Sunday, September 10, 2017

Exclusive Interview - Jonny Boucher (Hope For the Day)

In the time we've done Brutalitopia, we've had the opportunity to conduct some pretty cool interviews with some of our favorite musicians.  We've only ever wanted to do this site as a hobby, so it's been a real treat to have the privilege of these conversations, meeting and chatting with artists throughout genres, from different parts of the world, brought together by our love of music.  By and large, these conversations are pretty light, enjoyable ways for the three of us to get to know musicians we respect and admire, and to hopefully ask them questions they haven't been asked a thousand times before, in an effort to connect them with fans through our (admittedly small) platform.

This interview was different.

Last night, Mick and I had the opportunity to speak with Jonny Boucher, founder and CEO of Hope For The Day, a suicide prevention organization focusing on proactive prevention.  Jonny founded HFTD in 2011 after the suicide of his boss, and the organization's motto of "It's OK Not to Be OK" speaks to his desire to end the stigma around discussing suicide and mental health.  It's an incredibly important topic, especially considering the destructive attitudes of "suck it up!" that still surround suicide and mental illnesses.  Hope For The Day has worked with Warped Tour, Live Nation, and other musicians to get their message out there, and last night they were putting on a benefit show at Chicago's famous Metro, featuring Mastodon, Brain Tentacles, and Powermad.  All of the bands spoke to Hope For The Day during their sets, and it was a tremendous night of camaraderie, hope, and metal, but the absolute high point was getting to speak with Jonny.  Over the course of our conversation, we discussed the origin and goals of Hope For The Day, his views on death, and how having the same last name as The Waterboy has impacted his life.  We hope you enjoy this interview, and if you're dealing with any issues, please know that you aren't alone and there are people who will listen.

Mick : Durf and I are outside the Metro here with Jonny Boucher, the founder of Hope For The Day, a local suicide prevention foundation.

Proactive suicide prevention, actually. You could sit here and definitely say we're creating awareness but the world's a fucked up place, so you have to be proactive about it. Can't wait for people to harm themselves or get to that point of crisis to start that conversation. That's what this concert represents tonight. We're celebrating the ones we have lost but we're also celebrating the fact that we're all here and we've been through that shit and that we're still going through it. But this music and this community reminds us that we're not alone.

Mick : For people who aren't as familiar with the Hope For The Day organization, give us a rundown of how it all came together and your story leading up to that.

I started booking shows when I was 13 years old around here in Chicago. I'm 32 now. The theory is true that when you open your doors to more and more people, the more unfortunate things you hear about life. I've always been a very community-driven person. It's ingrained in my family. My parents would never let me walk around this earth thinking that it's only about me. Hope For The Day, though, was started out of my pain from losing people. When people go "So hey what's your story?", I always respond "I've lost people and I'm fucking sick and tired of it, just like you should be sick and tired of it." And if you're not sick and tired of it, that's why we need to break the silence. Every single day we're losing 121 people here in America alone to suicide and that's fucked up. But for us, Hope For The Day was also birthed out of my passion for music and the arts. I worked in the music industry and wanted to do something differently. It was after my boss Mike Scanlan; he worked for Jam Productions and Live Nation. He was my boss and he took his life in 2010. That was the turning point for me. He was number nine on a list of 15 of people that I know personally who have died by suicide. My aunt and my uncle on my mom's side both took their lives. It covers the gamut: alcohol addiction, drug abuse, it's all impactful to our mental health. We all think it's the opiates right now, but it's more than that. You're just finding something to blame but it's really a mental health crisis. But for us, we wanted to go to the people. We've always been about going to the people where they don't expect us to be. For us, it's all about breaking the silence however we can around the subject matter but then on top of that connecting people properly to the resources.

It's all about breaking the silence, raising the visibility, impacting social places like concert venues, churches, town halls, schools, to then equip and empower people. Our slogan "It's ok to not be ok" is for everyone and anyone. It's not just for the youth, it's not just for the vets, it's not just for the LGBTQ community. We are for the people by the people. We don't give a fuck where you're coming from, we care about where you're going. We don't compartmentalize it because that only isolates people further. So it's just trying to bring everyone into one conversation to let them know that if they're struggling that those feelings are real. And if you have been there or if you know someone that is struggling that you don't know necessarily know how to talk about it, get educated and then be that voice. The scariest thing is that when we allow silence to speak for us, which is way too often, we keep losing people. That's why we're at a 30 year hike right now. But the way we do it is simply asking "How are you? Are you ok?" Those simple words can save a life and that shit is trippy.

