Exclusive: Nothing More Premieres Highly Personal 'Jenny' Video
Singer Jonny Hawkins hopes to encourage dialogue about mental illness with new song.
Nothing More impacted Billboard's rock charts with the first two singles from its 2014 self-titled album, "This Is the Time (Ballast)" and "Mr. MTV." The songs reached No. 2 and No. 12, respectively, on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart, so naturally the Texas hard rock band is hoping its luck will hold with upcoming single "Jenny." But the quartet also wants the song to make an impact far beyond radio play.
Singer-percussionist Jonny Hawkins tells Billboard the story behind #IKnowJenny, a worldwide initiative Nothing More is spearheading to encourage discussion about mental illness and help dissolve its stigma. Nothing More put together an information center about mental health and available resources on a specially created Tumblr site, which it calls "a place [for] fans to learn more about emotional health and how to find help via our partners."
Such organizations as To Write Love on Her Arms, Young Minds and The Jed Foundation are partnering with the band by sharing data from Nothing More's Tumblr site on their own social media sites. A PledgeMusic campaign to raise money for the partner organizations (by selling band merch and tickets) is in the works, and Nothing More is also working with the public service department of the National Association of Broadcasters to get word out about the campaign.
Nothing More has paired with Billboard to exclusively premiere the official video for "Jenny," which was directed by Hawkins. He calls the project "a labor of love for me. It was my first time directing and editing a music video, so I'm thankful for the faith the rest of the band put in me, letting me take this on." Watch it below:
On March 30 the band teased a clip from the "Jenny" video on its Facebook page. That date was chosen in honor of World Bipolar Day. It's an illness that Hawkins' sister, Jenna, has wrestled with since she was very young.
"The story of 'Jenny' is an ongoing struggle that my family and I are battling with," explains Hawkins. "It continues to be one of the most confusing situations I've ever had to navigate in life. The topic is something that I think many of us can relate to, but not many of us talk about ... We all know a 'Jenny,' whether it is a family member or a friend.
"My sister is dealing with this day to day, and it's not only affecting her, but our entire family. It affects every minute of every day," adds Hawkins. "It also affects the tax payer in all these different ways with how she's in and out of the system with hospitals and jails.
"It's very tricky and very strange when people have something wrong with their brain. When someone's in a wheelchair, everyone in the room will open the door for them and treat them differently. But if someone has something wrong with their brain, [other people] immediately just think they're an asshole."
It's painful enough to see a relative experience metal illness, but Hawkins' family has endured several interrelated tragedies. His mother, Shari, his aunt, Jenny, and his uncle saw their father die when a helicopter he was flying crashed in front of them. Later, when Jenny was in college, she became mentally incapacitated and has been in a home ever since. When Jenna (who was named after Jenny) was born, she almost didn't survive because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Shari feared the difficult birth would have long-term repercussions, and as the years passed it became evident that Jenna wasn't well. The girl began self-medicating in her teens and wound up addicted to drugs. In the midst of this turmoil, Shari was fighting cancer, and she died at age 48 in 2009 after a five-year struggle.
Jenna's difficult life is depicted in the video for "Jenny." Hawkins describes the clip (which lists resources for mental health services at the end of it) as a "fever dream that you could kind of step into her head and my family's head for a second and experience what it's like to jump into the chaos." The song is by turns angry, frustrated, pleading and resigned as Hawkins describes how Shari desperately clung to life to try to save her daughter from drugs, and he begs Jenna to "please get up like I know you can/Or forever love the fall."
It includes scenes like the "Jenny" character attempting suicide and rebelling against an intervention, and symbolic clues like a baby bottle and pacifier. Hawkins explains that those items represent two children that Jenna put up for adoption "because she just did what she wanted to do and wouldn't listen to the family about any kind of advice, so she wound up in a really bad situation. Fortunately, those two kids seemingly have great families that now love them to death."
Such impaired judgment plays a role in the social stigma that mental illness carries: Hawkins has observed that people who would be a positive influence on Jenna aren't the ones who typically socialize with her. "They [end up] feeling uncomfortable around [those who are ill], and I don't blame them for feeling that way. I feel uncomfortable around my sister a lot," he admits. "You don't know how to react to some things and you don't know how to interface with it, and I think as human beings [we're] not very comfortable with not knowing what our response should be."
Hawkins says Jenna is aware of the song, and her reaction to it is "hard to judge. There's been times when she hates it and just thinks I'm being simply negative toward her, and then there's other times when she like embraces it as her own and likes it in a strange way." Although he wrote it to help himself process the situation, he has wondered how releasing "Jenny" will affect his volatile relationship with her, as the siblings have experienced periods of both non-communication and strained interactions.
"In some moments, I'd be like, 'Am I exploiting this tragedy for my own benefit?'" Hawkins says of the emotions he's experienced. "I've gone through many thoughts similar to that and also thoughts of feeling the complete opposite … [but] if I can't talk about it, then what good is going through it? So this is the way I deal with it and how I heal through it."