It’s been a while since we shared an interview touching on the connection between music and depression. We’ve missed these interviews: They’re provocative, helpful, and healing.
Depression is complex. The people suffering with depression are complex. Healing is complex. In these interviews, we strive to highlight that complexity by shining light on some of the intimate details. Learning about the daily struggles of people I admire as artists has helped me to feel less alone in my personal struggle with depression and deepened my understanding and empathy for others. Many of you have shared that you feel the same way.
Today we shine light on the complex issue of depression and the very commonly associated feeling of wanting to die. Perhaps more importantly, we’ll shine light on the complex issue of learning to live.
If you (or someone you know) is experiencing thoughts of suicide – reach out to get help and information! Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (they’re available 365/24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website to chat online) or, in Southwestern PA call resolve Crisis Services (they’re available by phone 365/24/7 at 1-888-796-8226). If you need help, please get it now.
Today we’re proud to present this captivating…
OF MUSIC AND MIND INTERVIEW: MARGO VAN HOY TALKS ABOUT MUSIC, DEPRESSION, AND THE FEELING OF WANTING TO DIE
Margo is one of those artists who seems to ooze emotion. You feel that emotion if you watch her perform, listen to her sing, see her artwork, or read her words on music and connection. She’s not trying to hide it. Maybe she can’t.
I’ve been a fan of Pittsburgh, PA’s post-punk noise band Derider for a few years, and that raw emotion was what really drew me in. I’d wanted to talk to Margo about music, connection, and even her needlework (it’s lovely!) for some time. One day I read something that she wrote about the feeling of wanting to die since she was very young, and it really moved me. I thought that others may be able to relate to that feeling and find strength and courage in her story. Margo’s openness in this interview is refreshing, vulnerable, and raw. I learned a lot about her, the healing power of music, and the Pittsburgh music scene through her words. I think you will be captivated.
Margo has a lot of interesting projects. You may see her perform solo in Giling, which she describes as a live sonic experience, or with post-punk noise rock band Derider. However you experience Margo’s music, you will feel something.
Derider releases their first full-length album, You Became the Ground, on August 30th, 2019. They’re celebrating with a release show at Spirit – Margo is nervous and excited!
If you want to keep up-to-date with Derider’s shows and events, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp.
Margo Talks about Being a Musician
We talked about Margo’s life as a musician.
What are your current projects?
Were you involved in any projects previously?
Trapper’s Harp, Hi-Pony, Maenads, Anthony Heubel and the High Lonesome Band.
What instruments do you play?
I play the human instrument (vocal work), bass, guitar, piano and clarinet.
What do you consider to be your main instrument?
It’s a tough call between bass and my voice.
This is a big one: What does music mean to you?
This IS a big one!
I used to think I knew, for sure, but it’s so many things.
Music is a language. It’s a thread that weaves through humanity, every culture and many other creatures on this earth. It’s waves and vibration. It’s a vessel for history and our stories to be passed down through and travel through time. Music is an art form that both expresses emotion and evokes it in the listener, which blows my mind. It’s my lifeline in many ways.
I try to use it as a tool for human connection. I use it to soothe myself when I am lonely or overwhelmed by my emotions or thoughts. I’m not sure if I would still be here if I had been without it, but I’ll never know…
Tell me the story of how you got into music.
I have been a musical person for my entire life. Some of my earliest memories are of singing “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles and “Little Green” by Joni Mitchell. I grew up singing in church and at school, often wanting to be making music.
I suppose I became a “musician” when I was in college and got my first professional voice over gigs. I don’t know if I believe in one having a true purpose, but if I did, creating music would certainly be at the core of my scope.
Being in an a cappella group, Choral Pleasure (I know, I know), really helped me gain a lot of confidence, collaborative and improvisational skills. I am CONSTANTLY inspired by people around me and the communities in the cities I live in and travel through. Hope and gifts that people share seem boundless, even in this complex and sometimes dark world.
