I don’t know if you got my letter. I don’t know if your cheeks got redder. I don’t know if you feel better, but I know that I’m alright. I don’t know if your friends are there. I don’t know if they’d even care. I don’t know if you feel it in the air, but I know that I’m alright. I could be strong for you. I could be wrong for you. I could be anything you’d like. I’m not fine, but I’m alright. I don’t know if you’re crying still. I don’t know if you’ve had your fill. I don’t know yet, but I will, and I know that I’m alright.
The frontman of Years & Years is getting involved with Torch Songs, a
new campaign focused on music as a therapy for depression - something he
himself has suffered with
To coincide with International Men’s Day earlier this month, UK
charity CALM launched Torch Songs, a campaign celebrating the healing
power of music. Championed by BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, the concept is
simple: bands including The Vaccines and Blaenavon have been asked to
cover their own Torch Song, the track that helps lift them out of dark
places. Also getting involved is Years & Years frontman Olly
Alexander, who’s recorded his version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides
Since the pop trio hit superstardom with last year’s Communion
album, Alexander has become one of music’s leading voices when
addressing mental health issues. The 26-year-old has been forthcoming
about his past, where he was bullied at school, and how things need to
change in reducing a stigma around the subject. As well as being clear
about his own struggles, he never hesitates in pointing out what still
needs to be done, whether through government action or simply allowing
everyone to be more open about their issues.
Torch Songs specifically centres around male mental health,
addressing how men can often find it hard to speak up, allowing problems
to fester. “It’s so important”, agrees Alexander. “The biggest killer
of men under 45 in the UK is suicide. That’s a mindblowing statistic.
And I just don’t know if people are aware of that. It needs to be
addressed. It’s difficult to talk about these things, it really is. But
verbalising things is part of the process of tackling something. I would
encourage people to talk”.
Within Years & Years, Alexander and his bandmates (Emre Turkmen
and Mikey Goldsworthy) used to find it hard to be open about mental
health issues. “We really try. We haven’t always been good at sharing
our feelings”, he admits. “We’re human beings and it’s not always easy.
But we do try and make it a priority. Because it’s easy to forget about
and not confront these things and let the issues fester. It can become
much worse. We have sit down chats where we talk about how we’re
feeling, and you always feel better afterwards”.
Despite CALM’s latest initiative - focusing on a certain song’s
therapeutic power - Alexander is keen to stress that music shouldn’t be
addressed as the only form of therapy. “It can be a helpful turn of
phrase to describe music as therapeutic, and in many ways it is. But the
issues surrounding mental health are so important, and the best thing
to do is to seek help and care from healthcare professionals”, he
states. At 19, he was given cognitive behavioural therapy to help deal
with anxiety, and he’s been taking medication for depression since he
was a teenager. “We shouldn’t ignore that it’s a real issue that people
need real help and support from. Go down the professional route first,
whatever that is - NHS, GP referral”.
For his own Torch Song, Alexander chose Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides
Now’ because it was the first song he learnt on piano, aged 13. “I was
in America when we were approached”, he remembers. “There was only a few
songs I could turn to without having to learn to play something from
scratch. I love that song. I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan. It was an
him, the track’s closing lyric (‘I really don’t know life at all’) is a
comfort, a realisation that barely anyone has the world sussed out.
“When you hear a lyric that you identity with, it can verbalise
something you wouldn’t have been able to verbalise yourself. That’s the
magic of her songs”, he says. “When I was younger, my idols were Joni
Mitchell and Jeff Buckley. Their voices really informed so much of my
internal world. They were these beacons of hope to me because they were
artists using their experienced and the pained they’d felt, turning it
Alexander says he’s “happy” to see a wider, more far-reaching
conversation about mental health happening today. But he says we’re
witnessing a “continual process of breaking down stigmas”, and he notes
the stark contrast between greater dialogue and a decrease in financial
support. “There’s so much funding that’s been cut for organisations,
charities and support groups working in the mental health sector. That
needs to stop”.
The sun was coming up, and our friend was sound asleep But we saw through the window that the water ran so deep That you couldn’t make out the ocean floor Then I saw you in the light I couldn’t take it any more
Give me your hand Give me everything you’ve got And the light from window will fall on us burning hot Just like a torch
The air was humid; I will not forget When we stepped outside, I hear your footsteps Now in my mind, it’s a soft sound Almost imperceptible against the giving ground
Let me kiss your eyelids with my lips Let me feel the heat coming off your fingertips Just like a torch