Men Don't Cry: Sami Switch Tackles Musical Taboos

Is being creative linked to more extremes in emotions? In this podcast, poet-turned-rapper, Sami Switch, shares his experiences with anxiety and depression - and their prominence in the music industry. Known for blending rap, spoken word, and vocals, he is son to an Arab immigrant poet; and when Switch was in secondary school, his love for music further ignited with the rise popularity in grime and rap music.

“I've been depressed without knowing what it was; I hid behind drink and escapism...”

Heavily influenced by classical music and movie soundtracks, and more modern artists like Chance The Rapper and George The Poet, Switch is currently working on two EPs after taking a few years to perfect his message and delivery.

“I like artists that do soul, mixed with urban hip hop with message,” Switch tells Headliner. “This is my first release in a few years because I wanted to release something perfect.”

Taking inspiration from his real life struggles, Switch’s next EP is close to his heart:

“It’s a bit of my story: the concept for the album is about how I turned pain into beauty, how harrowing and hard times can actually transform into gratitude for smaller things, and how gratitude opens doors to [sings] ‘a whole new wooooorld’,” he laughs. “The final song thanks everyone who has put up with me and my shit – thanking God, Buddha, Ghandi, Jesus, Russel Brand [laughs]…Just thanking the universe and realising how small I am in this universe. If I feel like I’m having a bad day or am going through bad times, which I had many of growing up, I try to take minute and look around, see a bird fly past and go ‘shit, I’m alive’. You find beauty in it.”

Switch is candid about his period of homelessness in previous EP, Solace, finding it at once easy and difficult to draw on real experiences.

“If you speak to of lot of artists, when you’re in troubled times, you don’t think as much when you are doing art, as you are letting the feelings come out,” he explains. “But it’s hard because you’re sharing those feelings with the world. I would confide in a friend during this time about all the crazy shit I’d gone through. A lot of times when I wrote those songs I was literally crying, which was great for venting purposes, but it’s also really tough as you’re sharing all of this in a room with someone, which isn’t particularly masculine. Also knowing that the world will hear your pain is tough, too, but it’s almost a kind of therapy. I would think ‘fuck it, I need to get this out today!’”

The idea of masculinity being intrinsically linked to not showing any emotions has not changed much over time, although Switch does see a small change in attitudes.

“Recently there has been a lot more support or acceptance [for men],” he says. “Everybody knows someone who has committed suicide, and most people that commit suicide are men under 50. So people now think: okay, I need to listen. But then again, there are definitely social groups of boys or men that I have met, that even the smallest show of emotional weakness gets a tirade of banter.

“I had a cry a couple of weeks ago to a friend about things that are going on in the world right now, and I said sorry to my friend, and he said ‘no man, let it out.’ It's human... we need to cry and let it out.”

Switch is refreshingly candid about his own struggles with mental health:

“I released a poem when I was 18 called Ocean Of Pain, about mental health and depression. The fact that everyone else is talking about mental health is great; people are becoming more accepting because we all have our own struggles. I will continue to talk about it. I rate anyone that does open up and speak about [mental health] because it’s very important. And it’s not just singers; some people that you don’t even see in the limelight – the people in the background – they’re the ones who will suffer.”

“It definitely helps if you have a form of expression as an outlet,” he points out. “I’ve got a creative vent – every day I’m writing, and I get an excuse to share these emotions. People say that being creative is linked to people being extremely emotional. Being an artist, the majority of musicians will have a struggle coming up in the industry because it’s the toughest industry. It’s a competition – everybody wants to be a superstar when they’re younger.

“It’s such a tough battle, and the industry is so cold. Those struggles, whether it’s with finance, doubt, or regret over not choosing another life choice... Some people don’t make it, and they haven’t had anything on their C.V for five years – all of those things can build up. And obviously, with stress, you lose sleep and that can build towards poor mental health. That’s when people turn to alcohol and drugs.

“The highs and the lows become higher and lower, and it becomes a bit unbearable,” he considers. “The idea of going back to a ‘normal’ job... must be crushing. I’ve seen it happen to a friend of mine, and he’s never been the same since. I’ve decided that if I ever don’t make it, I’m going to fly to some random island and become a surfing teacher or something [laughs] - I cannot stay here and be reminded of this life!”

Joking aside, Switch can relate to those in the industry that turn to substances to mask pain.

“It's hard to talk about when I’m not writing a song about it,” he says, after a long pause. “I’ve been depressed without knowing what it was. I was diagnosed with depression at 16. I had a problem with drink a few years ago because I was suicidal – I’m much more positive now, though – I hid behind drink and escapism. Someone can be the happiest person to you, but behind, they are suffering – look at Robin Williams.”

Switch admits that the help and support system was there for him, but he just did not realise until he asked for it.

“As soon as I opened up to my friends, they were there,” he nods. “It is astounding how quickly someone will come to your need if you need it, which is a beautiful thing. The difficult thing about it is defining that mental switch – that you decide you want help.”

Switch tells Headliner how he used to have severe panic attacks which left him struggling to breathe:

“If I get that again – and it does happen sometimes – I take a day. People should allow themselves to take a day. Talk about it, read a book, talk to someone, rejuvenate. Life can be so intense – one day won't change the world.

“Someone can be so good on the outside and dying on the inside,” he concludes. “So many musicians have killed themselves, and it will continue, so if we can stop even one death by promoting any available help, services, or by raising awareness, that is worth it.”