September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and there are a number of events going on in our area from September into early November. And my guest this morning on Jersey magazine is singer/songwriter/musician Aster Pheonyx, who’s involved in one of the events.
JIM MONAGHAN – Astor, good morning and welcome to WDHA.
ASTER PHEONYX – Good morning, Jim. Thanks for having me.
JM – You’re very welcome. There are a number of walks that are going on in the area, including the one that you’ll be doing in Bergen County in mid-October. How did you come to be aligned with this?
AP – So for a while, I want to say about ten, maybe twelve years, I’ve been doing benefit shows with various bands for suicide prevention. I’ve known a lot of people over the course of my life that have taken their own life mainly for the sheer fact that a lot of insurance actually doesn’t cover mental health. So even if you go to a therapist, you’re either meeting a super high deductible or your copay is superhigh because it’s technically out of network, so people don’t have the money or the resources to reach out where these Out of the Darkness Walks and these different suicide prevention walks, they raise money for. It’s like a free text line and a free call line. I know if you call 988, you could talk to somebody for free. So it takes that weight off of, well, I can’t afford it, so I’m not going to get the help that I need. So I tried to be an advocate to really make people aware that by raising money for these services, it allows for therapists to give their services for free to other people and it gives them options to reach out as opposed to feeling alone and not making the greatest decisions.
JM – I think this is starting to change, but there’s still a stigma about mental illness. We’re not as willing to talk about it as we probably should be. And I think that’s a huge part of what’s going on here, Aster, is that people just don’t have someone to talk to or don’t know that they can talk to someone.
AP – Yeah, I agree with that 100%. I mean, even if you take something, they say mental health days at work, but you have to put in for like a sick day. You’re not sick, you need a break. You can only deal with so much. Everyone works 40-plus hours a week, sometimes two jobs. They’ve got families, they have things outside. I know personally, myself, I think I have like 20 seconds a day to myself; if I didn’t have a great support system around me, I’d probably be using these services more myself. But it’s a lot and people the world around us is definitely changing and a scary place to kind of deal with. And I know a lot of people just don’t know how to handle what’s going on in the world, so they don’t really know what to do.
JM – How much do you think COVID affected all of this?
AP – I think a lot. I know for me personally, my anxiety has went up about 100,000% just because you were so used to being in the comfort of your own home, and I think people just got used to isolating themselves. Now you’re being forced to being thrown back in that world, and maybe you don’t feel so comfortable being out there.
JM – For me, as much as I talk on the radio, when people meet me for the first time, they don’t realize that I’m as much of an introvert as I am.
AP – Oh, yeah, I know. I’m so shy.
JM – And I’ve seen you perform on stage, and you would never think that.
AP – Oh, I’m terrified before I go on. I’m terrified when I come off.
JM – You know, for me, it was, this is I’m I can be in my own little world, which I kind of am in radio anyway. I used to have a full time job at a baseball facility, and they used to joke with me, how come you can’t be more like “Radio Jim” when you’re in here? And I would say to them, well, put me in a room where I’m by myself talking to just whoever it is in my head – you’re supposed to talk to one person – I said, I can be that person here too. Aster Pheonyx is my guest this morning here at 105.5 WDHA. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. On the afsp.org website – the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – one of the points that they make right away is talking is the first step to preventing suicide. And again, we’ve kind of referred to this before calling 988. I don’t think people realize that when you get that deep into it that you’re considering taking your life. I think what part of the overwhelming thought is, no one’s ever felt like this before, and I can’t get out of this. This is the only way.
AP – Yeah, it’s a lonely feeling. I mean, I’ve been there. When I was a teenager, I definitely went through some stuff, and you just feel like no one understands. And especially when I was a teenager, which seems like forever ago, that was the worst feeling, like, nobody’s going to understand what I’m feeling. And reality. I think nine out of ten people kind of have a thought in the back of their head you wouldn’t do anything about it. But I think a lot of people just have that isolated feeling, just going through day to day stuff like, oh, I wish my job was better, or, oh, I wish this was better. How can I fix this kind of thing? But when you’re in those depths, it is scary, and sometimes you feel like, hey, nobody’s going to understand anyway, so why even bother?
JM – A few years ago, there was a boy who was in my son’s high school class, and they had known each other for quite some time. They’d been classmates from 7th grade and middle school through high school. They weren’t particularly close, but they did interact with each other at high school, and they were also involved in a youth ministry group in the local Catholic church here in our town. And when he took his own life, it was one of those, it’s a small town that we live in, so it reverberated throughout the town. And some years after this happened, he was talking to me and he said, “I feel as if it was kind of selfish on his part.” And I said to my son, “Well, I don’t think that ever entered his mind. I think what he was thinking was, everyone else will be better off when I’m not here causing them the pain and or problems that I’m causing.
AP – Right. I think people feel like a burden when they constantly talk to you, and that’s part of the stigma where it’s, oh, I’m a burden, but in reality, keep talking. I’d rather you talk to me every day about the same problem that you’re having than not talk to you ever again.
