Category Archives: National Bullying Prevention Month
Can you talk a little bit about the bullying incidents that you had in high school in New Zealand?
It’s funny, you and I were talking after our show at The Paramount about bullying, and “Love The Way You Hate Me,” (which is a song about having the strength to be yourself and embrace the things that make you unique). It got me to thinking about something that happened in high school that I haven’t thought about for a long time.
I went to the same school from the time that I was in Kindergarten right up until my high school graduation. I started high school in 9th grade, and I was basically with the same group of people that I had been in school with my entire life.
I had the same group of friends for a long time, and then when I got to 9th grade, all of these new kids came along, and the school reshuffled everyone into classes based on how well we had done in school. In hindsight, it wasn’t a great idea because it set people up to be picked on.
It’s easy to see how that could happen when they make it so easy to target people…
You know, we all grew up together in the same classes, and then all of a sudden, we were slotted into classes based solely on how well we did on tests and stuff.
I remember at the start of 9th grade being given a real hard time, both by people that I’d known my whole life, and then by all of these new people who had come into the school. It was the first time that people started to criticize other peoples’ differences.
I’m surprised that it took so long for that to happen. Usually, it starts at an even younger age…
I was never really aware of that growing up. It was like the first day of high school was the first day of this new universe where everyone’s differences were under the microscope.
I was never the most athletic guy (and I’m still not), so it wasn’t like I was going to go out there and be the star of the rugby team. All of a sudden, I was in class with the other kids who did really well in school, and that didn’t make me very popular.
It was only when I started playing in bands (as a drummer), that people started to understand that just because you do well in school, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. And if you’re not the most athletic, there’s nothing wrong with that either.
It sounds like music helped you to somewhat shed the “geek” label that you were being given…
Definitely! I just loved music so much. Once I started playing in bands, I became friends with some of the people who initially were giving me a hard time. Being different and not quite fitting into any mold that people expected, ended up becoming a positive thing in my later years of high school.
I guess people start to mature as they go through high school, but it seems like 9th grade was no picnic…
I still remember what a shock it was to be written off by people that I’d known my whole life because the school placed me into a different level of classes.
It sounds like the school created a kind of class warfare with their system…
Yeah, it was. In hindsight, it was a terrible system. Nobody wants to be labeled as a “geek” when they are 13-yrs old, but it came with the territory when you were put into the advanced classes. And, the system also seemed pretty insensitive to the kids who were separated out because they may have been having a hard time in school.
I’m not surprised that there were issues at school. I remember that being something that I hadn’t expected. It took me a while to wrap my head around it because I was the same person that I always was, but I was being treated differently by the people that I hung out with the year before.
When you were bullied in school, was it physical or just verbal?
It wasn’t really physical, mostly verbal, although there was a guy in my class who always wanted to fight me for some reason. I’d never done anything to him, and we’d never had any sort of altercation.
For the whole year, he thought that he was going to fight me, but I never made too much of it because I never thought that it was going to happen.
It must have been strange for you to be dealing with the abuse, given that you never had any issues until you got to high school…
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think for a second that I was the only one being given a hard time in high school. It’s just that up until then, I felt like everyone had got on pretty well.
For me, there was a gap between the start of high school and the time that I started playing in bands and doing shows. During that time, people didn’t really know quite where I fit in. I was doing well in school, so I guess that made me a geek, especially since I wasn’t athletic at all. I was terrible at every sport that I played, so I was always convinced that I was the most uncoordinated person on earth.
The turning point in my life came when I started playing drums. I can’t overstate the importance of music in my life because it gave me a sense of belonging. It also made me realize that I could do something physical (even if it wasn’t sports).
I think that it takes more coordination to play drums than it does to play a lot of sports…
Yeah, and it came pretty naturally for me. Being able to play the drums definitely gave me self-confidence in addition to a sense of belonging.
Once I started to gain self-confidence, it mattered less what other people thought about me. I think that people started to see that not everyone was either a geek or a jock, that there was something in between.
Was music an escape for you during the times when you were being picked on?
Yeah, absolutely! Music has always been an escape for me from the time that I started really getting into it when I was about 13. It’s basically become all-consuming. I think that it gave me a great sense of confidence and self-worth. It’s also just a great way to express how you’re feeling.
It’s no secret that a lot of creative people don’t necessarily have a feeling that they belong. I think that’s one of the great things about music, and one of the things that it’s certainly given me is a way to express myself in a constructive way.
Do you think that playing drums gave you a sort of cool factor and helped you to shed the “geek” label?
I guess it did, but more than that, I just felt that I was where I belonged. My friends and I would spend all weekend listening to records, going to concerts and jamming. Playing in bands helped me to find my place amidst the major social reshuffling that was going on when I got to high school.
Did you end up becoming friendly with the kids in your class who also had good grades, and maybe weren’t too athletic?
Yeah, I did, and that was one of the positives of the reshuffling that took place. Maybe the only positive of being sort of categorized, was that I did get to spend time getting to know people that maybe I wouldn’t have before. Not that I would have picked on them, I just wouldn’t have gotten to know them.
Because they weren’t in your circle of friends, right?
