A lot of musicians are in the business of helping others, it seems. In my experience, musicians who are also in the helping profession (or “wellness workers,” if you will) can offer a unique perspective on the connection between music and mind.
Today’s interview from a Clinical Social Worker who plays Stoner/Doom music is a great illustration of that. This interview with a musician-therapist and this one with a musician-social worker are really intriguing, too.
Today we’re talking with Emilio Rizzo of Fuzznaut!
We’re happy to present this interesting…
Of Music and Mind Interview: Emilio Rizzo Talks about Music and Being a Clinical Social Worker
Emilio is a lifelong Pittsburgher. He’s been playing music for about 20 years, and in 2018 he became his own band by creating Fuzznaut. Though bass was the first instrument Emilio ever picked up, he is a guitarist at heart. In Fuzznaut, Emilio composes instrumental guitar- and effects-based soundscapes. The project has Experimental, Stoner, Doom, and Minimalist threads running through it.
Emilio Talks about Being a Musician
We talked about Emilio’s life as a musician.
What bands are you in right now?
What instruments do you play?
What does music mean to you?
To me it is everything. It is like this unconditional best friend. I can listen to anything to match my mood, and I can write songs that are cathartic that help celebrate good times, or process complicated emotions, or just mark an important moment in my life, or deal with the stress. I can play music live and connect with others on another level, where words fail.
Tell me the story of how you got into music.
I got into music at young age 5 or 6. When I was a kid Grunge was very big, and MTV was on constantly. I can remember my first favorite song was Collective Soul’s “Shine.” I would pick up a tennis racket and use it as a guitar every time it came on. I became more of a musician in middle school and high school when a friend of my sister’s left a bass at my house and I started to teach myself how to play it. I printed out tabs, learned Punk songs. The biggest challenge at first was just learning how to play any songs and read tabs, but i figured out some basics and I was off from there. I had a band with my friends and the guitarist left his guitar there. I would pick it up and learn how to play that, too. I played bass for a while but I was really a guitarist at heart. Now that’s the majority of what I play.
When I was younger I was really inspired by Punk, The Ramones, and The Clash. In college I got into Indie-Rock. Then a friend got me turned on to Dead Meadow and through them I discovered Sleep and really connected with the Doom Metal thing. It was like when I was into Hardcore my favorite part of the song was the breakdown, and to me Doom Metal is just the best part of the song but over and over again and it can really stick with you.
I always get inspired now by watching other guitarists and checking out their gear. The YouTube thing is amazing now for guitar and there is so much you can learn just from that.
What are some of the challenges you experience as a musician?
A big challenge now is just getting time do it between work, family, and all the other things that come with life. I can get lost in guitar for hours, but right now i just can’t do it. So carving out time is a challenge but I am also thankful for my family supporting me and if I need time do practice or write for a show they are very supportive.
What inspires you to keep playing music and performing?
Just listening to different guitarists, watching performances or gear rundowns on YouTube. I also have a lot to say with the instrument and I am just consistently either practicing or writing, and to me just doing that is fuel. Also playing out is always a goal. It’s what all the hard work leads up to, and it’s a great feeling when I see people connect with what I do.
Emilio Talks about Being a Social Worker
We talked about Emilio’s life as a Clinical Social Worker.
What do you do?
I am a Clinical Social Worker doing therapy in a drug and alcohol outpatient office.
What other kinds of wellness work have you done?
[I’ve worked in] various outpatient centers for mental health and drug and alcohol. I have about 10 years experience in the field.
What inspired you to go into this field of work?
My mom and being in therapy.
She was a seamstress who worked out of our house but had a way of talking to people that it was almost like she was a therapist. I know everyone just felt better talking to her.
I had my own depression/anxiety issues and when I went to therapy and found a therapist I clicked with it was really helpful, and it just seemed to me meaningful to help others in that type of way. I found out my therapist was a social worker so I went that route versus psychology.
What is your educational background?