How long have you been a musician?
From heartbeat #1, I’d imagine.
What are some of the challenges you experience as a musician?
I am very much challenged by self-doubt. I have spent much of my life listening to or battling the part of me that has told me I am worthless and unworthy; that I started playing bass too late and I’m too old or ugly or fat or queer or not queer enough or not fat enough to become “successful”…whatever the fuck that means. I have experienced misogyny. I have experienced body shaming in the professional world. Sometimes being the only woman in a band leaves me feeling like people don’t always take me seriously. I have been told that because I am the only one who outwardly identifies as female, we aren’t femme enough.
I think a lot of the challenges I have felt the most burdened by are the ones that try to force my identity into a rigid box with very little room to be understood or grow or be seen as a complex being, which I think we all are.
What inspires you to keep playing music and performing?
My first thought is “I do.” It has taken me years to feel comfortable thinking or saying that I am good at what I do and I can’t wait to get even better and learn more from others. I need to do this work. I want to do it. Secondly, I want to support other artists who have voices that need to be heard. There are warriors all around us fighting for justice and radical empathy. I lose sight of hope too, I do, but the grind of others who are relentless with their passion and drive is incredible.
Margo Talks about Depression and The Feeling of Wanting to Die
We talked about Margo’s experience with depression, the feeling of wanting to die, and the role that music plays.
Do you have – or have you had – depression?
How long have you been experiencing depression?
My earliest memories of feeling depressed and wanting to end my own life were at the age of 8.
Tell me what your experience of depression is like.
Some days it feels like a slow, gripping ache. It almost personifies itself within me as the only one who truly knows me and will never leave me. For me, depression is like this fucked up, manipulative opportunist that just waits for the times when I am tired, hungry, lonely or overwhelmed to slink in and suffocate me.
Some days I can’t move or stop crying. Some days, all I can think about is suicidal ideation.
Most days, it’s a baseline of something sad and wanting to come in, like a lost child at the door to my soul.
I also struggle with disordered eating, especially bulimia. Though I don’t have nearly as many episodes as I used to, this is something that will be a challenge for the rest of my life. It’s not like other disorders or addictions where you can often practice abstinence and live without the substance you abuse. I can’t live without food. It’s wasteful and embarrassing, but can be easier to hide. I am still working on making connections about this extension of my depression.
At this point in my life, there isn’t a single day that I don’t think about it, and that’s OK. That’s part of who I am, but it does not define me or make me damaged goods. I spent too much of my life trying to suppress those feelings, for fear that someone would find out and confirm what my depression was already telling me.
Do you have any theories or ideas about why you experience depression?
I have lots of them, but I am certain of none. I believe it may be a combination of nature and nurture. It may be a hereditary chemical imbalance, a product of how I was raised to express emotions and the model of relationships I saw growing up.
Societal structures and expectations have created a culture that is not very supportive of improving mental health.
I am a very sensitive person and can often be intense. I feel things hard; the good and the bad. But, why? I’m not sure. I have the human condition, just like everyone else.
What role – if any – has music played in creating or strengthening your depression?
I don’t really think I ascribe to the “tortured artist” trope, but there were times when I thought I might’ve been going through a writer’s block because I wasn’t “sad enough.” I have put a lot of pressure on myself to be putting out material and being involved in the scene constantly so that I’m not forgotten or left behind, instead of trusting my own creative needs and processes and how they will change as I do.
How do you cope with your depression? What keeps you going despite these challenges?
Therapy is awesome! It took me many years to find someone I worked well with and trusted, but the woman I see is absolutely wonderful and I love her very much. I continue to be creative and find outlets for my love. I walk a lot. I am fortunate to have a supportive group of family (both of origin and chosen) that I lean on for help and I like to think we try to enrich one another’s lives. I love to masturbate and have sex! There are many healing powers of physical intimacy that are really important for my mental health.
