Christopher Michael Jensen recruits Manchita, Student 1 for eating disorder recovery benefit

Artists for Eating Disorder Recovery poster
Artists for Eating Disorder Recovery poster (Design by Alexis Politz)
Christopher Michael Jensen discusses upcoming eating disorder recovery benefit
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  • Christopher Michael Jensen discusses upcoming eating disorder recovery benefit 13:44
  • Christopher Michael Jensen - Lives We Lead 03:55
  • Lizea Harper & Exxe - Night Tide 03:31
  • Manchita with Bionik - Shame On Me 03:14
  • Student 1 featuring Tierra Whack - Yin Yang 02:49
  • Yanna Ely - Pink Fur 02:40
  • YYY - That's Not Me (Beach Boys cover) 03:35

You don't know who around you is struggling with an eating disorder. There are many different types, from binge-eating to anorexia nervosa — but they're all so stigmatized that they can be difficult to disclose. So Christopher Michael Jensen, a rapper and familiar figure around Twin Cities music, decided to raise money and awareness for this issue. Featuring Manchita with Bionik, Student 1, Lizea Harper, and more, Artists for Eating Disorder Recovery will take place at the Nomad World Pub on Feb. 16; half the proceeds will go to Minneapolis non-profit The Joy Project. Here's Jensen on how he's supporting eating disorder recovery and why we should go.

CJ: So, you've participated in a ton of charitable and activism-based projects over the years. Where did the idea for this show come from?

CMJ: A handful of years ago, me and my friend put together a benefit for suicide prevention. It was back in 2012. We got a really great response to that, and there were a lot of other causes that we wanted to explore. Especially after that show, we knew we wanted to keep doing that.

So over the years, me and other people I work with have thrown different benefits for different causes, and eating disorder recovery was something that I wanted to organize around for a while. It's something that a lot of people around me have been affected with — like family and friends — and I feel like it's something that doesn't always get the spotlight shined on it like a lot of other causes do. Even though, a lot more than people know, it's an issue that affects a lot of different people.

I've noticed that the local scene is a place where a lot of people gather for healing. It's like a refuge for a lot of people. I think that's the reason why a lot of people connect with the music; people are dealing with some kind of mental health issues. Maybe trauma, depression, or whatever. At least a lot of people that I know in the music scene. That's something that helps them cope or connect with people in different ways.

Music is?

Yeah, for sure. And specifically with eating disorders: I don't think a lot of people necessarily know that's something musicians in the scene struggle with. Maybe it's because of the stigma that a lot of people keep it private. But hopefully this show can be a a good, safe space where people can get together and talk about it, or be around other people who are going through that issue.

Yeah. You'd brought up the point that eating disorders are something not widely talked about, and I wanted to ask you why. I think you're getting at that. Can you talk more about the stigma?

Yeah, I think compared to other causes — there'd be less stigma if you had cancer or something. I don't think there's the same "shame" attached to that. Whereas with eating disorders, I think a lot of people don't fully understand it or don't necessarily understand the range of it, and it's something that gets hush-hush.

I think, too, people can feel like an eating disorder is more of an elitist problem.

Ohhh. First-world problems?

Exactly. That elitist white women deal with or something. Even though eating disorders affect men, women, all races of people, poor, rich...and the organization we're actually raising money for, the Joy Project — they're a non-profit, local organization that helps people who wouldn't necessarily have the access to get treatment. Because there are a lot of pricier treatment programs, so it can be harder to get help for it. I think that's part of the reason that people aren't necessarily super public about it, because they have to suffer with it in silence because they can't get help. They can't access the resources to treat it, so a lot of times, they have to medicate themselves in unhealthy ways to deal with it.

It seems like such a gargantuan problem, too. Because I see it as tied into the whole body image thing that our country — and you could generalize and expand it to say "the West" — suffers with. So it's like, how do you —?

I've never officially been diagnosed with an eating disorder myself. I don't drink or do drugs. But I tend to cope with stress by eating a lot. That's another thing — when people think of eating disorders, it's just like "you starve yourself." But specifically among men, I think, the most common eating disorder is binge-eating.

So in countries where there's famine or a lot of starvation versus in the West, where there's an abundance of unhealthy food, for a lot of men, it's really easy to over-indulge. And a lot of people, especially women, deal with beauty standards and expectations of what they should or shouldn't be. They feel like they have to fit a certain body type, which can lead to unhealthy dieting.

