In a very moving and personal essay, Kopecky guitarist Steven Holmes details how new album Drug For The Modern Age got its title
I have never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve. I prefer to keep it in my pocket or my backpack or maybe under my bed. Vulnerability is often an unnatural and uncomfortable practice, but over the last few years, I’ve learned that it is integral if you truly want to share this life with the people around you—the people that you love the most, the ones that you hold to closest. Kopecky (formerly Kopecky Family Band) has been an enormous part my world for the past eight years. We have grown into adulthood together, and we have seen each other in our best moments while also seeing each other through our worst. During the years we have spent traversing the country together, we’ve made discoveries about life that may have taken decades to learn otherwise. Despite the somewhat ambitious and ambiguous title of our latest collection of songs, Drug For The Modern Age, at the end of the writing and recording process, we realized a common theme resonating throughout the songs. This record was inspired by real life, real stories—walking through the fire, keeping your chin up and letting your guard down when you have no choice to do otherwise. These songs were written through the lens of very personal experiences: finding love and losing it, addiction, illness, familial division, unexpected death … and finding healing in the midst of it all. Drug For The Modern Age is about learning how to get up when you fall down, and leaning on your friends when you are too weak to stand on your own. We each have our own story to tell, and each tale relates uniquely to what drove us forward throughout the writing process.
This particular story is mine.
Late in the summer of 2011, I quit my job to embark on the first legitimate tour of Kopecky’s career. Over one month of unbridled adventure and music and seeing the world! All of my romantic ideas of what “being in a band” was supposed to feel like would soon be destroyed and resurrected simultaneously. Many nights on the road were spent losing track of time, doing our best to find rest in our 15-passenger van; waking in a sweat or drifting in and out of dreams, lulled by the rattle of our humble van and trailer easing down the interstate. Most nights, we found ourselves on a new stage, sort of tearing our chests open for a new crowd of strangers to give them a glimpse of what was inside. Our first tour was an utterly exhilarating and exhausting introduction to life on the road, and I fell deeply in love with all of it. Six weeks sailed by and our maiden voyage ended; headed home, not quite knowing when we would set our sails next. What happened to me—or in me—during the seven-week jaunt changed life in a way that nothing ever has before, and I was blindsided.
A crippling darkness woke me on my first morning back home, sleeping in my own bed. Sunlight washed the bedroom in gold and yellow. I only saw black and gray. Without warning, nothing about life felt the same—nothing about myself felt the same. This room that I rented became both welcomed refuge, yet strange prison. I somehow lost essentially all desire to go anywhere or to talk to anyone. Phone calls were ignored, invitations were declined. I felt infinitely sad, yet had nothing to mourn save for the sadness itself. Time passed. We played more shows, went on more tours; the darkness remained.
As I tried to wriggle away from the awful emptiness that I had fallen prey to, I only found temporary solutions to a problem that I couldn’t work out alone. I made an appointment to see a doctor, desperation outweighing skepticism, and was treated for depression and social anxiety. I left the office with a prescription that was, in theory, going to chase away the rainclouds in my head and turn my black skies to blue. Yet, being honest about my condition and my feelings (Or, perhaps, lack thereof) felt intensely difficult for me, even with the band—the people that I spend the most of my waking and sleeping hours with. However, I was determined to be forthright with them. Transparent. I explained that I had been wrestling with depression for several months, and that I would be taking medication to even-out some sort of chemical imbalance. I told them that I was inexplicably sad, but soon I would be happy again. I told them that I was sad, and inexplicably so. But soon I would be happy again. I would be myself again. I ached so badly to be myself again.
I spent several months on the “take-one-pill-a-day-before-breakfast-and-the-other-pill-only-when-the-storm-is-blowing-in” regimen, only to find myself in a hole that felt oddly similar to the one that I had woken up in on that first fateful morning. The darkness was eerie and familiar, and I felt less like myself than ever before. Perhaps some chemicals had indeed been balanced in my brain, but I don’t believe it was a balance that my brain really needed. In my crazed quest for wellness, I began a self-medication regimen of my own invention. And so began a nearly endless night.
Over the course of nearly two years, I created a destructive, self-perpetuating system that allowed me to escape myself almost entirely, and by the time that I understood that I was in a dangerous place, it was too late. In my efforts to free myself of the sadness I was feeling, I had inadvertently chained myself to it. I was addicted to the consolation and numbness that I had found, and was terrified and the prospect of anyone knowing. What would my friends and family think of me if they found out the state I was in? The stigma that is branded onto situations of addiction or abuse was one that scared me witless. As far as I knew, my struggle was in secret; for some reason, I thought that it had to stay that way—just me and my demons duking it out until somebody had to throw in in the towel. In reality, my struggle had become painfully obvious to the people closest to me—most of all, the rest of the band.
After a long, blurry, and awfully disorienting streak of abuse, a light found me—several strong and loving hands shook me out of my stupor. Early in August 2014, I was pulled out of a downward spiral that could have become my demise. Also, as fate had it, this was also as Kopecky was entering the studio to begin tracking Drug For The Modern Age, the first week of which I was not present for. I spent a much needed time of rehabilitation with my family in South Carolina while the rest of the band began the process of piecing the new record together.
For myself, the first step in finding a source of real healing was the most important one, and it was simply the act of leveling with myself—being cognizant of my situation, and knowing that I didn’t have to live in a shadow of guilt or fear for feeling the way that I did. It is OK to be weak, it is OK to struggle, and it is OK to hurt. It is also OK to mess up, to stumble and, at times, to not feel like getting back up. As I came to terms with this concept, more light began to emerge around me. Human beings are born broken. We all have an Achilles heel, with each heel different from the next. I found myself stepping back from my immediate situation and began to see it next to the conflicts that my bandmates had faced in recent months and years, and that while circumstances vary, there is essentially one solution for all of us in the end: Open up and share the weight. Everyone is hurting. No one can heal alone.
This is not, by any means, an everything-is-great-and-the-world-is-beautiful-so-suck-it-up-and-smile philosophy. There is nothing to be gained pretending that pain doesn’t exist or that we can always skate around the potholes in the road. Life tosses you lemons, and sometimes life tosses you lemon-shaped hand grenades. Drug For The Modern Age isn’t about sweeping the tough issues under the rug—it’s about sweeping them out from under the rug and into the light of day. It’s finding peace in a den of vipers. Struggling to not be smitten by the things that you love but are bad for you/me/humankind. It’s forging through foggy valleys without a compass. Learning to let your guard down, and learning how to keep your chin up. Dancing, even through the sad songs.