By: Shayla Lee
When facing mental health struggles like anxiety and depression, we often feel alone and isolated from the outside world. Is there anyone out there who feels what I feel? Am I crazy? For many of us, these questions often cause us to turn to art as a solace to get us through these tough times. Over the past few years, more and more musicians have used their own art to open up about their struggles with mental health. From Elohim’s EP “Braindead” detailing her experience with anxiety to Lauv’s very emotional and personal album “~how i’m feeling~”, 2019 has seen many releases that spread a message of comfort while pushing creative boundaries.
Another release to add to that list is Bri Tolani’s new single “Hazy” which depicts her struggle with dissociation. The Denver-born Los Angeles-based musician wrote and produced the track herself which is accompanied by a beautiful music video and a campaign launch. We had the chance to chat with Bri about all things “Hazy,” her new campaign #MyThunderstorm, and mental health.
Femme Riot: To people unfamiliar with you and your music, how would you describe yourself and your music to them?
Bri Tolani: For people that don’t know me or my music, I would describe myself as a very quirky funny nice and open girl from Colorado. I play a lot of fortnite and I am also very athletic. as far as my music goes, I will describe my current sound as indie pop. I believe my music is a little more left of center than traditional pop, but still has the catchiness of pop. this is mainly because I write songs about deep and emotional stuff that is sometimes hard to share but I think makes a song stand out more.
Your music fuses together a variety of elements. Where do you draw inspiration for your music? Who are some of your musical influences?
My musical inspirations widely very across numerous genres. I grew up listening to Green Day in Lincoln Park, and then listened to a ton of Taylor Swift which really got me into songwriting. Currently, I draw a lot of inspiration from Lauv and Halsey. Halsey and Lauv specifically are two artists that have opened up about their mental health and I have so much respect for them. I also love and draw inspiration acoustic acts such as John Mayer and Ben Howard.
Your new single “Hazy” is a song about your experience with dissociation. I really appreciate your openness on this track – I have anxiety and panic disorder and have experienced dissociation as well. Was it difficult creating a song so personal or did it feel therapeutic? Can you tell us more about the track?
Writing Hazy was incredibly cathartic. The song actually came together because I was at the pool and I had a panic attack. I couldn’t calm down and my mom was visiting me and she suggested that I go up to my room and write a song to collect my thoughts and ground myself. Funny enough, the song came to life that very day. I struggle with a lot of dissociation due to my high levels of anxiety that I’ve had for a long time now.
The lyrics are pretty spot on to how I feel, sometimes I just feel like I’m in a fog or a haze and nothing exactly seems real or how it used to be. Almost like I’m dreaming. This happens when I get really stressed or anxious and can’t control it. Though it is scary and vulnerable to open up about this, I know how many people struggle with this and don’t know what it is so honestly at the end of the day if I can let someone know that they’re not alone and that there’s a word for these feelings then I’ve done my job. My main priority is to spread the word and help others feel connected.
My main priority is to spread the word and help others feel connected.
The music video for “Hazy” depicts the real effects that mental illness can have on a person including isolation and trauma. The video focuses on you in a support group setting while other people share their mental health struggles. How did you come up with the idea for this video? Can you tell us more about it?
The concept for this video was definitely a team effort. I remember we started brainstorming ideas six months back and nothing really seem to stick or fit. Then, me and my team kind of came up with the perception of a support group. I immediately loved the idea because it’s so raw and genuine and that’s exactly how the song feels to me. Strobe lights and fog machines and special effects weren’t really doing it for me. I wanted this video to be as authentic and real as it possibly could. And what is more authentic than a support group. I love it too because it’s not just me in the spotlight the whole time talking about my issues, everyone else gets a piece of their story to share.
What was also really cool is most of the quotes people say in the video or things that they actually struggle with and wrote themselves. So it truly is very genuine. And the part of the video where I’m on top of the mountain and “leave” the support group is another metaphor for dissociation as if my mind is kind of wandering and I’m not fully in the present. overall the video came together beautifully and I couldn’t be happier.
Along with the song and music video, you are also launching your campaign “My Thunderstorm Campaign.” I love this so much and look forward to seeing how it is going to help others. What inspired you to create this campaign? What do you hope to achieve with it?
