The Pierce Brothers on the dangers of the ‘suck it up’ mentality and how to break down stigma Twins who started busking at the age of 15, the Pierce Brothers (Jack and Pat) are now a global sensation, frequently touring around the world playing sold out shows and supporting international heavyweights such as The Cat Empire and Ben Harper. The Pierce Brothers are also ambassadors for beyondblue, and have dealt with their fair share of issues in Australian society. A while back we hung out with the Pierce Brothers, and discussed anxiety, the stigma surrounding mental health among males, and what we need to do to break down that stigma.
Aware: What, in Australian society, do you find to be an important issue to you which isn’t talked about enough?
Jack: Pat and I are ambassadors for Beyond Blue, and that’s a big part of our lives. Towards the end of last year I started getting anxiety and anxiety attacks, and at first I went and saw a psychologist about it and I really wanted to keep it quiet. But once I actually saw the psychologist I thought, psychologists are fucking awesome. It’s just sweet, you’ve got all these worries, all this stress in your life.
Pat: And it’s a stigma in men that you don’t talk about it. If you’ve got a broken leg you go to a doctor. If you have a problem and it really is a problem you talk to someone, but there’s a stigma attached that it makes you less of a man.
Jack: It affects one in three people so mental illness is this huge thing, and it gets swept under the rug.
Aware: Which social change movements do you feel to be the most important to you, whether that is based on upbringing or personal experiences?
Jack: Certainly beyondblue, but also Close the Gap is a very important one to us, closing the gap of education and knowledge between Indigenous Australians. When I was at university, I picked up an elective in aboriginal studies, purely because I felt obliged. Mostly because I didn’t know enough about it and I kind of felt ashamed because in Melbourne and cities on the east coast it’s just not taught and the aboriginal society isn’t there. It’s not as present.
Pat: And playing the didgeridoo I feel kind of like, ‘what are we doing?’ We went up to play in Arnhem Land and it was funny when we first got there. I was shitting myself because in the dreamtime, that’s where the didgeridoo came from. So all the blackfellas were sitting there, very stoic. Kind of like, ‘white fella playing the didge? Yeah right’.
Jack: So we’re doing the soundcheck and someone says ‘you play the didge? You better be good.’ We finished the soundcheck and we didn’t want to insult anyone – I’m an Anglo-Saxon white guy living in Melbourne, from Ireland. I got to the end of the sound check and they’re all really quiet, and then they all looked at each other and they’re like ‘nah we’re just fucking with you,’ and I was thinking ‘fuck you guys, that wasn’t cool.’ They said, ‘yeah we knew you’d be shitting yourself.’ You know, we did the tour with Dan Sultan around Australia first, and we did a whole lot of more indigenous areas with that, but that was our first time. With that being our first time, we wanted to be involved with this sort of thing, and we want to know about this sort of stuff, and it just goes to show how little we know about our own country’s culture and indigenous culture and how little is really taught.
Pat: Close the Gap has been a really important thing I think, because it’s such a convoluted issue, and there’s so many moving parts that have a stance on one side or the other. There’s not even one line which you can stand on one side or the other. There’s several lines on different issues, and it’s just very difficult. I think the most important thing is education and it’s kind of a cliché, but you know, one love and to accept everyone. But that’s not an answer, because humans don’t work like that. Close the Gap is a really good initiative that we’ve always loved supporting.
Jack: We wanted to get behind that. As things have been evolving and getting bigger, a lot of people in the industry and other musicians have been saying it’s best if you align yourself with one charity or initiative, because otherwise you can get lost, or your meanings can get lost if you’re spreading yourself too thin with a bunch of different messages.
Pat: With charities, as a band, if you’re trying to help too much it becomes a lot more shallow. It’s like you’re just trying to say, ‘oh this is really good, alright later guys.’ So they say, look, just pick one and give it your all. That’s why we’ve chosen beyondblue, but we’ve always personally done a lot for Close the Gap, so that’s a very important one for us.
Jack: So yeah, we try and help out. It’s just an obligation of being a decent person really. And a lot of people get caught up in doing there own thing. Certainly we’ve been caught up in doing our own thing. Because it’s not easy being a musician, because you’ve got no money. We’ve been lucky to tour all around the world and do all that, but then that all costs a lot, but we do it because we love music and we’ve had the most amazing opportunities, and it’s easy to get lost. Which is why a lot of artists can have egos and all that. But we’ve always said we’re just so incredibly lucky to do all this. I never thought I’d do my own headline show in Alice Springs.
Aware: Back to supporting beyondblue, can you tell us a bit about some of the things that are tied into why you’re supporting that cause, as opposed to other ones?
