"This album, for me, was the first time that I allowed myself the space to look at my demons long enough to give them names and try and describe their faces."
Silent Planet have just released their astonishing new album 'Iridescent' via UNFD
Written about the intense and painful experiences that vocalist Garrett Russell went through before and during a month-long stay in a mental institution following a very scary breakdown whilst on tour in Europe with Northlane in 2019, it's one of the most personal and powerful accounts of mental health and its effects you will ever hear. As crushing as it is otherworldly, it's an album that is a difficult but vital listen, and one that will mean the absolute world to so many.
We sat down to have a frank conversation with Garrett about putting the record together and how despite it being hard for him to even listen to he hopes that it will ignite some important conversations for those that listen...
When you started approaching this record, what was the aim? Was it an inevitability that you would be looking inwards, where before Silent Planet had been incredibly extroverted?
"This album, for me, was the first time that I allowed myself the space to look at my demons long enough to give them names and try and describe their faces. I think my goal for Silent Planet for over a decade had been to tell the names and faces of people and things in our world that often get overlooked and are usually on the margins of society. That had been my focus for so long, and frankly, I felt the alternative music world had enough white dudes whining about their problems. Early on, I decided that I wanted to tell other people’s stories instead of my own story because I’m a privileged white guy in America, and my voice is represented already on a demographic level. It wasn’t until I was in a mental hospital after losing $60000 in leaving a tour after two shows and getting grabbed up by cops in Belgium that I realised that I couldn’t avoid some personal demons and stories anymore. It went from wanting to tell stories from an honest place and still share my heart and the way I see the world through other people’s stories to me feeling like it would be dishonest of me not to address the elephant in the room from my own life. I owe the fans an explanation for that because we don’t take any of this for granted. We’ve played thousands of shows over the years, most to six people in dive bars, and then suddenly were going through these cool Scandinavian countries with Northlane, but then you drop off. It needs explaining. I feel like I did some of that explaining with ‘Trilogy’, but I feel like there was so much more to this story I needed to get out.
"I felt like I didn’t have a choice anymore. Things had to get personal if the band was going to continue at all. I explored other options, but they felt disingenuous for me at this moment. So I talked to the band and asked if they were okay with me really diving into this and having different songs for different parts of the journey I’ve been on. They were open to that, and I give them a lot of credit. Even though it’s my mental health journey that I experienced alone in that hospital, they were affected by it all. We’re best friends, and we feel it all together. That’s why I feel like this is the band’s story as much as my story."
In many ways, you probably wouldn’t have been able to talk about your experiences at any other point in the band’s story apart from right now. It’s a weird way for the stars aligning for you to have been able to build up to a place where you probably couldn’t have done any other time?
"I think so. I feel like the way that my mental state devolved, which started in January of 2018 when we started making ‘When The End Began’ and I had a pretty severe bout of depression, I think it showed up in the album a bit. It’s dark for us and has a pretty dismal outlook on the future, which I had at the time too. I guess I was more accurate than I wish I were, to be honest. The thing is that I am often faced with radical honesty. Most nights, when we play a show, I am face to face with somebody who has been through a severe trauma that they may still be working through. Most of the time, it’s the death of someone close or a recent diagnosis or mental sickness. After the last two years, I was finally able to do that again recently after not being able to tour. There’s a specific honest connection that comes with people who listen to your band as well. You’re already connected with a stranger where there wouldn’t be one before. But it would be disingenuous if I was trying to tell someone how to fix those things from the stage because unless I know you personally, who am I to speak about your life? We’ve always wanted this band to be relationship-driven. That’s why we called the band Silent Planet. What if we lived in a world that could be quiet long enough for it to hear other people? Speaking to people in that way reminded me of who I am, and there is so much more that needs to be said that will show up in future releases.
"I’m very thankful that we have been given a chance to say anything with our music at any time. This whole journey that we have been on is crazy like people will hear a song and go, ‘Wow, I’ve just discovered a new band’, and we have been here doing this for 12 years now. I’m not even mad about that because this band exists for the people that need it. I don’t want people to feel sad for themselves or me; I want them to feel like they can talk about what they are going through. As long as this band is here, I want to have those conversations and continue to be honest to whatever my calling is. That’s why we do this."
So when you realised what you could do with this record and the story you have been able to tell, how did that feel? How does it feel to know that it will affect others?
"I have had to struggle with the ego and persona that comes with being in a band. We need to change the way that we publish ourselves. We went from the age of information where the whole point of technology was to share and inform. Then with the advent of social media, we stopped communicating effectively because our egos started to take up so much space that it became more about self-expression. That can be a really good thing or a really bad thing. All I want to do is start conversations with as many people from as many different groups as possible. I’ve talked to many folks who have come from super religious backgrounds, and our music has helped them deconstruct that. I’ve also encountered a lot of LGBTQ+ folks who have hated themselves for a long time because they grew up in a culture that hated that identity. Being able to help those people makes all of this shit worth it. If we can help people find their voice in whatever way, then that is amazing."
More than anything, Silent Planet is about existing in the now and the things that are affecting you right now. If you’re looking forwards or backwards, you’re not looking straight in front of you. And that’s where ‘Iridescent’ exists; it was you writing about what you knew in the present of how you felt even if it is near impossible to admit…
"I do want to try and capture the now, even when it might be painful. When you try to kill yourself, and you get grabbed up by cops and then spend a month in a mental hospital, and you essentially get high for the first time because you’ve been straight-edge for 29 years, and all of a sudden, you’re in an altered reality, you need to do something with all of that. The first sip of alcohol I have ever had was when I lost my mind on the tour bus on that tour, and I found some of Northlane’s whisky, and I chugged it. I look back at that and trying to kill myself and traumatising my bandmates, and there is still shame. I still feel kind of embarrassed about it because that’s the thing about mental health. If you’re struggling, chances are you want to hide it from people. You hate this version of yourself. Like, why should I show the ugliest side of me? Or you think that the suffering is so all-encompassing that if you even tried to express it, nobody would even understand it, or even worse, nobody would give a fuck. That’s such a scary thing. This thing that is hell for me could be boring for another person.
"That’s why mental health is so complex and why working on his album absolutely sucked for huge parts. A lot of me wanted to move on and act like it didn’t happen. What good is it staring back into the abyss of anxiety and depression and the voices I was hearing? I struggled throughout it, and I still struggle with it now. I haven’t listened to some of these songs since I made them. Once I did the job, I said I was going to move on because it hurts. Maybe there is such a thing as being too honest, but it is the truth. That's the most important thing."