Music can conjure joy, but it can also bring heartache. It can dredge up memories and stir emotions. It shines a spotlight on the good inside of us, the darkness we bury deep down and the hope of what we can be for each other. Within that power, it also has the ability to heal.
With his new solo single, “I Don’t Know,” Mitchell Jay, the lead singer of Chicago alt-indie band The Weekend Run Club, is hoping for a little of each. In fragile, emotional vocals drifting across the song’s moving melody, Mitchell revisits a time in his life that still brings him great pain.
“It comes from a very authentic place. It comes from a very personal place,” he said. “I really wanted to write a song that people wouldn’t be able to just discount.”
Adolescence can be a difficult time, with shifting alliances and a never-ending chase to adhere to social norms leaving many without solid ground to stand on. For Mitchell, the tightrope walk of being gay while living a life in a religious school was a struggle. Even more so when he came out to his community and faced rejection from some while a junior in high school.
“There’s a lot of anger in there,” he said, “but there’s confusion and rejection and feeling alienated. My whole community, I felt like they kind of turned on me. I had some very traumatic instances personally with teachers or priests just telling me that there was something wrong with me, which is very alienating to feel like as a kid.”
“When you’re an adolescent, it’s already a confusing time. And it’s very easy to blame yourself for things. And I think a lot of what I felt is, ‘This isn’t something I can control, and there’s something wrong with me,’” Mitchell said. He struggled with self-harm, anxiety, depression and spent time in the hospital because of it. “My friends and things at school were hard, and I felt kind of trapped in this world where everybody you know is one way, is religious, and it’s almost like you can’t breathe because it kind of takes control of who you are.”
Today’s release, nearly eight years after his first stay at the hospital, also features a video — shot by Weekend Run Club bandmate Joey Resko and Kanguru Studios — in which Mitchell plays piano and sings, isolated in an empty church. He brings up a box filled with memories of that time and examines each one.
“It’s like I’m taking up the gifts and I’m saying, ‘Okay, this isn’t on me anymore. This is a time in my life. It was really hard, but it’s not my fault.’ I really want people to know it’s not anyone’s fault.”
It’s his time to heal.
“In some aspects, it’s like I wrote the song for me as a 16-year-old, but also for every other out or queer person, anybody that felt hurt. … Anybody who feels marginalized in any community,” he said. “I think people have the best intentions, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard for them to look at any criticism because no one wants to feel like they’ve hurt anybody. The song is kind of my way to say I’m done with this. … I’m giving it back and I’m saying, ‘You know, it’s time for you guys to take a look at this because people are still hurting themselves. Some people are still afraid to be who they are.’ I think that if people could see how much their words or teachings really affect people, then maybe they’ll be more receptive. Maybe they could be a little different or more sensitive about it.”
Through his music and through his band, Mitchell said he has found a community of support. But he also felt like this was a song he needed to tackle personally.
“I could scream from the top of my lungs about this topic, but I want this message to be heard by everybody,” he explained. “As much as I’d like to come out swinging, I think the most effective way for me to talk about this is to say, ‘This was my experience, and what kind of questions do you have about it or what does that make you think of?’ You know, I want to have a conversation about it. … As spiteful as I still am, I think there’s room for more than just anger. There’s room in my heart to talk to people and ask how can we be more loving?”