Exactly! You would get to know people on a much deeper level than just seeing them outside on the playground or whatever. It certainly gave me a lot more empathy for the kids who had been getting a hard time throughout our school years after being on the receiving end of it.
Things obviously got better for you because of music. Did your friends get hassled less by associating with you?
One of the things that I think was cool about our high school is that, as time went on, those cliques and those categories kind of crumbled away and people were much more accepting of one another. That was a huge positive.
It’s kind of like the start of high school was like the movie “Mean Girls,” or something similar, but by the end of it, people were much cooler to each other. I think that it became obvious that you can’t just tag someone with one of two labels and expect them to really fit.
Your brothers went through school before you. Did they have any issues with bullying during their high school years?
I think that we all kind of had the same thing. There’s a weird irony in school. The things that people value about us now (being musicians, being creative, being a bit different and not really fitting into the mold), are the things that people made fun of back then.
I know that Kent and Chris had similar issues, and so did a lot of my musician friends. I suppose that when you’re in those dog-eat-dog formative years, there’s not always a lot of tolerance for people who are outside the mainstream.
One of the things about being a creative person is that you don’t necessarily fit in (or want to for that matter). That can definitely create some tension with people who have an idea of what they think you should be.
That’s something that I spoke about with Andy from Black Veil Brides. We talked about embracing your individuality and not trying to conform to what everyone else wants you to be.
That’s exactly right! You know, I always thought that one of the craziest things about the group mentality is that the group is made up of individuals, and every single person in the group is just hoping like hell that no one else finds out that they’re different. It reminds me of the saying that goes “a person is smart, but people are stupid.”
I always thought that it was strange in high school that groups of kids picked on other kids for being a little bit different, because every kid in the group was a little bit different in their own way.
I think that part of why people pick on others to start with is because they’re just glad that it’s not being done to them.
We’ve discussed that “Love The Way You Hate Me” isn’t about childhood bullying, but the song was inspired by a different type of bullying, right?
Yeah, the song was inspired by a specific event. It was something that we’d been feeling for a while because, unfortunately, there are a lot of haters out there.
I think that the second that you stick your head above the trenches, someone is going to take a shot at you. That’s certainly how it’s been for us. You make fans when you start releasing music, which is amazing, but there are people out there who will criticize you just for the sake of doing it.
I believe the word for them is trolls, at least when it comes to the Internet!
Exactly! Although “Love The Way You Hate Me” was actually inspired by something that happened face-to-face.
We had an incident when we were on tour down in the south. Now, we have a lot of fans and friends in the south, so this is certainly not a criticism of the south as a whole. We were at a truck stop in a really small town. It was the kind of place that when you walk through the door, the record player stops. That is literally what happened. It was like they had never seen anyone that looked like us in their lives.
This guy came up to Kent, who is a pretty tall guy with black and red spikey hair, and called him a “freak” to his face, and then just walked off. We were kind of stunned initially, because we had never come across anyone like that before.
It got us thinking about how we’ve felt for a while. There are people who will cut you down no matter what you do, so you’re much better off being who you are, and doing what you want to do, because you’re not going to please those people anyway. They’re going to give you a hard time no matter what.
“Love The Way You Hate Me” actually started as a song that Kent had, but when we start working on it together, it became a group thing. The three of us were just talking about the feeling of people criticizing you for being exactly who you are, and we came up with the line “you say I’m a freak, I say I am free.”
I love that line!
Thanks man! To us, that was really what we had been talking about. Someone who hates you is going to go after the things that make you the most unique. Those are the things that define you and make you an individual. That was really the central idea of the song.
I’m kind of glad that some idiot called Kent a “freak” because a great song came out of it, and it kind of helped launch your career.
Well thank you, dude! You know, I wouldn’t change any of it now. It’s funny because once you really don’t care about what the haters think, it’s actually pretty entertaining (especially the online trolls). There’s nothing more empowering than looking at what someone wrote (which is supposed to ruin your life) and just laughing at it.
It’s happened to me a number of times. I even showed the comments to my kids, and they asked me why I wasn’t writing back. I told them that if you fight back, you’re giving the trolls exactly what they want, but if you ignore them, it makes them angry because they didn’t get to you.
Exactly! The Internet has given a soapbox to a lot of angry people. You definitely can’t please everybody, and if you tried to please those people, they wouldn’t like you anyway. The best thing to do is to be true to yourself, and ignore the noise.
So true! I almost feel that the person that criticized Kent to his face deserves some credit, because at least he had the balls to not hide behind a computer screen. It’s easy to be confrontational online, not so much when you’re in front of the person…
Absolutely! (LOL) The person who said that to Kent should actually get some sort of award. I guess to those people, we must have looked like we came from Mars. We have these weird accents and play in a rock and roll band. It was probably like something from the “X-Files” for those people.
I have to say that being in a band is just fascinating in the way that people react to you. You see the absolute best and the worst of humanity. People are so nice and generous and come and support you and tell you what your music means to them. On the flip side, a very small percentage of people feel like they have the right to say the most insulting and inappropriate things to you.
You and your brothers are living proof that things get better when you believe in yourself and ignore the ignorant people that you come across in life. Thanks for sharing your story, Matt. I’m sure that it will help others who find themselves in trying situations.
Can you talk about your childhood bullying experience?
