“I killed it once before. it’s a strange thing trying to ignore that silent sound when the devil comes … yeah, he’s just outside the door. So familiar. Always wanting more, and I can’t slow down when the devil comes.”
Nickolas Blazina, frontman for Chicago-brewed rock band State and Madison, tapped into his own experiences when he wrote the songs for the band’s new full-length album, “We Are Two Parts of the Same Thing,” Side A of which was released this week.
The recent single, “When the Devil Comes Around,” as well as many of the tracks on the new album, chronicle Blazina’s dive into mental health issues.
“I’ve always made art to help myself get through down seasons,” he explained. “A big part of this record is focused on mental health. The album title alludes to a diagnosis I finally got in the midst of writing it. … Had my first real manic episode.”
“I think it might be the state of our affairs as a species,” he said. “Weighing down on all of us empaths.”
The Chicago native now living in Nashville went into overdrive. “I was sleeping like three hours a night for about 10 months,” Blazina said. “I lost 30 pounds. … My friends started wondering about me.”
“A lot of people, in a career town like Nashville, stopped wanting to hang out,” he said. “Which I understand. It just got really (expletive) lonely. And dark.”
Blazina said Bipolar II runs in his family. But in the midst of this episode, he found a therapist to help him learn about what was wrong and how to best deal with it.
“It’s called grandiosity. Feeling like you can save the world,” he explained.
“I wrote those songs because I needed to … (I’m) not sure what would have happened without them.”
The tracks on the release — recorded with bandmates Mark Tatara, Travis Fleckenstein and Alan Shinkunas, along with new collaborations with drummers Miles McPherson (Paramore, Tonic) and Sean Bennett (The Heyday) and an assist from fellow Chicagoan and current Nashville resident AV on background vocals — feature powerful lyrics, raw emotions and well-sung vocals. Together it creates a vibe Blazina and his bandmates — now also including Dustin Herres and Brett Hartwell — heartily play into in live performances.
“Being able to cry into these songs has been 100 percent the thing I needed,” Blazina said.
Finding one’s way through that darkness can be daunting. But seeking out like-minded individuals has eased the pain somewhat.
“I sit in a circle of songwriter friends sometimes. We call it Scotch and Songs,” Blazina said. “I’ve lived through some painful moments in their company. And singing my new feelings for them has felt painfully bare. Having them there to see what I went through, and then distilling some of it in songs with them.”
Blazina found writing tracks such as “The Road” and “Life Is Good” had an unexpected cathartic benefit for him as well as fans who have seen it performed live.
“It’s helped people at shows,” he said. “Strangers. Crying at the merch booth. Saying thank you for singing ‘Life Is Good.'”
Every performance is a release for Blazina and his bandmates.
“I feel like it isn’t possible to sing some of this stuff properly if the original feeling doesn’t inhabit me,” Blazina said. “But I’m not alone when I get to sing it for others. That’s the beautifully healing other half of it. Sharing it. So I don’t have to carry it by myself anymore. I’ll always carry my memories. Don’t want to have some that I do. But I do.”
In addition to finding release through his songwriting, Blazina has also recently started producing a podcast — “Little Fires” — where he dives deep into what makes other artists tick and where their songs come from, building that sense of understanding and community.
“When we were coming up, playing coffee shops as freshmen in high school, people had ‘zines they’d Xerox together … talking about their favorite artists, creating community in a very real way,” he explained. “‘Little Fires’ is that for me. A ‘zine of sorts.”
That sense of community has permeated State and Madison’s release. “One of the things I love about the way the Chicago scene is going is that we’re all watching out for each other now,” Blazina said. The band rolled out some of the new tunes at a benefit show Saturday at Chicago’s Subterranean, bringing in nearly $2,000 to help defray the medical expenses of a friend on the scene.
Being able to reach out to that community, whether to help others or to share his own experiences, has proved to be a powerful step in Blazina’s healing process.
“I can say songs have saved my life.”