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James Blake: ‘I think mental health has become somewhat of a catch phrase’

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James Blake: ‘I think mental health has become somewhat of a catch phrase’

James Blake joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1 for a conversation about the importance of mental health and the process of creating his new album ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’ as part of Apple Music’s observance of World Mental Health Day (this Sunday, October 10th).

He discusses his journey of working to improve his own mental health, why he’s speaking openly about it, the importance of doing the work, the pitfalls of social media, and more. Watch the interview in full at apple.co/-jamesblake.

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James Blake Tells Apple Music About Working To Improve His Mental Health…

Essentially, in all of these ways that I found myself living, I was shutting off how I digest. I wasn’t exercising. I was eating every day. I was letting… There was all sorts of situations in my life that I was letting continue that I was anxious about all the time. Drinking a lot. Sugar, 24/7. Run, run, run, run, run. If you don’t… I was setting up a situation… I was just doing circles of the worst things you can do for your mental health. And then I was surprised that I didn’t feel very good in the morning and it’s like, we do have control even if there are some things that are going to affect us forever, maybe. But I do think when we diagnose ourselves as mentally ill or we diagnose ourselves in whatever way, we mustn’t let that be a prison or a definition of us that allows… that essentially stops us from investigating ways we could feel better.

James Blake Tells Apple Music About Speaking Openly About Mental Health…

I think to have those conversations as part of the whole process is actually quite important. Yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that. I’ve tried to talk about mental health, and my own mental health mostly in my records for a while, for at least the last three records. Maybe all of them. I think the first record feels like a very fragmented attempt at discussing, and a very tentative attempt at discussing stuff, because I think I was just too afraid to put it in plain English, to be honest. But I also maybe didn’t have the vocabulary to put it in plain English either… I say this a lot, but our first language very often is music, and then it’s whatever our native tongue is. I think we’re not encouraged necessarily to actually speak on mental health or what we’re actually feeling. I think if we do, then the likelihood is that it will make it uncomfortable for somebody around us, whether it’s a manager, or an agent, or a label, or whatever. Because at a certain point in our careers, a lot of the time it can grind us to a halt, and stop us from actually making everybody money. It’s opened my whole life up in a way that it never was. I mean, I was an incredibly anti-social person and this kind of interview would have scared the shout of me, to be honest. I would’ve been much more content just talking about the music and… But now, I mean talking about music’s all right.

James Blake Tells Apple Music About Finding Ways Of Expressing Himself Beyond Songwriting…

I first started to feel that probably when I was about 14 or 15, where I was just spilling over. I just couldn’t. There was no… I seemed to have no outlet. Even though I did music, I couldn’t… Things would affect me, and I’d look around, and other people were just fine, and I just didn’t really understand why. And you know, you develop your outlets, and it’s funny that the misconception as well is that music is a total outlet. It’s not. You make a song about a thing you’re upset about, and then you feel good for about half an hour. And when somebody tells you, “I love the song you made,” you go, “Thanks, it reminds me of all the things I just talked about, which I would rather not be reminded of.” And then, you’re back to where you were. And there’s a little bit of relief from that. But really, the only actual way to deal with it is to talk about it. And to do the work on it, whether it’s therapy, or if it’s talking to your friend, just talking to somebody who understands, or just feeling it, except making changes in your life. Whatever it is, they are the real outlets.I took three years to basically do that. And I’m very fortunate that I was in a financial position where I could actually stop working and just go and figure it all out. But it took me… quite a long time. And the other thing is, I think mental health has become somewhat of a catch phrase in a way.

James Blake Tells Apple Music About Experiencing Success While Dealing With Mental Health Issues…

And so, the chasm between the person that you’re presenting as your personality to the public, and the person you really are when the mic is off, and you go home, and you’ve got to deal with your own problems, becomes grander and grander. And it’s just like for me, the thing was, the difference between my musical, cool, doing loads of collabs, and producing blah, blah, blah, and doing dub, electronic music, and good reviews, and all that stuff, and me just spiraling… and actually not being that great to talk to at the time, and not really having anything to say, and just having loads of social anxiety, but then going onstage and just being the coolest version of myself possible. And you’re rewarded financially for that in a lot of cases. I think it’s Pavlovian. It’s like the more you get the treat, the more you return to that behaviour. I think the answer for me, was to decide that I was okay with not getting the treat, and that I would decide to stop pretending that I was like, whatever part of me it was that was saying, okay, I need to appear this way to be as perfect as the kids at school thought I wasn’t, or I’m going to be cooler than… Whatever.

James Blake Tells Apple Music About The Problems With Social Media…

When we stare at that screen long enough and you’re scrolling through Twitter long enough. And the nature of Twitter is that people talk to each other like they’re not humans. They talk to each other like they sort of disembody public figures. They disembody each other because it’s easy to. And also you have been quite literally neuro programmed by the technology to lack empathy in that moment. So of course you’re going to write some shit that isn’t you. And really, how many conversations do you have online that are the same in person? And there’s no ring fencing of how far that message can go. So essentially, it can travel so far that the original context is lost and people are just commenting as if you’d said it to them or about them. I mean, it’s a flawed, inherently flawed system of communication. But I think social media, we have to talk about, if you’re going to talk about mental health, you’ve just got to talk about the fact that social media is massively exacerbating it for people… I know that’s not a controversial statement anymore, but if you’re serious about feeling better… then, honestly, the thing that did it for me is getting away from my phone. It changes your life.

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James Blake: ‘I think mental health has become somewhat of a catch phrase’