It’s kind of hard to talk about. I grew up in a very religious family where my dad was kind of against the church. In one ear he’d be telling me that the church is all about brainwashing, and in the other ear, my mom was saying that it’s the only way to heaven. It was a real push and pull situation that I grew up in.
My dad definitely had anger issues. I remember falling down the steps as a little kid around Christmas time, and I started crying at the bottom of the stairs. My dad got off of the couch, picked me up, and said…
“Real men don’t cry. If you want to be a little baby, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
And then he just beat the shit out of me!
In those situations, I found a safe spot underneath the stairs in my house where I would draw all kinds of demonic pictures. I’m sure that they’re still there to this day.
I guess you needed something to cling to in a terrible situation…
I was so angry! When you can’t turn to your dad for guidance, who do you turn to? The craziest part was that, in my head, I still made him out to be my hero.
Everything that I was doing wasn’t good enough for his approval, so it made me try harder to become the person that I thought he wanted me to be. It was a very confusing time.
My dad was very sadistic, and kind of felt power in bullying me for whatever reason. It made it really tough, because I think that he always saw me as kind of a card that he could play against my mom.
That must have been very tough on you and your mom…
Looking back now, I know that my mom truly loved me, and was trying to protect me.
I remember one time when they were fighting. My dad had one of my arms as he tried to pull me out the front door while screaming at my mom. She was pulling my other arm trying to stop him. Basically, in his eyes, I was probably nothing more than a piece of jewelry that he was trying to take back from my mom. It was a very hard situation.
I can only imagine. Did you gravitate towards your mom and away from your dad?
Despite everything that my dad did to me, I would still sit by the living room window every night waiting for him to come home from the grocery store where he was a butcher.
Every time that he came home, I would try and impress him, and get in good with him, because it was the only way that I figured he would stop being mean to me.
Did you have any place where you felt safe when your dad was around?
I would literally sit in the back of a closet as I listened to him scream. One time, he put his fist through the door of the closet. It was very scary!
No kid should have to live in the fear that you lived in. Did that go on throughout your whole childhood?
One night, I fell asleep by the window waiting for my dad to come home. When I woke up the next morning, he had never shown up, and I couldn’t understand why. It was one of those things where I was really confused, and I kind of took it out on my mom for some reason, because I had no idea where he went.
How long was he gone?
He was literally gone a year or two before I even heard from him (or of him). I came to find out that he was married to somebody else who lived around two blocks from my house. It was just a weird situation, and I kind of took it out on my mom, so I didn’t have anybody in my life.
Did you speak to your dad after you discovered that he was living nearby?
I would very rarely go visit him, but eventually, I actually ended up moving into his house when I was in junior high because I was mad at my mom, and I took things out on her. I lived with him for around a year until I realized that I couldn’t stay there.
I was a little older then and I understood things better. When I told him that I wanted to move back home with my mom, he just lost his mind and smashed my dressers.
It sounds like your childhood was not only difficult, but also very lonely…
I hated the town that I grew up in, because I felt like I didn’t fit in. It was a very small, country town, you know, very religious. You’re either a Christian, a farmer or both. I was born into a world where we had no TVs in the house.
How long did you stay at home?
I moved out when I was 16, and I’ve been on my own ever since. I moved out to L.A. right before my 21st birthday. When I got there, I spent my first Christmas by myself because I didn’t know anyone.
It’s understandable why you wanted to break away from your torment…
I’m not trying to paint my dad out to be this monster. He’s older now, and we’ve never really talked about all this stuff. It’s one of those things where maybe we’ll talk one day and maybe we won’t. I’ve forgiven him. I don’t look at him as a bad person.
He was young when he had me, and nobody hands you a book on how to be a good parent. By no means am I making excuses for him, because hitting a child is not right, but back then, I think that it was a lot more accepted (at least where I grew up). That’s all that I knew. I just figured “ok, I fucked up and this is my punishment.”
I’ve had everything broken over me, from broom handles to wooden spoons. I’ve even had perfect handprint welts on me that lasted for a solid week.
It’s tragic that you blamed yourself for the abuse that you were receiving…
To me that was normal. I didn’t know what was going on in other households. In my mind, I still thought that was the way that everybody was raised. I’m finding out now that it wasn’t.
Can you talk about how you got started with Bullyville and what your relationship is with them now?
I was the spokesperson for a moment, but I’m no longer a part of Bullyville. But I think that it’s a great thing, and James McGibney has his heart in the right place.
What was your family’s reaction when you shared your story on Bullyville?
It upset everybody in my family because they all knew, but nobody talked about it. I’m not trying to air the family laundry at all. I’m doing it more because of what I’ve had to go through, and if I can help one kid out there, then it was worth it.
When James approached me and asked me about it, I just felt like it was time to get my story out there. I really struggled with it because I don’t want anybody to look at my dad in a negative light. That wasn’t my purpose at all. My purpose was to share my personal story in the hopes that it would help people.
Are you a part of any other anti-bullying movements?
I’m always looking to partner up with different bullying things because it’s just so important to me to help as many kids as I can by sharing my experiences. Hopefully, that will help inspire and help people.
Was your school life any better than your home life, or were you bullied there too?