Durf : So you're talking about a proactive approach. We're here at this show and so I assume that we're going to hear or see something special. For people who can't make this show, what do you guys do at these shows to differentiate them from just another concert.

We focus on getting in front of the crowds. Me or someone else from the organization is taking that stage in the middle of that concert. We do the same with Michelin Star chefs where that chef will come into the middle of the restaurant and silence the whole place, give his testimony and why it's important. It's all about that influence. You'll hear it from me tonight but you'll also probably hear Brann (Mastodon drummer) talk about it too. We wanted to premiere this video tonight and unfortunately can't but the world will see it soon. But it's been 27 years since Skye (Brann's sister) took her life and that pain is still there for Brann. Anywhere we're ever at, you'll see a Hope For The Day popup. You can go talk to the people there. They'll be wearing Hope For The Day shirts. They're also very well educated people who know how to deescalate people. But they're also there to educate. Here in Chicago, and online, we offer different trainings that are free to the public just to know the who, what, where, when, why, and how to talk about it; whether it's for yourself, to your family, or a friend, or to just another fucking human being in general. Our two arms are all about outreach and education. That's the thing too, it can't just be me. It was just me when the organization started, but the more I spoke it became "we" instead of "me." We pass people every single day and we have no idea what they've been through. It's not to say that you need to walk around this world alone, but the world's a lot easier to get through when you have other people who have been through what you've been through.

Mick : So with bigger concerts like this one tonight, how consistently are you guys able to throw things together of this scale in the community?

Every day's an opportunity and we're doing something wherever we are. We have people all around the world doing things with us. We're also pay attention to our social media. We really try to involve people that are following us to foster more of a community. We also do a lot of little things. With Dark Matter Coffee, every sleeve of their coffee has the Hope For The Day slogan on it. The beer with 3 Floyds has our information on it. It's about putting it out there. But our team's always active. Between today and tomorrow we have 16 events going on across the country. Tomorrow we have a show with Baroness in New York City. But it doesn't stop for us when suicide prevention month stops. I'm going to Europe for 54 days this year where I'm usually there for only around 35. We just got these big opportunities that we had to take. The thing for me is that I'm constantly worried. It's not like if I die who is going to do it. It's more like if I don't pave this path while I have air in my lungs, who's going to also think this way. I mean, form follows function and function follows form. You need to build that for people, especially when we're talking about the scariest fucking thing in life, mental health.

Durf : It seems like you guys are less of a corporate structure and more of a grass-roots organization. I assume there's a lot of benefits of doing things that way.

There are. We are completely self funded. We have crazy little events that help us get through with funding. We don't go any of the traditional routes really. But that allows us to do things our way. And we've turned down some big checks but ethically I get to say yes to anything and everything. I'm also not above anyone and no one's above me. My mom asks me all the time why I never take credit. I don't because I'm not satisfied yet. I've never been chasing that "I've made it" moment. I used to be afraid of death, with all the what-ifs. When my boss Mike took his life in 2010, my other friend Kelly died of cancer the same week. I was looking at these two caskets and was thinking I could be next. So when you think of the eulogy of your funeral, you kinda want to control what they're going to say. "Here lays Jonny. He gave a shit." (laughs) But that's the thing about death. It's a scary thing and a sad thing but it's also a celebration. That's what we're here to do tonight. We're celebrating what we've lost and to celebrate what we've done and gotten through and where we're going to keep going. No one wants a cesspool of sappiness and sorry. Even when we interact with families who have loss, I go "Are you going to let this kick your ass or are you going to do something about it?  Take that pain in your heart and turn it into ammunition to spread love." Make sure the next parent doesn't have to do this, that the next kid doesn't have to bury a parent.

Mick : Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. Seems like we've already gone over this but being proactive is really the best way to "celebrate" day.