Jack: One of our best mates growing up had a lot of issues, and we got bullied pretty badly when we were at school and so did he. And we’ve had some friends of family who’ve committed suicide and stuff like that. I think most people have gone through something like this or will. I mean, one in three people deal with it.
Pat: I think because we started busking on the streets we saw a lot of it firsthand and got to know a lot of the people on the streets. And we worked in a hospital for six years going through university. So we did expose ourselves to a lot more than your average musician. Nurses go through this all the time so they see it all the time but it’s just as musicians, we get to talk about it on stage. We have a voice, and being buskers we saw a lot of it. It was more in your face and especially in Melbourne mental health is more in your face than something like Close the Gap. It’s just the geography and the upbringing.
Jack: Then I started having these anxiety attacks and everything started changing, so I got to a point where I was getting really stressed out, the ground was moving under my feet, and when I first went and talked to my doctor about it, I said ‘look, I’m having these arguments with my girlfriend all the time, and I’m just getting angrier than I should.’ And he asked me what was happening with my life at the moment? Everything was changing. And he said it’s this thing called an adjustment disorder, when everything changes you’ve got to adjust to it. I grew up in a pretty easy going, loving, amazing family and that’s one of the things that can really get to you. And I was feeling so guilty about feeling down on myself. And I was like, ‘I’ve got it so good, got it so much better than so many other people but I still feel shit.’ I felt so self conscious about it as well because of that, ‘less of a man’ ideology. But that helped, and I feel so much better now.
Pat: And also, growing up, it’s not easy for anyone. We’ve got a brother in law who’s an Afghanistan veteran, who has Post Traumatic Stress, and he’s made a big difference in the awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Triple J have worked with him a lot.
Jack: And I got to a point where I felt so guilty about feeling so shit and I was like well, look at what you’ve been through. And he just sat me down and he was like, ‘mate, it doesn’t matter what I’ve been through. It doesn’t discriminate, if you’re not happy then you’re not happy, if you’re stressed out you’re stressed out. Just because you perceive that someone has put up with more than you, it doesn’t make your thing less. If anything it compounds it.’ So that’s why we really got behind Beyond Blue.
This is probably as candid an interview as we’ve ever done. We don’t get asked about this much, but it’s something we feel strongly about. That’s the reason we’re ambassadors for it. We did this small show before we went overseas and all the money that came from it we donated to beyondblue. So we got up there, and the first time we got on the stage I said “It doesn’t discriminate, you guys have all been watching”
Pat: It was mostly a fan’s show, about 300 people got tickets,
Jack: And we said, ‘you guys have been watching our journey, and it all looks amazing but I’ve actually really been struggling, I’ve been having a really hard time.’ The whole idea was getting up and just saying ‘it doesn’t discriminate,’ and what I said at the show, if I can get up here and talk about it and I was so private about this earlier then anyone can and that’s what we’re going for. It’s important to talk about these things, like ‘R U Okay Day, it’s important to open up, and say, ‘nah, I’m actually doing it really tough at the moment and I need help.’
Aware: Jack I think you brought it up earlier about issues not being brought up enough because of that male stigma that’s there about if you get hurt having to..
Jack: Suck it up, the suck it up mentality
Pat: I think, with the age of information, it’s getting a lot easier to bring these things up and talk about them, that’s very important.
Aware: So do you think that Australia’s currently moving in the right direction with this issue?
Pat: I think, with what Jack said earlier, there’s a lot of lines and a lot of ways to look at it, and so you can get on the side of one, but that might contradict another one. In some ways we’re moving forward, but in some ways we’re moving backward. Every month, something will happen that will bring everyone forward, but then a week later something will happen to bring people backwards again. So maybe it’s a case of two steps forward one step back. But you can never stop working at it, and having things like this, and having these talks, this is all about making it candid.
Aware: So what would you say that Australians need to keep in mind to go forward with this, and actually progress in terms of defeating the stigma around mental health?
Jack: I think with mental health, it starts with one person at a time, Gandhi said it right with ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ I actually had this conversation the other night, humans don’t get it right. To quote ‘Men in Black’, ‘a person is smart but people are dumb’. Pat and I have a voice, a very small voice at the moment but we still get up and talk, we sing songs about this sort of thing and it can help people. If I didn’t get up and say ‘I’ve had issues with mental health’, and you know I look like a guy who’s got his shit together, and I come from the best family, my parents are the most in love people you’ve ever met and I’ve had 3 older siblings, we’ve had a great upbringing.
Pat: I think it’s that it’s not if we all work together, because humans don’t really work together very well unless there’s something in it for them. If everyone works one at a time and really works for it, and we start to talk about it more, I think being more candid and making it more of a normality makes it okay to ask for help. The most important thing we can do as a society is discuss it more, and if we are discussing it more that’s great.
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