I have been learning more about the art of asking. I think that is an important part of my continuous process to be more gentle with myself.
What keeps me going? To be quite frank, some days it is purely the fear of dying that keeps me alive. I am quite thankful for that fear, and sometimes I am frustrated by it.
The lows I have come to know are really fucking low, but the moments of joy and love and grace I have experienced are SO wonderful and I want to hold onto the knowledge that that exists too! I love that I am passionate and love real damn hard. I have had to let both sides in and experience everything in between.
Vulnerability can feel so dangerous, but a calloused heart is not for me. I’ll break myself open again and again for as long as I can.
What role – if any – has music played in fighting or alleviating your depression?
It’s been huge…HUGE! It certainly is an outlet for everything I feel. I am very fortunate to have played with my dearest loved ones and create environments based on trust and exploration that we all try to benefit from. Being in a band and playing music with others is very intimate for me. I need music to say what I can’t find the words for and to fill in the blanks (even if there are lyrics). I want to create spaces and experiences that encourage other people to face their own struggles and find comfort in being emotional and vulnerable. It feels like a healthy act of defiance.
I have also been trying to write more love songs to my depression. I have tried to invite it in on MY terms and spend time being empathetic to that part of myself. Because that is me too. It’s a part of a lot of people’s lives and bringing it to light and sharing our experiences with one another can build support, destigmatize, and increase awareness.
Part of me loves and craves being so open. Part of me doesn’t want to admit that I exist in that way, because it means the pain is that much more real. Coping and thriving and surviving and normal and shame and wild joy all live here within me, and maybe you too. Songs end. So does pain. So do the best moments you can remember. It’s OK.
What advice do you have for other people – musicians in particular – who suffer from depression?
I invite you to talk aloud to yourself if you want to. I encourage you to sing to yourself if you want to. I support you asking help when and how you can. I hope we can continue to learn how to be more gentle with our bodies, minds and souls.
What songs from other artists best sum up your experience of depression and why?
I immediately thought of “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears” by A Winged Victory for the Sullen. It’s the most beautiful song I have ever heard. It is so beautiful, it hurts me to listen to it. Every damn time. It swells and grows and breaks and cascades…oh, it goes everywhere for me. It makes me think of being flooded with every emotion I have ever felt at one time, which is intense, but the musicians and me as the listener still come out on another side. There is the most tender hand that is caressing you throughout the whole wild ride, even if you lose sight of it at times.
“You Seemed So Happy” by The Japanese House. It’s a song that makes me think of striving to be or at least seem “normal” when you’re in the throws of depression and feeling like you want to die. You can feel fine and be a mess at the same time.
Also, I’d like to add Paul Westerberg’s song “Let the Bad Times Roll” to songs that I go to. It’s a pretty simple, but impactful song. It’s one of acceptance, I think. Things will get rough. Of course, it’s far easier said than done, but we have a choice to make. You are the mountain and you are the pass. You are your own way out.
What song of yours best sums up the experience of depression for you?
I’d say “Will” from Derider’s [just released] album. Meanings of songs change for me over time, and how other people will experience it may be completely vast and different, but I think this song encapsulates how much energy and effort it can take to get through challenges that life presents to you.
We are thankful to Margo for poetically and courageously sharing these important aspects of her life with us! Do you relate to what Margo shared? What are your thoughts? Let us know!
The point of these interviews – aside from being interesting – is to open up the conversation. We hope that they provide you with information, validation, a reminder that you are not alone, and a look into where the music comes from. Remember, if you (or someone you know) is experiencing thoughts of suicide – reach out to get help and information! Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (they’re available 365/24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website to chat online) or, in Southwestern PA call resolve Crisis Services (they’re available by phone 365/24/7 at 1-888-796-8226).
Friendly reminder: Of Music and Mind content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the assistance of qualified providers (such as some of those found on the Resources page) with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions.