PREMIERE: Bad Heaven Ltd. Explores Immobilizing Depression in “bed” Video
Frontman John Galm opens up about his struggles with mental illness and how he channeled it into his current project’s new album, strength.
Over the past two months, emo supergroup Bad Heaven Ltd. have shared two lo-fi tracks off their upcoming debut, strength—and this month they’ve got another. It’s incredible to think about members of Snowing, The World Is a Beautiful Place, and Amanda X making music together in the first place, and the combination of their musical influences shines through in Bad Heaven’s latest single, “bed.” The video was shot and directed by Dana Yurcisin and produced by Biff Swenson, resulting in an icily intimate look at, well, a person in bed.
Although “bed” starts off with a very simple mantra, the weight is carried between the lines. Lead singer John Galm is no stranger to puzzle-piece lyrics, and once you put them together with the somewhat-calm, somewhat-haunting video of someone stuck in bed, you get a very real depiction of mental illness. With the unveiling of the video, we asked Galm about his personal experiences with depression and how Bad Heaven Ltd.’s new brand of slowcore explores those feelings through muffled noise, a sense of hopelessness, and glittering walls of sound.
“Bed” has strong slowcore elements to it—why did the musical direction steer that way? If the slowcore style wasn’t intentional, what were you aiming for?
It’s strange to think about now, but “bed” actually came from a point of frustration, and kind of turned around the whole record writing process for me. I did a lot of the recording of the first Bad Heaven LP on my own, but I am by no means proficient at it, so I thought the progression of the next LP would be to expand on my home studio knowledge and let it push me toward grander, more expansive sounds. All that really did was saddle me with a bunch of musically bloated demos with lots of keyboards and needless effects.
I was frustrated to the point that when I came up with the initial riff for “bed,” which is a really simple little riff, I actually had a weird epiphany: I’d stop doing Bad Heaven, start a new band called LENT, and expand upon this newer, simpler sound. I even wrote a few other riffs and labeled them “lent 1,” “lent 2,” etc., some of which ended up on the LP. It sounded like an early Low riff to me, and Low are one of my biggest influences—but it was so sparse and contained that I thought there was no way it could be a song for my next record. So “bed” came a little bit out of a slowcore thing, but more so helped change my approach and let the right songs come without unnecessary bells and whistles.
There’s a lot of really cool musical de-evolutions between the lyrics, alternating between extreme noise and distortion and calm shimmering. What purpose does each de-evolution serve, in the context of the song versus the album as a whole?
I don’t think they were initially meant to serve anything, but ended up working out in a cool way. I remember when I was first piecing the song together, I always wanted a break between the second verse and chorus. It was always penciled in, but at the time, the choruses weren’t big and loud, and the break was meant to be a few seconds of silence and nothing more. Songs tend to develop in my head for a long time before I settle on what they are, and I think just through months of working through it mentally, what were once small gaps become longer drones, and what might have started with a little grit turns into massive amounts of distortion. I come about lyrics the same way, so I find it interesting that the second verse ended up being about this sort of fantasy of having a way out of mental illness that ends with this shimmering, lasting drone, that then gets dashed away by a lot of distortion.
I was told that this track in particular explores the feeling of being eaten alive by mental illnesses and their effects. Would you mind sharing a little about your personal struggles with mental illness?
Yeah, this is really a simple song, lyrically, about depression and anxiety, and the general gnawing a mental illness can have on you. I’d rather not get into too many specifics, but I’ve struggled with these sorts of things as long as I can remember, and it’s taken me most of my adult life to get a hold on them to a point where I can live a somewhat normal, functioning life.
Snowing has a lot of self-referential lyrics about depression—how have those feelings developed from project to project? Has your relationship with mental health changed?
“I find it interesting that the second verse ended up being about this sort of fantasy of having a way out of mental illness that ends with this shimmering, lasting drone, that then gets dashed away by a lot of distortion.”
With a lot of my previous projects, I was really just looking to be heard. I didn’t have support in regards to getting real help for my illness growing up. Snowing in particular was a huge step forward, where I began singing about those subjects pretty frankly because I just wanted my feelings to be known and acknowledged. That’s kind of a slippery slope, though, because for a time, I felt that this super confessional style was my niche and something that was necessary for my writing. As I got older, my mental health really started to deteriorate. I have two records under my own name that I made in 2014 and 2015 that, when I listen to them now, are pretty scary for me. They literally just sound like cries for help.
In 2015 I was admitted into an intensive therapy program and finally given a set of diagnoses that put me on the path toward getting a better handle on my health. Now when I write, it’s a lot less immediately “this is how I feel and I need you to know.” Instead, I find myself extrapolating on ideas or feelings or memories from my past and creating these sort of narratives based on them. For a time, I was genuinely worried that I didn’t know how to write songs without having these super specific feelings to vent about. This new method has not only been necessary in my ability to continue writing songs, but it’s helped me process a lot of feelings about specific times in my life that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were simply telling you how I was feeling in this moment.
What advice do you have to other people struggling with the same (or different) issues? Do you have any resources that personally comforted you, or any suggestions for people seeking help?
God, it’s just so damn hard. I wish I had a list of resources or tools I used in the past to help me when I needed it, but realistically, I don’t. Navigating mental health is different for every person, and it can seemingly be a minefield. What eventually worked for me was that I got a healthcare plan through the Affordable Care Act and went into debt taking care of myself. I had no other choice. The healthcare system in this country is so very fucked up, and it’s so hard to get the help you need without buying into it. But I did what I had to do, and I know I made the right choice for me.
strength is out August 2. You can pre-order it here.