Yeah, absolutely. Our social media is clicking on at 5am and it's crazy how much it gets reposted. It's not cool about how much it's getting reposted, but it's cool that we designed this thing that empowered this person to say "if you're struggling, it's ok to not be ok." It's definitely a time to break the silence. We break the silence when someone like Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, or Robin Williams takes their lives. But it goes silent after a while. We can't stay silent. So I treat every day as World Suicide Prevention Day (laughs). That's why I hate advocacy months. We've got plenty more time to continue the discussion than just one month. You'll start to see that we're also focusing on dual-diagnosis. Like, breast-cancer awareness month is coming up, why is that not a mental health issue that we talk about? Black history month. Let's talk about how the African American community just has not embraced this conservation. One, because the proper services haven't been there but also because culturally they've been told not to. What would we be accomplishing by staying silent and not doing everything we could every day, y'know? We don't go the traditional routes. We hate asking for money, especially if you found out I was making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. I wish I was but I'm fucking not (laughs). We stretch every dollar because ethically that's what we have to do. We fight two fights. Suicide and mental health. The second is being honest and transparent. Once you offer that experience to a donor, they're going to want to be back. That's why tonight's special because of the experience.

Mick : How did the connections with the bands themselves occur?

I know how to get in contact with people because I used to work in the music industry but it's ultimately more about building relationships. About two years ago, some guys from Dark Matter Coffee and I went up to Milwaukee to see Mastodon play with Clutch, which was the fucking riff show (laughs). But I reached out to Brann afterwards and he actually had some downtime at home. So I was talking to him face to face and pitched the show to him. I didn't know it was around Skye's anniversary so it hit on another level that way. But it just all clicked. It's been a great ride up to this point. It's a really special show for them to be able to experience. It's not like someone just paid them to show up. They've been able to bring their families along and their setlist tonight is unreal. They're going to be playing some deep shit. But when people think about working with charities, they think it's kind of like a one and done type of deal. We've been working for a long time with a band called Neck Deep from the UK. They're like the Blink 182 of the UK. But they're some of my dearest friends. That friendship, though, came out of caring about their fans. I'm almost like their therapist now (laughs).

Durf : Well starting to wrap things up here, if people want to get involved with Hope For The Day where should they go?

Anywhere man. Google the shit out of us. Even if you spell it wrong you'll still be able to find us which is really cool (laughs). is our site. If you're interested in volunteering, there's a volunteer form on our site where we automatically ask you what you're already doing in the community and how we can we simply get you more resources. You can go through the mental health first aid trainings. Even if you can't get to Chicago, we can facilitate somewhere else for you to get it. Our door's open to anyone and everyone but all we ask is that you give a shit. It's gonna take a lot more than a chubby dude named Jonny Boucher to do what we need to do to get in front of this issue.

Mick: Two final fun questions for you. Since it's safe to assume to you're a metal fan, what have you been listening to recently?

Yeah man I was a punk rock/hardcore kid but that question is the hardest thing to answer. I find myself in so many different moods. I listen to a lot of house, disco, funk, and hip-hop. I'm all across the board. I really don't know. I will say, though, that there's a band called Being As An Ocean that dropped an album yesterday that is fucking unreal. Obviously, I'm always down to throw on a Mastodon record at any given time. I've found myself bouncing all over the place, but recently I have been trying to listen to older stuff instead. But you can find heaviness and that emotion in so many different genres of music. Honestly, anything that keeps your hips shakin' is fine by me.

Mick : Ok final question. With a last name of Boucher, how many jokes about The Waterboy do you encounter on a daily basis?

So I take this shit seriously because my mom is a water specialist. I think it's hilarious, though. People forget my name is Jonny and go "Hey Bobby!" But who really got kicked in the dick the most in my family was my uncle, whose name is Robert. He was campaigning to be Peoria County Judge and that movie came out. His opponent got signs that said "Vote For Bobby Boucher" signs with Bobby Boucher's face on it and that pretty much ruined my uncle's campaign. But hey, I think one day instead of suing Adam Sandler I'll just ask for a donation from him for Hope For The Day (laughs).

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