WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio. I'm here with a guest who is new to the podcast, but not new to Manitoba. And I would say not new to Canadian music audiences either. And I think that the best way to start this off… I do have a lot of questions for you, but before we even get into any of that, if you just want to introduce yourself and give a bit of background about what it is you do as a musician.
ROBB NASH: Yeah. I'm Robb Nash. Most people, when they talk about their music career, it's like they always was their dream of being a musician. For me, music isn't what I wanted to do. I love music. I was addicted to it. But I never thought I'd do it for a job that would be my career. For me, it was about why I wanted to do it. I just knew music was a good way to tell a story. So it's just my vehicle and my platform to tell a story, which is often different. It wasn't like my worst mark in school was music. I auditioned for the choir. I didn't make it, but I'm a storyteller, and music is a good way to tell a story.
WR: It is.
WR: And I think that you're an interesting person in the sense that you're well known. But I don't know if you're well known as much for your music itself as you are for everything that surrounds it. Because you're always in the news, for your advocacy and for the community work you're doing and things like that, almost more it almost overshadows your music. So I think you're an interesting person to talk to in that sense, because you have this career that is obviously what you do with your life. But then there's this whole other side of things that almost takes over. So, I mean, what's the best way to how do you define the type of music you play? I do want to talk about the other stuff, too, because it's very important. But as far as the actual music side of things, how do you describe it?
RN: Yeah, we're definitely rock based. I think the new album, specifically, we're getting a lot of comparisons to Linkin Park, like, the heavy stuff – Bring Me the Horizon, Papa Roach type. But what I love is, to be honest, I was really inspired by Twenty-One Pilots because you listen to one song, it's like trap music, and the next song is just him and a ukulele. Like, they're so diverse. And I have toured so much over the last twelve years that I didn't have a lot of time to write, and so I didn't know how much I built up inside of me. So when The Pandemic hit, I started writing again and I had collected a lot of stories on tour. So the new album has 18 songs and it's definitely hits hard. But there are some songs that you don't even have a drum set in them. So it's quite a diverse album. There are some songs that are being loved in the rock community and some that rock station would never play that are more champagne hit radio. It's a pretty diverse album, but it definitely lands on the rock side of things.
WR: Okay, that's what I figured from what I've heard of your stuff, too. I'm sure you're sick of talking about the pandemic. So am I. But it's affected everyone so much over the past two years. Plus, how has it been for you as someone who has done a lot of touring and you do a lot of public events and public speaking and things like that, you're always sort of out there with people and we've had this enforced time off where that hasn't necessarily been possible in a traditional way. How have you dealt with them?
RN: Well, for me, I'm fortunate that I was able to figure out that my emotions weren't a curse, they were a gift. I went through some pretty dark times when I was younger. When I was 17, I was in a car accident and went from a six foot five, a guy that played almost every sport, to a guy getting paid by his mom. And I was hit by a semi truck in a car accident with my friends and resuscitated, and I woke up with a titanium skull this side and metal in my chest. I've had so many surgeries, but I didn't know who I was, with my parents, and my memory was gone and it was just like a total restart. The last couple of years are familiar to me because I watched a lot of people that couldn't be with their friends. They were isolated and couldn't play sports. And I went through that when I was 17, when I was in high school. So I recognized this. And I recognize what isolation does. And isolation and depression are a bad combo. So we've been watching this and maybe we'll get into this more, but I started a band to tell that story. I thought I made it through that dark time, but how many other people are going through those same dark thoughts, not talking about it. And that was my why I need to tell my story, so other people don't have to die like I did before. They start to live and do things for the people around and do things that matter. So I chose to play music. And the first couple of albums, they were okay. And then by the fourth album, we got a record deal. And then we actually did have some top ten hits on the radio. And we were chairing the stage and touring with some of our favorite bands with big crowds. And it was exciting. It's fun, crowd surfing. I was like, what do I tell the stories? Like, I want to have an impact. And then we were getting ready to go to LA to see if we could do the same thing in the States. And then all of a sudden, I got offered this nine month tour to go through schools, just me and acoustic guitar telling my story. So everyone thought I was crazy. But I walked away from my record deal to do that. And when you walk away from a record deal, you don't have a dollar, you just owe money. And then it was a nine month tour without pay, but it felt like the right thing to do. And after the nine months, it turned into other communities calling and started getting called from prisons and youth detention centers and reserves, and it just started growing. And we put a band back together and started a charity because we never charged a dollar for what we were doing. And then the show, we couldn't meet the demand. So then it was like, we're back in big theaters, like in winter, and we'd set up the Burton Cummings Theater, and we'd do a week of shows for free. We pay for the school buses, we'd fly in kids from reserves to these concerts where we would tell stories of the people we met on to people with struggles with mental illness, addiction, self harm, and we'd see so many breakthroughs. And then our last show was at the arena in Medicine Hat. And then we walked off stage and the pandemic hit. And I didn't know if it was going to be all of us two months, but I knew that it would be a while before they would let 10, 20, 30 schools into a building. And I still think it's going to be a while. It was really hard these last couple of years sitting on the sidelines because communities are reaching out to schools and saying, like, Help, this is hell on our kids. And I'm like, but when the pandemic hit, I was like, I tried to keep things kind of underground. You're right. I do some media stuff. I accepted a couple of awards. At first, I didn't accept the awards because I never wanted any of the students to think this was a publicity stunt, because kids can smell bullshit a mile away, Right? So they need to see you’re genuine. They're like, Oh, he's not charging for this. Oh, he's in debt. What is he going to sell us? It's like, Oh, we give the music away for free. It's like, Okay, you got us because you're genuine. Especially when you go to a reserve. It's like, what's another white boy doing? Come to save the day? But once I was embraced by the Indigenous people, by the way they actually gave me my spirit name. They call me Bear Chief. That's why I have a bear hand on my hand with Chief across the fingers. And I was like, I kept it underground. But finally I was like, I think it's time we have to tell the stories of the people we've met. So on the tour, we were handed 917 suicide notes. And I called up a film crew and I was like, will you help me follow up with ten of these students and find out where they are now? And so during the pandemic, we've been going across the country just filming these students that are now in their early 20s. And the stories were incredible for me to hear because I found out these stories did just make them feel better for a day. But these were long lasting impacts that these shows were having. And the stories are so incredible. So we have a documentary that's done. We're just working on which platform it's going to go out on. But I put together a team of psychologists and social workers and teachers and counselors, and I said, can you take these episodes of these students, their stories, and let's show these in schools, in the school curriculum. Now that's available, and it's in six provinces right now. It's available for free on the website. And students watch my story, and then they journal like, what was Robb's struggle? What was his breakthrough? How did it help? How is he helping other people? Then they watch the story, one of the students, and by the end, it's like, hey, what's your struggle? How could you find a breakthrough? And it's getting really good response. So it was really hard sitting on the sidelines. But we're really excited that, , that's out there. And it's helping people again.
WR: That's going to feel very rewarding to follow up years down the road and find out how these kids lives have gone and what they've accomplished.
RN: I've always said I'm not the next Bono. I don't think I'm the next big thing. But I think one of these kids, or maybe more than one, is going to go out and do something way bigger than me. And if I'm a small part in helping spark, that's exciting for me. I've always said I'm not trying to change the world. I'm trying to create world changers. You know what I mean? Like, what's your story? Get that out there. Channel your story into a poem, into a painting, into a song. Don't keep those dark thoughts inside that's what it overwhelms you and takes you out you know.
WR: It must be even harder to see times when people haven't made it through. Especially if you've been doing this for as long as you have, and working with people so directly and dealing with such kind of open feelings and emotions. It's got to suck to get that other news where someone hasn't made it.
