Meet the songwriter who took a break from writing hip hop hits to fight for mental health
It’s no secret that mental health issues are one of the biggest problems facing anyone who works in music, whether you’re an artist or one of the many cogs in the machine, let alone an epidemic that’s becoming an ever greater threat to society as a whole.
Jonathan Reichardt is an Australian music producer who, along with working with some of the biggest names in Australian music like the Hilltop Hoods and Bliss n Eso, has also seen first hand the impact that declining mental health is having on our country’s artists – himself included.
As the producer behind 360’s incredibly moving new single ‘Tiny Angel’, which deals with some incredibly heavy issues, Jonathan clearly has an ability to capture an emotional state in music, and now he hopes to use that skill to help people improve their mental health, one song at a time.
Teaming up with long-time collaborators Dan Fynn and Steve Iuliano for his new project Zoenmind, their new album Autumn Bells aims to provide the perfect soundtrack for mindfulness and meditation, one of the most common non-medical weapons against anxiety and depression.
Through Zoenmind, Jonathan hopes he can make a difference for anyone fighting the same battles as he does.
Jonathan produced 360’s heart-wrenching new single ‘Tiny Angel’
Jonathan’s own success and struggle
As a talented multi-instrumentalist, Jonathan has been working in the music industry for years now, and first found success as a session guitarist for hip hop acts like Chance Waters, Mind Over Matter and Coptic Soldier, before turning his talents towards music production.
Landing a couple of his singles with Chance Waters in the triple j Hottest 100 kick-started things, and he’s since gone on to work as a producer, co-writer and guitarist with some of the biggest names in Australian hip hop, including Bliss n Eso, Drapht, Hilltop Hoods, and 360.
I started feeling powerless and suicidal – those emotions were sure signs that I couldn’t do it alone
“I did some writing, guitar and co-production on BnE’s latest album,” he says, “co-wrote and did guitars for Drapht’s single ‘Don Quixote’ (featuring the Hoods), and recorded a whole bunch of guitars with One Above for the next Hoods album.
“Most recently I produced/co-wrote a couple of tunes for 360’s upcoming album, and I’m particularly excited about one of the tunes that should be released very soon.”
Zoenmind’s album is written purely to help people achieve better mental health
From that abridged resume, it seems like Jonathan’s life and career in music have had their fair share of high points, but he hasn’t got to this point without a fight. Like many people in the music industry, he’s been particularly affected by battles with mental health.
“I first started struggling with depression and anxiety as a teenager, and my mental health got really bad in 2008 after going through a really traumatic set of prolonged situations, which would take far too long to go into.
“For a while I thought I could manage it without professional help, but I started feeling powerless and suicidal – those emotions were sure signs that I couldn’t do it alone, and it just got worse until I began to see a counsellor.”
Having made his way through the the worst, and continuing to face the struggle head-on each day, Jonathan hopes that Zoenmind can help others overcome their own battles.
Mental health in the music industry
Jonathan isn’t alone, and some of the artist’s he’s worked with have also had their own struggles with mental illness and addiction, with Bliss N Eso’s Max McKinnon overcoming alcohol dependence, and 360 launching his own mental health charity and working with others after his own turmoil.
Elsewhere in music the problem is just as pervasive, and the high-profile deaths by suicide of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington are only the most visible examples of an issue that disproportionately affects the entire industry, from its high-profile stars to its forgotten names behind the scenes.
Not to downplay the epidemic of mental health struggles at large, but it’s so prevalent in the music industry. It’s heartbreaking
“It’s very common,” Jon says. “The research I’ve done and my own experiences with friends in the industry suggest that it’s far worse in the entertainment industry than among the general public.
Some of hip hop’s biggest names are open about their battles with mental health
“Not to downplay the epidemic of mental health struggles at large, but it’s so prevalent in the music industry. It’s heartbreaking. Some already exist, but it’d be great to have more services that focus specifically on providing aid to those who are struggling in the music industry.
“A book I’ve found really helpful, written specifically for artists, is Living With a Creative Mind by Julie and Jeff Crabtree. It’s practical and very informative.”
Everyone from labels to managers are learning to deal sensitively and tactfully with artists who are suffering
Ultimately, while the same resources that exist for the general public are also available to anyone in music, a genuine improvement can only happen when everyone in the music industry is more aware of the issue, and how serious it’s become, and work to support each other accordingly.
“Awareness and actively working towards solutions are the key,” Jon says, “but I think this is already happening, and stories I’ve heard indicate that everyone from labels to managers are learning to deal sensitively and tactfully with artists who are suffering.”
How can music and mindfulness help?
The effect music can have on the brain is an ongoing area of study, with some believing it can act as a stand in for various prescription medications in its ability to energise, relax or distract us. What Jonathan is most focused on with his Zoenmind project, however, is music’s ability to aid with mindfulness – an aspect of meditation that can be remarkably helpful in dealing with anxiety and depression.
For some who aren’t familiar with the idea or have never practiced any sort of meditation, it can be a bit of a strange concept, but through his music Jonathan wants to make it an accessible option for the people who need it most.
We’re all ‘mindful’ at times, it’s just that some people choose to practice mindfulness as a discipline
“We’re all ‘mindful’ at times,” he explains, “it’s just that some people choose to practice mindfulness as a discipline. There are times when we’re all present in the moment – that’s essentially what mindfulness is – but each person needs to find their own strategies that help them do this. Music helps me do this, but so does meditation, or even repetitive tasks like washing up, and basically anything I love to do that fully absorbs me into the moment.
“For those who are struggling, I’d encourage them to think about what makes them come alive and what helps them tune into their true selves – the self that isn’t our peripheral desires and anxieties, but is instead the part of us that observes those things.”
