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INTERVIEW: Barry Hyde
Tom Marsh , June 9th, 2016 14:57

Ex-Futurehead talks his new solo album, managing his bipolar disorder, and Britain’s mental health crisis

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Last week saw the release of Malody, the new solo album from Barry Hyde, former frontman of noughties indie staples the Futureheads. The title refers to a combination of the words melody and malody, the record inspired by the songwriter’s turbulent past - Hyde was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011 after a severe breakdown spanning 2010-13.

Leaving The Futureheads due to increasing mental distress, not helped by the pressures of life in a rock group, Hyde became increasingly ill, and after a stint in Arizona in 2010 studying an esoteric movement called The Fourth Way, returned home to Sunderland where he was hospitalised at local psychiatric institution Cherry Knowles in 2012. Four years later, Hyde is on an even keel. He has been removed from the mental health register, is teaching music, is releasing Malody this week, and has begun talking about his experiences in the press.

Mental health has been in the news a lot lately, and you’re one of several artists who have discussed theirs very honestly. Is it bizarre to you to now be considered a spokesperson on the subject?

Barry Hyde: I don’t like it. I’m not one to use social media as a way of talking about my mood right now, and I tend not to share pieces on mental health, because I don’t want to be a crusader. But I feel that there is an issue with mental health in this society, and it’s increasing, and the big thing for me that we need to be looking at is the mental health of children.

It’s unfortunate then that a lot of the news about mental health recently has not been good, particularly where children and young people are concerned – Natasha Devon being removed as mental health champion for schools, for example. And anxiety is supposed to be the fastest-growing illness amongst under-21s.

BH: That’s the one. I mean, anxiety’s self-created. It’s created within the body. So what can we do? I teach teenagers now, from the ages of 16-20, so I’m seeing examples of this every day. And I wouldn’t want to be in my late teens now. The core beliefs of our society seem to be about feeling good, but only in relation to others. It’s about feeling better than others.

Natasha Devon was supposedly removed because she complained about the testing culture and the idea that children are feeling more pressure to perform in relation to others.

BH: And the government failed their own test, by sacking the person they employed to find the issues! What does that tell us? They don’t care about how Joe Bloggs feels when he’s lying in bed at night.

Plus, it feels like a weakness to talk about your mental health problems. What we need more of is people who’ve had, or are having, their own mental health problems, and can speak about it, in a way which is real – and that can help people.

My perception is that, broadly speaking, there’s three established ways of keeping mental illness in check – chemical therapy, talking therapy, and, I suppose, self-therapy; what I would dubiously call passions or hobbies. What was your experience with chemical therapy like?

BH: Well, disastrous, at first. Because it is a little bit of a Russian roulette. The truth is I’ve got mixed feelings about the chemical aspect of the treatment of mental health problems, because I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen it go disastrously wrong. When I was in hospital there were some people who were so heavily medicated they would drool. If you’re in your mid-twenties wandering around off your head on drugs, and you’re drooling, then what chance have you got in turning your life around?

I came off an antipsychotic drug having been on it for a year, I pleaded with the psychiatrist to come off it. I said, “Are you going to wean me off the dosage?” and he said, “No, you’ll go cold turkey.” It took two days, going cold turkey from this drug. It wasn’t like coming off heroin, or crack cocaine.

It was a hallucinogenic experience, coming off this drug. The walls were coming in. This is really strange to say this, and I hope you don’t think I’m insane, but it felt like my feet were my hands and my hands were my feet. My hands became relatively immobile, like a foot. You’ve got less movement. And my feet felt really hand-like, had a high level of dexterity. It was terrifying.

This drug, it did stop my anxiety, but it also knocked my creativity, sapped my confidence, and made it really difficult to get out of bed. And these are all symptoms of depression – I think that drug made me depressed. So you’re either too high or too low, so you end up on a cocktail of drugs.

So what about talking therapy?

