Jaret Reddick: “As the guy in Bowling For Soup that tells the fart jokes… to be told that I had depression was like a punch to the stomach”
Funny, daft, upbeat, hyper… all are words which one might use to describe Bowling For Soup frontman Jaret Reddick. The Texas native and his band have carved a 27-year career out of dumb jokes, silly music videos and catchy choruses. But it’s often easy to forget that, behind the high-fives and hilarity that come with being a pop-punk musician, lies a sensitive, vulnerable human being just like the rest of us.
Ten years ago, Jaret Reddick felt like his world was falling apart: his marriage broke down, and he was having feelings he’d never experienced before. Anxiety was taking its toll, and everyday tasks were becoming the greatest of challenges. With the help of his doctor, his wife and his friends in the music community, he eventually managed to turn his life around. Here, he speaks candidly to Kerrang! about his experiences with mental illness, and gives a heartfelt and hopeful account of what it’s like to struggle with clinical depression.
When did those feelings of anxiety first start to creep in to your life?
“I’d been feeling the symptoms of anxiety for quite some time. I’m an extremely positive person, as anyone who knows me will say – I don’t really get ‘down’. But I went through some life-changing things [nine or ten] years ago – my marriage was on the rocks, and I was on the road so much at the time. And whilst I don’t want to blame anything for my symptoms, that was when the anxiety started to rear its head, and when it became something that was really affecting me.
“It got really bad – I couldn’t physically go about my day. I could do things that I knew I had to do, like take care of my children and feed my dogs, but challenges throughout the day would be things like a phone call I had to make, or an email I needed to send… even taking the trash cans to the curb. Things like that became impossible for me to do – it was a scary feeling.”
How long did it take for you to realise you had a problem?
“It took me a long time. When I talked to my doctor for the first time, he said, ‘Most people would have one life-changing thing happen to them which could put them in this situation, and you’ve had six.’ I went a solid year without talking to my doctor about it, and when I did go to my doctor, I also started going to a counsellor, but I wasn’t speaking to my counsellor about my anxiety. I was tip-toeing around it all – I wasn’t being as forthcoming as I should’ve been. It took a while to get there.
“The doctor wanted to put me on anxiety medication, and it was a drug that I’d heard of and knew people took. That medication didn’t help me, so they switched me to something else, and that helped me a little bit for a few weeks, and what the doctor told me was that there’s no magic pill – we had to find what was right for me. That conversation in and of itself was frustrating for me, because it seemed so experimental.
“After a year and a half of all that was when the clinical diagnosis of severe depression came. The doctor and my therapist both agreed on the diagnosis, and it was like a lightning crash – they would describe the symptoms of depression, and I literally had all of them. That was hard for someone like me to take: to be ‘the funny guy’, to be the guy in Bowling For Soup that tells the fart jokes, to be the guy that walks into the room and no matter what can turn it on and make everyone laugh… to be told that I had depression was like a punch to the stomach.”
Did things get better following the diagnosis?
“At first, it was a gut-punch – I didn’t want to believe it. But within hours of getting home and speaking to my wife and my best friend, it felt like there’d been this huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I was like, ‘Oh – this is what’s been wrong with me.’ It was a big relief. I have an amazing doctor – he’s just a normal local doctor, but he’s very insightful. He’s always quick to explain things. He said to me, ‘I have rich clients and poor clients; skinny clients and fat clients, and anyone can get this. It’s not in your control or that of anyone else. You can’t battle it on your own and live a happy life.’ That was good to hear.”
You said it took over a year for you to speak out and get help – why was that? Were you worried about any stigma surrounding mental illness?
“I wasn’t worried so much about any stigma before I got help – it was more me being stubborn. I thought I could work it out on my own. I equate it to my dad who hates doctors: his knee was hurting for two years, but it wasn’t until he literally couldn’t get out of bed that he finally went and saw the doctor. What other people thought of me never really bothered me, because, at the time, I wasn’t anticipating putting it out into the world. I was planning on my interviews forever revolving around Bowling For Soup being the greatest band that ever lived, and our album being the greatest album of all time. I just wanted to continue doing what we do.
“But, interestingly, you used the word ‘stigma’ in your question, and a friend of mine started a Facebook page called Louder Than Stigma. He’s a musician and psychologist, and he put out a post to all our musician friends in Dallas, saying, ‘If you’d ever consider talking about anything – substance abuse, anxiety, depression… whatever – get in touch.’ And it just caught me on a weird day – I emailed him back and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready for this or not, but what’s the plan with this project?’ He said, ‘I just wanna sit you down and film you talking about your issues, and when we’re done I’ll put it together, and if you don’t want it to go out into the world, it doesn’t have to.’ So I thought, ‘Fuck it – I’ll do it.’ When I sat down with him and began talking in front of that camera, it was like another weight being lifted off me – my lungs felt like they held more oxygen as I walked out of that room. I called my wife afterwards and said, ‘Holy shit! It feels like I just got out of a two and a half hour yoga session!’ I thought it was such a great thing this friend of mine was doing, and I thought that, given all the amazing things people have given me to help me have a great career, I owed it to people to be honest about myself. I knew there were people out there who were affected by mental health and who listened to my music, so I told him to put the video out there. I never even watched it.
