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The O.K. Show, Episode 1: A candid discussion on mental health with Charlie Van Stee

Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR
Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR
  Play Now [33:45]

by Andrea Swensson

September 23, 2015

Hi! Welcome to a new adventure. This is the first ever episode of my first ever podcast, the O.K. Show.

Why the O.K. Show? At first I thought it was a self-deprecating, cute name—you know, it’s not that great of a show, but it’s okay. But then it occurred to me that one of the phrases that I find myself saying the most is, “It’s going to be okay.”

Like so many people, music is an incredibly important part of my life. I mean, obviously. I work at a radio station. But beyond that, I’ve always turned to music in times when I’m experiencing intense emotions, whether it’s sadness, struggle, loss, heartbreak, depression, anxiety, fear, longing, nostalgia. Even when things flat-out suck, music takes the edge off, somehow. Music makes it okay.

When I was thinking about guests that I wanted to invite onto this show, one of the very first that popped into my mind was Charlie Van Stee. Charlie is the lead singer and songwriter in a band called Van Stee, and he has an impressive ear for pop melodies and beautiful psychedelic harmonies. His band’s single, “We Are,” was so popular that I think it ended up being in and out of the Current’s rotation for six months. Charlie also suffers from depression, and his openness about his struggles on Facebook and in this new essay have connected him to fans and fellow musicians in a whole new way.

Find a few snippets of our conversation below, stream the full podcast right here, and subscribe to the O.K. Show on Feedburner and iTunes. A new episode will be released every Wednesday.

On reaching his breaking point and being admitted to a mental health treatment center:

"I didn’t wanna go to talk therapy. I was angry. I didn’t wanna deal with any of it. It was too painful to really think about. I still remember saying goodbye to my wife when she dropped me off. She was teary, like, 'guess I’ll see you later,' and you’re going, 'yeah, I guess.' And you’re in these maroon scrubs. You don’t really know what to think. I really literally felt that feeling of rock bottomness, where it was like, 'Where else could I be that would be worse than this?'"

On trying to stay creative even when his life was in crisis:

"I was still writing. I played one show two days after I got out of the hospital, and it was terrible. We played alright, but it was like the seventh song in I turned to everybody and said, 'I’m done. I can’t play anymore. That’s it.' I didn’t know what was gonna happen.”

On sharing his experiences with mental health on social media:

"I feel comfortable posting things on Facebook for some reason because it’s somewhat impersonal, but it’s a little bit like a journal sometimes, and so I started just getting messages from people—people that I knew but also people that I never met before in the music community—that would say 'I totally relate to what you were saying. It’s just nice to hear somebody talking about it.' I got so much encouragement from people that are clearly going through the same issues that I’ve been still continuing to have, so that was amazing."

On releasing his lo-fi solo album, Slo Mo Jazz Hands:

"It was interesting to release something that’s totally contrasting for Van Stee, because Van Stee—we’re halfway through the new record and I love it. It sounds great, but this is something that’s totally the opposite. I wanna be a diversified person and an artist. I wanna do felt work, I wanna do writing, I wanna do all sorts of stuff. So this is a way of doing that I guess; being more versatile."

His advice for people on the fence about getting help for their health problems:

"You’re worth it."

For more from Charlie Van Stee on his mental health, read this first-person essay from Charlie.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.