Flume: “Having this time off has made me prioritise my mental health over business, whereas previously I’ve kind of always prioritised everything else above it.”
Alice Gee | 06/04/2022
Still to this day I regularly listen to Flume’s self-titled debut album. It’s an album that broke boundaries earning him double-platinum accreditation in Australia and it NEVER gets old. Since the release of Flume, Harley has gone on to produce 3 further albums, tour the world and even bag himself a Grammy. Harley calls in over Zoom early from LA, in fact, early enough for me to wonder if I dragged him out of bed, as I call from London.
With a coffee in hand, I take him back to his debut album. What better way to start than talking about the exposure he earned and the pressures that came with touring worldwide at the tender age of 20. “It was insane. It was kind of a dream but tough work. At the time I was saying yes to everything and doing an insane amount of touring, it was wild. I was coming to America on tour at the time and I remember getting these big permanent marker crosses put on my hand at the venues I was playing because I wasn’t 21 So I wasn’t technically allowed to drink.”
I wonder how he found being away from family for such a considerable amount of time. I ask if he found himself seamlessly adapting to being on stage with so many looking back at him.
“At the time I was working at The Hardrock Cafe as a waiter so I was pretty happy to get out of there. I didn’t love that job at all. I was very happy to be able to get paid to play music. I started in Australia touring before heading to America for a little bit before Europe. It was very wild. I won’t lie I was never much of a performer, so it was always quite nerve-racking for me. At the time I used alcohol to get rid of the nerves and that pattern continued for a while before I realised it was kind of becoming problematic leaving me not feeling 100%. It’s something I look back on now seeing it wasn’t a healthy habit.”
I’ve had pretty bad social anxiety since high school. I even like googled it, like what’s wrong with me? Right after high school, I was given tools to kind of work through it like exercise and meditation. I eventually would kind of put myself in these positions and expose myself, hoping that eventually, I’ll become numb to it or just not care anymore? So throughout my 20s, my mentality was to do the things that scare me. But what I ended up doing was putting myself in a position every night for months on end, public speaking, performing in front of all these people, my worst nightmares, so I was kind of like living at my worst which sucked. I ended up drinking and thinking maybe I bit a little more off than I can chew. I started to hate a lot of things, I just wasn’t particularly happy. But it’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life. It was only three or four years ago when I tried some medication that I could deal with this myself. Which was hard especially as it’s a path I didn’t particularly want to go down”
With a routine that’s not yet perfectly balanced, I wondered how much Harley looked to other coping mechanisms to help his anxiety.
“I think everyone should be meditating every day but I use it as a tool for when I’m aware that I’m feeling a certain way. So I kind of use it to calm myself down. I would use alcohol to feel like I could do the show and not be full of anxiety every night. I got to a point where I started to get down not just because of the drinking, but also because I’m a solo artist so I don’t have bandmates as such. Everyone was on my payroll. So I’d start getting into my head after like a month on a bus with my crew, thinking are they laughing because of the joke I made, or are they laughing because they’re on my payroll? I had a combination of all these things building up and I was starting to struggle. I’m not a natural performer, I like to be creative. Although touring is good for the money and there are some really fun moments, I ultimately prefer to be in a studio somewhere working on music. So eventually all these things kind of snowballed and I started to get depressed. Honestly, I just didn’t love that side of the job and I wanted to quit touring completely.”
As he tells me how he pushed through the struggles he was facing with his mental health I find myself curious as to what was the breaking point for him.
“I decided to start seeing a therapist and they suggested I should try SSRIs. Initially, I thought hell no. I think I thought I should be doing all the other things like the exercise and meditation that are supposed to help but they eventually convinced me just try it for a month or two and if I didn’t like it I could stop. So I thought f*ck it, I’ll give it a go. So I got on SSRIs and it helped a lot. I was then all of a sudden able to manage my anxiety and exist in this world quite happily. I mean don’t get me wrong it still didn’t make me love a lot of the elements that I didn’t love before but it definitely gave me the power to control the world a little more.”
Having felt he finally had a hand in some form of control in his life, I wondered how COVID’s appearance may have changed that.
“Just after that Coronavirus happened and I went back home to Australia, I had this year and a bit of just silence and chill. I started living a really simple life and things started to settle. I’d been on SSRIs for a year or two by the time we’d been locked down. At this point, I was feeling better and I thought you know what, now’s a great opportunity to try and come off the medication especially being with family and having no touring coming up. So I kind of tapered them off gradually over 2 months and now I’m not on anything. It was a relief because I was super concerned that getting off the SSRIs was going to put me right back to where I was at the beginning. It was really scary, but I was fortunate enough to be able to have that opportunity to try it. But for me going into the future if I am in a certain way again I have that to fall back on as a tool. But what it did was give me the tools to see the world in a different view and after this extended period of being on them, I’ve gotten off them and I’ve retained all that knowledge. So, I’m a huge advocate for it. If someone’s going through a rough time or something, it’s an incredibly powerful tool to get you out of that rut and get you back on track.”
