An Interview With The Singer-Songwriter And Mental Health Advocate, X.ARI!
Posted On 02 Apr 2018
Meet X. ARI! This spring she will be releasing her new EP Dis-Order. She is an extremely strong advocate for mental health, and her message has been super impactful thus far.
Her new single “Vapors” was released a few weeks ago, which you can check out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpQqdC2Nys0
In October 2017, X. ARI launched her two-fold Pain Into Power Campaign, starting with her single “Cattle Call.” The campaign is highlighted by her short film Grace, which is directed by CFC Alumni Dan Abramovici (Netflix’s Ben’s at Home). The film features music from her debut EP Dis-Order and chronicles a father going through severe depression through the eyes of his seven-year-old daughter. The second part of the campaign is highlighted by Dis-order, which features 6 tracks, including singles “Cattle Call” and “Vapors,” that dive into various aspects of life, love, loss, and most importantly – struggle.
In college, X. ARI majored in psychology looking for answers to anxiety and depression caused by a tumultuous upbringing. She found them by way of music, rather than books. “There’s dark and light inside all of us every opposite is a complement,” she explains. “You can’t have beauty without pain. You can’t have success without failure. You can’t have the ying without the yang. You accept yourself amidst those demons.”
At this time last year, X. ARI had surgery and was suffering from depression, insomnia, anxiety, and PTSD, which led to a hospitalized breakdown. “There was no dim light at the end of the tunnel and every part of my being thought this was the end. If I only knew that so many people have similar struggles, I would not have felt so alone. Perhaps I would been able to recover sooner had I not been so ashamed.” It’s taken her a year to open up about her story, but she’s sharing it all with the hope of encouraging others to get help, to know that recovery is possible, and most importantly that no one is alone.
Learn more about X.ARI in the following All Access interview:
So where does this interview find you today? Has it been a good day?
I am currently sitting in my house robe at home, listening to a Youtube video called, “528Hz Calm Down Anxiety – Stop Inner Conflict, Overthinking, Worry | Let Go Of Destructive Energy.” It’s pretty soothing! I woke up in a funk and have been fighting depression, so I pushed myself to run, shower, and meditate this morning. To me, that is a really great start to the day, and I intend on allowing it to set the tone for the rest of my day.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What are you most excited about for this year? What is one big goal you have for 2018?
2017 was one of the most difficult years of my life. Thankfully, I’ve found a way to channel my pain through my music, and make meaning of my trauma by having a message with a higher purpose. As for 2018, it has been moving so fast! I’m really excited to release my EP “Dis-Order,” in participation with Mental Health Month in May. My main goal is to reach as many people as possible who may be suffering, or who need to know that they are not alone. I hope that by sharing my wounds and recovery openly, people will believe that they too can heal and have joy in their life again, despite what they may be going through now. When I was at my lowest, I wish I saw someone sharing their struggle and survival story so I would’ve known it was possible for me too. I’m trying to be the person I needed for other people, so there is less suffering in the world and more self love, compassion, and acceptance.
I’d love to hear you share about your Pain Into Power Campaign. Can you speak to what your movement is all about and what inspired it?
Pain into Power is all about channeling negative energy, trauma, and pain into something meaningful. Music has been a constant healing source for me, and it is how I turn my Pain into Power. The campaign is a two parter with my EP “Dis-Order” and short film Grace, which we are currently submitting to premiere at a film festival. I hope to inspire people to find their source of healing, and to make meaning out of their pain too. I’ve had challenges with mental health since I was a kid, and have survived two severe mental health breakdowns. One of my breakdowns actually led to my hospitalization in late November of 2016. I was very ashamed and thought that my life as I knew it was over. I was completely stuck and unable to accept my mental health challenges as part of my story. I was resisting acceptance – not only could I not believe that it was my reality, I did not want to believe it. Fortunately, with a lot of self work, I’ve been able to slowly integrate it into part of my life, rather than reject it. Most importantly, my darkest experiences helped me realize that what I thought was my biggest weakness was actually my greatest strength. Over the years, I’ve tried out different modalities for healing and therapy so I’ve compiled a Self Care Tips page on my website and have started a Self Care Sunday series on Youtube to provide a resource for anyone seeking additional help. I’ve been using opposite action by overtly sharing my experiences in hopes of helping others, which is also helping me heal simultaneously.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would have? Has music always been a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience?
I always loved to sing as a kid. There was something so pure about it coming directly from my own body. Anywhere I went I could sing and feel good. Music has always been a huge part of my life although for a while I didn’t think I’d pursue it as a career. For a time music felt so organic and meaningful to me that the idea of tarnishing it with expectations or branding turned me off from diving into the music industry. However, I love music too much and would be empty without it so I am all in baby.
Let’s talk about your new EP, “Dis-Order” that will be released this spring. What was it like making this collection? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
Making this collection was a tedious process. I first thought I was releasing my second EP through a production deal and major distribution and when that scenario changed I had to go back to the drawing board. Deciding on the final songs took me quite some time since I wanted to balance the light and dark elements for contrast while also focusing on the deeper meaning for mental health awareness. I released “Cattle Call” first in 2017, which is about over-work and exhaustion and serves as a reminder for balance in life. “Vapors” came out early 2018 and is a commentary on the addictiveness of toxic relationships and their negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Other songs on the EP such as “Miss You” discuss depression and grieving after loss and “Flashbacks” shares the experience of PSTD and insomnia.
