San Diego-based indie singer-songwriter John Helix is releasing Tune Out, Turn Off, Disconnect on March 4th. It’s the follow-up to Helix’s 2015 critically acclaimed album Chronic Happiness. The album’s title takes its cue from Timothy Leary’s famous acid-laced dictum. Accordingly, Helix pounds, strums and sings his way through a contemporary existential crisis and it is a joy to behold.
Helix describes his sound with German term ‘Weltschmerz’ which essentially translates to romantic sadness – a feeling of generalized sentimental pessimism. Reflective, pensive and full of bittersweet nostalgia, Helix creates melancholy pop songs laden with double-entendre and insightful commentary, a sound that has increasingly attracted crowds of generally disillusioned but not hopelessly cynical fans.
After listening to and loving Helix’s albums and being a sometimes depressed indie music blogger, I asked Google simply: Are indie music listeners depressed?
The first result was a blog post from The Guardian of questions and answers posed to the Indie Professor. Here’s the question asked by Richard Minkley via email:
I’m quite into Radiohead and realise that their music is quite depressing or melancholy which gives it a bit more of an edge. Why is depression so often linked to good music?
The Indie Professor’s answer began:
As Poe wrote in his exposition on The Raven, “Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariable excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all poetic tones.” This sentiment is not an aesthetic universal, but the product of the same ideologies discussed above. In melancholy, the puritan distrust of sensual pleasures meets the romantic value of extreme emotions.
Puritanism rejects indulgence and if you can’t indulge yourself, what better way to experience emotional intensity than to gather pleasure from pain? The more acute the emotional experience, the more validating it is. This is why much of the music that is the heartland of indie culture is melancholic, disconsolate and miserable. The taste and sensitivity to experience pathos shows that one is a member of the aesthetically elect. The intersection of puritan/romanticism takes unrequited longing as superior to physical satisfaction. Physical satisfaction is seen as the dominion of other music genres; hence the uneasy relationship between indie and dance.
Another result to my Google question was an article referring to a 2008 study where preferred music style is tied to personality. Here’s how indie music fans are described: They have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard working, and not gentle.
I found this information interesting while reviewing Helix’s new album. It’s relevant because the album started out surprisingly upbeat until Helix tore his ACL in a jiu-jitsu tournament. The injury and 8-month recovery resulted in a somewhat self-destructive headspace and left Helix feeling disconnected from friends, family, lovers, and even his own sense of self. This dark and heady vibe quickly crept into the material, along with the pull of a variety of artistic influences, including Mark Rothko’s abstract expressionism, Woody Allen’s pedantic humor, and the raw intensity of John Lennon’s early solo work.
The album’s title was ironically not reflective of Leary’s dream of the happy ones being turned-on day-trippers journeying toward a communal destination. In contrast, Helix finds individuals groping for human connection in a cotton candy consumer culture. Reflecting upon this, Helix asserts, “I feel my message is a nice antidote to the prevalent ‘buy this and click this’ mentality, which to me is the opposite of searching for real meaning.”
In the end, Helix finds catharsis in the culminating track, where the narrator of the album concludes that even though he has gone through the depths of hell, the isolated place he finds himself doesn’t reflect who he really is. Helix is quick to point out that the heavy lifting was a catalyst for positive change and looking back at his creative process, notes, “I felt so lost and disconnected from the world, but all along I knew there had to be a way back, because so many have walked this road before, it’s almost like I’m retracing their steps”.
You can stream the cleverly-titled track “Roman Tic” below and buy Tune Out, Turn Off, Disconnect on March 4th.