With his Rock ‘n’ Roll take on the classic Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, Mikey Votanto showcases his new video for the remake, whilst firmly pressing the spotlight on mental health, in recognition of WHO Mental Health Day in October.
As a mental health advocate, Mikey Votanto debunks those myths and encourages the topic to be talked about by answering the questions that we try to avoid.
The music video for Crazy, looked a lot of fun to make. Where did the idea come from?
I had so much fun putting this clip together. The ideas within the video link with the song lyrics themselves and how someone may be struggling with their own mental illness. I wanted to keep it light and fun as it can be quite a deep, sometimes dark, subject. The clip depicts the day in a life of someone with a mental illness, quirky traits, excessive highs, uncertainty and an underlying darkness in an occasionally over the top kind of way.
It’s been expressed that the quirky scenes are a little representation of the daily struggles that mental illness can bring, can you elaborate on that?
There’s definitely a few scenes that feel pretty close to home. I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety since a young age and the uncertainty surrounding when, where or how these conditions will throw me a curve ball continues to be a daily struggle. A few of the themes running throughout the clip such as a constant need for stimulation, questioning yourself, a stream of never ending thoughts, overly excitable moments & drastic mood swings are relatable to many with a mental illness and even many who perhaps are having a rough patch with their own mental health.
You mention that you’re “A serial over thinker” in the Crazy music video, does the over pouring of milk represent this?
The milk scene definitely expresses the overthinking side anxiety and also how quickly and easily those with ADHD can be distracted by a constant stream of seemingly unrelated thoughts. Which at best, allows for a beautifully creative mind but, at worst, a forgetfulness, lack of focus, constant run of distractions which, at one point or another, leads to painful life consequences that those not struggling have trouble understanding.
Do you believe music helps you combat that?
I’m not sure if music helps or hinders to be honest but the answer is probably both. Being able to express myself through music and listen to music which speaks to me are both huge positives. However, the music industry is tough, there’s a lack of certainty, you’re constantly trying to push yourself more and improve your skillset and results rely pretty heavily on what others think of something you’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time creating. I wouldn’t change my career for anything but the working environment, which seems to attract those with a mental illness at higher rates than most, could definitely be constructive.
I see your love of the 1950s run through all your videos, do you think you might explore other decades?
Definitely! I really enjoy a lot of jazz and big band music from the 40’s as well so much of 60’s rock ’n’ roll. I love music from the 70s through to many artists on the radio today however no matter the decades of music the songs I enjoy best seem to have a swing/soul/rock ’n’ roll flavour to them. Who knows what the future will hold but I’m pretty sure there’ll be a vintage feel I’ll bring with me through all of it.
Often labelled “crazy” as a child, was it a relief to be diagnosed and prescribed medication for ADHD?
When I was younger I’m not all that sure I thought too much about it, but after choosing not to taking medication for years and having my life spiral out of control my recent re-diagnoses was a huge relief. I spent most of my life believing I was a bad person and feeling guilty about not being able to do what was expected of me. At first this was despite trying really hard to act and behave in the ‘right’ way but eventually, why even bother trying. My diagnosis gave me an explanation as to why I couldn’t/may never/or found it harder to act in certain ways others are able to. It gave me a starting point which, with medication and therapy, I’m beginning to get the better understanding and handle of. Some symptoms will always be a part of my life but now I am able to forgive myself for these & move forward in creating a life without the shame, guilt, self-doubt & feelings of hopelessness I’d been carrying for years because of a chemical imbalance and oddly rewired brain. It’s a constant struggle that’ll forever be with me but hopefully with each day I can get a little more on top of it all and lessen its control over my life.
Being called “disruptive & lazy” yourself, do you feel mislabelling has a lot to do with mental health?