I can’t say much surprises me anymore, because life, career, and relationships, everything is all a series of peaks and valleys – so I just remember to hold on for the ride and I trust the universe has my back.
Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind this new EP? What has led you to becoming an impactful mental health advocate?
My EP “Dis-Order” stands for separating oneself from labels, and not letting any mental illness define or limit you. I separated the word into two because disorder is really disorganized order, and I believe that we can find order if we compartmentalize and separate labels from our identities (and put in the self work required). Becoming a mental health advocate has been very liberating for me. Going through mental health challenges myself and feeling alone during that process inspired me to join the conversation and promote mental health awareness through my art.
What was it like writing your newest single “Vapor”? How have the struggles you’ve endured in your life fueled this single?
Writing “Vapors” was a very freeing process. Justin Gray produced and co-wrote it with me, and he gave me a lot of space to be creative with the lyrics. The song compares a relationship to a lit cigarette to resemble the toxicity that a negative relationship can have on our health (physical and mental). Both partners in this story are harming themselves and each other by remaining in a tumultuous relationship, and even though they both know it, they refuse to let go.
In the past I used to stay in romantic relationships with people that were detrimental to my well-being. There were also non-romantic relationships that I wanted to keep so badly that I allowed myself to be in them even through they were hurting me. Now, I cut out all ‘energy vampires’ in my life. By this I mean that anyone who sucks me dry is OUT. I do not have space in my life for people who bring me down. Especially after experiencing debilitating mental health challenges. Once I had to file disability at school, and at a point I couldn’t work for a few months. The last thing I want to surround myself with is toxic people. Negative energy is contagious and it could easily throw me into a low grade depression that could end up deepening. “Vapors” is a reminder to chose healthy love, and to let go of anyone that is unhealthy for you.
How do you think “Vapor” compares to the rest of your collection?
“Vapors” has lighthearted electro pop production, and is paired with a soft vocal delivery to intentionally contrast the dark message behind it. The rest of the tracks on my EP are a mix of Alt Pop and Indie Electro Pop, each with their own raw message of hope, tragedy, and empowerment that either directly or indirectly connect to mental health. “Vapors” is definitely one of the lighter sounding tunes, which is a polite contrast to “Cattle Call,” where I go full screamo on the bridge.
Where can fans see you perform next? What do you think makes for an ideal concert for you?
I just played a really fun show at The Peppermint Club in LA, and am planning my EP release party for either May 30th or 31st (venue to be confirmed). My next show in my home city of Toronto is on April 26th at Adelaide Hall. What makes an ideal concert is great sound and entertaining performers. There’s nothing better than stellar acoustics and seeing an artist I love really engaged and delivering their music with conviction.
How active on are you on all of your social media platforms? How important do you think it has been to your career so far? Do you find that it’s hard to update all of them all of the time?
I am very active on social media, but it honestly never feels like enough! Part of me wants to burn my computer and phone and go back to the old days without social media, but the realist in me knows that there is no turning back, and that social media isn’t going anywhere. I try to utilize social media in a positive way to end stigma. I use it to share my story and music, and to support others struggling with mental health, through my Pain Into Power campaign. I do find it hard to stay on top of it all the time, and it is a catch-22, because using social media is actually known to have a negative effect on happiness. That being said, I try to take time away from my phone, and not let the reactions to my posts be indicative of my self worth or success.
We are living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that music is going to reflect these challenging times?
We are at the start of a revolution! It is a very trying and politically charged time right now. Typically I steer myself away from politics and the news because it makes me sad a lot of the time. A lot of the news is disturbing and depressing so I stay up to date on what I need to know, and keep my distance otherwise. I stand up for what I believe in strongly and try to shine light in the world to outweigh the darkness, and give hope. Music has always been a powerful platform for expression and inspiring change. Music is literally a reflection of the current state of the world, whether it is our internal or external environment. I truly believe that artists are getting behind causes that they believe in, and are starting to use their voices for the greater good.
Being a musician gives me both joy and struggle. To me, everything is ying and yang, and we can’t have the beauty without the ugly. If I was completely happy with my work, I wouldn’t continue creating or trying to improve my craft, which would totally stunt my growth. I teeter totter from a place of slight discomfort and slight dissatisfaction, while also allowing myself to be proud of my accomplishments and believe in myself. If nothing I do is complete, there’s always room to expand myself as a person and as a creator.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I have so many favorite artists… I’d say Sia and Bjork are at the top of my list. Sia has a powerful and unapologetic voice and is blessed with a talent for songwriting in her sleep. Her career trajectory is one that I admire as well. She writes for herself and other artists, she is artistic with her visuals, and also has mental health challenges that I can relate to. She’s a true gem and her age has not put any limits on her, and it shouldn’t. I hear people say “I’m too old for this,” or “I missed my chance at that,” and I laugh and remember that age is just a social construct we have created. The only bounds it has are the bars that some people chose to place around themselves.
I can relate to the alien qualities Bjork possesses. I used to feel like a creature trying to fit in and artists like Bjork taught me to embrace my weirdness and uniqueness. On my next record (after Dis-Order), I plan on getting a bit more aggressive and experimental. Bjork will definitely be a role model during that process.
I’d love to work with Sia, Eminem, Grimes, or Bjork someday.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music?
You are a survivor and you are powerful. You have the ability to make meaning of tragedy and find peace. Everything is temporary, so revel in the good, and be patient with the bad. Spread love and light more than anything else. Above all – you are not alone in this wild world, and if I survived this far so can YOU.