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Talking Music and Mental Health With the Creator of 'Cope Notes'

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You can never really know what its like to be someone else. It’s just not possible. You can try to be compassionate, sympathetic, possibly empathetic for another member of your genus and species, and yet, fall short of a full, comprehensive understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. To generalize, within our Western society’s many pitfalls, the stability of our well-being is threatened every day by persistent political unrest, socioeconomic disparity between the Have and Have-nots and capitalist pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of those who face the challenges of living with a diagnosed (or un-/misdiagnosed) disorder. Life is tough. And you are tougher.

As a musician and a manic depressive, I fall into the sizable category of those who have learned — and who never stop learning — the difference between pain and suffering; waxing my wistful creative at odd hours writing dark ballads no one would ever hear. The hard way, unfortunately, ended up being the best way to get to where I am today. As with most musicians, this is the way that we cope. We cope with life, cope with self-love or the lack thereof, and cannot help but express it in our music. That is why we continue to grow, in the search of catharsis exercised through our creation of melodies, rhythms and patterns used to target and illicit a response in the emotions we feel.

It takes courage to take a step forward sometimes, especially when it comes to interacting with our psyche and speaking out about it. It can clash and grind, like bone on bone. Frontman for alt-metal band Prison (former Dark Sermon), mental health advocate and creator of Cope Notes Johnny Crowder aims to change the game.

Cope Notes is a text-based messaging application that sends sporadic messages spaced out at different times on different days containing everything from psychology facts and mental exercises to inspiring quotes and phone wallpapers. All of the content is extrapolated from real people and their real experiences, reviewed by a panel of doctors, therapists and HR professionals to ensure that each unexpected text is more impactful than the last. This is what progress looks like.

I reached out to Johnny last year about his product and his philosophy, and thankfully have kept in touch, living similar lives as musicians and empaths, fighting the good fight on the battlefield of mental health in the constant search for stability. After months of competing gig schedules, we were finally able to have the discussion we’ve been meaning to have.

You went from being in a black metal band (Dark Sermon) to fronting another nu-metal band (Prison). What was that transition like? What is similar and what is different?

“Almost everything is totally different, and I’m really happy about that. If I was just going to do Dark Sermon 2.0, there’d be no point in switching gears. As I got older, I started to outgrow the genre and return to my roots. I think being in Dark Sermon was impacting my personality, but with Prison, it’s the other way around. Our personalities impact the music and the message. Just about the only similarity between the two bands is an intense, must-see live show.”

Prison has a song called “Our Father” and you sought baptism after leaving Dark Sermon. It seems religion plays an important role in your life.

“I still have a lot of issues with ‘religion’ in general, but looking into faith for myself has completely transformed my life. Until recently, I always took everyone else’s word for it. I thought Jesus was a racist, sexist, homophobic super villain because of how he was portrayed by Christians, Atheists, bands and so on. It took me a long time to actually give God a chance, and nothing has been the same since then.”

You attended UCF in the pursuit of a degree in psychology. As a student and a musician, what kinds of challenges did you face? What advice do you have for musicians who are in college?

“Wow, what a time. I was shuttling back and forth between Orlando and Tampa every couple of days for practice, tour prep, etc. When we started touring more consistently, I had to finish my degree on the road. That was a really stressful season for me. My advice for musicians? Don’t think that you have to bail on music for college, and don’t think that you have to bail on college for music. That kind of polar thinking robs us of incredible opportunities. You don’t have to quit anything – prioritization is the name of the game.”

You set up the text-based mental health application called Cope Notes. What can you tell our readers about that?

“It sends you daily texts that help your brain rewire itself to be healthier. I was so sick of seeing bogus overnight cures for stress, depression, anxiety, etc. and I couldn’t just sit around and watch people struggle. If there’s ever been a time to create an affordable, non-invasive, non-judgmental solution, it’s now. I made it for people like me — for people like us.”

What do you mean, people like us?

“Some people feel like they need serious treatment, and some people feel like they’re perfect across the board. I’m an in-betweener. I don’t think I’m at the bottom or the top. I’m just trying to be a better happier, healthier me. There are all sorts of super intense, expensive treatment options out there. This is more for the everyday person who’s trying to get better at handling stress, pressure and everyday life.”

As a mental health advocate and musician, we have the ability to promote a healthy mind and body with our music. How do you find stability on the road? What are some tips for fellow gigging musicians?

“Honestly, it’s all about who you surround yourself with. If you’re going to tour, you need to tour with people who challenge and encourage you to be better, not people who enable you to slack off. We all hold each other accountable when it comes to pitching in, working out, eating, sleeping, communicating, etc. I’m shocked at the concentration of maturity within Prison. I’m so lucky to be in this band. I think about that every day. As for tips, try not to compromise the essentials: good food, exercise and rest. You can sacrifice a little here and there, but those three things should be your non-negotiables.”

You’ve played alongside bands like Slipknot, Suicide Silence and Within the Ruins.* In your honest opinion, What does the climate of the alt-metal genre really look like these days?

“Alt-metal is such an underestimated genre. Radio stations still play songs from 20 years ago because they don’t have any new material that bridges the gap between old school and new. Metal listeners like to pretend they’re too cool for alternative and nü metal, but we’re here to remind them that they’re not fooling anyone. Alt-metal is a consistently healthy genre, and I’m excited to be on the forefront of what I believe to be an all-out revival.”

Cope Notes specifies that it isn’t meant to replace professional treatment; it’s meant to assist the millions of people who would never ask for help in the first place. Taking the first step toward bettering yourself starts with the little things, which includes knowing when to surface when you feel like you’re in too deep. You, yourself, are capable of regulating your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Making use of applications like Cope Notes is a form of self-maintenance that many of us desperately need. Tell yourself: Self — you always have a choice. Whether you choose or not, you still have made a choice. It all starts with taking the first step.

You can make use of Cope Notes by heading here.

Lead image via Cope Notes Facebook page

Originally published: March 1, 2019
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