JM – It seems that musicians and artists, there’s a lot of this involved in the artistic community. In fact, you and I have a mutual friend in John Ginty, and one of John’s closest friends, Neil Casal, whose music we’ve played here on DHA for years. And in fact, Neil lived in the town where I am a stone’s throw from me. And I actually never met him, though we had mutual friends. And I look back on Neil’s music and like, what a loss. What a tragic loss. And John said to me afterwards, a couple of years later, you know, looking back, you look at Neil’s music and you could kind of see things in the lyrics, but at the same time, you don’t want to go there. Like, no, he wouldn’t do that.
AP – Yeah, I think the thought of the action of it is actually kind of scary, even if you think of, like, Chester from Linkin Park, right? All of his songs were he was basically telling you what he was going to do. But his wife said the day before he did it, he was hanging out laughing with his family. You never know. I just lost a friend to suicide. Her one year anniversary actually just passed last week, and I spoke to her the day before she did it, and we were talking about her coming, hanging out. There was no telltale sign. Sometimes you just have no idea, and people are just so set on, I’m better off just not being here, and you really have no idea.
JM – Aster Pheonyx is my guest this morning here at 105.5 WDHA. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. And as we mentioned earlier in the interview, there are a number of events taking place September, October and into early November. You’re participating in one, the Bergen County Walk on October 15 in Saddle Brook. Tell our listeners about that, Aster.
AP – Yeah, so it’s a great cause. You can show up. They have a fundraising link, and then all of the money, the proceeds from the event go towards paying for the resources that people actually need, you know the phone lines, the therapists, the people that spread the word, the advocates that go down to the Senate and the State and try and get different laws passed for insurance to kind of cover everything. So I think it’s very important to get people aware and to take the stigma away. There should be no stigma around suicide. And talking about depression and anxiety, people should be freely able to speak, hey, I’m not doing okay. Like, it’s okay to not be okay. People need to know that. That’s super important to be open about that.
JM – You can get details on all of the walks throughout the area here in New Jersey, and I believe there are 13 of them from September into early November at afsp.org. I also want to talk to you about you mentioned that you’re very busy, and I know at least some of what you’re doing these days because you’re involved in a number of musical projects, including being with Gina Schock, the member of the Go-Go’s, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, I should say. Tell our listeners about that, and House of Schock.
AP – House of Schock is just such an honor and a humbling experience. I was actually just speaking to her this morning about some stuff about shows coming up and the release of “Smile Pretty” on the 22nd. But, man, I “fangirl” when I’m on stage or rehearsal with her, and sometimes my guitarist will lookover at me and he’s like, “Pay attention!” But I’m like, Gina Schock is like, singing at me and playing the drums behind me. It’s kind of growing up, listening to the Go-Go’s and that kind of stuff. And the drums was the first instrument I actually picked up, and lo and behold, Gina Schock was who I kind of learned how to play drums from by just blasting “This Town” and “We Got the Beat” over and over again. So when those songs come on and we play them, I’m like, oh, my god…I’m actually playing these songs with the person that played them! So it’s crazy, but it’s absolutely amazing. And I’m so honored and blessed to be doing something like this.
JM – And a little bit of a backstory. This is a few months ago, but you had reached out to me asking, would we be interested in DHA in talking with Gina? And Terrie Carr, our midday host, has a feature runs throughout the year, a number of times, Queens of Noise. So I approached her, and Terrie said, “Are you kidding me? Yes, of course I want Gina Schock in here!” So we had a great time. Gina, I think, has been a guest on the show a couple of times.
AP – Yeah, she’s just she’s so down to earth. You never know, like, oh, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a drummer, like, all these things know on her resume. She’ll sit down with you and just talk to, you know, the weather. Just she’s awesome. I have nothing but good things to say about her. She’s just so cool and so humble. It’s just an honor to work with her.
JM – And you had sent me (the single) “Smile Pretty” a couple of weeks ago, and it sounds great on the radio. We’ve been playing it on All Mixed Up, and it sounds great.
AP – Yeah, it’s a fun song. It really is. It’s fun to play, it’s fun to listen to. It’s really great.
JM – And one of your other projects, Perfectly Reckless.
AP – Yes.
JM – Tell us about that.
AP – So my wife and I are actually ina cover band, and we play all over New Jersey and sometimes New York, Pennsylvania.
And it’s just a fun thing we like to do together. And it’s actually really good for learning how to play extra things on the guitar. So it helps me out. But, yeah, we’ve been doing that for a while.
JM – And I also know you are a huge New York Rangers hockey fan. How do you think they’ll do this year?
AP – Oh, man. They’re, like, talk about disappointment for, like,30 years, but I’m hoping lucky number 30 will get another Cup. So I’m not, like, seven years old. When the last time they won?
JM – Well, my thanks to you for joining us this morning here on Jersey Magazine. Again, there are 13 events going on throughout New Jersey in September, October, and November with suicide prevention awareness. And if you want more details, you can go to AFSP – AFSP for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – afsp.org. Astor, thank you very much for joining me this morning here on Jersey Magazine. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.
AP – Thanks, Jim. It’s always good to catch up with you.