After A Life Crisis Paces Has Taken Control Of His Mental Well-Being That's Led Him (Back) To The World Of Punk-Rock

Australian artist Paces returns with new single 'Adrift'.
National Music Editor, based in Brisbane, Australia.
'Passionate about true crime docos, the Swannies, golf and sleep, I’ve been writing about music for 20-plus years. What I’ve learnt? There’s two types of music – good and bad.’

To an outside observer, the professional life of Australian electronic artist-producer Paces seems idyllic.

Not only a regular of the festival circuit the past decade-plus (Splendour, Beyond The Valley, Field Day and a stack more), Paces back catalogue has accrued 40M streams globally.

Add two studio albums – 2016's 'Vacation' and 2018's 'ZAG' – featuring collabs with everyone from Jess Kent, Guy Sebastian, Oliver Tank to Bonde Do Role, CLYPSO, Doolie and others, and it's clear to everyone that Paces is a stalwart of Australia's indie music scene.

Though for Paces (Mikey Perry), his life reality was seen through a much different lens.

Diagnosed with severe anxiety a year prior to COVID turning everyone's life upside down, the onset of the pandemic grounded Mikey's ability to earn a living to a halt, which was compounded by becoming a single parent that led to his depression manifesting physically.

"I was struggling to do simple things like go to a grocery store or drive my car without having anxiety attacks," he admits.

"I was spiralling every day and despite exercising regularly, meditating, doing yoga, going to therapy every week, journaling etc., it just kept getting worse."

The low-point for Mikey was when he found himself not only not able to look after himself (mentally or physically), but his young son as well.

To arrest his downward spiral, he mastered his fear of using antidepressant medication (his thought process was he'd be a failure if he needed outside assistance to overcome his predicament) to take back the reins of his life.

"I was at rock bottom. At that point, I relented and started taking antidepressants. They helped with the anxiety a lot and gave me a foothold to start climbing out of the pit I was in."

This led to a renewed interest in creating music and a time-warp of sorts as Mikey threw himself back into the world of punk rock he first fell in love as a kid. He also began singing on his own material for the first time ever.

"It's been super cathartic," Paces admits. "At the moment I kind of feel like nothing matters, which has been a refreshing headspace to make music from."

The first sample of this new chapter for Paces is the Blink-182 flavoured sonic-attack that is 'Adrift' whose lyrics offer a deeply personal insight into the life hurdles Mikey has (and continues to) overcome.

The commercial success you've achieved as an artist; how do you correlate all of those moments (that to an outsider seem perfect and highly desirable) with your own mental well-being and the need to make sure that you're maintaining the best version of yourself and that you don't self-sabotage your own joy and desire for life?
It's tough; you have to sacrifice so much when music is your main priority.

I'm naturally a bit of an introvert so it's always been difficult for me to be a kind of public person, and that has definitely taken its toll over the years. I've tried to prioritise my physical and mental health, which has protected me somewhat. But now my son is my main priority which I think is a more sustainable outlook.

I still love music just as much and plan to keep doing it, but I just can't be so 'live by the sword/ die by the sword' about it anymore.

The onset of the pandemic and the financial fallout that created highlighted your own struggles with depression and anxiety that was somewhat shielded when you had full-time work to occupy yourself; how severe did your mental outlook get during the early months of the pandemic?
Pretty severe!

I had been diagnosed with severe anxiety a year or so earlier but everything went into high gear at the start of the pandemic. I was coming to terms with being a single parent and losing my career and all this other stuff. Depression set in and the anxiety got really bad.

Eventually it manifested itself physically with a case of post-viral fatigue syndrome which kicked my ass for a few months. I didn't have the strength to do anything. I could barely even cook for myself, it was awful. I thought I was dying.

Becoming a single parent around this time can't have alleviated that stress-anxiety either, right?
Yeah, any one of those things would've been tough on their own but it was just unfortunate timing that everything lined up like that.

You were trialling a host of different methods to combat your headspace: diet and exercise, meditation, yoga, therapy – without any success. Was that compounding the stress you were enduring knowing you were doing you best to get through each day but still failing?
Yeah absolutely, I felt hopeless. I was doing so much but still just gradually getting worse. It was a horrible feeling.

