Rae Spoon is not one to take the easy way out. With a past occupied by depression, anxiety, and CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), the Calgary-born musician marches tirelessly towards life’s lighter offerings. In their tenth full-length album, Mental Health, Spoon leans into the tough stuff with an unflinching frankness and a vital sense of hope — here, light and dark coexist.
“I really like when people go for it in their art,” Spoon says over the phone with BeatRoute from their home in Victoria. Their manner of speaking lacks frivolousness. “I think it’s really brave to not be ambiguous about what your writing is actually about.”
Inspired by personal experiences, Mental Health achieves the incredible feat of making painful subject matter approachable. “If I start with a serious topic at all, I try to be more pop about it.” Suffering through childhood abuse, oppression as a trans/non-binary person, and the loss of friends to suicide had adverse effects to their mental wellness, but creating music has been Spoon’s cornerstone for coping.
“Belonging to a community like LGBTQ — they… have a lot more oppression that causes stress and mental health conditions. Or aggravates it,” they share gently. “I thought it would be nice to talk about those things. To be more open about it. That was kind of the idea.” Spoon balances gravity with hope to soothing effect.
Other coping mechanisms are less popular concepts. “I don’t really keep in touch with anyone in my family,” the artist admits. “When things are unhealthy, it’s actually sometimes healthier to just take a lot of distance from people.” A laugh tumbles through the phone. “There’s a big stigma about that — not communicating with anybody from your family you’re born into. I actually think it helps me stay grounded and happy.”
Still, they credit human connection as a source of healing from anguish. “You need to have people around you that respect your identity and see you for who you are,” Spoon states wisely. Which may be why they recorded Mental Health — released by Spoon’s own record label, Coax Records — in the laid-back atmosphere of the Noise Floor studio on beautiful Gabriola Island, and collaborated with several artists, all who were female or non-binary (including Vancouver’s Maya Miller and Becky Black of ThePack a.d.). “I’ve been trying to work my whole life to be in more healthy relationships with people than I started out with.”