I was a loner. I got into fights in school and was bullied, especially when I moved to Indiana. I saw kids there who were terrible bullies. One kid lit another kid on fire, and then kicked him while he was on the ground.
That’s insane! My only dealings with bullying when I was in school was of the more traditional kind, where I feared getting beaten up. I remember the terror that I felt, and it was just one or two incidents when I was young. Nowadays, as a parent, I live in constant fear of the carnage that comes as the result of bullying.
I know what you mean. When I grew up, school generally wasn’t a place that you feared. Even if there were fights, it was still a safe place. You didn’t fear for your life going to school.
The thing about bullying is that it’s always been there and it’s always been bad. It’s just the fact that we have the Internet now, and so many eyes are watching that society has become more aware of it.
I think that the only thing that’s worse is that social media has turned it into a 24/7 problem.
What advice would you give to any kids who find themselves in a similar situation as yours?
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Getting abused by adults is not normal, and if any kids out there are experiencing it, they need to let someone know. It’s just not right. Nobody will ever know what it does mentally to someone. To this day, it still fucks with my head.
Did things with your dad ever get any better since you’re an adult?
We’ve kind of made amends. We never will be close because I grew up without him, but I don’t hate him. I forgive him for everything.
At the end of the day you just have to be the bigger person. The only thing that I can do, the way that I can beat this is not have a kid too soon, and understand everything before I pass that along. The only way that I can try to help fix the world is to do things differently. If I have a kid, I’m going to give it the loving, caring life that I never had.
The best thing to do is to break the cycle. This shouldn’t be passed from one generation to the next.
Yeah, absolutely. Because I wasn’t around yet, I don’t know how my grandparents were to my dad. I do know that you don’t just wake up one day as an asshole. I think that if you look back, it probably trickled down, and that he got it from somewhere. The only thing that I can do is learn from his mistakes and not pass it along to my kids. Like you said, the best thing that can be done is to break the cycle.
It reminds me of the whole Adrian Peterson situation. Maybe he was physically disciplined in a very harsh way, but that doesn’t mean that he had to do the same thing to his children. I mean, he is a very strong NFL player, and yet, he was beating his 4-yr old with a tree branch. I imagine that hit very close to home for you…
Yeah, I see that as so wrong now, but only because I took the time to really try to fix myself (which didn’t happen overnight). I’ve even tried to put myself in my dad’s shoes to understand his side. Like I said earlier, he was young, and there is no handbook that teaches you how to be a great parent. I’m sure he didn’t set out thinking…“hey, I’m going to be a fuckin’ asshole and hit my kid.”
If I hadn’t taken the time to fix myself, I’d probably do the same thing if I had a kid, because I wouldn’t know any different. If he grew up anything like me, and didn’t take the time to fix himself, I truly believe he might not know that what he did was wrong.
It’s good to see that a change has happened with our generation (Adrian Peterson aside)…
I almost think that it was worse growing up in some ways back then because it was more acceptable in certain places in the country to literally beat your kids with a belt. That was considered punishment, and nobody really did anything about it.
Sixx: A.M. has a lot of message-driven songs, but were any inspired directly by bullying?
You know, we kind of just put a lot of our emotions into everything that we do. For instance, on our first album (The Heroin Diaries), I put myself emotionally into those songs by tapping into the physical abuse that I’ve been through. Even though it wasn’t heroin abuse, for a while, the physical abuse did lead to a really bad cocaine problem. I was able to plug myself into that story in my own way.
Do you have any memorable stories that kids have shared with you because of your anti-bullying involvement?
There were a ton of comments on my story on Bullyville. The part that’s so moving is how many people the story touched. I couldn’t have dreamt that so many people would feel connected to it. There were thousands of comments and e-mails from people who were going through similar situations.
It must have felt good to know that sharing such a deeply personal and painful story was not done in vain.
It was very touching to know that one person really can make a difference. And if we all stand up and speak our minds, this world will slowly become a better world to live in.
Interview with Jeff Scott Soto of Artists United Against Bullying – National Bullying Prevention Month
What was the inspiration for creating Artists United Against Bullying?
The whole thing really started with one of our main guys, Paulo Mendonca. He’s got a young son who was being bullied at school. He and I happened to be talking on a day that he was fuming mad about the situation. He said to me…
“Man, I’m so angry. I just don’t tolerate this stuff, and I want to do something about it to help raise awareness about bullying.”
Even though there are a lot of things being done to raise bullying awareness, he wanted to create his own personal message to deliver through music.
I was on board with him right away. He got the guys from In Flames, and some friends from Sweden involved as well. The only drag for me is that they get to do everything together in Sweden, and I get stuff after the fact being in L.A.
Since bullying is such a widespread problem, I think that there is always room for anyone (particularly artists) to get involved with doing their part to raise awareness.
One of the reasons that it was an immediate “yes” for me to be involved in this thing with Paulo and the guys, is that everybody in one sense or another has been bullied when they were kids.
There are so many different levels of bullying. Bullying in life goes beyond kids being teased in school, although the majority of it starts there. You get people who just carry it through their lives into adulthood. I have even had instances of bullying in the music business from former bandmates (who I’ll leave nameless).
How did you get involved with Paulo initially?
