New Noise Magazine Mental Health Series featuring Todd from Benchmarks.
Nashville-based trio, Benchmarks—comprised of vocalist and guitarist Todd Farrell Jr., bassist Matt “Goose” Rewinski, and drummer, guitarist, and key player Jack Whitis—dropped their debut EP, American Night, in June of 2015. Their first full-length, Our Undivided Attention, was released March 24 via Sofaburn Records.
Since 2015, Farrell has also played guitar for Columbus, Ohio’s Two Cow Garage, who have been spreading their alt-country rock gospel since 2001. Their most recent release, Brand New Flag, dropped in October of 2016 via Last Chance Records.
Are there any personal experiences with mental health issues you’d like to share?
I have pretty intense inattentive ADD, and have suffered from depression in the past.
How does your mental health status interact with or inform the way you make music?
Musicians have a unique opportunity to get all the messed-up things inside their brains out in a really healthy and constructive way. Anyone can get excited or violent or depressed or drunk, but not everyone can turn that emotion into something beautiful. Musicians have their own therapy—literally—at their fingertips.
What are some mechanisms you’ve developed and/or discovered that help you cope?
I listen to the Nerdist Podcast with Chris Hardwick, and he had one of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby, on once. They talked about how to stay creative in a world so hell-bent on distracting you from what you need to do. He said, at his office, he has two desks: one for work and one for jigsaw puzzles. When he’s in the middle of a project and gets stuck or loses track or the well of inspiration runs dry, he turns and starts working on the puzzle. The mundane yet problem-solving nature of the puzzle keeps your brain sharp, while not burning out on your project. It’s much better than shifting over to Facebook and getting lost in meaningless thought for an hour. I’ve tried to do this, and it works. It can be other stuff besides puzzles, though. Playing a game, working on scales on the guitar, or even sometimes playing a quick round of Mario can reset your brain a little bit.
Are there ways you think the music world could better accommodate and/or include those living with mental illness?
I think the general population of the world doesn’t understand that being a musician isn’t the glamorous, cool thing that it’s perceived to be. Being a musician kind of sucks. You have all these ideas and things that you want to say, and it becomes your entire existence to get them out. By the time you’ve gone through all the means to get your message out, and after all the work, nobody really cares. “Why should what the musician has to say be any more important than my last tweet?” You’re right, it shouldn’t, other than the fact that the musician put their entire life into delivering that message in a thoughtful and creative way.
Perhaps being a musician is a mental illness in itself? Without getting too far into politics, the broad majority of musicians do not have health insurance, and even more will lose it in the coming years with our new administration. If they do have it, it’s very poor. In a world where the value of creation is going down, so is the value of the creator. I think the music world needs to stick together to find a way to take care of each other. I don’t know what those ideas are, but if we don’t stick up for ourselves, not many others will.
How are your personal experiences impacted by external forces—subculture, dominant culture, political rhetoric, policy shifts, the news media, social media, etc.?
In the scene we play in, there’s definitely pressure to fit into certain boxes. Either unfortunately or fortunately, [Benchmarks] don’t really fit in. We play in the punk scene, but we’re not really punk enough. We live in Nashville, but we’re not country, nor are we really part of the East Nashville Americana scene—other than by association and friends. Nobody in this band voted for Donald Trump, but we also didn’t put out a political record this year; we wrote [Our Undivided Attention] two years ago. There’s always pressure to fit into what your niche has given you, and sometimes it gets hard to let go of all that and just be creative for the sake of art and your own mental health. While I love punk and Nashville and political music, sometimes I think that the world needs more artists who are just being themselves and telling the truth.