Why rock music needs to do more to support its artists
Wes Scantlin’s dog won’t stop barking. There’s someone furiously banging on his front door. “There’s a fucking psycho outside my house!” the Puddle Of Mudd frontman frantically reveals to us across a transatlantic phoneline, as he fearfully retreats into his bathroom, while simultaneously texting his best friend and hoping that the unidentified person outside will just “get the fuck back in the fucking car” and leave him alone – whatever it is that they want.
This kind of thing isn’t out of the norm for Wes, apparently. He’s sober these days and he appears to have rescued himself from the sorry mess that his life had become for many years, but drama still follows him around. It’s a far cry from the dizzying heights of fame and success he enjoyed throughout the turn of the century.
With his band’s first album, 2001’s Come Clean, the Puddle Of Mudd singer helped sell more than five million copies, thrusting Wes into the limelight. What followed, however, wasn’t an easy life of luxury, but a damaging cycle of drug and alcohol addiction, arrests, altercations and even allegations of domestic abuse. It saw him not only lose control of his life, but become a target for tabloid fodder. In 2015, he lost his house in the Hollywood Hills, which he’d purchased for $1.7 million a decade earlier. He was later arrested and charged with trespassing and vandalism while trying to break back into it. Reports suggest that it was due to foreclosure, although Wes insists otherwise. At a gig in Ohio in January 2016, Wes, clearly inebriated, accused an audience member of stealing the house, and then he walked offstage, ending the show early.
Naturally, the whole debacle was filmed by someone in the crowd and it went viral – another incident in a mounting list which portrayed him as a caricature more than a human being in crisis. Speaking to Kerrang! about those tumultuous years as the commotion outside finally dies down, he’s candid about just how troubling his spiral of addiction and depression had become. Now over three years clean, he’s also defiant about the accusations he made at that gig.
“My house was basically stolen,” he reiterated. “It was mailbox fraud. I wasn’t in town. I was on tour and when I came back and there was a barbed wire fence around my house. But I like to turn negatives into positives in life. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t give up.”
In a story that has run parallel to Wes’ tales of woe, multi-platinum-selling former Creed frontman Scott Stapp also found his life derailed after experiencing mega-fame. He, too, became addicted to alcohol and substances, while being subject to scandals – including a sex tape involving himself, Kid Rock and four women – that made headlines worldwide. Clearly, fame and fortune don’t make anyone immune from the pitfalls of addiction or the strains of mental health issues. And as the tragic deaths of Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Keith Flint have illustrated in recent years, they can even prove fatal. Scott came close to that abyss, too, but he’s one of the lucky ones.
“I felt completely abandoned by my friends, those around me and my band,” he says. “But I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know what was going on or how to explain it, and I felt like there was no-one rallying around me, trying to help me figure it out. Depression hits everyone differently, but for me it was physical. There was a loss of energy, a cloudy mind, and I wanted to curl up in a ball and lie in bed all day. To feel like no-one cared and to let everything go was a low point for me. But in looking back, to give people the benefit of the doubt, there wasn’t much conversation around that issue and no-one really knew anything about it. So it could have easily been misinterpreted as rock star-itis or me thinking that I was better than everyone else, when really I was just suffering and didn’t know what to do.”
Today, both Wes and Scott are clean and have rebuilt, or are attempting to rebuild their lives, in an effort to repair as much of the damage they’ve endured as possible. They’re also both making music again. While each credits their intense and unwavering faith with getting them through their darkest hours, Scott’s rehabilitation was undoubtedly aided by MusiCares. Founded in 1989, the U.S.-based charity is a non-profit organisation that, among other things, provides emergency financial assistance and addiction recovery services for musicians. It’s a sign of an industry finally waking up to the vulnerability of those in the limelight, but there’s still a long way to go.
“The conversation has begun,” says Scott, “and it’s been going a while now, but unfortunately it took some loss of life for people to really discuss mental health and addiction; how to recognise it, what to do if you’re experiencing it or if someone around you is. There are more resources and there are more people talking about it and more people committed to it now. I think and hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help educate people about it.”
Wes and Scott’s stories are just two of many examples from the rock world – not to mention the pop and movie equivalents – that highlight how success isn’t enough to keep the demons at bay. In some cases it can even invite, enable and exacerbate underlying issues. Especially when in the case of Scott, Wes, or someone like Britney Spears, for example, the gutter press appears to thrive off a falling star’s mental demise. That duty of care shouldn’t necessarily fall at the feet of charity organisations, either. Rather, there should be mechanisms in place within the music industry to offer support and guidance. That, however, isn’t likely to happen any time soon according to Asking Alexandria’s Danny Worsnop – a man who believes he was actively encouraged to live a hedonistic and destructive lifestyle by those around him. When he realised how damaging it was, there was nowhere for him to turn.
“It started out fun,” he says, “but the longer you’re at the party, it gets fucking old. And you start hurting really bad. The toll it takes on your body is extreme, and I found the bottom a thousand different times in a million different ways. But once that’s the image the record labels are selling and it’s bringing in money, it’s in the best interests of those people to keep that going. If they have to throw money or drugs at you to keep the party going so the money keeps coming in, they’re going to do it. I was dealing with addiction, and with a lot of people trying to have control over my life, what I did and what I said. My entire identity was controlled by others. I had to quit the band [in 2015] so that they couldn’t do that any more.”
Now back in Asking Alexandria, Danny has been sober since 2017, something he puts down to willpower and determination.
“I’ve encountered hard times and struggles in this life,” he says, “but I’m fortunate in that I’m incredibly strong-willed. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it and if I’m going to stop something, I stop it. But asking for help isn’t a negative thing. I spoke to MusiCares a few times, and they’re good people. It would be nice for people within the industry to be more open with each other, but I also think that people need to understand that you don’t have to be a victim. Do something about it and create your own future.”
Not everyone, of course, is as strong-willed as Danny, and unlike him, many musicians also suffer from poor mental health. Add in an industry that often exploits those it makes money from, even the strongest will can be overwhelmed. Ginger Wildheart, the 56-year-old frontman of The Wildhearts – whose 2019 mini-LP, Diagnosis, is all about mental health and the government’s inability to adequately tackle it – is a case in point. Ginger does still drink, although his days of excess are long gone, but he has seen how touring life encourages people to fall down that slippery slope.
“There are a lot of different elements to blame,” he says. “You also turn up at a venue and get paid with a fridge full of beer at lunchtime, so you end up drinking heavily every night because it’s all part of the circus. The industry is filled with greedy bastards who only have their own interests at heart. Arguably, the industry has killed a lot of these fallen rock stars, because they’ve allowed this to happen. People don’t get addictions overnight – it’s a long, drawn-out process that everyone’s allowed to happen.”
As much as Ginger blames the music industry, to really make a difference within it, he believes that it’s imperative to start outside of it. And while charities like MusiCares and the UK’s Help Musicians/Music Minds Matter do their bit, as festivals like Download also become more mental health-aware in recent years, more needs to be done.
“There needs to be some kind of platform to talk about this,” says Ginger. “Everybody needs to be talking about this. There needs to be a campaign that includes every celebrity who’s ever been affected by this. It needs an education that begins in school, so that kids are made aware and they don’t grow up with these things being stigmas. Because they aren’t.”
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:
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