For Eric-Scott Guthrie – a songwriter, guitarist and member of the Carrboro band grand shell game – mental illness is not an abstraction. He has coped with depression personally, and a cousin he was close to committed suicide in 2011 at age 30.
Guthrie and other members of the six-member band have transformed their experience into a new, three-song EP that they released in May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month. Grand shell game will perform and sell copies of “in memory” Saturday at The Station in Carrboro. Also performing will be students from the summer music camp that Creative Music Studios of Carrboro presents. The students will be celebrating the release of their new recording.
The concert is a benefit for the Jana Marie Foundation of Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania, and Table NC of Carrboro. Table NC operates a weekend backpack program and delivers emergency food to needy preschool, elementary and middle school children in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
The Jana Marie Foundation began in 2012 and is named after Guthrie’s cousin Jana Marie Vicere. Dedicated to education about mental health, the foundation has several programs. The Stompers program uses music and other creative arts to “stomp out the stigma that surrounds mental illness,” according to the organization’s website. It also conducts Mokita Dialogues. “Mokita” is a word from the Kilivila language, spoken near Papua New Guinnea, that translates as “a known truth that is left unspoken,” according to the website. Mokita events encourage people to talk about mental health issues that may not always be acknowledged.
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The foundation works with young people to “try to help them realize they are not alone [and] find within themselves some strength they can be proud of,” Guthrie said. In its five years, Jana Marie “has done a lot for a bootstraps foundation,” he said.
Guthrie said the songs on the new release “are very much tied to Jana’s passing.” The songs on the EP – “Mental Chatter,” “Life Support” and “Jana’s Song” – “were written within the period of a week or two of her death,” Guthrie said. He and other members of grand shell game consider Jana Marie Vicere a co-author of all the songs. “ ‘Jana’s Song’ was literally written the day she died. I feel like she was speaking to me,” he said.
Grand shell game, formed in 2014, is made up of Guthrie, Dylan Turner on bass, Joe MacPhail on keyboards and drums, Rob J. Davis on drums and percussion, Daniel Fields on guitar and other six-string instruments, and Rob J. DiMauro on percussion and drums. Their previous release was “man on a wire,” and Guthrie said in one way or another all the band’s songs are about mental health. “These songs are really about understanding life ... the acceptance that things are not always right and that you’re not always right and that you learn from hardships is an underlying [theme] of most of our material,” he said.
The lyrics of the songs on “in memory” express regret and hope. “We raised high the roof beam,” the band sings in “Jana’s Song,” continuing: “We built our walls deep/But flaws in foundations/Can crack up our seemingly perfect world.” In “Mental Chatter,” the group sings “I loved too much/I didn’t love enough.” “Life Support” proclaims “Hold on, everything can be all right/Let go/Know the pain will wash away with time.”
As grand shell game continues to tour, Guthrie sees more willingness among listeners and audiences to acknowledge mental illness. “I certainly don’t have any problems speaking about my own problems with depression,” he said. Like many with depression, he adopted a shrug-if-off philosophy before getting help. “It’s such a stigma. We know something is wrong, but we don’t know what’s wrong,” Guthrie said. Many times, people with depression and other mental health concerns “beat ourselves up,” he said. “It’s a cycle that’s easily broken with communication.”