There are times when I wake up crying, for no reason at all. In these moments, I feel paralyzed, like I’m bolted to my bed. I wonder how I can take a shower and put clothes on, let alone go to my job and put words on a page. If this is how I feel during the winter months, how do artists who have to share their most vulnerable feelings to strangers feel?
This question made me want to reach out to Josh Gray, a transparent singer-songwriter, who doesn’t hold back in his music. His answers made me think that my view of people affected by seasonal affective disorder may need to change. Much of my perspective of mental health conditions is rooted in a sense of deficit and disorder. This problem-based approach can mask how the winter blues can give us the wake-up call to fully acknowledge our emotions so we can deepen the authenticity in which we engage with the world.
It’s interesting that the cover of your self-titled 2015 album, you’re in the snow. Why did you make that choice?
I love how snow forces us to slow down and reflect. There’s a beautiful quiet that falls over even the busiest cities. It’s a time of new beginnings. For me, that’s exactly what it was — a clean slate and a new chapter.
Your songwriting seems to be pulled right out of your life and the news, especially regarding police brutality. Why do you take this direct approach?
Some artists work to create a persona. Pandering to win over demographics doesn’t interest me. Music is my one outlet for expression. I’m not going to waste it biting my tongue.
You don’t seem to shy from dark topics, as evidenced on your song, “Mortality Blues.” Do you feel this way during the wintertime?
There’s a delicate balance. Music is entertainment, but I’ve always gravitated towards intellectual entertainers. Give me sad songs when the world is burning. I like to see all aspects of the human experience represented. I think there’s definitely a depression that moves in during winter. Maybe it’s the lack of sunshine or how we confine ourselves. I work to manipulate it into song form. Different song types for different seasons or mental states.
If you do, how do you take care of yourself during this time?
I try to grab dinner with friends once a week. I call friends and family on the phone. I limit my social media — the majority of it isn’t positive.
How do you stay creative during the “off” touring season of winter?
When I’m not working, I set aside entire days just for myself. On those days, I drink a ton of coffee and write and play guitar all day. I’ve been working on a full-length album coming out this year. I read often and watch classic films. It’s all about how you occupy your mind. You don’t necessarily need to produce something to be productive.