Takeover Tuesday: JR JR's Josh Epstein's Mental Health Awareness Month Playlist
Welcome back to Takeover Tuesday, where each week Billboard taps chart-topping artists and tastemakers to compile their very own playlist exclusive to Billboard's Spotify account. We give the artists free rein to base the list on whatever subject they want to add whatever tracks they choose. The only rule? Make it as creative and unique to them as possible.
Detroit duo JR JR are kicking off a short tour tied to Mental Health Awareness Month. The band will donate a portion from each ticket sold to The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works to protect emotional health and prevent suicide among U.S. teens and young adults.
The jaunt comes on the heels of their release of the track “Same Dark Places.” Joshua Epstein from the band shared his deeply personal story behind the song in a Facebook post, where he recalled how an experience on tour caused him to seek therapy -- leading to a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Not only did Epstein curate this week’s playlist, but he chatted with Billboard about his anxiety disorder and how 13 Reasons Why inspired the philanthropic endeavor.
You're about to kick off your spring tour. Why is mental health awareness an important topic to you?
This was a year of a lot of recognition of things that I needed to change about my life. So, for me, it's kind of like we've arrived at this moment where everyone is feeling like they have less compassion than they had in the past for other people. It was important for me to use whatever platform I have to try and raise awareness for the fact that this is a very real and somewhat normal thing that people experience. Mental health issues and in many cases it's so chemical that it would be like judging a diabetic without insulin. There are treatments and people need to be aware of them, and need to be aware of the possibility for them.
You're donating a portion from each ticket to The Jed Foundation. Why did you choose this organization specifically?
Well, “Same Dark Places” appeared in the series 13 Reasons Why. As soon as we started talking to them and realized what the series was, we thought that it was a little irresponsible to be a part of a series that talks about these very real and scary issues for young people without really giving them information as to how they can seek help. Also, just letting people know that there shouldn't be a stigma attached to these things. Many people deal with these things and it's normal.
Did you watch the series?
I did actually, yeah. I really liked it. When you're working on the television show, it's really tough to convey inner turmoil. The show did a really good job of portraying people in a fair light. You saw all of the signs of all of the characters and realized that none of them were horrible people. They all had little moments -- maybe someone was panicking and did the wrong thing, made wrong decisions. All of these little things compounded into this one person's life, and became this road map of how they felt like it was over. I think they did a really good job of that.
You posted the very personal story behind “Same Dark Places” on Facebook. For those who didn't read that note, can you explain the story?
When we released our last album, we had the most success that we've ever had. I had assumed that would change my mood and make me feel more comfortable -- things were finally going well. It absolutely went the opposite way, and I just found myself unhappier than I had ever been, and sort of out of control.
We were on tour, playing in Columbus, Ohio. There was some back and forth with the crowd that I misinterpreted and the amount of anxiety that I had was just kind of compounding. I was really rude to a lot of members of the audience. I felt so terrible about it. I didn't know how it had happened so I started to go through the process of changing my diet and learning transcendental meditation and trying to figure out these things that could help me rid myself of anxiety. I finally went to see a therapist who told me, no this is like insulin for a diabetic. I really think that you will be helped by going on medication. So, I went to see a really progressive psychiatrist and I got on the least invasive regimen of medicine that I could find. At first I thought that being on medication was a sign of weakness or something, but I'm finding that it really does just help balance the chemistry in your brain that causes thoughts.
People don't recognize that chemicals in their brain are what causes their thoughts. It's what makes you hungry, it's what makes you tired, it's what makes you cranky. I thought it was an important thing to be able to talk about.
Despite the story behind it, the song “Same Dark Places” is fun and upbeat. Why did you decide to go in this direction instead of kind of a sad ballad?
We were just playing in my parents' basement and it just kind of happened really fast. At the start of writing the album was kind of when the presidential primaries started happening, so we were following all of these things. As they were going on, I think that we weren't trying to necessarily react to them in an entirely literal way, but the whole mood of everything around me changed and shifted. We kind of felt that it was a response to that. So even though there was this happy song, I think that's kind of the irony of it all.
You're gearing up to release a new album this fall. Is it too early to ask for any details?
We have an album that's finished, and we are going to be figuring out the full details of the release. We've been working on it in Detroit over the past year, kind of on and off. There's this building called the Detroit Masonic Temple and I'm on this weird floor that no one has access to. They are allowing us to rehearse and record here, and so it's this really weird, old, haunted spooky warehouse building that I'm in right now. It feels like it's haunted.
Give Epstein’s mental-health-themed playlist a spin below:
1. Jimmy Ruffin - “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”
2. Bjork - “Hyperballad”
3. Elliott Smith - “Needle in the Hay”
"Wes Anderson used it in the suicide attempt scene in Royal Tenenbaums and I think it's really fitting, but Elliot Smith was such a tragic figure and I think that you could probably consider a lot of his work for a playlist full of sad songs. But, yeah, that song to me, every time I've heard it, it's like really haunting. It kind of touches this strange place."
4. Little Ann - “Deep Shadows”
5. Talking Heads - “This Must Be the Place”
6. Bobby Womack - “Please Forgive My Heart”
7. JR JR - “A Haunting”
This song was written about a character who is so disconnected from his partner that he is living with and romantically involved with, that he is wishing for them to die, so that they could come back and haunt him, so that he could truly understand their feelings. He keeps feeling so disconnected from other human beings. So kind of this really tragic story that it was one of these moments where I realized that sometimes when try and write about a fictional character, you can uncover some of your own thoughts, in a strange way 'cause they just kind of seep out and you weren't necessarily ever able to articulate them before.
8. Leonard Cohen - “In My Secret Life”
9. The Beatles - “Help”
The Beatles were still writing these really poppy songs and this song is like, “help I need somebody.” It's like an actual cry for help. It's so intense and that song has always just kind of haunted me in that way.
10. Neil Diamond - “Solitary Man”
11. Wilco - “A Shot in the Arm”
12. A Tribe Called Quest - “8 Million Stories”
It's Pfife Dawg telling the story of a day in his life and the whole thing is like everything's going wrong. I think the song reminds me of generalized anxiety in that when you walk out into the world, it just kind of feels like everything could go wrong. That is like the physical, verbal embodiment of that feeling to me.
13. Sparklehorse - “It’s a Wonderful Life”
14. Lemonheads - “My Drug Buddy”
15. Steady Holiday - “Terror”
16. Leonard Cohen - “Famous Blue Raincoat”
It's a song that he's writing to his ex-lover's lover, and you realize that this person that he's writing to has stolen his love, and takes you through all these excruciating details. I love the line, "Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes. I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.' It always makes me freak out, because that's the kind of moment that so many people who are suffering from mental health issues face -- where they're just not able to be fully understood, and not able to fully articulate and express what it is.
Catch JR JR live and support The Jed Foundation at these tour dates:
5/5 - Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn, NY
5/11 - SPACE, Evanston, IL
5/13 - Chapel at The Detroit Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI
5/20 - Empire Control Room & Garage, Austin, TX
5/25 - The Echo, LA