“Modern Baseball Saved My Life”: Brendan Lukens on Fighting Depression and Anxiety
The guitarist opens up about how playing in a band saved him from depression.
The internet can be an unruly cesspool of outrage. When people are unhappy with something, they will not hesitate to say so in the most irate manner possible. Any hint of bad news and the internet mob is ready to rip someone limb from limb. Normally, a band cancelling an entire tour last-minute would be grounds for a comment section riot. And yet, when Modern Baseball, Philadelphia’s emo pop wunderkinds, announced on Facebook this summer that they would be axing their entire Australian tour and appearance at Reading and Leeds on short notice, they were met not with hate, but overwhelming love and support.
“I've spent most of my life struggling with anxiety and depression, and after the last few months it's evident that it's time to put everything else aside to focus on making steps towards positive mental health,” read the post, signed by 23-year-old guitarist Brendan Lukens. The positive responses piled up by the hundreds. People poured out their own personal stories, they linked to helpful resources, they showed empathy and compassion. There were photos, emojis, hearts, and Xs and Os sent from all over the world. This is the cult Modern Baseball has built up—a young and supportive community of fans, all tied together by the shared experience of figuring life out. That includes the band members.
Since that tour cancellation, Lukens has been on a road to recovery and the kind words from his friends and fans have helped him make new music, an EP the band has just released called The Perfect Cast, which in turn has helped him even further. Fans often tell Modern Baseball that the band saved their lives. If you’re one of those people, you should know that by saying so, you’ve saved theirs too.
Noisey: You had a tough summer. You cancelled a bunch of tour dates. What happened there?
Brendan Lukens: Well, I’ve always dealt with depression and anxiety and I’ve always kind of dealt with substance abuse as well. Over the last two years, as we’ve started travelling more and doing more exciting things, all of those exciting things started building up, to the point where I just broke. We decided I had to take time off to seek treatment, and I did. It’s a long journey but a great one so far. I feel great and I’m coming up on two months without drinking. Big, big things.
What was the biggest thing holding you down?
I would say probably my depression, because I wasn’t getting out. The only time I was getting out was when we were touring, which was a lot, but everyone else could notice a change because if we weren’t on the road or practicing, no one was going to see me. It was kind of like that for two years.
Yeah, on top of not really liking who I was at the time. I was a little embarrassed to go out. I was relying on alcohol and weed to get through any day of the week. To have my old friends see me like that, it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted everyone to see. It was the embarrassment of anyone finding out that I was living this other life, controlled by depression and anxiety. I just didn’t want anyone to know what was going on because I didn’t want anyone to mess with my life.
Did being in a popular band exacerbate it or help it?
Modern Baseball saved my life. Without a doubt. I needed to get out. It was coming to a point where I was hitting my breaking point a lot of the times, and we would go on tour the following week and it would soothe everything over. It was just this time around, it didn’t work out. It finally exploded in my face. On the road, I felt most at home. I was basically with family—my closest friends, the people who helped me get out of all this.
Bands cancelling tours last-minute can deal with some pretty irate fans but it seems like you have the kind of fans that are really supportive.
Oh yeah. [Laughs] Obviously the first thing I thought was: I can’t believe we’re cancelling something we’ve worked so hard for. Especially since it was Australia and Reading and Leeds—two crazy big things for us. Milestones for our band. I felt really bad to tell everyone that we weren’t going. But the overall support that was like, “get better,” “take your time," it was so great that going into my treatment program, I was so willing and eager to get help because I wanted to get back on my feet and get out there again.
You seem like a band that gets really personal correspondence from fans.
Oh yeah, yeah, we’ve always been that way. People have really connected to us closely and we all get personal messages, all those Facebook messages. We don’t always check them but we try to answer them as much as possible.
Was that weird to be in the position where you’re being asked for help but you needed help yourself?
Yeah. And I feel like a lot of the time, especially when we were doing things for charity or related to depression, it was bittersweet. There would be moments where we’d all feel great for helping others and getting the word out there, and then there would be this weird second where—like you said—I was in the same boat. I really need to get help but I can’t tell any of them, otherwise no one that we just tried to help is going to take me as a valid source. That part’s always weird.
How has this side of your life influenced your music?
I think, if anything, it made us a lot more honest. Jake [Ewald] was kind of the leader of the pack as far as getting me help. Jake and I started the band together and Jake and I have always been best friends and I think this kind of kicked him into gear to be like, “Hey, it’s OK to be honest with yourself and others and to want to seek help.” It made us more understanding of what our band is and what our band means to others. You hear about things happening but you don’t actually get it. I don’t know how to explain it properly, but you hear about your success but don’t necessarily see it a lot of the time. I think now we understand that we have a positive impact on people and we want to utilize that and we want to help people.
So you have a new EP. Was that mostly you or Jake writing that?
It’s mostly me. One of the songs is Jake, the rest are mine. We had this time off and we kind of wanted to give back to the people who were buying tickets from us for our support tours that were 20 or 30 dollars. So we figured why not try to record something as fast as possible and put it up for free. We did that and it worked out great. We were also just itching to release something. We didn’t want to necessarily go for a record yet. We weren’t ready to record a new record. But we wanted to put something out. We’ve been touring on You’re Gonna Miss It All for almost… it feels like forever now. [Laughs] We needed new music.
A few years from now, when you look back at this time and listen to this EP, how do you think you’ll remember it?
I think it will be a rebirth. The EP might be the last of my old mindset—floating and drifting away to nothingness. Now I feel like there’s more of a purpose in writing, more of a purpose in life, and there’s a bigger purpose for this band.
Augusta from Cayetana said something like this on Twitter the other day and it really stuck with me because it’s so true. Every few years, you hit this point where your life just reboots. It might be something small, it might be something big. But I can totally feel that now.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter - @danozzi