Totally. Well, this line-up is stacked. You've got Manchita with Bionik; you're performing; Yanna Ely; YYY; Lizea Harper; Student 1; and Minnie Blanco will DJ. How did the line-up come together?

Over the years, I've been really fortunate to meet a lot of different artists. A lot of the artists that I reached out to were people I know personally, or friends of mine. Other people, like Manchita, I've always been a fan of but have never done a show with her. And when I reached out to her, she was really enthusiastic about the cause. She's talked publicly about how eating disorders is something she's dealt with. So it was good to hear that she was so happy to be a part of it.

YYY — Austin Carson — is someone that I've known for years. He just put out an album last year, and I don't think he's actually done a show since [his release show], so this'll be his first show of the year. Lizea Harper is another artist I've known for a long time. Yanna Ely is in a group called Free Lunch Crew; I've done a lot of shows with them. I met Student 1 years ago at an open mic, and he's really starting to get out there now. So yeah, it's a lot of people who I know are philanthrophically minded and active in the scene. It was important for me to get a diverse mix of people and sounds, and I feel like everybody brings something different to the table. So hopefully, a lot of people will come out that wouldn't always be together in the same room.

AnnaBOMB is also involved with this show. She's a local painter, and she's done live artwork at a lot of our shows. She just did a solo exhibition at Augburg College about her recovery from an eating disorder. All the pieces were based around that. I knew this would resonate with her a lot, and I think she'll have some of that artwork at the show.

Do you know if YYY is going to do the Beach Boys tribute songs at the show?

As far as I know, a lot of that material's hard for him to do live, because it's so many collaborations on that album. He has a lot of original material that he wrote, and I believe he's going to do more of that stuff. But he's incredibly talented, and I actually haven't heard a lot of the original material, so I'm excited to hear that.

Oh, that'll be special. You did back-up vocals on [YYY recording] "Here Today," right?

Yes! The one with P.O.S. [Austin] got a lot of people that he knew involved.

And I wanted to talk about the name of the Joy Project. I think it's super cool it has "joy" right there in the name, because it can be so hard to keep joy and maintain it when you're going through such serious stuff. To me, there's a cool parallel of how music can bring somebody joy and this organization can bring so many people. Do you have any songs that you would recommend to people who are going through tough times?

Well, maybe in a more general sense, I'd get back to what I was saying about people who have struggled in the scene with different issues. I know people who have had local artists mean so much to them — legitimately changed their lives or saved their lives. I came up more in the local hip-hop scene, and I have friends who were literally on the verge of committing suicide, and they'd put on an Eyedea & Abilities album. That brought them back to not do that. I know people that were dealing with depression and an eating disorder, and every day, they'd listen to Kristoff Krane to help them get through the day.

There's a lot of artists, locally, that are pretty socially minded and resonate with people emotionally. [They don't always make] the most joyful songs, but just songs about struggle and issues.

I would just recommend that people out there look into local artists, past and present. We have a really rich scene here, one that doesn't always get the attention outside of Minnesota. But hopefully people in Minnesota appreciate the wealth of amazing art being made here.

And I think it's cool that people can pick up a microphone and an instrument, hopefully, and push out those emotions and struggles. You can turn to music yourself, too.

Right, definitely. [pauses] Honestly, there's a show every day in the Twin Cities to go and see. I mean, you could probably see a hip-hop show every day. If you look into a bunch of different genres, there's more than a few shows every day. So that's the thing: there's so much talent and creativity, and so many younger artists that are coming up.

For anybody out there who doesn't attend as many local shows — maybe they just listen on the radio or that sort of thing — definitely google Minnesota music. We have a whole wealth of venues; look up their calendars. We have so many artists to discover, and a lot of those people are really, really personable. It's kind of nice when you can go to a show and not just admire somebody from afar, but really get to know those people.

For me, it only took a couple of years after graduating college until all my circle of friends were art/musician/activist types of people in the scene. That changed my life 180, and a lot of people around me had the same experience. So for anybody that feels like they are going through something, and if they connect with music but don't know a lot of people, definitely go out to shows. Go to open mics. You can meet a whole bunch of people, and if it can do for you what it's done for me and a bunch of people I'm friends with, then I would more than anything recommend that to people.

Thank you for sharing. Thank you for coming out here and talking, and throwing this thing together. We'll see you on the 16th.


This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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