What was the turning the point that led you to begin to take control back of your life; to be able to manage each day without feeling like you were failing at every hurdle?
I eventually relented and started taking antidepressants. That was the big turning point. They gave me a foothold so that I could start getting my life back.

I still take them now and I'm still depressed and anxious but it's wayyyyyy more manageable than before. I didn't want to go on meds because I felt like I'd be a failure, like I thought I should be able to deal with things myself. I don't think I'm a failure anymore.

Now I think I'm strong for having persevered through all of that and having done so much inner work. If you need to be on meds you're not a failure – some people need insulin, other people need SSRIs!

When did you begin to reengage with music and how did those creative sessions fuel the desire to again foster the ideas that were in your head?
When I had post-viral fatigue syndrome I started writing bits and pieces of songs as a way of journalling/ something positive to do with my time.

I could only do about 10 minutes at first because I'd get dizzy and nauseous when I tried to concentrate, but gradually I was able to focus on it more and more. It was always just something for myself, I didn't initially plan on releasing it.

The path towards punk-rock; take us through that and how it links back to your teenage days?
Punk and hip hop were my first musical loves as a kid. When I was about 10 years old I used to take guitar lessons and learnt to play all the Blink-182 songs.

I drifted away from it for awhile, but I've been really enjoying some of the new wave of punk that's happening now. Artists like Kenny Hoopla, Lil Lotus, Cold Hart, Poorstacy etc. I was listening to them a lot during the pandemic so naturally some of that energy inspired me.

This new incarnation of Paces finds you singing for the very first time as an artist; how daunting was that prospect? And how has it liberated you as an artist?
Haha super daunting! You should see how many takes I recorded to get one that was good enough!

I know I'm not a good singer, but I put a lot of love into the songwriting and the production so hopefully it balances out. I've always been jealous of singers/ songwriters though, because they can express exactly what they're feeling in a song.

I've always tried to do that musically, and there's a lot of theory to help achieve that, but nothing is ever going to be as direct as putting something into words. I'd been doing a lot of sessions with songwriters in the two years leading up to the 'demic and was very inspired by some of the people I was working with.

Sarah Saint James, Cloe Terare, Sailor Goon, and Muki all gave me a push in the right direction. And actually years ago Alison Wonderland encouraged me to try singing on my own tracks. She had just started doing that on her music and I remember her saying to me in an airport lounge that I should just get drunk and go for it haha. So those voices were all in the back of my mind helping me along the way.

You're also collaborating with a couple of local musicians: Zac James (Sinking Ship Studios) and Zac Gooley (Jono's Mate Sheep) on this new music; what role have they had in you finding a better headspace as well as exploring new sonic territory?
Those guys come from a band background, so they really contributed some crucial pieces to the production. All the guitar and the live-sounding drums came from Zac and Zac.

But more than anything it's just been super fun to link up and make music together. By default I'm a bit of a loner-hermit so it's been good for me to get in a room with some friends and laugh and make noise.

Your newest single is 'Adrift'; how does this track showcase the new sound, lyrical direction of what we can expect from Paces moving forward?
I think it sets the tone for where my new music is at really.

The lyrical direction (me coping with a difficult part of life) and the production are both very much where I'm headed at the moment. I'm really enjoying the ability to write lyrics and express things from that angle now, so I plan to keep that up.

You also have a new project with another artist Cloe Terare called Dayliites that's more lo-fi, bedroom pop kinda stuff; tell us more about that?
Yeah Dayliites! That's a side project that Cloe Terare and I made which is essentially lo-fi bedroom pop.

We released an eight-song mixtape called 'Ghosts' recently. I'm super proud of that. Cloe is such an incredible artist and person, I'm so glad we met and were able to make those songs together. If you haven't heard it, it's late-night-driving-to-your-sneaky-links-place type of music.

The next six months; what else is on the creative agenda?
I have a few more songs finished and a few more in progress, so I think I'm just going to keep releasing music and see where it goes. I feel like nothing matters now and I'm starting from scratch which is quite liberating really.

Thanks for your time; anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you so much for having me. One thing that I'd like to add is that if anyone is struggling with similar mental health issues, I really hope this new music helps them to see they're not alone.

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