RN: Yeah. I wish what I do wasn't an occupation. I wish it wasn't necessary. But no matter how many suicide notes and razor blades we've been handed, every time I land in the next city, you read about another tragedy. I was just with a school in Manitoba earlier this week that just had a tragedy. And it's so heartbreaking, and I could actually get overwhelmed with that. Except most of what we do is preventative. We're partnered closely with CMHA and Kids Help Phone and stuff. Like, kids can just text Mash to 6868 and it goes straight to Kids Help Phone. But when I sit down and I see students and teachers crying that maybe didn't see the signs, and they have all these regrets that could overwhelm me if I'm not careful, but I just use it as motivation to get to that next person.
WR: That's what I was going to ask. Obviously, it's not something that you want to ever happen, but I'm sure encourages you to spread that message more or get it out there to more people in whatever way you can, right?
RN: For sure. And honestly, I don't do this because I feel sorry for these kids. I think we're losing some of the most gifted people to mental illness. Like, after talking with hundreds of thousands of teenagers. Like, this just happened at the mall the other day. This girl comes up. She goes, You're Rob Nash. Your music means so much to me because I was diagnosed with depression. I have suicidal thoughts. And I was like, Oh, so you're like me? She's like, what do you mean? I'm like, you hurt deeply. But you love deeply too, don't you? And she's like, Yeah, I'm like, you hurt deeply. You can tell when others are hurting, can't you? She was like, Yeah. I was like, Yeah, you have what I have. And it sucks sometimes. You can help a lot of people with that. Don't shut that off. Isn't it interesting? Depression is a very real thing, sure. But we get diagnosed with depression. Nobody gets diagnosed with empathy. And empathy is a beautiful thing. And so I looked at this girl, I'm like, So, do you dance? Do you paint poetry or into music? She's like, Yeah, I'm a painter. How did you know? You struggle with mental illness. I'm convinced there's a connection between the arts and mental illness. Artists, we have this extra thing, emotion that we have. We're affected deeply by the emotions around us. And we're meant to channel that into the painting or the song, and we don't know what to do. That's why I think we see so many suicides in Hollywood. Look at Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Robin Williams. Entertainers, artists. We've got this extra juice, you know what I mean? And it can be overwhelming when you keep it inside. And we lose way too many of the most gifted people. I've never been to a funeral for a suicide where I've been asked to sing a song, where the m and dad say, yeah, it's a good thing our daughter's gone and she had nothing to offer. This world, of course, always the opposite. She was so gifted, how did she not see it?
WR: Yeah, well, I guess, like what you're just saying about running into someone at the mall and having that conversation, I guess you can't really take time off from being the guy who talks about this.
WR: I mean, you're pretty recognizable, just visually. People know what you look like, whether they have your music or not, right? So you probably get that all the time. People just feeling that you're approachable and you're the type of person that they can talk about these emotional and mental struggles.
RN: Yeah, I don't have fans. Every once while I have a selfie and take a picture, but I was just in Edmonton last week and this guy comes up to me at West Edmonton Mall and he's just like, You're Robb? I was like, Yeah. He goes, you came to my school in November of 2014 and it changed my life. And I was like, it wasn't, Hey, I think I saw you once. But it was like, he knew the time, the month, the year. That because we all have those breakthrough moments, right? But yeah, walking around when people come up, it's not fluffy conversations. It's like, Hey, this happened to my friend. And all of sudden you have these conversations. Plus I have a mow walk and a beard, lots of tattoos. I'm six foot five, so you kind of stand out a little bit in the crowd. And especially when people see my tattoos. I've got some pretty prominent tattoos that most people don't have. Right?
WR: Is that an ongoing project, that tattoo project? I mean, that's kind of what you're known for, I think, in a way, is getting the names tattooed.
RN: Yeah, well, you know, it started I just started seeing so many people tagging us in photos where they were tattoo the lyrics of our songs, and their arms were used to cut. I'm like, a song I wrote in my bathroom has that much of it. I'm not much a part of somebody's life like that. And I'm like, how could I show that they're that much part of my life? So I took all the signatures and the names from the bottom of the suicide notes, I tattooed them on my arms. But in the documentary, I say it and I say it from stage, I'm not going to do any more tattoos. My arms are full, but I just never wanted to be hey, I'm going to give Robb my suicide note in order because I want my name tattooed on his arm. Again, I did this to show their value, how much they mean to me. But also the media focuses so much on the fact that it's like they want to push that every story of mental illness ends with a suicide, and it doesn't sure, you need to see it. It doesn't always. Not every story of addiction ends with an overdose. Every one of these names are people that are still here. I did the anthem at a Jets game, and the woman selling me 50/50, she goes, Can I see your arm? I was like, Yeah. I'm sitting there, pull up my sleeve. And she goes, that's my daughter's signature. That's her handwriting. I've always wanted to thank you. And it's like and I don't get a lot of that. I don't get to meet the parents and all that stuff. But you just keep going because you feel like it's the right thing to do. You listen to those little promptings, and I'll be honest with you, man. In the beginning, when I started going to schools, I didn't talk about the fact that I had been suicidal. My message was more like, hey, I had this big car accident, almost died. So make every day count because you never know what's going to happen tomorrow, right? But then one day, we got called to a school in Ontario, and this principal says, can you come right away? We heard about your effectiveness, and we just lost a girl to suicide. And on her suicide note, it revealed that she had a pact with a friend. Like, if you kill yourself, I'll kill myself. Principal says, we don't know who it is. So we flew out. And it was an odd feeling, man. There's a thousand students in front of me. And I'm like, somebody in this room is about to take their life and I don't know where they're sitting. And I'm telling stories, playing songs. And I'm getting to this point, I'm like, I need to say it, that I was the other ones too. I've not even told my bandmates this, but I can feel this moment coming. And I'm like, I know somebody here is thinking about taking your life. You're not alone. I was there once too. And I braced because I thought, what are the students going to think of me? What are the staff? What is my team going to think of me? But it was like 1,000 pounds off me. It was like, I felt good. And then the interaction between me and the audience, the relationship just went. And then people coming up afterwards. Now, it wasn't just autographs and selfies. It was like hugs and tears. And then this girl pulls this old crinkled up note out of her pocket and she's like, here. And I was like, what's this? She goes, It's my suicide note. I was going to kill myself this weekend. I don't need this anymore. And the principal and counselor are standing next to me because we always work closely, make sure they get the follow up help that they need, right? And they walked off and she's going to go talk with the counselor. And I'm like, holy shit, we found her. Yeah. And then I'm like, the next day I'm like, well, if the stats from kids helping are true, pre covert, one in five teenagers had seriously considered suicide in the last twelve months. One in five. So now, there's another 1,000 students in front of me. And I'm like I said it again, it was a little easier the second time. I know somebody who's thinking about taking their life. You're not alone. I was there once too. And then a guy gave me his note and I talked with a police officer because I was like, I don't get it. Why did they have their note? They didn't write that during the show. It was an old paper folded up and crinkled. And this one officer that kind of focused on teen suicide said, yeah. Very rarely is the note freshly written. People write their note and they carry it with them for two to three months, waiting for people to somebody to push them over the edge or for somebody to reach out and say, you're not alone, and help them with a breakthrough moment. And it was a big day for me when I realized the tiers of that person in front of me those weren't tiers of somebody breaking down. Those were tears of somebody breaking through. Okay? And that was a big difference for me. But I'm not going to lie, man, if you've ever been to our concerts, I don't know about you, but I hated school presentations. Right? Like, don't do drugs, right? And so students are all kind of sitting there and you're at the Burton Cummings Theater. It's a great set up there's led balls. They see the drums like, this is a little cooler. And I know that, yeah. One in five students has been suicidal in the last twelve months. Four out of the five, we're doing good. Entertain us. So I'll sit down and be like, Hey, I do a lot of impersonations. Do you want to hear the Family Guy voices and calling from one of the rings? So it's an entertaining show and we have fun, but it's all packaged around getting to the core and trying to get to those students that are struggling and let people know, you might not have had your bad day yet, but it's coming. We all go through something.