BH: I waited two years to get cognitive behavioural therapy. This was from my first hospital admission; I didn’t end up getting it until summer 2013.

Why was that?

BH: Just because of the NHS, the waiting list was so long. Because if you go in with mild mental health problems, you’re probably going to get four or so sessions with a therapist. But if you’ve got severe mental health problems you probably need 24 sessions. So it’s a longer waiting time.

This is not me ranting against the NHS because actually the service I received at Cherry Knowles hospital was incredible. I’m sure I could nit-pick but given the circumstances, they’re very, very good at what they do. It’s just the way with lists, and what do you do when you know it’s going to be a long time? You start looking into your own knowledge about it. So by the time I came to have my CBT I’d actually taught myself how to do it. It’s basically techniques to be able to intercept thoughts that are either needlessly negative or delusional.

So I was put down for 24 weeks of CBT with the lead clinical psychologist in the North East, or someone very experienced, and we just sat and talked about jazz, and cookery [laughs]. We talked about CBT as a technique, but not as if I was having a session. And after three sessions he said, “Look, you don’t need this.” So I was discharged, and shortly after that I was taken off the mental health register. I still use CBT now. Thoughts come into my head and I’m able to swipe them away like flies.

I also used to go see a CPN, which I think stands for clinical practice nurse. When I was suicidal I used to go and see him every day, and sit with him for 20 minutes, and he’d be checking on my safety. And during periods when I was more stable I’d be going to see him once every two weeks, or three weeks. That was for three years. And it wasn’t officially therapy, it was just me checking in, but actually he became my barometer for where I was at. Which was an entirely positive thing.

Would you say that the creation of Malody was a sort of self-therapy, if that’s not too trite an analysis?

BH: I wouldn’t say it was trite, I’d say it was cute [laughs]. I’d say, no. Definitely playing the piano was a distraction – but it didn’t save me. But playing the album…

I performed the Malody suite, which is the first five songs off the album, with a six-piece ensemble recently for the first time, at The Culture Awards, organised by a North Eastern newspaper called The Journal. It was in this beautiful small cathedral called the Sunderland Minster, and it was the first time I’d played with them.

I started the intro on the piano [hums intro], then everyone comes in. And I heard this sound coming out of the monitors, and that was therapy. Because I immediately started to cry [laughs]. And I couldn’t help it. It was like I’d suddenly realised that I’d come to the end of something, because there it was – all of my feelings and thoughts that I’d had to decipher and translate, had been put into this one very ambitious piece of music. I’m looking around and there’s people in crying the audience…

It was such an emotional thing. That was definitely catharsis. It was the finality – “There’s the full stop, you’ve made it work, made it out of this and now you have your creativity back.” I think it’s interesting what you’re saying about these three distinct aspects to keeping mental health in check though, because I think that’s true.

You’ve described yourself as being obsessed with spiritualism. What was it about that that drew you in?

BH: Yeah. I mean, I was born in 1981 in a working-class North-East town…You don’t get any hippies in Sunderland. You don’t get any gurus. If you’re in Brighton, there’s one on every corner. For me, I’d been in this physical world, the material world, never into the psyche, the spiritual side of us. I’d been getting by with that mentality.

But becoming a successful musician and touring the world, really seeing the world, smelling and tasting it, really opened up my mind. I started to ask questions about life, and for some reason I was pointed towards the esoteric, and the occult – George Gurdjieff and Alistair Crowley, people at the end of the 19th century, early 20th century who were obsessed with consciousness. To me, it became so incredibly glamorous. They were very serious about the evolution and the soul, and the secret origins of humanity.

I even formed my own esoteric school in Sunderland, for a small time. We were doing meditation techniques together, from a book called Mind Games by Masters and Houston. They were LSD scientists who used LSD as a way of healing mental health problems, before the government shut them down. They wrote this book of ways to bring about positive neurological changes without LSD, so that’s what we used to do exercises from. This was for a couple of years leading up to going to Arizona in 2010.

