[Photos courtesy of @wilsonlikethevolleyball_]
My introduction to Seattle musician, wilsonlikethevolleyball (Wilson Rahn), was a few weeks ago at a live performance, Gypsy Temple‘s “Pick a Number” single and video release show at Seattle’s all-ages venue, The Vera Project.
I’ve been a fan of Gypsy Temple for a year, so I’ve known Wilson as a guitarist and vocalist in Gypsy Temple; when I saw him take the stage as an opener, I was stoked.
I was entranced by his music, his voice, his stage presence and the way you can see each beat pulsate throughout his body. His set made it one of my top shows this year. I had to reach out and ask for an interview.
First! Play his song, “Tell Me I’ll Be Fine,” my favorite wilsonlikethevolleyball song, –I’ve listened to it a LOT– and read on.
Tell me a bit about your history with music and creating music. When did your interest in music (listening and creating) begin?
I don’t actually remember beginning to like music. It feels like its always been something that captured me. I remember when my family started to notice that I could sing tho! I used to come out of movies as a five- or six-year-old singing the main theme to the movie.
What was your first favorite song or album?
My first favorite song was probably “Good Riddance (Time of your Life)” by Green Day.
What was the impetus to start writing music?
I started writing music almost as soon as I got a guitar. My sister was five years older than me so I was always listening to what she was, and at the time, I was really inspired, actually, by Avril Lavigne. We had this DVD called the “My World Tour” and I just remember watching her and her band rocking out and skateboarding, and I just wanted to emulate that.
Were you in a teen band?
I have been in a number of bands, the first of which was called Tropical Penguins basically through elementary school. Then, in middle school, I was in two bands called Blame the Average and, subsequently, Black Gingham which continued on through high school.
For the most part, these three bands were what really shaped my early songwriting, especially in the rock world. When I got out of the bands is when I began experimenting with solo acoustic work and electronic music, as they could be done with no other members.
How does your craft of music creation relate to your sense of well-being; particularly your mind wellness? What does making music give you?
Music, for me, is the weirdest brand of poisonous cure. I don’t think music has ever calmed me down without first wringing me out, but I suppose that’s why I like it so much.
When I am in a bad state, if I watch TV or something, I am probably just gonna push down whatever I was feeling. But when I listen to music, I face it head on and deal with it in that moment and come out the other side with less on my chest.
As for making music, it’s kind of a similar process – just drawing out the poison in me and using music as a tool to shape it into something useful instead of destructive. I feel that lyric writing, especially, can really help externalize inner turmoil.
Photos and video taken at The Vera Project; GIF created by Liv Rougier.
It seems your song, “Tell Me I’ll be Fine,” addresses addiction and negative automatic thinking – a symptom of mind wellness issues. Please share a bit about the song.
What’s the inspiration? When did you write it?
Yeah, so “Tell Me I’ll Be Fine”, I wrote it in October/November-ish era of 2016 right when I had just started university. The first couple weeks of school, I was the most zen I had ever been in my entire life. I wasn’t happy or sad or anything, just super accepting of anything and everything that came my way.
When I wrote “Tell Me I’ll Be Fine”, I was starting to come down off of that and I really was just sad that I was gonna start acting like a human again instead of like a contemporary monk.
As for inspiration, I literally was just having an average-bad night and I decided to walk home and start writing, and the next day I reproduced the whole track and that’s the final that I published!
Who are you talking to in the song — who are you asking to tell you that you’ll be fine?
I am definitely talking to myself. I had a conversation with an excellent lyricist friend, Paul, and he told me that his biggest criticism of my lyrics at the time was my overuse of the ambiguous “you.”
“Tell Me I’ll Be Fine” marked the beginning of an important step in my lyricism where I began to consider words as a paintbrush for a scene and a story instead of just a conversation.
Tell me about your experience as a teenager. Did you experience any mind wellness issues as a teen (e.g. depression, anxiety) — first- or second-hand? If so, how did you deal with them? How do you feel mind wellness issues impacted you as a teen? How does it impact you now?
Honestly, I was an excessively privileged teenager. I really had no issues with mental health until last November when I first began to experience what it meant to be suicidal. I utilized the University of Washington’s Counseling Center and began to work through some of my depression and anxiety.
Since then, I have been working to find a system that works for me. I am lucky to have an incredible support system and I am continually working on myself to hopefully one day master my mind.
What were the main issues you experienced or observed as a teen? (e.g. bullying via social media, lack of support at home.) What do you think are the causes of these issues?
Honestly, I was a relatively disengaged teenager. I found a friend group that I really enjoyed really quickly and then did Running Start to escape what I felt at the time were the trivialities of high school.
Something that continues to bother me to this day though is the hive-minded culture of growing up. I feel like it’s so easy to be the collective bully. While I am certain I never directly contributed to the hurt of another student, something that really bothers me about high school is how easy it is to make people feel alone simply by avoiding eye contact or not saying “Hi”.
Any thoughts or ideas on how to address these issues?
As for how to address them, I honestly think it just starts with recognizing that, while you may be the main character in your story, you’re just a cinematic object in another person’s.
Try to be a positive supporting character in other people’s stories as much as possible because something as simple as remembering someone’s name and saying “whats up” when you pass them in the hall, that can go miles.
[I call this diptych, “Wilson’s Hair” – Photos taken at Gypsy Temple’s “Pick a Number” single and video release party, 2018]
The rest of the interview will be in a separate post!
These are the questions for part deux:
What would you tell teens who currently struggle with mental health issues, or who struggle with negative feelings, like feeling invisible, unloved, not good enough etc.?
TMRW aims to dispel the ageist perspective of teens as being “lazy,” “dramatic,” “overly-sensitive” etc. Do you have any words to counter this pervasive perspective?
What do you think teens have to offer the community?
Describe your music and/or musical identity with 3 words and 2 emojis.
Stay tuned for wilsonlikethevolley’s responses and lyrics for “Tell Me I’ll Be Fine.” !!