The right soundtrack is a huge help when practicing meditation and mindfulness
Mental health issues have arguably only been exacerbated by the way social media and the internet have rapidly shifted the way we communicate and view the world, and it’s this effect that mindfulness helps to counteract.
“We often escape our emotions via social media, consumerism and other sub-conscious ‘strategies’ to avoid pain and discomfort,” Jonathan says. “One of the really helpful things about mindfulness is that it facilitates awareness of what’s really going on, while encouraging you to not judge your emotions.
“If we don’t take time to process our thoughts and feelings they get repressed and manifest in other ugly ways.”
Jonathan encourages everyone to research mindfulness thoroughly, and then once they’re comfortable with the idea, to use the right sort of music to help reach an ideal state to practice it – emotionally and physiologically.
If we don’t take time to process our thoughts and feelings they get repressed and manifest in other ugly ways
“Research has found that, as well as providing all kinds of health benefits, music can help to significantly soothe and relax the listener,” Jonathan says. “It can slow down your heart rate, relax your muscles and quiet your mind. So with this in mind it can function as the perfect vehicle for practicing mindfulness.
“It can help us physiologically so that it’s easier to not get caught up in anxious thought patterns and feelings, helping us become more present with a quiet mind. Some studies are even suggesting it can change the balance of brain chemicals similarly to medication – it’s pretty crazy.”
What Zoenmind is doing differently
Let’s be honest, meditation has traditionally been lumped with some lame music, with the stereotypical meditation CD your mum owns probably sounding like low-tempo elevator music with the odd whale song thrown in.
With Zoenmind, Jonathan wanted to take the idea of meditation music and give it an update, bringing his skills as a producer to the table, and drawing on everyone from Massive Attack and Brian Eno, to Drake/Alicia Keyes producer 40, while also incorporating elements from religious worship music, which often has a great meditative quality to it.
“I figured that there is a real need for music that helps with mental health and relaxation, but a lot of it is pretty cheesy with outdated production,” Jonathan says. “So the goal was to produce a sound that ticked all boxes.
Music helps with mental health and relaxation, but a lot of it is pretty cheesy with outdated production
The goal of the project is to release something that makes for a seriously good listen whether meditating or just spinning some tunes. And while it maintains a feeling of calm throughout, there’s plenty of thought gone into making sure the record provides you with a certain kind of steady energy, rather than just putting you to sleep.
“Some of the songs evolve dynamically more so than others,” Jonathan explains. “‘Ocean’ begins in a minimalistic way, but finishes off with Eastern percussion and clean, atmospheric electric guitars. I love what Dan (Fynn) did with ‘Red Balloon’ too – it’s probably the most upbeat song on the record. It continually builds to this climax incorporating subtle double time drums and evocative string lines. He killed that track.
“I was quite methodical with my songs, due to the research I’d done, and I wanted the majority of the album to be down-tempo without any major changes in songs that could be too distracting.”
It’ll help calm you down, but Zoenmind’s production definitely won’t put you to sleep
Jonathan’s hope for Zoenmind is that his music will be able to help others the way some others have helped him through his own troubled times.
“There are definitely a few albums I can name that have literally played a role in saving my life,” he says. “A big part of mindfulness is becoming aware of, and accepting our emotions without judgement rather than repressing how we truly feel.
There are definitely a few albums I can name that have literally played a role in saving my life
“Kashmir’s Trespassers is an album that I discovered in a particularly dark time of my life and just seemed to give voice to, and help me process my pain. It’s obviously so subjective and different artists will appeal to different people – go with your gut.”
“I think we just want Zoenmind to be a helpful resource for people,”he adds, “regardless of whether they’re facing severe mental health struggles or just want to chill out. I’ve already had some really good feedback from people utilizing the album in various positive ways, so it’s nice to hear it’s working!”
The ongoing struggle with mental health
Ultimately, if anyone is finding that nothing they do is helping, Jonathan urges them to pursue every option they can to make things better, and to not give up until they find something that works for them, which can take time.
“The right medication can make all the difference, and so does a good therapist,” he says, having managed his ongoing mental health through both. “It’s super important finding a therapist that suits you, though. It’s easy to just settle for what looks good on paper, but connecting with them and feeling safe enough to delve into your pain and sub-conscious thoughts is vital.
Feeling safe enough to delve into your pain and sub-conscious thoughts is vital
“Other things that help me are mindfulness, meditation, openness, acceptance of myself in whatever state I’m in – and beauty,” he adds. “By beauty I mean the things in life that help us escape self-centredness, things that move us ‘out of ourselves’.
“For me it’s the arts, animals (especially my dog, Scout), friendship, and the work I do in the disability field as a support worker. I highly recommend doing work where you’re helping someone else, as my clients definitely help me as much as I help them.”
The multi-talented Reichardt also made this gem with Boy & Bear’s Tim Hart
But above all else, Jonathan believes it takes kindness and understanding from people around us to help us through our struggles, and while society is still a long way from perfect in that regard, we need to try our best to seek it out.
“General kindness and acceptance of one another goes a long way, regardless of where people sit on the social hierarchies that humans so often create. I think disregarding social capital and accepting people as they are would change a lot in society at large.
Find a good community that accepts you where you’re at
“We’ve seen a lot of progress in areas of those who have been marginalized historically, but we still judge and socially ostracize based on things like income, appearance and social capital. We could do with less of that for obvious reasons, and I’m sure it would help significantly with our mental health epidemic.
“Find a good community that accepts you where you’re at. Oh, and exercise – although I definitely don’t do this enough!”
If you or somebody you care for needs help or information about depression, suicide, anxiety, or mental health issues, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.