Now, would you still recommend spiritual or mindful techniques as a way of dealing with a person’s mental health issues?

BH: I think it definitely can help, but you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for. When you start swimming in those waters there are other aspects… Very quickly you can get into conspiracy theories about human evolution and consciousness, and that leads to the Illuminati. It combines what you maybe call positive thinking with manifestations of human paranoia. It’s not good. And when you’re in that mind space you’re open. Later in life it might be a bit safer than when you’re in your early 20s, and you have naiveties, you’re malleable.

I think that if you’re naturally drawn to spiritualism and the esoteric world then nothing’s going to stop you from going there. But it’s extremely dangerous to go into your own hard drive and start messing about with the information that’s on there, so you’re seeing different worlds when you open your eyes.

That’s what happened to me. I’d gone into a sort of half-world where fixed knowledges like language and numbers… You start seeing them in a different way, and start seeing letters as numbers, and everything has several layers of meaning, and all you want to do is get on the bus.

You’re doing a project writing songs with psychiatric patients, is that right?

BH: Not patients, mate, prisoners.

I was really hesitant to call them prisoners in case that wasn’t the proper term…

BH: [Laughs] Ah yeah, we don’t call them prisoners, we call them gentlemen. I went into Frankland Prison, which is a serious prison - I mean all prisons are serious but it’s a particularly serious prison. The unit I went onto, the Pike, was the psychiatric unit. And I didn’t realise until after the second session that all of the blokes that I’d been doing creativity and song-writing workshops with, were in prison for life, some of them double life sentences. You guarantee that these people have been convicted of terrible crimes.

When I was in hospital, I wasn’t allowed to leave. Once you’re admitted you can’t just walk out – in a psychiatric hospital the doors are locked. So I’m not saying that I’ve experienced what it’s like to be in prison at all, but there was a bit of empathy there.

Some of the prisoners were very into the project, very creative, and they’d written loads of poetry for it. And the subject matter is the First World War, it’s for the centenary. We used Durham Council’s archive, which has lots of letters from First World War soldiers to their loved ones – that was the subject matter. So it’s heavy stuff. And this will culminate in a big performance in November that me and three other songwriters are doing with them. Mine’s a three piece suite, like the Malody suite.

I did three sessions with them. It was amazing, an incredible experience. But I must say, they must’ve thought I was a bit of an idiot. I slept through the first session, and when I turned up for the second session, I came to the highest-security prison in the country and tried to get in without any identification. When it finally happened, I was just so grateful they hadn’t told us to get stuffed. I’ll say this as well; there’s nothing quite like walking out of a prison. Three other songwriters have gone in now, they’re still having their sessions. I went in first. I got quite a few nervous messages from them saying, “So how was it today?” [laughs]

Otherwise, I’m speaking to someone about sound-tracking an adaptation of a sci-fi novel called Starmaker for a company in the North East.

When I was listening to Malody I was hoping you’d go into sound-tracking. It could so easily have been a soundtrack album in itself.

BH: It’s funny you should say that, because when I was in the early stages of launching the album – you can’t just release an album anymore – and was thinking, “What could give this album more weight?” I put on social media that I was looking for an animation to go along with the album and a friend of mine, Emma, recommended her niece, Lily, who’s 17. And we spoke about doing something and I told her a rough storyline, and she’s finished it yesterday. It’s a ten minute film called The Malody Chronicle. She uses puppets, like flat, old-school puppets; it’s all done by hand.

I’m very much interested in writing for screen and stage – probably as interested in stage as screen, because I love the idea of it being live. And I’m looking forward to getting onstage with the ensemble again, because last time it was so powerful for me.

Malody is out now and can be purchased here

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Jun 9, 2016 7:35pm

Mental Health register? That sounds as though people who suffer from ill Mental Health are placed on a register, much like sex offenders. Do you mean he has been discharged from Mental Health services?

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