John Bruner didn’t intend to put out a “message song.” But when he and bandmate Matt Gordon sat down to write a new single for their rock band The King of Mars, “Junkie Road” just sort of happened.
The new single — released on major streaming services Friday — deftly approaches the struggles of substance addiction and the destructive role it often plays, especially when partnered with, say, a global health crisis.
“I myself have had substance abuse issues in the past, and that’s kind of been a theme in my life since I know a lot of people who have struggled with it, too,” Bruner said. “When Matt and I were working on the song, it just kept resonating in my head. And then the lyrics just came out that way. I never really intended to sit down and be like, ‘Alright, I’m going to make this song about addiction.'”
The West Dundee musician said he lost a good friend to substance abuse near the start of the pandemic, and lately his thoughts have been on people struggling with addiction and mental health issues during this unprecedented period of isolation.
“This isn’t the first song that I’ve written about this, but I try not to write about it too much so it’s overdone. But this just kind of poured out and felt pretty natural.”
Bruner and Gordon have been sharing most of the songwriting responsibilities over the last year while The King of Mars has been riding out the pandemic, but the core group — including Elmhurst native brothers Randy and Austin Deadman, JJ Frale and new member Chucky Bowen — are all contributing players. Sporting bluesy guitar riffs and trademark sweeping vocal harmonies, the track is a standout in the TKOM’s catalog, despite the absence of Jason Deran’s trumpet, a brassy staple of the band’s progression over the last six years.
Bruner said that while “Junkie Road” draws awareness to substance abuse, it also aims to remind listeners that art doesn’t need to rely on a struggle. While not disputing that one role of an artist is to turn something painful into something powerful, it challenges the notion that that’s the only way to be authentically creative.
“You can create beautiful things that don’t have to be from your pain. You don’t have to be that starving artist, that depressed person to be able to create really awesome things,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people I’ve known have had that mindset. I used to have that mindset where if you’re not sad, if you’re not in pain, how are you going to be able to create cool things? But that’s just not a good way to live life. There are really much healthier ways to be able to create, to do what you want to do.”
In an attempt to help those who are struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues, The King of Mars premiered “Junkie Road” for a one-day-only special last Friday to take advantage of Bandcamp Friday’s fee-free sales. The song, to Bruner’s surprise, brought in well over a thousand dollars, half of which the band will donate to the New Directions Addiction Recovery Services in the Northwest suburbs.
He said a lot of people he’s known who needed help have gotten hope from New Directions.
“It was a really great feeling when we saw that sales total at the end of the day,” Bruner said. “That was insane. Our fans really, really helped out.”
The King of Mars is keeping the awareness going with today’s release of “Junkie Road” on all streaming platforms, as well as a video for the song coming out next week, Friday, May 21.