I was a big fan of his music. No one really knows him in the U.S., and even in Europe, only a small core of people know him. He was an artist in the early 90s who was successful in pockets of Europe. He started to sour on the performing side of the business, and ended up just writing and producing for a number of years.
I was such a fan that I sought after him to record with him. He is the one who produced my solo album, Beautiful Mess, in 2008. Thankfully, he got the bug again and decided that he wanted to start recording music.
Have you recorded any anti-bullying songs yet?
The first song that we came up with is a song called “Hero,” which hasn’t been released yet. I wrote the lyrics as if I were writing it to my own son, but it is meant to be a message to Paulo’s son.
The message of the song is that, as your parent, I don’t want to be your hero; I just want to be the one that sets you on the right path and makes sure that you know what’s going on in the world. Instead of me always being there to protect you, I want to show you that you can actually stand up for yourself.
That’s a really interesting take on being a “hero,” and also about being empowered to stand up for yourself in difficult situations.
You know, there’s so many ways that I could have gone with the whole “hero” side of things, but those types have songs have been done already. I wanted to put a different angle on it.
NOTE: “Hero” will make its debut on Hard Rock Daddy when it is completed!
One of the things that I’m finding interesting about this awareness campaign is that as Americans, we tend to think of bullying as an American problem, but clearly, it’s a worldwide problem.
A lot of people get into music around the world because they have been bullied, and it’s a way to express themselves. They have dealt with some sort of oppression in their lives, from people in school to people at work, and even their own families at times.
They end up taking their painful experiences and putting it into their music. One of the reasons that we have such amazing music is because there are a lot of tortured artists out there who are able to share their pain and connect with others who are going through the same things themselves.
I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to hard rock because it’s a way to get out your aggression, at least it was for me when I was growing up. I think that it’s much tougher today for kids in a lot of ways.
There are so many extremes now. We used to worry about different things when we were kids. I’m going to be 49 next week, and things have changed so much since I was a kid with regard to what is safe and what isn’t. It’s a great world, but it’s so much more dangerous than it was when I was growing up.
Did you have any personal bullying experiences that inspired you to join Paulo in launching this project?
Absolutely! Being a gawky kid, I dealt with bullying growing up. Luckily, my height surpassed what I was supposed to be for my age bracket, and that helped the bullying stop. Obviously, they weren’t going to physically pick on the bigger kid. However, there was another sense of bullying because I was a bit nerdy. I wasn’t confident with my looks, and didn’t know what do to them, so I would get teased.
Did you have any physical bullying experiences?
I remember getting into a fight in summer camp when I was around 8-yrs old. I’m not a violent person, but this kid just kept teasing and teasing and teasing, and my older brother said that you’ve got to stand up for yourself. He told me that he couldn’t always be there to fight my battles.
This kid taunted me enough that I put him in a headlock and just held him there while I was banging on the counselor’s door to come and break us up, because I knew that if I let him go, he was going to beat my ass! I knew that I had to shut him down; otherwise, he was just going to keep taunting me.
I guess you sometimes you have to resort to physically standing up for yourself, even if it’s not in your nature.
Violence isn’t the best way to get through the teasing and the bullying. You can fight your “war” with words if you can find the right words to say to shut them down. It can actually work more effectively than punching their lights out, but you also have to be careful, because shutting them down verbally can make them more aggressive and then they’ll come after you.
Have your kids dealt with bullying?
My son is 26-yrs old now, but he did go through some things when he was in school. However, he had such a strong personality that he was able to curb it pretty much immediately.
He was kind of the cool kid, who went through a phase himself where he was verbally bullying another kid by telling him that he looked “gay” in what he was wearing. I had to sit him down and tell him that it’s not ok to use that word in that context. I told him that we had the same issues when someone was doing it to him, so he shouldn’t turn around and do it to someone else. He ended up apologizing to the kid and using his influence to stop others from doing the same.
Nowadays, I’m dealing with my wife’s kids who are still in school, and luckily, they haven’t had to deal with anything like this yet. We have talks with them all the time telling them that if any bullying happens, that they have to tell us. It’s not that we’re going to step in, but we’ll be there to help them know how to deal with it.
I think that is one of the keys to dealing with bullying. Not to excuse the kids that do it in any way whatsoever, but parenting is a key to making sure that your kids behave properly. If parents stepped in more, we would have a better chance of solving this problem instead of relying on the schools, who are already overwhelmed.
Can you talk about the mission of Artists United Against Bullying?
Well, it’s still in the embryonic stages. So far, it’s just been about coming up with the idea for the song and working on it together. We’re still at the early stages of how involved everyone will be, and how far we’ll be able to take it.
We decided to start with what we do best, which was to record a song. If we like where it’s going, we’ll do more songs, and maybe even eventually record an entire album. Ultimately, this is more than a band; it’s a cause. If we do get funding, it will all go towards the cause.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story, Jeff. I’m really looking forward to the debut of “Hero” and seeing all of the good that I think you will do with Artists United Against Bullying!
Can you talk a little bit about the bullying that you experienced as a kid and how you handled it?
