Behind the Scene: Sheridan Allen of Punk Talks
Punk Talks formed in 2015 with a simple premise: “You don’t have to be sad to make great music.” This is a message that has resonated throughout the scene and put a much-needed focus on mental health. Sheridan Allen, the driving force behind Punk Talks, was more than happy to take the time to explain what the organization is all about and discuss some of the unique challenges faced by those in the music industry.
For Sheridan the love of music started early in life, handed down by her father through The Beatles. “I always felt more drawn to alternative types of music at a very young age,” she said, but things were really kicked into gear when she first heard Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles Of The Rich and Famous” on MTV at 11 years old. “I had never heard anything like it before and it totally blew me away.” From here she searched out other contemporary pop punk and emo bands: Brand New, Fall Out Boy, Motion City Soundtrack. Diving deeper, those bands’ influences came into play; acts like Saves The Day, Something Corporate, and Jimmy Eat World. As time went on, her tastes continued to evolve and have now settled into the “revival” bands on the post-rock and twinkly shoegaze-y side of the genre. “As far as my actual relationship with music goes, I’ve always been a consumer. I’ve never had any real desire to play or write music, and I don’t see that changing. I wanted to be involved in the most helpful and productive way I could, which led to the birth of Punk Talks!”
Punk Talks was created in order to support “the people we don’t realize need it the most.” While mental illness knows no bounds, there are certain unique issues that come with being a part of the music industry. That is where Punk Talks comes in. “I was inspired to create the organization after watching the rise in popularity of Modern Baseball and thinking about the difficulties of being both a full-time student and a professional musician.” In order to address this Sheridan started Punk Talks as a blog, spotlighting these mental health problems and offering resources to those in need. It soon expanded into the realm of social media and has since led to house shows, multiple festivals, several tours, and even a charity compilation.
Of the many challenges with mental health that are unique to the music industry, Sheridan said “the most distressing one to me is the ethical dilemma that DIY bands face in making money with their music. Even the most popular bands in DIY are taught that if you’re successful, you’re a sell-out. They’re pressured to be playing basement shows and working menial coffee-shop jobs in their off-time, but also expected to be touring 90% of the year. This design is setting people up for failure! With changing musical formats (streaming has taken over), the only way a band can expect to gain exposure and make money is by constantly touring, which is not necessarily financially lucrative. We throw people into this routine where they sleep on floors every night, are constantly drinking, eating terribly, and spending all of their time inside of a van with 4 other people. Of course they feel depressed or anxious or overwhelmed! How could they not! There’s the added piece of DIY labels wanting to produce music but existing in a culture where no one buys it. The pressure that these people face to both make a career out of what they love, but avoid ‘selling out’ is immense and so defeating.”
On a more positive note, the community that exists within music can be very uplifting. The one thing that stands out most from the first year of Punk Talks is “the support I’ve received from both established industry professionals and show-goers.” Bands and fans alike have fully embraced the ideals behind Punk Talks. Passing out flyers at shows, wearing the organization’s t-shirts, discussing its message on stage, and even donating proceeds from sales have all furthered this mission. “I would love to say that we, as a community, support mental health treatment and awareness, and while I do believe that, we of course have a long way to go.” Changes are definitely happening and starting to gain momentum, but there is always more that can be done. “I believe the biggest problems we are facing are lack of education and being unaware of the resources that exist to help you. Part of my goal with PT is to show you the resources available to you and to show you how to access those resources yourself.”
Sheridan highlights the fact that “it’s very humbling to have people believe in you as an agent for social change, and I am inexplicably grateful for that.” If it hasn’t already shone through, Sheridan said the most important thing to know about her, “aside from my undying devotion to Diet Coke and PBR,” is just how passionate she is. “I am dedicated to helping people in any possible way that I can – if I can’t help you, I will find you someone who can.” This sentiment is mirrored her goals for the organization in 2016. This is an ever-evolving force and Sheridan “will [continue to] identify the shifting needs of our community and reshape Punk Talks to meet those needs.” Additionally she hopes for 2016 to see more touring, possibly making it overseas, and to have Punk Talks continue to develop into a pillar of the scene. Endorsements and support from bands including Modern Baseball, Sorority Noise, Somos, and Turnover should leave no doubt in your mind that Punk Talks truly is essential. “You don’t have to be sad to make great music.” This is important.