“What’s funny about that is immediately after the video went out, I messaged my publicist and said, ‘I don’t want every interview I do now to be about mental health.’ Since then, I’ve ended up telling my story a bunch of times! But I’ve ended up deciding that, if people want to lead with and talk about my mental health experiences, let’s do it, because things are too fucked up right now. Chris Cornell is gone, Chester is gone – and that’s just the high profile people. What about the kid that sends me an email saying they’re having a bad day and I don’t see it… how do I get to that kid? So I’ve decided, ‘Fuck it’ – whoever wants to talk about this, bring it on. I’m very thankful to Kerrang! for having this conversation with me.”
How do you view the relationship between being a musician and suffering from mental illness? Does working in music help with or hinder your mental health?
“It depends on you as a person, and how you treat it day to day. There are aspects of my touring life that 100% bring about feelings of anxiety and depression. Homesickness, for example – I have three children and three dogs, and a wife I love very much, and though she can come out on the road sometimes, she can’t always because we’ve got a [young child]. You miss normality, too – just little things like your couch and the food you eat at home. And then there’s sleeping on a bus instead of in a bed, not always having a dressing room and not showering as much as normal – those things really do take a toll on you. When you hear a musician talking about ‘the road’ itself… that’s when you may feel you can’t be sorry for them, but you should, because it’s hard.
“There are other aspects of touring that I 100% bring upon myself, and I know other people do too. When we’re on the road, we drink a bunch, we stay up really late, we sleep at odd hours and we eat like shit – none of those things we have to do. If we didn’t do those things, maybe we’d feel better. But it all goes hand in hand: you’re homesick on tour, and you don’t wanna go sit and feel sorry for yourself, so you go out drinking with your friends.
“Sometimes, it’s hard for people to get past the idea of, ‘You’re a rock star! You shouldn’t be talking about how hard life is on the road.’ But people need to understand that rock stars are human beings, and most of them are really good people – it’s just that the life of a rock star is a really different life. Even when I’m at home, I see a tour coming, and I’m excited about it, but I also know it means that I’m not going to see my children and I’ve got to be in another country. I get to play a show every day, which is amazing, and we get to spend time with fans, so there’s aspects of touring that we really love. But it’s still this ‘thing’ hanging over your head. So I do see how it breaks some people down if they don’t have a solid, structured home life and don’t have their anxiety or depression under control. Let’s be honest: some people go on tour and abuse other things that make their problems 100 times worse. I have a bottle of Xanax which I’ve been carrying around with me for two months, and I take it when I have to have it, and I use it the way I’m supposed to use it. But I’ve got close friends who, if they had that bottle, it wouldn’t last three days.”
What coping mechanisms do you have that help you manage your mental health?
“I do have to take my medication, and I do feel it if I don’t take it. I’m not on a high dose of anything – everything’s a real balance – but if I’m travelling or something and I forget to take my meds for a day or two, it can be a problem. So I have to stay on that regiment and take it.
“I also have to communicate – I have to let certain people in my life know when I’m not feeling great mentally, just so that it’s not interpreted as something else… I don’t want people thinking I’m being a dick! It’s important for me to tell my wife and my manager if I’m having a low day. And, quite frankly, the thing that’s amazing about all of this is that once you’ve got a handle on it, those bad days become few and far between. You can also feel those things coming on – I’ve got medication where, if I’m feeling super anxious, I know I can take it, and within an hour I’ll be okay. I like to stay in a structure, and that’s a thing I’ve heard from a lot of people. Just things like getting up at the same time and eating three meals a day; it’s hard and it’s not the easiest thing to do, but taking steps to keep things as normal as possible really helps.
“Furthermore, I feel better when I exercise. Taking the time to go out for a walk – especially when the sun is shining – is something I encourage my UK friends in particular to do! Go out for a walk and soak it in, because the sun isn’t out all that much in the UK! I know I’m joking a bit here, but you do really need to get out in the sun. How many times does Frank Turner mention the sun in his songs?! It’s so poetic, but it’s true! You need that in your life.”
If you’re struggling with your own mental health, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone you can trust – a friend, a family member, a teacher, a doctor or a counsellor. Find more information on how to look after your mental health at the Mental Health’s Foundation.
And if you need help immediately, we recommend these organisations:
Stay up-to-date on all cancelled and rescheduled tours, festivals and events this year.
Biffy Clyro’s new single A Hunger In Your Haunt is described by Simon Neil as “an expression of pure frustration” and “a self-motivating mantra”.