] is actually half decent. It’s tough and it’s strange. I’m begrudgingly half a frontman because I believe in the honesty of being myself. I’m not going to write the songs and hand them off to a frontman who’s really charasmatic to do the work on behalf of myself, because that’s not honest. I’m going to unfortunately be the one who’s going to sing the songs and talk on stage even though that’s not who I am, but who I am is sharing how I think and feel about things even if it’s uncomfortable, because it’s what’s honest. It’s like I’m begrudgingly doing a lot of things that you have to do to spread the good bits of the band.”

I know this full well for my own project, and had spoken about this with Hellions‘ Matt Gravolin also, where we had simply wanted the creative work to gain the attention and not us personally. But I’d also been pushed into visibility with situations such as the interview with Endless Heights‘ vocalist Joel Martorana being on video. I shared with Liam “The only reason why it worked for me was because I know him and we’ve had many conversations before, and secondly, I wasn’t doing it as anybody except me. It was just Joel and I sitting and having a conversation.”

Again this tied in to the ‘leaning in’ idea. Liam responded “You were talking about something real. You weren’t talking to some pop band about whatever else, you were having a real conversation. You can only be real with two people like Joel who’s thoughtful and artistic as well. That’s what going to happen. That’s what I mean, when you just lean in to who you are and it ends up working because it’s just honest. You’re not trying to put on a presenter persona or anything, you’re just doing what you do and it ends up working.”

Dom & Reassurance

Liam has leant greatly upon Dom over the many years they’ve known each other, and is grateful for the support Dom has provided him. “We’ve known each other since I was 16. He’s not just some guy I found to be in a band. We were friends before this band.”

Liam will show Dom lyrics and ask for feedback as to whether they’re ‘too messed up to say in a song’, and Dom will encourage him to be honest. “I’m so lucky I have Dom there, just to be the other half of myself so many times. Just to be like ‘No, you’re doing the right thing here’ and vice versa. Of course you have doubts about yourself all the time.”

Worsened by depression, Liam found that he struggled to trust his own mind or his thoughts for periods of times and decisions were extremely difficult. During those times he found himself checking with Dom on everything he was doing.

I related to this doubt when it came to self-perception, saying “I’m a good judge of character, and I’m good at knowing what a person is like without knowing them intimately, but with me? I’ve no idea how I’m perceived. I’ve no idea if I’m putting out what I intend to. I can be full of doubt. I don’t want to be misunderstood”.

Liam: “That’s my biggest fear. I feel so unaccepted, and so not understood by probably everyone in the industry. That may sound stupid but that’s how I feel. I’m not a frontman guy, I just like writing music, so I don’t feel like I’m part of the community really too much, which I guess is why I don’t engage much on social media. The Comfort is a little thing I hide behind a lot of the time.”

Kel: “I get that. Always feel like ‘What am I doing?’ before I go to any gig. But then when I’m there and having the conversations and a good time, I’m like ‘I love this. This is home.’ But before I go it’s all that insecurity that comes up.”

Liam: “We feel that when we go to our own gigs! [laughs] Like ‘What are we doing?’ and then sometimes on stage it’ll be like ‘This is pretty good’. We have a lot of self doubt in our band.”

Kel: “It’s like we need the future version of us to just give us a call and say ‘It will absolutely be okay’.”

Liam: “That’s the thing! I’m so self doubty in my own person, but such a positive person for other people. And I think Dom’s the same, which is why it works so well for us. We’re very similar so it’s almost like we have another version of ourselves to act on the good parts of ourselves. It’s almost like telling yourself you’re doing good by telling someone else. Which might be bad because we’re probably backing our own bad opinions about things, but yeah it works.”

Outside Opinions & Gratitude

We talked about the value of hearing from other people who are not directly involved in a project, and how it can offer perspective. Other bands provide this for Liam, in positively responding to the achievements the band have had, even if negative experiences have overshadowed the good things for The Comfort.

“That’s one of the things I’ve learned. You can’t self-regulate yourself all the time. It’s a dangerous way to be. You have to get outside opinions. Or you just have to get those internal thoughts out and sound them off something. Someone to say ‘No dude, that’s stupid. Like, you’re not doing that badly’. You need to have some external regulation sometimes. And the best people are.. I don’t really want to use the word, but.. normies. [laughs] Like I’ll hang out with my normie friends and they’ll be like ‘Dude, your music’s on Spotify? That’s sick!’ and you’re like  ‘Yeah, I guess so!’ [laughs]. Things can look very differently from the outside, which sometimes isn’t a great picture, but sometimes it does get you a better perspective and stops you from focusing on what’s wrong, and focusing on what’s right. Like ‘Oh yeah, I am being a negative person. Let’s focus on the good stuff we get to do.’ I try to remind myself a lot of what we get to do.”

Liam mused on the fact that The Comfort have been able to play music with bands they grew up listening to, and other achievements they’ve been excited to check off. It has felt tough to find gratitude for these things while ‘in the trenches doing the business stuff‘.

Gratitude is part of Liam’s self-work, instead of getting stuck on the day-to-day negativity. Growth can happen without even noticing, when a project slowly but surely succeeds. Gratitude is a pause for a moment and taking it all in instead of pushing for the next goal. As someone who often is looking at the big picture, Liam tries to actively focus on the moment he’s in, instead of looking to the past or future. At those times, he feels surprised about the opportunities that have been afforded to him.

Pressure

With our conversation coming to a close, I confided about being scared of the (really great) experience I’m having with Depth ending or disappearing. I said “I love Depth so much I’m also scared of losing it. It’s like acceptance of it going where it goes, even if that means it reaches a point of completion.”

Liam found that loosening his grip on The Comfort helped him with this, and the pressure of the band going in particular ways. It was the pressure that ‘destroyed creativity’ for Liam, and led to him not touching a guitar outside of show practice for nearly a year. It was mindfulness that had him drag himself out of the creative funk.

Around the time of the band touring with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Liam described that he felt “really free” in terms of creativity. This led to him writing ten or so songs over the space of a month, which is unusual for him. “I’m not prolific. I was just writing whatever the hell I wanted to. Just enjoying the creative process more than I ever have.”

For Liam it was important that he was able to just create without purpose or pressure. “I was so stressed with the album. Like ‘This is our fucking album, it has to be years of thinking about how the album has to be’. I didn’t compromise things but there was some internal pressure. Where now I’ll just pick up a guitar and find some chords and see what happens. It’s nice. That’s what we’re going to do for now on. Just take the pressure away.”

Ending our chat, Liam affirmed “We’re going to do what we want to do more than ever.”

[Photos of The Comfort courtesy of Rowan Donohue and Albert Lamontagne]
Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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