The Flaming Lips try not to turn down an opportunity to help others, especially if the charitable cause is centered around the music of one of their favorite artists. “When you’re younger and when you’re enamored by people’s art there’s a different glamour to it, but they you realize that it’s a horrible affliction and it doesn’t allow them to enjoy a simple life,” singer Wayne Coyne tells Billboard about why his group is headed down to Austin, Texas, on Tuesday (Jan. 22) to help raise awareness about mental health by performing the songs of Austin-bred singer/artist Daniel Johnston at an all-star show celebrating the second-annual Hi, How Are You Day.
Tuesday’s HHAY Day is aimed at educating people around the world about the importance of mental health and well-being while promoting inclusion with a roster of acts playing covers of Johnston’s music. The Lips will be joined by a number of their peers and friends on the bill for the show at the ACL Live at the Moody Theater in Austin, including Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo, Bob Mould, The Black Angels, Gavin DeGraw, Bob Schneider, The Moth & The Flame and additional guests.
The event’s organizers, Tom Gimbel and Courtney Blanton, explain in a press release that they were inspired to create HHAY Day by Johnston, one of Austin’s most beloved musicians/visual artists, who has used his art to chronicle his decades-long struggle with mental health. The event takes its name from Johnston’s downtown Austin mural, “Jeramiah the Innocent,” which features iconic image of a frog asking “Hi, how are you?”
Coyne says he vividly remembers when Johnston’s lo-fi outsider music first first began making the rounds in the late 1970s, often distributed personally by Johnston on home-recorded cassettes. “Back then he didn’t really play shows or tour like a band would, so in the beginning we were not really aware… it wasn’t apparent how much this form of [mental illness] affected him and none of us knew anything about it,” says Coyne. “For us a lot of it didn’t become clear, but when you hear some of those songs they just shatter you. You couldn’t try to produce a record that sounds that authentically damaged and innocent… that part of it always and still floors us.”
The Lips singer and Johnston didn’t cross paths until years later and Coyne says he’s since become more aware of the importance of having real conversations about mental health.
“The mission of Hi, How Are You Day is to get the word out about Daniel’s art and music AND to make it routine that we recognize the worth of people struggling with depression, anxiety, learning disabilities or mental illness,” says Dick Johnston, Daniel Johnston’s brother and Hi, How Are You Project cofounder in a statement. “There’s real potential here for people to benefit from pausing to understand our common human experience, to offer help to friends and family experiencing these things and to celebrate success at life against these odds.”
With one in four adults struggling with mental health, Blanton says that it’s clearly an issue that needs more focus. “Statistics show us that depression, anxiety, and suicide are on the rise,” says Blaton. “Removing the stigma is the first step towards a productive public dialog about mental health. I believe that Hi, How Are You Day is going to be the ‘Live Aid moment,’ and 2019 is going to be the year that we turn the tide and make a positive change in the conversation around mental health.”
Proceeds from the sold-out show will benefit the HHAY Project and fund the production of media to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide peer-to-peer training and grants to leading mental health organizations.
“I have had the privilege of working with Daniel Johnston for 25 years,” said Gimbel. “He is both a longtime friend and a lifetime inspiration. The message that the Friendly Frog in the Hi, How Are You mural sends reminds us of how simple it can be to connect with each other. Now we’re taking this phrase to the world to help erase the stigma of mental health challenges.”
In addition to playing with their longtime friends Mould, Built to Spill and Yo La Tengo, Coyne says the show is another way for society to learn more empathy when it comes to confronting mental illness. “It’s not glamorous, it’s human beings struggling with a [chronic] condition, it’s not an arm or a foot, it’s who they are,” he says. “My heart goes out to people who are struggling and this is a way to do something. It’s a way to talk about it and help people have a conversation about it. I think this show will be absolutely fucking great. Music really has a way of touching you in ways you don’t even know.”
In preparation for the show, the Lips posted footage of rehearsals, where they worked out a cover of “Go,” a song they covered along with Sparklehorse in 2007. They’re also planning a cover of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” mashed up with Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” as part of an all-star gorup sing-along to end Tuesday night’s show.
.. “ to understand and be understood.. is to be free… Workin on Daniel Johnston classic that we covered with Sparkle horse back in 2007… ??? Please try to come to @hihowareyouproject Tuesday night in Austin !! #spongebobbroadway #flaminglipsconcert #christmasonmars #flaminglips #waynecoyne
..workin on All You Need Is Love for @hihowareyouproject Tuesday night in Austin…it ( along with True Love Will Find You In The End) is gonna be the big sing-along finale with all the other groups!! Gonna be cool!!! @derek_levi_brown @stevendrozd @steveburnsalive @stellamaxwell @mtekbot @rockworth @ruckzuckband @nicholas_ley @aquarianfantasy @katyweaver @wicked_hippie @tannermariehull @ada_miss_potata @oczymlody @iloveflaminglips @scott_booker @gabbytwin @feverdreaminteractive @sachismo @neuhauspress @removador @ethanhawke @katielanephoto @sean_ono_lennon @iamcardib @brothersgriiin @bl_ank___bl_ank @theadamgoldberg @sordociego #spongebobbroadway #flaminglipsconcert #christmasonmars #flaminglips #waynecoyne #hihowareyou