Robert Angier (AKA Jack Lowrie), 24 from Devon, UK, is an independent,self taught, instrumental rock and blues musician, whose musical arrangements are expressive, engaging and atmospheric, to name a few. Robert’s music evokes a range of emotions through rhythmic chord progressions, powerful solos and compelling harmonies – having the ability to completely immerse the listener in a world of self reflection, emotional discovery and escapism.
Robert has been playing music for about 13 years but in the last 7 began using music as a means of self therapy, to help give voice to the struggles he could not find words for, and as a way of keeping going. We at ASLI wanted to hear more about how music can be utilised as a means of self therapy and how it may be able to help with mental health issues; here is Robert’s most recent recording and our interview with him:
Could you explain to us a little about yourself and your mental health journey?
There isn’t much to say about myself. Just your typical 20-something bedroom rockstar with delusions of grandeur. However, I love what I do and it keeps me sane.
My experience with mental health problems started quite early in life – about 13 years ago. It began with counselling at school and quickly escalated to psychiatric analysis, various therapies and a range of medications. Over the years there have been multiple diagnoses from several different assessments, but no actual progress has been made. At the moment, I have voluntarily disengaged from the system following an assessment that has put me back at square one. My physical health has been deteriorating quite rapidly over the past year, so it seemed prudent to focus on that meanwhile.
Please tell us what your current piece is about?
It’s titled “Requiem For Sleep” as a kind of in-joke. I’ve always struggled with insomnia and poor sleep, especially at the time of writing this piece. It took several months to finish due to wavering levels of commitment and motivation, but I was gently pushed by those close to me to finish it for my own sake.
This piece has a significant personal meaning because it’s one that I started with a particular theme in mind, rather than completing and projecting meaning into later.
Overall, the piece follows the introspective journey of a heavily burdened individual. The overarching theme is lamentation at one’s inability to sleep as invasive thoughts permeate every waking moment, and soon begin to run away with the subject of the piece. It begins with a “morning”, as the individual reluctantly accepts another sleepless night and the start of another day. There is a sense of longing and futility that builds and gives way to anxiety and stress as their thoughts begin to race. The majority of the piece is spent searching for any respite from one’s own head, but realising the inescapable nature of the mind. As it draws to a close, there is a sense of careful optimism combined with trepidation as our subject considers their personal discoveries and their implications, and what they could mean for life going forward.
This is purely my own interpretation of the piece, however. I try to compose thoughtful music that evokes something personal to the listener and hopefully help them in some small way.
Do you believe that art is an effective form of self help therapy?
Absolutely. If nothing else, it is a very satisfying use of one’s time and can be seen as highly productive. But the beauty of it is that if one wanted to give their work meaning and purpose, they can. Art of all disciplines is a great means of self-expression.
If so, what would you say to others wishing to use art to help them with their mental health?
Absolutely do it. Even if only for yourself. The best thing about it is that it can be anything you want it to be. It can take any form you wish and say whatever you need it to say, with the added benefit of being open to individual interpretation. And if nothing else, it’s a fantastic way to pass the time.
Why is art important to you?
Art has always been a prominent part of my life. Creativity seems to run in the family, I suppose. And my partner and I both use our respective creativity as an outlet for our struggles. Between us there is an incredibly supportive atmosphere where there’s no judgement, and I have found this to be the case with the majority of the creative community. Basically, I think art brings people together and that’s a fantastic thing.
How does your art help with your mental health?
At a very basic level, it gives me something to focus on and take my mind off current stresses. It gives me a lot of useful tactile stimulation which is very grounding, and it requires a great deal of concentration. Composing is a good use of time as well, as it calls for a lot of thought and planning.
The music itself is a wonderful outlet. Through it, I’m able to express that which I’d otherwise be unable to put into words.
Do you think (your chosen artistic discipline) can aid in a better understanding of mental health?
I would say it’s quite subjective. Music is a difficult one. Some are readily able to project themselves into music and find comfort in it, while others listen just to enjoy. I have always been an advocate for music and its ability to evoke powerful emotions without actually saying anything. I avoid the use of lyrics to express myself because it then sets in stone a meaning to the piece. That’s fine in itself, but I try to compose music that people can inject their own meaning into. Lyrics would define a piece, and I find them quite distracting when trying to think introspectively.
Are there times when you feel your mental health can get in the way of your work?
Frequently. Often it can be hard to find inspiration or even motivation. It can also be a struggle to find my own self-worth and so seeing any point in my work becomes difficult.
If yes, how do you overcome/tackle this?
When such times occur I find that the best thing to do is to put a project on hold for a period of time and come back to it with fresh eyes, a new attitude and a host of new ideas.
What keeps you motivated and influenced to keep creating?
My partner, definitely. She’s probably my biggest fan, and never stops telling me how well I’m doing for it and how much she enjoys my work. It’s very reassuring. There’s also my dad, who has been a musician for as long as I can remember. He gave me my first guitar around twenty years ago, which I still have. He has also been very supportive of me in my musical endeavours.
My biggest influence is and always has been my dad, who has for as long as I can remember been a musician. He gave me my first guitar when I was about five years old, which I have kept to this day. Family life became quite complicated for a time in my youth and I wasn’t able to see my dad for a few years, and the guitar became an extremely important link to someone I looked up to and through the years has been massively supportive of me creatively.
Aside from sharing such an amazing outlet with someone I deem a true expert, I found writing and recording to be very therapeutic. I found that the guitar could find a way to say what I couldn’t. Being able to non-verbally express my mind, often in such a way that I would be unaware of until the piece was completed, gave rise to a sense of huge relief.
Finally, would you say “art” has saved your life in any way?
Very much so in a number of ways. Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain is the bond between musician and instrument. In a lot of ways, my go-to guitar (the one I use most) knows me in a way that very few people do. It speaks for me based solely on what I “tell” it, and it has felt everything that I have felt. It is unbelievably helpful knowing that there is something to confide in that has no ability to judge and something that will always be there no matter how much abuse it sustains or how long it is neglected when you just can’t find the motivation to talk to it.
There’s more to the powers of creativity to save lives than just the act of creating itself, and that is the community based around one’s particular discipline. For myself, I have found endless support within my community of musicians and other artists for everything I could possibly need help with. People have been equally happy to discuss ideas and suggestions for the progression of my abilities, problems I have had with techniques, equipment and even just life in general. I frequent a single musicians’ forum and have done for the last eight years or so, and on it I have found a community that are willing to offer help and advice on absolutely anything. It has been a wonderful place to share our music, our collections of instruments and talk about our interests. It was with the kind words of the forumites and the loving support of my partner, family and friends that I took the leap and began really trying to reach a larger audience. Through doing this, my life mattered to me again and I found respite from my struggles in doing something I’ve always loved and always wanted to do.