The #MyThunderstorm campaign is something we are all very excited about and I really hope it can help some people. There’s a lyric in Hazy that goes “There’s no sun in my thunderstorm”. When I wrote that lyric, I loved it so much that I literally got my first tattoo that day, which just says my thunderstorm on my left rib cage. I love that lyric because to me, my thunderstorm replicates your baggage or the weight that carries you down every day. Everyone is going through something, even if they’re not struggling with mental health people still have a thunderstorm to share.
I also love that lyric because I feel like sometimes people expect life to be blue skies and sunshine but In reality it is like a thunderstorm, it rains it clears there’s lightning there’s thunder there’s fog and that stuff necessarily isn’t scary or dangerous all the time, it can be beautiful. Like a lightning storm is damn pretty. But life is more chaotic than just blue skies on a sunny day. The #MyThunderstorm campaign is really meant for people on social media to share a little bit about what they’re going through and get something off their chest. I’ve had fans all the way in India and Brazil send over their my thunderstorm videos, and I can’t wait to see who else participates.
Everyone is going through something, even if they’re not struggling with mental health people still have a thunderstorm to share.
In the “My Thunderstorm Campaign” video, you open up about your “thunderstorm” being the effects of stress and anxiety build up. In your personal life, how do you let this storm pass?
For me, my thunderstorm clears when I journal, make music, or spend time in nature. Growing up in Colorado I was very outdoorsy and my childhood was hardly spent looking at screens or TV. I am very grateful for that because I think all of us need to spend more time out in nature, I really think it grounds us mentally and helps us clear our heads from all the clutter that fills it every day.
Although mental health struggles were seen as taboo in the past, over the past few years we have seen more and more people in the entertainment industry become open about what they struggle with. Who are some mental health advocates – whether it be musicians, artists, or people you know in your personal life, who inspire you to help raise awareness about these issues?
I can name a ton of people that have inspired me to open up about my mental health, but Lauv is definitely my #1. I went to one of his shows a couple months back and he dedicated 30 minutes of his set just to talk about his struggles with mental health and encourage people to seek help. I thought that was so cool because he’s using his voice to express an issue that has been shadowed for way too long. Also, some of his songs are just very spot on to how I feel and his lyrics portray anxiety and OCD perfectly. I think a lot of people can relate to him. In addition to him though so many to her people have inspired me to be open: Halsey, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Whethan, Chester Bennington, Demi Lovato. The list goes on and on and it such a beautiful thing.
Mental health is something that is really important to us at Femme Riot and we love hearing about how others maintain balance in their lives. As a busy musician, what practices do you implement to ensure your health and well-being are taken care of?
I think the most important thing anyone that struggles with mental health can do is be open with her friends and family about it. I think it’s really hard to express how you’re feeling when it comes down to mental health, not only because it’s very hard to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, but people don’t understand it nearly as much as physical problems. As an artist, I’m always putting my mental health first and make sure I am never pushing myself beyond what I can handle. Verbalizing your emotions and issues as much as possible is the single most important thing. You should never struggle in the dark.
2020 is quickly approaching. What do you have in the works for the new year?
In the new year, after Hazy drops, I have a bunch of other songs lined up to be released. To be honest my focus has been so heavily on Hazy that I haven’t really given much thought as to exactly what will happen next, but all I know is that I have a ton of good music on the horizon. I write new content every day so 2020 will be focused on continuing to launch my solo career.
Anything we haven’t asked that you want to add?
Honestly I think we’ve covered a lot, but one more thing I wanted to touch on is the production of the song. This was the first song I fully produced by myself, and I’m really proud of it. I feel like a lot of women in the music industry feel like there’s no space in production for them because it’s so male dominated, and I think that needs to change. Production is a lot easier than one would think and I think female artists and songwriters should explore the production world a little more. If anyone has any questions on how to get started or how I produce Hazy they can always contact me through Instagram or email or whatever. But I would love to see a rise in female producers in the coming years.
I feel like a lot of women in the music industry feel like there’s no space in production for them because it’s so male dominated, and I think that needs to change.