I have a Masters in Social Work from Pitt. I also have a clinical license in Social Work (LCSW) which means I can mentor other Social Workers to get a clinical license and work in private practice and bill insurance.
What do you find to be most challenging about this field of work?
It’s a tough balance to either get over-involved in your own work or concern for your clients, and/or getting jaded, or burnt out by a lot of factors that are not in your control – whether it be work environment, support or lack thereof, and meeting demands and regulations to stay in your job.
What do you find to be most rewarding about this field of work?
More so since I have been primarily been working drug and alcohol is seeing people recover. I am just one small piece of the puzzle, but I see it more as being a coach and supporting people to get well and stay well.
What advice do you have for others who are interested in pursuing this field of work?
Don’t be afraid to try different things, and work with different populations. Also be mindful of your limits and make self-care a priority. Too many therapists burn out and leave the field for good for this reason. There are plenty of other things that will stress you out in this field and burning yourself is one that you have control over and can be avoided with a little self-care and boundaries. Doing this work is definitely a marathon.
What advice or encouragement do you have for people who are interested in seeking help?
Make the call to get help and don’t hesitate and wait. These type of issues snowball overtime and the sooner you get situated the sooner you can start to heal. And have patience with the process.
As being on the other side of the field our society has a misleading idea of what mental health care is. We need to focus on improving one’s life, not having “cures.” Medication does help; however there are no cure-alls. Mental health comes with hard work, but it’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t be where I am at if I didn’t get treatment.
This does come out of some pretty painful moments, but don’t give up. It is still a disease and can be treated. Also if you don’t like your first therapist or agency you picked, leave or ask for another therapist. Research states that the relationship is the most important factor over all else. Also if you have friends that need help support them, and be mindful of what may come off as judgmental as it can be really stigmatizing an unhelpful if someone is asking you for help but they feel judged.
Together, and each other is all we’ve got. Loneliness and suffering are the only real enemies.
You’re a stoner rock/doom musician AND you’re a social worker in the addiction field. How do you reconcile those two parts of your life that are – seemingly – at odds?
It may seem at odds but it’s pretty simple. I personally don’t emphasize the drug part of it and focus on the music. My passion is the love of the genre and not the other recreation side. And it has never got in to the way of my work. I also mention to my coworkers when they ask what genre I play and I say stoner metal and it has never been a big deal.
Also on the weed thing. The climate is changing with medical Marijuana. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole.
Emilio Talks about Music and the Mind
We talked about how music and the mind are connected.
Do you think that music and the mind are connected?
Totally, and there is research to back it up.
Music is so much of an emotional and personal thing, I wonder how can it not connect. Even when you listen to “elevator music” it can elicit some sort of mood even if it is boredom.
How – if at all – does music influence your life as a social worker?
Music helps me focus. When I am at work, it is on constantly when I am not in sessions with clients. Also, my clients listen to music and if they bring it up I definitely want to know and support whatever there is they are doing with it.
Going to shows, just listening, using it to connect with others. It is almost always a positive thing for one’s mental health to be connected with.
How – if at all – does your field of work influence your life as a musician, or your music in general?
When I write music it is an outlet, and though my work influence may bleed through it is not the number one part of my experience or thing that is fueling my creativity. Since I do instrumental work, it’s multiple conscious and subconscious things.
How can others in the helping field better support musicians?
Even if the type of music is not your thing, support it and explore with them why this is important to them, and even educate them that this is helpful for their mental health. I know personally that I always feel better even if I get to play guitar for minute.
What can musicians do on their own to better support their own wellness?
Self-care is important. There are plenty of stressors being a musician that can have effects on you mental health. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get treatment. You may be surprised that once you’re healthier you are going to perform much better and be more in-tune with what you are doing. You may also be able to make things happen to elevate your music career that you didn’t feel well enough to do.
Thanks so much to Emilio for taking the time and energy to talk about these important issues! I really enjoyed this interview!
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