When I was growing up in school, I wasn’t the archetype of the classic American nerd; I was just different. I had a certain kind of disassociation from the other kids because I had more interest in sociology, ideas and trying to communicate those ideas to the kids around me. It wasn’t that I thought that I was better than them; I just didn’t associate with them in any way.
Because of the kind of music that I liked, and the different way that I dressed, it was kind of a perfect storm, creating a situation where I existed on my own throughout my schooling. And the times when I wasn’t on my own, I faced some sort of derision from someone around me. This was due either to the way that I dressed, or because I was a little bit overweight when I was a kid, so I would get made fun of for being chubby.
Wow, that’s shocking! I never would have guessed that you would have been overweight.
I fluctuated in weight all through my adolescence. From 4th grade to 7th grade, I was overweight, and the kids would say that I looked like Chunk from The Goonies. They would always ask me to do the “Truffle Shuffle.”
It was a great cause of pain for me, and because of that, I didn’t really get the chance to talk to girls. I was a straight boy with hormones kicking in, and I wanted to talk to girls, but they weren’t interested in talking back to me, so there was a real sense of loneliness.
Did you end up resenting the girls for ignoring you?
Pretty early on, I just started to believe that they didn’t understand me. There was something intrinsic to me that they just didn’t get, which was ok. It didn’t make me hate them though.
It’s interesting that you had the awareness at such a young age of having something to offer that others just didn’t get it.
There have been a number of artists who have written songs about bullying, but your songs seem to be more about empowerment. Do you find that your songs have been especially helpful to your fans that are being bullied or feel like outcasts?
Absolutely! I think that it’s important to note that you touched on how a lot of artists are writing songs about bullying. That is something that causes great concern for me.
I feel that there is a culture being built that is a celebration of agony. There is also a celebration of being an outcast, to the degree that you are segregating yourself in a negative way from people who may want to be your friend. I never advocate that you should be lonely, or come to my shows and bring me your razor blade to show me that you don’t cut anymore.
So, what is your advice to your fans?
I would advocate that you show me your smiling face, and how happy you can make your life. I know that isn’t always easy and that there is self-harm in the world. Sometimes it’s hard for people to rise above things.
Last year, you guys did a special shirt for the song “Unbroken,” and donated all the proceeds to The Bully Project. How did you get involved with The Bully Project, and how much did you end up raising for them?
I’m not entirely sure about the actual amount that we raised off the top of my head, but I know that it was quite a bit, and we were very happy to do it.
What happened was, one of the kids in the bully documentary had expressed interest in our band, and it was really touching. His parents reached out to our management about autographs and stuff, and I thought that it was a logical thing to try and get involved with their whole project.
It was beneficial for us because it showed that we wanted to get involved with a good cause and beneficial for them because we raised a lot of money for the organization.
The powerful video that you made for the song had all of your fans wearing the shirts. Were you able to include everyone, or were there just too many submissions?
I wish that we could have included everyone. We tried our best, but there’s only so much time in the song. We were able to get a lot of fans in there though.
Can you share a story or two about a fan who credits your music for helping to get them through tough times?
It would be very hard to specify a particular story because we get them all of the time. Unfortunately, the stories are often all too familiar. I’ll hear the same tales from Dublin, Ireland that I hear in Louisville, KY.
More than anything, I think that there is a common thread that runs through everything. We have been able to strike a chord with people who have their own sense of self, but were unable to access it. Our music helped them to feel something positive.
A good example of this would be this kid in London. He’s been covering our songs on YouTube from the time that he was around 12-yrs old. It’s been a lot of fun to watch someone who was an awkward, kind of shy and introverted kid, end up in his own band with a record deal.
Can you talk about the inspiration and meaning behind “Heart Of Fire?”
“Heart Of Fire” is essentially the idea that time and circumstance changes how you see things.
We like to believe that when we’re young, and we have this idea that we want to fight for something, that it will be that way forever, when in reality, sometimes it will change.
It would be weird for me to be raging against all of the bullies in my life because it would be disingenuous at this point in time. I’ve gotten through all of that and I’m living a wonderful life now, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t mean to me. Every day, people say crappy things about my band or whatever, but I live a positive existence. I got through everything by virtue of having that same passion that I’ve had through the years.
“Heart Of Fire” is about holding onto that fire or passion that you had when you were a kid, even though you may change as a person or your circumstances may change. It’s saying that even though I’m more weathered and stronger now, that I still have that feeling of wanting to be that passionate individual that I’ve always been.
Thanks for taking the time to talk today, Andy. You’ve given some great insight into how to rise above being bullied, finding your passion and living a happy life. Best of luck with the new album. I’m looking forward to reviewing it for Hard Rock Daddy and speaking to you again in the near future.
Were you bullied when you were growing up?
Oh yeah. I grew up in a blue collar area, and that was part of the way of life there. I think that the older kids thought that it was their job to terrorize the younger kids, especially the ones who were undersized. Even though I consider my childhood to be pretty idyllic for the most part, and I wasn’t bullied constantly, it definitely started happening during my pre-teen years as I was going into junior high school.
Being undersized, and not particularly athletic, it was hard to find a place where I fit in, so I was an easy target. As the saying goes, “shit rolls downhill,” and I think that some of the people who were doing the bullying were bullied themselves. I think that it would be great to stop the cycle of bullying. Just because it happened to you, it doesn’t make it right to do it to others. If we all lived by that type of logic, we would still be riding horses and taking wagons everywhere.
