FYIG Chats With Vancouver Musician Sarah Jickling

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
 
I’m a singer/songwriter and mental health advocate who lives with bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and OCD. I also spend a lot of time pole dancing, which is my favourite coping mechanism. 
 
How did you get your start in music?
 
When I was in high school, my best friend and I thought it would be fun to start a band. I’d been playing classical piano since I was really young and had always loved writing poetry, and  I wasn’t too worried about my voice because this was around the time the movie Juno came out and bad singing was in style. We were both shy, but after recording our first songs on my mom’s computer and putting them up on MySpace we started getting stopped in the hallways by people who had never spoken to us before. Our band was called “The Oh Wells,” and we started performing live at a coffee shop in our home town. For the first time, I was able to express what I was feeling to other people. I learned that I had off-stage fright and that the stage was somewhere I could be myself. That band eventually broke up after I started experiencing the first symptoms of bipolar disorder, but ever since then, I’ve considered myself a singer/songwriter at heart. I even learned to like my singing voice.
 
How would you describe your musical style?
 
When I started writing songs, my biggest influences were Lily Allen, Kate Nash and Hello Saferide. These women wrote blunt and honest songs about very personal things, which was so different from the top 40 music at the time. Their personalities were all over their music, and I felt like I knew them just from listening to their songs. I can still see that influence in my music today, even though once I became depressed I felt like I could only listen to vague pop songs that didn’t bring up any emotions for me at all. My current music is a mix of the idiosyncratic lyrics and vocals from the indie darlings of the late 2000s and my love for the production style of current pop artists like Lorde and Taylor Swift. Some people might call it electro indie pop. 
 
Your debut album was called, “When I Get Better” and chronicled your journey through bipolar recovery. What did you learn from that album and how helpful was it to write/sing about those experiences?
 
I learned that I am a good public speaker and a good storyteller. Once that album was released, I got a lot of requests to be on podcasts, to speak at live events, and I even got a job as a mental health advocate who travels to high schools around BC. It turns out I’m really good at this stuff, and that a lot of people can relate to my songs and personal experiences. It’s incredibly hard to be a musician and you face rejection every day, so having a purpose like helping other people with mental illnesses and getting rid of the stigma that comes along with talking about it makes things easier. Every time I’m about to give up I get a message from someone telling me how my songs helped them see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it gives me more motivation to keep going in such a tough industry. 
 
Your next album, “The Family Curse” is out November 8th. What can audiences expect from this set of songs?
 
This album is sonically and thematically a lot darker than any of my previous albums. So many of the songs come from wounds that are twenty-something years old, and I get angry and ugly and even “crazy” as I shed light on them and try to heal them. This album includes production from Harley Small (who produced Peach Pit), Laura Smith (Rococode) and my partner Greg McLeod, so the vibe of the album is really cool because it isn’t something I could ever do by myself. I took inspiration from Lemonade by Beyoncé, No Shame by Lily Allen and Melodrama by Lorde when writing the songs, so this album is all the way pop. I don’t think anyone will call me folk ever again after listening to this album!
 
What can you tell us about your latest single, “Saint”?
 

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This song was the first song I wrote after two years of writer’s block. It was the first song I wrote while on psychiatric medication, something that I wasn’t sure was even possible. When I started my treatment for bipolar disorder, even my psychiatrist warned me that I might lose my creativity. I felt like I was turning in my artist card in exchange for stability, and at the time I was okay with that. But after a long string of traumatic dreams about my childhood, I was having a hard time talking about what I’d gone through with my parents. My friends couldn’t relate, so they suggested I write a song. Suddenly, it was like the flood gates had opened. I was very nervous to release this song because I knew my family wouldn’t like it, and I took both my parents’ to therapy before I released it. This is the first time I’ve spoken out about my family history of mental illness and abuse, and it’s been very healing already.
 
What led you to start practicing pole dancing/aerial silks? 
 
Exercise is as helpful as anti-depressants when it comes to treating mental illness, and regular exercise is a super important part of my bipolar recovery. I started taking Zumba classes a few years ago while my boyfriend played basketball at the community centre, and it was my Zumba instructor who introduced me to pole dancing and aerial arts. Learning to hang upside down from various objects is incredibly empowering, and the friends I’ve made while learning pole have been amazing and an important part of my recovery as well. I’ve written a blog post if you want to read more about my pole journey: http://www.sarahsgoodbadluck.com/blog/2019/3/4/when-your-coping-tool-becomes-your-obsession
 
You’re a touring performer with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s Reach Out Psychosis program. What does this program hope to accomplish and how do you contribute your talents?
 
Reach Out Psychosis is an educational concert where we do fun demos and tell stories to illustrate what it looks and feels like to experience psychosis. We hope to educate the students and teachers so that if they or someone they know starts to experience any of the symptoms they know what to do. We also talk about self-care and how the brain reacts to stress. I basically think about what I would have needed to hear in grade 9 to get help. As for my part, we perform three of my songs and I tell a very brief version of my experiences with mental illness in high school, along with my ideas on how to take care of your brain!
 
What advice would you have for aspiring singers/songwriters and, more importantly, those struggling with mental illness?
 
If you are going to be a singer/songwriter, make sure you do it because you love it, and don’t rely on success to bring you joy. If you are a musician or any artist dealing with mental illness, remember that you don’t have to play by the music industry’s rules. Go to bed on time, never agree to be paid in beer, and put yourself first. The music industry, in general, is a very unhealthy place, so be kind to your mind and remember that your mental health is more important than your music. 
 
What’s your life like outside of music?
 
I pole dance one to two hours a day, and I go to therapy a lot! Mostly I’m trying to stay sane. 
 
Let the readers know where to find you online.
 
If you search for Sarah Jickling in any streaming service, you can find me! I’m @sarah.jickling on instagram and I will answer my DMs, and you can read my blog and watch my videos at sarahsgoodbadluck.com.