Mislabelling, discrimination & stigma caused me to not continue with the help I needed earlier. In my family ADHD was considered an excuse bad parents used for their disruptive children. It’s the reason why most people without a mental illness will not seek help. A better understand of mental illness would really aid those of us who suffer and a better understand of our own mental health I truly believe will a create a stronger, more emotionally thoughtful society, who care less about how others perceive them and there for won’t feel the need to ridicule, hurt or question those around them, those different to them. We all have our struggles and mislabelling only causes further discrimination and stigma.
You state by asking the question “Does that make me crazy?” guarantees that you’re not, can you recommend any coping mechanisms?
I’m not a therapist and I definitely recommend seeing one rather than taking my advice here. It’s so easy to question yourself, most people do it, even those without a diagnosed illness. However, those with a condition live with it every day. Am I good enough? Who am I? What did I do wrong? Will they like me? I have a short sentence I tell myself which I notice this thoughts rising, ‘These are thoughts not facts, they’re not real.’ After acknowledging the thought and placing it aside it often halts it before I go down the rabbit hole of questioning every decision I’ve ever made in my life. It takes a while to train yourself to implement small strategies like this but as time goes on they make a huge difference.
As a mental health advocate, what are the ways these ailments can be celebrated?
There are beautiful positives to come from some mental illnesses and only now am I beginning to acknowledge some of them in myself. The symptoms of ADHD are often labelled as hyperactive, forgetful, intrusive, stubborn, inconsistent, disorganised, moody and impulsive. However the symptoms can also be described as energetic, hyper focused on tasks of purpose, eager, persistent, flashes of brilliance, spontaneous, sensitive and creative. The exact same condition creates both these people, the same person, we should be encouraging and celebrating all the wonderful things they are capable of.
Do you believe like you’ve reworked the track for Crazy, the same can be done for the perception of mental health?
I certainly hope so. I do believe we’re already on a path to becoming a more inclusive and understanding society. Mental health is already something that is being discussed far more frequently than ever before. Sadly this can cause a slight confusion between mental illness and mental health which has caused some to discredit serious conditions. Ultimately knowledge and understanding is key to everything and the more the subject is spoken about the more we’ll continue to look after ourselves and in turn one another in times of need.
Which Crazy lyrics, resonate with you most?
I love that the first chorus ends with the line ‘Does that make me Crazy? Possibly’ and the final chorus ends ‘Does that make me Crazy? Probably.’ It reminds me of the far too many times that I’ve questioned myself to the point where I’ve convinced myself of something that simply wasn’t true. That I was the worst musician in the world (there’s literally billions of people who can’t even play a musical instrument) or that nobody would ever enjoy my show (thankfully I’ve been told otherwise by countless audiences…. I mean unless they all lied to me? Nah :)).
The reference the “ability to bring joy” as the realisation of how you wanted to spend your life, have you got any words of wisdom for those still finding their way?
Don’t stop, do the work, trust yourself and continue to learn and grow. Be sure to give as much thought/place as much importance on memories of the good times as you do on the bad.
As a former primary school teacher, is this what made you move out of the classroom into the limelight?
I’ve always loved music & knew I’d like to play if I could. One day I bit the bullet, left the class room and never looked back. I just think it’s important to follow your passion. Everyone that’s every inspired me has followed theirs, some of them are Primary School teachers.
From being the vocalist for Silver Love Club, The Disney Company and of course playing with The Originals, would you say you have a favourite song to play live?
Not any one song in particular. For me playing live is about creating really special moments that the audience and I can take away & remember forever. I once sang ‘Beauty & The Beast’ whilst working for Disney and watched a boy no older than 7 dance with his mum in front of the band. The night Silver Love Club played a packed house in Toronto, to a room of people we’d never met, in a city we’d never been to, who were all screaming the lyrics to our last song. The first time I performed any of the vintage style covers to a room filled with people from all different walks of life, all different ages, who sang along and rose to their feet at the end of the number. There’s so many great tunes I love to play, both originals and covers, I hope we all get to play them sooner rather than later.
Watch the video for Crazy – Gnarls Barkley (Vintage Rock ‘n’ Roll/Rockabilly Style Cover)