When you were bullied was it more verbal, physical or both?
Both, but I remember the physical more than the verbal. One incident in particular comes to mind. There was a kid who was much older than us sitting on the bleachers. We weren’t sitting too far away from him, and out of nowhere, he picked up a rock and just winged it really hard right into my thigh. I guess it was his way of telling us to get away from him. He was a pitcher who threw very hard, so it was pretty painful.
Others musicians that I’ve spoken with about bullying have told me that they used music as an escape. Do you feel that bullying helped drive you to playing music as an escape?
I don’t think that it necessarily drove me to music because I loved it at a really early age. It wasn’t an escape from bullying per se, because it didn’t happen constantly. However, I think that our insecurities play a big part into playing music. If I was completely well-adjusted, I wouldn’t want to get on stage and seek the adulation, acceptance and love from strangers that I do now. I’m sure it played some part, but I don’t think that bullying consciously drove me to music. That being said, I think that all experiences that you go through help shape you into who you are, and dealing with bullying was just part of it.
Have you heard from any fans about how your music helped them deal with bullying or other difficult situations?
We did a show back in July in Texas. At the show, we met an undersized high school kid, with longer hair who was there with his dad. The kid is a drummer, so he spent a good amount of time talking to our drummer, Jason. Before he left, Jason gave him a drumstick to take home with him, and the kid left happy. The next day, the kid’s dad sent us a letter on Facebook telling us about his son, and how much it meant to him to meet us.
It turns out that because of his size, his hair, the clothes that he wears (concert shirts) and the music that he likes (hard rock and metal), he is bullied in school. His musical taste doesn’t fit in where he lives. When I read the letter about how a lot of the kids pick on him, it broke my heart, because he was a really nice kid.
I had no idea that he was going through all of that when we met him. As I read the letter in the van, I said to the guys in the band that I wished that there was more that we could do for him, but I’m glad that coming to our show and meeting us gave him a respite from all of the stuff that he’s going through.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story, John. I’m sure that it will help others to see that you can rise above it and become a success in life.
Let’s talk about your personal history of being bullied when you were growing up…
It didn’t really start until around grade 7 or 8. I started feeling the pressure from other kids, just getting picked on in a general sense. I could never really figure out why that was, because I never said anything to anyone. The school that I went to was new at the time, and it was fairly small (only about 300-400 kids between grades 7-12). I only had a couple of friends.
Things got worse between 7th and 8th grade. At one point, I remember being out on the playground and some kids were just saying some nasty things. Before I knew it, I turned around and I was being punched in the face. I was completely knocked out.
The next thing that I remember was waking up on the playground with all of the teachers around me, and blood pouring out of my mouth. I didn’t know what had happened, but I could just see the panic on the teachers’ faces as they dragged me off to the nursing room. They called my mom, and she came down to the school. She was frantic, and they took me to the hospital, where I ended up having around 12 stitches all through my upper lip.
It was just really scary to not even understand why that had happened. I think that, to this day, it’s kind of left me with some form of anxiety. I don’t know if it’s a social anxiety thing, but I’ve always had a kind of nervous tension throughout my life. I’m not entirely sure that it was from that incident, but after that, I was very scared whenever I saw people fighting at school or anyplace else.
My mom pulled me out of that school, because it was probably not the right place for me to be, and put me into a boys’ school called Blacktown Boys High. It didn’t have a great reputation, so I still don’t know why my mom sent me there, but they were a good school in terms of learning.
Things were okay for the first year, and then it all kind of started happening again. I was never in any fights (which I was very grateful for), but I was kind of the outsider at school.
So, how did you handle things?
I always found myself going to the music room during recess and lunch, to try and take my mind off of all of the kids that picked on me. I didn’t even want to walk by any of the bullies at school, out of fear that they would say something nasty, throw something at me or push me up against the wall. I always did my best to avoid the people that I knew could hurt me physically or emotionally. The music room was truly my escape.
I guess it’s fair to say that you used music as an outlet…
Absolutely! At the time, it was just an outlet, but then it started to become a lot of fun, and I became very passionate about it as the years went on, and it just grew from there.
I ended up starting my very first band with a couple of my mates that I’m still very good friends with today. I think that really helped to build my passion for music.
The guys that I’m with now in Longreef have been together for so many years, and when you spend every single day of the week on the road, it’s more than a friendship. It becomes a family, a home where everything happens and everyone knows each other’s secrets. Bullying definitely steered me towards a career in music.
It’s good to know that one of the ways for kids to figure out their own “Battle Plan” is to find their passion and pursue it as an escape from tough times. When you were playing music in high school, did you feel like you escaped to a whole other world?
Totally…totally! That was the best part about it. I just looked forward to recess and lunch to get up to the music room where I kind of felt like I was alive. Because I had some sort of purpose, I knew that things would be okay in the long run. However, I do remember things getting so bad at one point that I started cutting school because I didn’t even want to be on the playground with the bullies.
Aside from music, did you have anything else that made your high school days any easier?
