Experiencing trauma can change your life and the lives of those around you.
A traumatic event is typically defined as one in which a person’s physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual well-being – or one’s very life – is put at risk. Natural disasters, car accidents, physical assault, and rape are examples of traumatic events. Witnessing these events happen to someone else can have the same effect as if it happened personally.
The effects of trauma can be monumental, life-long, and (at least for a time) debilitating. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may develop as a result of experiencing trauma. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Those experiencing prolonged trauma such as combat, child abuse, or intimate partner abuse, can suffer the same – and often more intense – effects. This is often referred to as Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).
In this interview we learn about Ky Vöss’ experiences with trauma and PTSD and how music has helped them to heal personally while also validating the experiences of others with similar experiences. We hope you find something meaningful, helpful, enlightening, or encouraging is this interview.
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If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, please know there is help and support available. One of my favorite resources is the HelpGuide and their information on PTSD & Trauma is rich with information, support, and resources. 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 enlightening…
OF MUSIC AND MIND INTERVIEW: KY VÖSS TALKS ABOUT MUSIC, TRAUMA, AND PTSD
Ky Vöss describes their music as “dream pop for the damned.” I can see it. On their debut self-released album Space Cadet (2019) there’s a strong sense of Post-Punk, Darkwave, and Dream Pop powered by ethereal vocals and sad stories.
I first learned about the artist behind Ky Vöss when I read somewhere that they got in their car and drove as far as they could in an effort to escape. They broke down in Pittsburgh, PA and that’s where they stayed. Since then, it’s clear that they’ve made a home within the Pittsburgh Post-Punk, Electronic, and Experimental music scenes. This is, at least in part, thanks to lyrical content that ranges from the deeply personal to the radically political and heartfelt performances.
Ky Vöss just signed with Play Alone Records, an independent post-punk record label based in Pittsburgh, PA, and will be releasing their second album in early Spring 2020.
Ky Vöss Talks about Being a Musician
We talked about Ky’s life as a musician.
What are your current projects?
Were you involved in any projects previously?
Crxmbs (Austin, TX).
What instruments do you play?
It’s really hard to say these days, especially as someone who works primarily as an electronic producer, but over the years and spread amongst different projects I’ve played guitar, bass, synth, and violin.
What do you consider to be your main instrument?
This is a big one: What does music mean to you?
I think music just feels like air to me. It’s always there in some form- songs are just organized sound and you can find rhythm in everything. It’s definitely a language that a lot of people learn very early on, different chord structures and soundscapes strike up vastly different energies and emotions that most people can relate to in some way. I have no idea how I would communicate if I wasn’t able to speak through music in some form or fashion.
Tell me the story of how you got into music.
I was around five when my oldest sister started taking violin lessons from a family friend, I would sit outside of the room and listen in on the instructions her teacher gave her. I remember sneaking in afterwards and pulling the bow across the strings for the first time- I was just completely enthralled from the very beginning.
My first violin teacher was my favorite person in the world. She constantly told me that I could be whatever I wanted if I was willing to work for it. So I started doing odd jobs and busking on the street to save to go to summer music programs where I learned the fundamentals of music theory, composition, and technique. I was home-schooled (with little actual schooling involved), so I was able to spend hours on end practicing every day.
Home life was rough growing up, and my violin teacher became a really important parental figure for me. She encouraged me to express myself and everything I was feeling through the pieces I was playing and orchestrations I was writing. Every day I would practice with the idea that someday music would somehow become an escape. I definitely still do that I think.
How long have you been a musician?
I think I bought my first violin when I was 7. So let’s say… 15 years?
What are some of the challenges you experience as a musician?
To name just a few – money, sexism, and mental illness. I often forget that people exist that don’t have to deal with any of these things, at all, ever, and that’s a challenge in and of itself.
What inspires you to keep playing music and performing?
Writing and performing has been the most effective form of therapy for me. I don’t mean warm and comfy therapy, but like, digging up the things in your brain that are causing you pain and confronting them daily kind of therapy. It really sucks, but the release it comes with is wildly addicting. I constantly worry that I overshare in everyday life, but onstage, I can sing about whatever I want. It’s my music. All of this is an elaborate attempt to be understood.
Ky Vöss Talks about Trauma and PTSD
We talked about Ky’s experience with trauma and PTSD, managing a changed brain, and the role that music plays.
Do you – or have you – struggled with mental illness?
I have PTSD, depression, anxiety, and all the things they come with.
How long have you been experiencing these things?
I was diagnosed with PTSD four years ago. The depression leading up to that has been something I’ve lived with as long as I can remember.
Tell me what your experience of PTSD is like.
Living with PTSD is like a really exhausting and unpredictable roller coaster.
I would say that, generally, I’m really excited about life right now. This is the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life, hands down. But along with the sudden mental presence I’ve had comes this awful, acute awareness of all of the things I’ve spent years trying to ignore. There are a lot of things I can’t do because of the memories associated. Some very small things can trigger massive downward spirals, and more often than not it’s impossible to see them coming.
I spent a good portion of my childhood in a religious cult and was ultimately kicked out of my home when my family suspected that I was headed down a different path. I then spiraled into habits of substance abuse and eventually drug addiction. At the peak of my addiction I was in an abusive relationship and one day realized that I was going to die if I didn’t do something, so I got in my car and drove away. I live in Pittsburgh because this is where it broke down.
What role – if any – has music played in strengthening or alleviating your mental health concerns?
I think my brain started trying to tune out and counteract trauma at a very young age, and the first thing it stumbled onto was music. Because of that, my mental illnesses are very closely linked with everything I do musically, and I still have trouble finding the line in what’s healthy and what’s not, so this a hard question to answer.
Writing and recording the lyrics to most of my songs has been a really emotional process because it requires a lot of honesty with myself, but once written, playing and performing the same songs is the most liberating and empowering experience.
How do you cope with your PTSD? What keeps you going despite these challenges?
Back when I was homeless and knew no one in the city I kind of subconsciously created a character in my head that stood for my trauma and all of the emotion that surrounds it, and that character has become the voice and subject of everything I write musically. I’ve just kind of accepted that I don’t need to “overcome” anything now. I just need to accept that my brain functions a certain way and get to know the best ways to take care of it.
What advice do you have for other people – musicians in particular – who suffer from PTSD, depression, or anxiety as you do?
Let yourself feel all of the things that come with your mental illness, give them a little room in your head, get acquainted, and tell them to shut the hell up and go to bed when they get out of hand. Don’t be scared of them, but politely let them know when they are unwanted.
What songs from other artists best sum up your experience of trauma and why?
Other artist’s songs that have been really influential and important to me include:
“New Ways” by Daughter.
“Molt” by Mothica.
“Too Heavy a Burden” by The Tiny.
“Miasma Sky” by Baths.
What song of yours best sums up the experience of trauma for you?
Songs of mine that most specifically relate to and reference my experience with trauma and mental illness are probably “Tiny Words” and “Swallow the Batteries.”
“Tiny Words” is about addiction, abuse, and escape.
“Swallow the Batteries” is about processing the resulting trauma and learning to cope with the way it has permanently altered my brain.
We are thankful to Ky for courageously sharing these important aspects of their life with us! Do you relate to what Ky 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).
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