INTERVIEW / How American Standards dealt with mental health, depression & suicide

Mental health is still a topic some find hard to talk about. We speak to Brandon about the suicide of the bands founding member.
posted 31 August 2018 12:03pm updated 02 September 2018 14:03pm
Mental health is becoming an ever prominent issue amongst musicians, and the general public. It's been a taboo subject for far too long and more people need to know that they’re not alone and that they have people to talk to.

More importantly, people need to understand that suffering from depression or anxiety doesn’t make you any less of a person, you haven’t failed anyone, and people do still care about you.

Depression and anxiety are two of the biggest issues many adults face in their day to day life and unfortunately, it can too often lead to a person taking their own life, which is what happened to Arizona Hardcore band, American Standards.

Their founding guitarist took his own life due to mental illness, leaving the world and people close to him with just a tweet:

I'm so very, very sorry. I love you all….I hope the music and writing I made lasts. I hope it saves someone. - Cody

We caught up with singer Brandon Kellum to talk about the events that took place, how the band coped with the loss of their founding guitarist, and how this has shaped their new material.

WEEP is the latest single from American Standards and they will be donating proceeds to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.

Hi Brandon, thanks for talking to us, can you tell us where the band was when they discovered their founding member, Cody, had passed away?

A: Brandon Kellum (Vocalist): I was driving at the time. A mutual friend sent me a message saying that Cody had taken his life and my initial reaction was that it was some sort of sick joke. He reaffirmed that it wasn’t and asked that I tell the guys. Corey (guitarist) and Cody were always close, even after he had left the band. Steve (bassist) was also once his roommate. I think we were all in disbelief.

Sad, obviously but also for some reason mad. It’s a weird thing and hard to put into words how it feels to think back on it. I just remember the gravity of it all hitting me at random times throughout the following weeks and months. The thoughts of things we could have said or done. About how things could have played out differently.

Q: Did any of the band know about the struggles Cody faced?

A: I think we all knew that Cody was constantly torn between ups and downs. He was either the most magnetic person in the room or he would completely seclude himself from everyone.

He was passionate about everything he did and if there was something he didn’t like, he’d let you know about it. I feel that’s what made the band fun and exciting early on. We would constantly clash on ideas and it would be a matter of challenging each other to create something completely independent of what we both initially had in mind. Although he was stubborn, it always seemed to work out in the end.

All that being said, he struggled with anxiety and depression. He didn’t keep it a secret but I also don’t think anyone thought it would come to this. He wasn’t the loner with nothing going for him that it seems like some may paint those with. He was constantly surrounded by friends and community that loved him for not only his art but who he was as a person.

Q: What was the original direction of the album you were recording at the time?

A: We started writing for what was to become Anti-Melody in 2015. During this time things were starting to take shape for the 2016 presidential election and there was a very palatable divide growing in our society. I never see it as our place to shove our morals or ideals down anyone’s throat but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that we do aspire to make people aware of the issues and encourage those to think critically about their beliefs.

I see it as a balancing act of creating art that is accessible but also having something to dig into for those with a thirst too. To me, it’s almost like an episode of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror in which there's an obvious entertainment value but also clear and often satirical social commentary just below the surface.

Q: Brandon, you also, unfortunately, lost your Father to cancer a few months after losing a founding member of the band, how did this affect you as a person and as a musician?

A: Yeah, 2015 was really a one, two punch for me. My father was diagnosed with cancer later in the year and it took him in a matter of weeks. It was definitely unexpected and was once again a reminder of how fragile life is.

Nothing is promised. More than anything my dad taught me to stand up for what’s right and to persevere through struggle. That in every situation, the one thing you have control over is how you react to it and how you move forward.

Q: Why did you decide to re-write most of this record? (And how did it affect the direction)

A: With everything that happened with Cody and then my father, it just didn’t feel right to us to not use the record as an outlet for what we were going through. The challenge was somehow bridging the two directions that the album seemed to be going in. It was even harder to then write something so personal and do so in a way that wasn’t as hidden in metaphor.

Q: Did you see a significant change in the band's behavior or outlook when in the studio?

A: It’s hard to say. There were so many things going on at the time and also so many things that were different about the recording process. We had new members, we were recording out of state and we were taking the music in a different direction. I think we were just so caught up in it all.

Q: How did the band cope with the loss of Cody?

A: I can say that for me personally, I’ve always been more of a tactical person when something happens in my life- almost to my detriment. I immediately go into “solve mode” and when that doesn’t apply, I just bury myself in my work. So I kept busy and tried to keep my mind off of it. That only works for so long though.

Q: Talk us through the inspiration for WEEP?

A: After we released Anti-Melody we were getting some of the best show offers and press coverage that we’ve ever had as a band. Through it all though there was this constant reminder of everything that we went through the prior year.

Corey was also going through a pretty rough breakup in a time where I’m sure it felt like he needed the most support. So it was this dichotomy of putting something out that we were really proud of and wanting to celebrate it but also that same thing serving as a reminder of the darkness that it came from.

WEEP is the first time where Corey and I worked so closely together on the vocals and lyrics. We really wanted to capture that idea of how the heaviness from your past can creep in and hit you even in the best of times and how it can feel like a constant battle to keep those thoughts at bay.

For recording, we chose a local studio called ‘Earth Says’ and we really wanted the sound to be a return to form in terms of what I felt made early American Standards sound so raw and intense. It was our goal to tap into that and kind of reimagine it with now almost 8 years of perspective as a band.

Q: What’s the story behind the video for WEEP

A: It was actually a lot of fun recording the video for WEEP and a little different than previous videos. The University Of Arizona has a film program that Mitch’s (Drummer) sister is in and as a final project, they got to pick a band to shoot a music video for.

We spent some time talking through the meaning of the song and some visuals then as a group took a DIY approach to making it all happen. So everything from the locations to the lighting was something we had our hands in.

Q: Can you tell us about the next record, what can we expect?

A: We’re writing now more than ever and I really hope the result will be something that continues to push the dynamics of the music. I think we get a little uncomfortable when we stay in our comfort zone for too long.

Q: How much of a role do you think Mental Health plays as a musician?

A: Putting yourself out there as a musician or really in anything you do isn’t easy. Especially with the constant line of communication, feedback, and criticism that the internet offers. I think it’s always important to go into it for the love of it and not with the expectation of “making it”. It’s easy to compare yourself to others or try to quantify your success but that always seems to lead to frustration.

At the end of the day, if all you expect is to do better than you did the time before, I think that will help keep you motivated and on the right path. Ignore everything (and everyone) that doesn’t support what makes you happy.

Q: What would you say to young kids, adults and other musicians dealing with mental health issues?

A: It’s cliche but know that you’re not alone. Everyone is somewhere on that spectrum and where they are changes day by day. Don’t be afraid to reach out to talk to someone. Allow yourself time to take a breath and put things into perspective. If nothing else, be the one that reaches out to connect with someone else who also may just want to know that you care. I think we’re all searching for that humanity in some regard.

Thanks for talking to us and we look forward to the new material!

If you need to talk to someone, even if you don't know what the problem is, pick up the phone or speak to someone close to you.