WR: That's the preventative side of things, too, right, is getting to them before that happens and letting them know.
WR: Is it hard to balance your own music with that persona that you have, that you're that guy that people approach about this topic? And you're a very outspoken person on this topic. And then you're also writing songs that obviously there's a connection in what you just said. You're playing these shows that also have that message, but do you have to juggle it at all or do they fit very well together for you?
RN: Don't get me wrong, I've written some songs that are just about having fun and partying, but I can't do it anymore. Like, now every song like the new album, I was getting one award and backstage, the other three guys getting the same award were soldiers missing limbs and stuff. And I'm backstage, I'm like, what am I doing here? I'm just a musician. But then they introduced me and they said, this next guy is fighting a different kind of a war. A war against an invisible enemy called mental illness. I was like, as an artist, I was like, I could write about that. It's a new album. And I was touring so much, I hadn't written 18 new songs. And they're all based around that theme of war. The title track, This Is War, is like it's about being on the front lines and it kind of challenges the fact that in the western world, but specifically North America, we think we've created paradise. But in some way, is this paradise? Because this isn't a war I thought I'd be in but where's the hero? There's bodies in the streets there's blood beneath my feet is this the promise? I would think it is, because this is where there's the most suicides, most overdoses. We've lost our weight. But then other songs like Ally, it's like, don't fight this alone. That idea I got from I was meeting with one of the grand chiefs and the head of the Metis Federation, one on a Tuesday and the next on a Wednesday. And I'm always trying to do justice. If I'm going to tell the stories of the Indigenous people, I have never lived that life. I need to understand how to properly represent you. And they're like, quit being so apologetic. I was like, well, what do you mean? We don't know why you're helping us, but you're an ally. We don't have a lot of allies. And people will listen to you that don't listen to us. Thank you. And now my same thing. Ally or you need an ally in war. So there's moments in front of the lines, on the front lines. There's moments we're in triage, and there's moments you're in victory. And people need to see that you can get to the end of that. And honestly, you talked about how do you keep going and all that stuff. But I've learned now that the antidote for depression isn't happiness because happiness is kind of defined by, hey, if good things around you are happening, we call that happiness. Sure. But if bad things are happening, you can't be happy. It's like you're letting the circumstances around you to dictate how you feel. And I think we're supposed to seek for peace within that, regardless of the circumstances around you. And I think the antidote for depression is purpose. Everybody knows what mental health struggles are. There's days, like physical health, you feel 100%, and days you feel 80.
WR: Yeah, sure.
RN: Just like mental health, there's days you feel 100%, days you feel 80. Some people don't know what it's like to get down to five and 3%. That's where you really have depression, and some people don't know that. And if you've never been there, a lot of people say that suicide is selfish because you take your pain and you give it to the people around you, which obviously happens. But if you've never been there, you don't realize that, , the thought in your head, the lie in your head is the most selfless thing that you could do for the people around you is leave. You are a burden to your family and your friends, your parents. Just leave. That's the lie that's in your head. And how do you combat that lie is purpose. Right. For me, when I got through that darkness and I was like, Okay. Because everybody told me everything happens for a reason. And they say that with good intentions. But when people told me everything happens for a reason, what's the reason I was hit by a semi? And I'm thinking, is this how life is? It's fate? Some family told me God's bank knew the semi because I was a bad kid. So I'm like, I was so bitter and so angry. And then somebody came up to me and said, you're trying to figure out the reason you were hit by a semi truck, right, Robb? I'm like, Yeah. And he was like, I know the reason. I'm like, what is it? He goes, you were hit by a semi truck because you were going too fast on an icy road. Shit happens. What are you going to do with it?
