Kyle Nicolaides: I was around 12, wandering through Jensen Guitar in Santa Barbara, admiring the used guitars and beaten up amps, and I remember so clearly the exact moment it happened. I was reaching up to grab a guitar that hung on the wall, and out of the sky this melody just came down. I was both so excited and freaked out because I had no idea what was happening, but I knew this song just appeared. The melodies, and A and B parts came at once, so I sang it repeatedly until I got home so I wouldn’t forget it, and then recorded it that night. It was called “Baby.”
The first piece of music I wrote was a couple years earlier. I had the greatest piano teacher, Dick Dunlap, who once every couple months would let me come in and record a piece of music in his small home recording studio. It was the first time I’d ever recorded music, and dabbled in production and blew my mind wide open. I instantly fell in love.
I thought being able to record music was an absolute miracle, and I loved scrolling through his different keyboard sounds to multi-track parts to the pieces I had. It was sacred to me and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world I could leave with a CD of what I made, I’d obsessively listen to it on my Walkman all the time, and was so proud.
I started learning, rearranging, and re-recording music from the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time Soundtrack, like the Temple Of Time, and then I began writing and arranging instrumental piano music specifically for those days with Dick. His piano recitals were the first times I’d play the songs I wrote in public.
Recording and songwriting always went hand in hand for me. I loved recording so much I started writing specifically to record. Shortly after I got a GNX4 and then Cubase when I was a teen and started recording and writing every single day after school.
What’s behind your band name, Beware of Darkness?
I was around 19 thinking about starting a band and looking for a name, which is somehow both the most meaningless yet important decision you’ll ever make. I was wandering through Amobea Records in Hollywood and was getting heavily into the post-Beatle solo careers of each member. I bought a copy of All Things Must Pass, flipped it over and saw the song title “Beware of Darkness” & thought, there it is. I checked to see that no one else was using it, and then it was off to the races. That record changed everything for me.
How does it feel to come back from a three year hiatus? Why did you originally decide to take the hiatus?
It’s been a whirlwind of emotions: overwhelming joy, bliss, & gratitude I never would have expected or imagined, yet also anger, pain, shame, and a lot of old triggers re-emerging that I am grateful I get to take another look at. It’s been hard and uncomfortable and painful at some points but I’m thankful for it, because it means I’m alive, and I’m growing and changing. I’ve learned so much about myself in the past few weeks re-launching Beware of Darkness, so in that sense I’m wildly grateful.
Why did I decide to take a hiatus? I was in so much mental anguish I wasn’t even thinking about a “hiatus,” I was in pain, unhappy, and knew I needed to drastically change my life, and in my heart, I knew I just needed to stop. There was no thoughtful “hiatus” decision making or dialogue with anyone.
When the band got off the road, and the stress of keeping a band together along with drugs, narcissism, insert more band drama here, compounded with my own depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, I was spent. So I just set out to do a spiritual house cleaning and wound up essentially abandoning and undoing anything in my life that wasn’t serving me, and at the time it was the band. I looked at Beware of Darkness and thought I’m putting my entire life into this, getting absolutely nothing out of it, and not being treated well at all, why am I holding on to this? So I let go, and at the time it was one of the most important thing I ever did because it was the precursor that led me take steps in learning who I really was, how to take care of myself, and how to begin to heal all the mental health problems I’d been dealing with.
Talk about your new song, “Bloodlines.”
It’s 3 minutes and 44 seconds long and it’s a jam. It’s in the key of D, and the tempo is 94bpm
You chose very personal cover art for the song – an old Polaroid set of you and your mom when you were little. How does this capture the essence of the song?
It’s the ideal image of what the song represents: family, sticking together being on someone’s team for life. I adore my Mom more than anyone on this planet.
You’ve described “Bloodlines” as a “celebration of life.” Elaborate on why it’s such a big milestone for you.
It’s pretty self-explanatory, but as an artist, how does it feel being able to create music free of the burdens of anxiety and depression?
I don’t think it’s self-explanatory at all. It’s a life and death difference. When you’re depressed, you’re not in the playing field of humanity. You spend most or all of your time thinking and counting reasons to stay alive, and doing anything you can to reduce the pain you’re in. Your only dreams are of the afterlife, and your only desires are for this life and all of its pain to end immediately. That being said, it’s incredibly hard to focus on writing a bridge, or pick out the correct chords for a song when you are fighting with a brain that wants you dead, right now. When you don’t think you deserve to be alive, you don’t think you deserve to belong to, be involved in, or find joy in anything remotely human.
So create music without that is, well, simply a gift. Just to be able to work, to lose myself in sounds or writing is a delight, and to be able to get involved in and care about human things again is a dream.
Lastly some of the side effects of depression are brain fog and not being able to think clearly. Just to be able to focus, concentration is wonderful. My brain didn’t work for 10 years, and I’m amazed I was able to do what I did.
How have you changed as a creator throughout your mental illness journey?
Well, short story is I’m able to create now, and it comes from a place of compassion and equanimity. During depression, if I made a mistake, I’d compound it with shame, anger, fear, and then crucify myself, and all roads led back to, “You don’t deserve to be alive.”
Before I got help, most days I couldn’t sit and focus for more than anything for more than 10 minutes at a time, because an avalanche of negative thoughts would explode. “Why are you even writing? This idea sucks. Are you still trying to do music? No one cares, quit. You’ve never written anything good, and the poor decisions you’ve made have fucked up your life beyond repair.” That was the jungle I’d have to cut across every single day. Now I’m able to create without that, and it’s such a blessing. Again, to be involved in and care about human things again, is such a gift.