I nod avidly as Harley highlights the benefits of medications for when therapy and holistic approaches don’t cut the mustard. Having my fair share of experiences with medication I can relate as he tells me about the fear of medications, whether it be starting them, or coming to terms with the knowledge that you’re possibly going to need them for life let alone the changes involved. But something that stands out is the insight he’s got when it comes to knowing what works for him, something many never get the opportunity to have. With that in mind, I almost want to assume he’s feeling a little more in control of his life following the break from touring due to COVID.
“Ever since I was 20 years old I’ve been on this train that has been getting faster and faster towards this lightning pace. So when COVID happened and the train stopped and I was able to kind of get off and reassess and have a forced break from my life. I realised that if I didn’t take this opportunity now, to see what it was, I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity. I feel lucky too as a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to have time away from whatever’s making them full of anxiety so it was a pretty kind of privileged position to be in.”
“I was living life fully. I was on eight acres of countryside, with my own very simple vegetable garden. There was this big python that lived in the roof. (You can imagine my face as Harley tells me this) It’s very friendly, it doesn’t give a f*ck that you’re there. You can walk up to it and it doesn’t seem to bother it, they are kind of like house cats.”
Having just referred to a big ass python like a house cat, I erupt with laughter. Although I’m sure it’s most probably a normal thing in Australia, I can say for sure I would be packing my suitcases if I had a large python living in my roof. But what does resonate with me is Harley trying to find a space to understand his anxiety, and utilizing the privilege to be with family throughout COVID to set in motion new changes. Having had the time to kick back I ask what’s next?
“I’m gonna get back on tour but I’m just doing it differently. I know taking on less work financially, isn’t as smart, but it’s the best option for me and my mental health. Having this time off has made me prioritise my mental health over business, whereas previously I’ve kind of always prioritised everything else above it. Before COVID I had this mentality of I don’t know how long this is going to last so I just wanted to make the most of it and say yes to everything, but looking back I know I need to change something so doing a month on, a month off, less touring, making it to a lot of different places is for me a good plan. So I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a while, but It’s been long enough now that I’m looking forward to getting back out there and playing music. So it’ll be fun.”
I’m glad he’s looking forward to being back out on the road, I’m rather impressed how he’s stood his ground when it comes to how touring can work for him. As we move on to a lighter note, I wanted to know Harley’s preference when it comes to producing solo or collaborations with his upcoming album featuring tracks of both.
“I think working with vocalist adds a whole other world to the music. The mixes I did before this, two, three years ago, were mostly instrumentals, which I love but this album is maybe 50/50. I think I’ve kind of welcomed collaborations. I’ve just met a lot of talented people, and it’s been fun to work with them.”
Harley’s latest release “Say Nothing” featuring MAY-A is alight with feelings of dystopia, a darker tone at times with the lyrics cutting straight to the point. I wondered what was behind the track and ask what he thought has changed when it comes to the music over the past 10 years.
“Yeah, it definitely has a bit of an end of the world feel to some of the songs, some sounds are kind of harsh, but I tried to kind of balance it out. I’ve been a bit stuck with music living in the States for so long. So when I went back to Australia everything started to make more sense and I was able to finish a lot of these ideas and start some new ones. That’s when it started to pull together.”
“I guess lots changed. I just do whatever feels right. So the music’s naturally evolved over time. Hopefully, they’ll get something. I think it’s is kind of open to interpretation. I have a lot of feelings attached to certain pieces of music, and I’m sure other people have completely different feelings towards some. I think it’s some good art, and I’m excited to get it out there. I hope it can just bring some joy to the world and I hope we get the chance to play it as well. I hope I can make a show and perform it because I feel like this particular record is quite heavy. It will be really fun to play out at festivals and too big crowds. So, hopefully, we get the opportunity to do that. Hopefully, COVID chills the f*ck out.”
With the hopes of COVID taking a hike and musicians worldwide praying to get back out on the road, I ask his touring plans for 2022 with the world in his favour?
“We’re coming to the UK, doing some European shows, Australia, New Zealand, and America which is chill believe it or not. Usually, it’s like three months on three weeks off two months, on one month off. And that’s what f*cked me up in the head after doing nine months on the road a year. I have a dog too so I feel like a terrible dad doing more.”
I’m pleased to hear he’s found what works for him when it comes to touring. I think so many who consume music have a specific idea of euphoria when it comes to constant touring, without giving a moment to the artist. As we come to the end of the interview I appreciate his honesty with me about his experiences with mental health. I admire the tough decision he’s made between funds and time off to keep himself in the best headspace possible. It’s something that I think will help others when It comes to putting your health first. It’s a decision that will prioritise himself, his new album, and doing what he loves most, producing music.
Words: Alice Gee
Photography: Nick Green