RN: And that sounds simple, but that set me free. And I was like, I'm done being bitter and angry. I got a second chance. Maybe I should do something with it. And I was like I screamed at the sky, and I was like, I want to do something today. I want to do something that matters. I want my life to count. And I thought I'd feel a prompting to move to Africa and build a well. And that's awesome if somebody does. I didn't feel that. But you know how you get those gut feelings sometimes? This is what I felt. Phone the semi driver that hit you and tell them you're alive. I was like, what? So I phoned the police, and I'm like, yo, can I get the phone number of the semi driver that ran me over? The cops are like, no. But I kept trying because the nudge wouldn't leave me alone. And finally one cop gave me his number. Big trucker from the US answers the phone. And I said, do you remember that car accident up in Canada? And he's like, you got real quiet. He's like, Yeah. I said, I just felt that I should call you and tell you, like, I'm okay. I'm alive. I survived. And I could tell it set him free.
WR: Yeah, he's been carrying that, I'm sure for as long as the whole time.
RN: Yeah. Even though the accident was my friend's fault, it wasn't his fault, but it was still haunting him. Right? And we talked and he was set free. But that's not the important part of that story. The part of that story is what happened to me. Until that day, I had never done anything for anyone but me. And that moment, I was like, my life matters. , I have purpose. And that purpose started to outweigh the depression. I need to keep fighting. Somebody needs my story. I never had anybody come to the hospital and be my hero. But maybe I could be a hero for somebody else one day. And then as cliche as the ripple effect is talked about and how often it's mentioned but that was always the goal.
WR: Well, that's obviously worked for you, too. And I'm glad that you're still doing this, because like you said, there's so many kids who are struggling with this, and you never know who it's going to be next. Right? That crowd could be anyone in the crowd. I mean, I'm the father of a teenager. Hopefully it's not my kid. But that's what every parent says, right?
RN: Yeah, for sure. And honestly, I think the most shocking part for me has been when I started this tour, we just focused on the high schools. Right. And now what the grade twelve used to do is what the grade eights are doing. What the grades are doing is now what the grade fives are doing. Sure. It's getting so young. We all call it one community where they lost an eight year old to suicide. And that should not be an option at eight years old. But it was. And that's devastating.
WR: Yeah. You wouldn't expect that to happen, but that's awful. What's the best way for people to find out what you're doing? Because your shows, like you said, they have elements of obviously the music is important and the new record and everything, but you're also talking about these very important issues and giving people hope, really, in situations where they may not have any. What's the best way to find out where you're going to be and when people can check you out?
RN: Yeah. Again, I think it's going to be a while before we can tour and bring schools together. But in the meantime, over these two years, , we have been filming this stuff, and we beta tested the curriculum in four provinces, got the feedback, made some adjustments, and now it cost us about half a million dollars to build it. We spent all of our money. We're trying to figure out right now how to go from paycheck to paycheck, but we know schools need this. We're not even charging for it at this point. But if you go to robbnash.ca, you can sign up for the curriculum. If you're a parent, you want to see more about it, or a school teacher or principal, you can go sign up for that. The curriculum. That's our big focus. The documentary trailer is up there as well. That'll be coming out soon. We'll announce that and the new album. Even my producers that had they were my producers when I had a record deal. And they're like, dude, we want to be a part of this. What you're doing now? So they're Steve Smith, Anthony Anderson are amazing guys. They help with all my production. And they're like, hey, if you're sharing these stories in the curriculum and the documentary, can you share your new music, too? And I was like, yeah, I guess it's time. So they talked with some of their colleagues and Stephen Stone, the entertainment lawyer Jeff Rogers, Eric Alper, and then they met with the president of Warner. And Warner said, we want to help this. And they sign me, almost no strings attached, just with distribution to help get the music out there. So the first nine of the 18 songs are now out. And so we're really excited about that. And legit. I sit in this room, much like you often do, and I share these stories. Whether people find us through the music, through the curriculum, through the documentary, you come here, you're going to find a lot of stories. And I can't wait for people to see the documentary and some of the remarkable stories of some of these teenagers where they are now.