I played baseball for 10 years, and loved it. I felt lucky to have the baseball team at school to look after me, because I was the youngest kid on the team. Whenever I was around the team, I kind of felt safe. I spent most of my time on the baseball field or in the music room.
That’s interesting. I think that the impression out there is that athletes are the ones bullying the non-athletic kids, but even as one of the baseball players, you still had to deal with the bullies. I guess it goes to show that it really can happen to anybody, not just the kids who are outcasts because they are different…
I absolutely found that to be true!
The good thing about your success is that it shows kids who are being bullied that if you follow your passion, things do get better eventually. The inspiration for this anti-bullying campaign on Hard Rock Daddy was to show any kid who is being bullied that there is hope, that things will get better than they are right now, and that you can still have a great future…
Exactly! It must be so hard for kids in this day and age with the Internet, which was just coming out when I was in high school (and it didn’t seem to be as bad as it is now). Social media can be horrible. You see these kids committing suicide nowadays after being bullied on and offline. It has gotten very scary.
Let’s talk about the process of writing “Battle Plan.”
Late last year, we were on the road with a band called 3 Pill Morning. During a day off, I was sitting in one of the band member’s houses, strumming away on the guitar, and started singing some words around it. I kind of felt from the music, that it needed some sort of positive lyrical message. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about the anti-bullying thing; I was just trying to come up with positive lines throughout the song. It wasn’t until we had a rough version of it, that I listened back to it and thought…hey, this is the song that I’ve wanted to get out there for the past 15 bloody years, so the anti-bullying idea was always in the back of our minds.
We really didn’t need to change many of the lyrics because it was very much geared towards anti-bullying already. It kind of happened very organically, which was the best part about it. Once we recorded it, we thought that it would be a cool thing to try and get out to anyone being bullied, and the parents of kids who are being bullied.
So, how did you get hooked up with Friend Movement?
We were looking for an organization that could help spread our message. It’s always better to do things in numbers, so we searched around for a little while with our management company until we found Friend Movement. We approached them, and they loved what we had to offer in terms of the song, the video and the message.
We’ve been working together since just before Christmas on ways that we can keep spreading the anti-bullying message through “Battle Plan.” We’re hoping to keep it going for the next few years, or as long as we possibly can.
It’s definitely a song that has some serious meaning behind it, and it feels great to be a part of something that can actually help kids. The song is something that we’re very proud of.
The video for “Battle Plan” is incredibly powerful. Can you talk about the making of it?
The filming was done with two GoPro cameras (which were brand new at the time). We just went out on the street and approached parents and kids. We thought…what better way to help try and spread the word than to have kids appear in the video, and hold up the signs with the lyrics?
It was challenging in some places, but 98% of the time, they were all for it when they found out what we were doing. We were also very lucky to have connections with some schools down in the south, so it made it easier to get a whole bunch of students involved.
How long did it take to put the video together?
I think that the filming process went on for about two months. We had the cameras on the bus with us. Everywhere that we stopped, we saw kids, and asked them if they wanted to be a part of the video.
We probably shot footage in six or seven different states, which was really cool. When we had all of the footage of the kids done, we wanted to make it look really cool, so we thought…what about Times Square? We were playing in Atlantic City at the time, so we took a road trip into Manhattan. It totally worked! I really like the fact that we’re not in the video, except for holding up signs with statistics.
Did any of the kids share bullying stories with you during the making of the video?
Absolutely! Most of them, actually.
Is there one story, in particular, that comes to mind?
The story of the kid in the wheelchair on the football field really stuck with me. One of his caretakers told us that people often yell out very silly things to him. Even though he is disabled, he understands everything that’s going on, but people took advantage of his disability anyway. It was terrible to hear that story.
Since the song came out, have you heard any stories about how it has helped kids who are being bullied?
Oh, absolutely! All over our Facebook page, we’ve gotten messages from parents and kids who are being bullied, thanking us for making people aware of this horrible situation. A lot of the parents go in-depth about what’s happened to their child, and kids have also shared their stories. People are really getting on board with what we’re doing. It’s already making an impact and helping to change peoples’ lives.
The following story was taken directly from Longreef’s Facebook page. This story (which is one of many) shows the impact that “Battle Plan” is already having on real people dealing with a real issue. If you would like to help spread the anti-bullying message, please share this article and the link to the free download of “Battle Plan” with your friends on social media…
Susan Petersen Oldenburg “WE’LL RISE”… (Lyric from Battle Plan” – or as I like to call it: “ABBEY’S ANTHEM”!!) – I met you guys 2 years ago when you played at the Hard Rock in the Four Winds Casino. My daughters have LOVED the signed CD & DVD I brought home that night!! MOST IMPORTANTLY… My 14 year old daughter had been bullied for the last year by a group of girls to the point of having panic & anxiety attacks, became anorexic, and wanted to not go to school anymore. Counseling helped give her the tools to cope, but YOU GUYS, and YOUR MUSIC gave her the strength to FACE these kids, stand up for herself, get help from teachers if she needed it & helped her realize she was NOT ALONE in this BATTLE FIELD!! She’s become a stronger, more confident young lady AND an advocate for Anti-Bullying in her school, helping many others who were suffering in silence to speak up & speak out against bullying!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! This one’s for ABBEY!!