Last week, I wrote 16,000 words to answer email interviews without having an emotional meltdown, and I was able to celebrate that. I never would have been able to do that before.
We shot a “Bloodlines” guitar tutorial a couple weeks back, and I realized I went the entire day, shooting 5 videos in one day, without berating myself with any negative self-talk, even though I did make mistakes. To me, that’s a victory and a gift that I don’t take for granted.
There’s room for self-compassion now and I am so thankful for it, and I am a better creator.
How did you overcome anxiety and depression?
It was a long, slow, uncomfortable, and unsexy path. I think there are a lot of things that help, and they all work to supplement each other. There’s no one-way, and whatever works for you is good. Trust your gut and your body, because all these things affect people differently. We all have different bodies and different minds, so you know what’s best for you. Here’s my list:
Sobriety – Last year I was drinking and it exponentially made my depression worse. I thought tequila would bring up my moods until I was in the Bobcat Room in Santa Barbara too drunk to walk and wildly suicidal. It broke me, and when I got sober, I realized I’m eating healthy, meditating, doing yoga, exercising, and I’m still 2 steps from jumping off the planet at all times – something is wrong. It helped me zone in and identify the magnitude of the depression I was up against, and doing everything to avoid feeling. Drinking and getting high don’t solve your problems and are just temporary solutions that feel good in the short term but wind up hurting you more in the long run. I know it’s scary to feel what you feel and sit with yourself, but in the long run it’s more horrifying to avoid that.
Anti-Depressants helped a lot. They don’t solve all your life’s problems but they helped me get to a place where I could look at my problems without out falling apart. They were vital to me. I was on them for 6-7 months and I saw their role in my life as a sort of anesthetic so I could go into myself and do surgery. Note, they aren’t magic pills, if you take them and don’t do the work, they’re useless.
Therapy was one of the most important things I’ve ever done. To be able to talk about how you genuinely feel and have someone to be a mirror and help you work on things was invaluable. It’s helped me so much.
Ayahuasca got to the root of my depression and helped me reconnect with the divine. It was the most life changing thing I’ve ever done and helped me look at my depression in a way I never have before, with love and self-compassion, and helped me realize why I was depressed in the first place. This was magic. Plant therapy and psychedelics are on the up again, and I truly believe they have the ability to help people heal. They are medicine.
Meditation and Yoga are invaluable and help you learn how to be present, sit with your thoughts and see them as simply as that! As thoughts! You learn how to be with yourself, your mind, and your thoughts, without labeling or judging them. This is true freedom, to watch without judgment, because most of anxiety and depression are your mind labeling and judging every single thing in your life as doomed.
Diet – I cannot stress how important diet is to fighting depression. Lots of research coming out about gut health and depression I’m not versed enough in to speak on, but what you put into your body has a direct effect on mood. Certain foods I eat effect my moods so heavily, I eat the wrong thing and it’s like a slip and slide to depression. Be mindful about what you eat. Cut out soda, limit sugar, fast food, GMO and processed meat, limit or cut caffeine. (I didn’t realize coffee was a path to my anxiety until I cut it out). It’s heartbreaking people aren’t taught about healthy nutrition in America. We just have corporations spending billions of dollars on ads to sell us food that is made by scientists to be maxed out on flavor and taste, and are some of the most addicting and unnatural things we can put in our body. So eat as natural as you can. Fruits and veggies, limit meat. Will a carrot send you to the moon like a big mac can? No. but it will sustain you longer and give you a better quality of life.
What message of hope can you provide to someone struggling with mental illness?
I can only speak to anxiety and depression. Here’s the thing. It’s hard to hear any advice or believe anything remotely positive about yourself or your future when you’re depressed because your mind will go to any length to convince you why you are undeserving of it, or do anything to discredit it or believe it. You can tell someone they have a purpose on earth, but depression will say, nope. That’s preposterous.
These clichés, which are all true by the way: “You’re not alone.” “It does get better.” “One day at a time.” You say it to someone who is depressed, and they will probably tell you to fuck off. It’s tricky.
I think self compassion and learning how to love yourself is key. When I was still struggling, I sort of I rationalized this phrase in head as a half joke half truth, “If God wanted me dead, she would have killed me by now, maybe there’s a bigger reason I should hang around?” Stick around. We only have 60-80 years max right now, so let life surprise you. No need to bow out early. Sure it might get bad, but can it get any worse than right now? This very moment? Probably not, and probably in this very moment, you’re in no danger, a bear is not attacking you, so what if you decide to curiously hang around and let life potentially blow you away with what it has in store for you? Yeah it might be hard, it might be uncomfortable but what if life has a grand plan for you, and gives you a future so beautiful and bright you can’t even imagine it right now. So just hold on. You’re gonna spoil that by walking out of the movie before you see the ending?
I know depression feels futureless but I’m just asking you to consider this. I know that none of this probably makes sense to you while being depressed, but you have nothing at all to lose by trying it. One day when you come out of depression, you’ll be amazed you survived and look back and laughed, if you can overcome yourself, you can overcome anything.
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Beware of Darkness Celebrates Overcoming Depression in New Song “Bloodlines.” Photo Credit: Nick Smalls.