channeling mental illness & activism into sound: singer-songwriter brian walker of a day without love opens up

June 6, 2018
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By Lightning Pill, AFROPUNK contributor


If there is anything that we should all be able to know is this: mental illnesses are hard not only to live but also to talk about. It’s a lot like revealing a pimple or an embarrassing birthmark, as it is often used so much as a flaw or joke banter that talking about it seriously must feel like walking into a random dark cave and expecting bears not to maul you mid-stroll. Luckily, Brian Walker, the main songwriter of A Day Without Love, has been through too much internally and externally to not find music to be a sense of healing and revelation.

The charm of Diary, his latest album, is that the album was recorded in his bedroom. You can hear everything from the scratching of the strings to him picking up the guitar at times. Everything is as raw as his emotion and his straight-forward lyrics, as he discusses going through mental illness, hypocrisy within activism, and being black in America and within the DIY alternative scene. Within this interview, he most definitely isn’t pulling any punches as I interview him through the ever-reliable Twitter DMs.

LP: So, the first question I may want to ask is how did A Day Without Love begin? Rather, where did you get the name?

ADWL: The concept of A Day Without Love started in 2008, but didn’t officially begin until late 2012 early 2013. I came up with the name after stopping an incident of college spousal abuse, and I wrote a poem about it called “A Day Without Love.” I won’t write my songs about human conflict through my own lenses and how to rise above.

LP: As for music, how did you get into making music? Who would you say influenced you?

ADWL: I have a number of influences ranging from B.B. King to Lauryn Hill to Bright Eyes to Radiohead. In this past album Elliott Smith, Kendrick, Bright Eyes and Waxahatchee influenced me conceptually and sonically.

LP: Your new album Diary was presented originally as a project of yours to write five songs about certain things. What inspired that?

ADWL: To be honest, I am a very emotionally contained person. I mean this in a way that I don’t feel like people really understand what I am saying in my day to day life. I feel lost, hurt and confused. I talk about being lonely, and people don’t invite me. I end up having to do the inviting or the calling. So it was this sort of out of place feeling that wanders in my mind that gave birth to Diary. Solace was about change and finding comfort. Diary is about those feelings I still struggle with despite being comfortable with myself. Which is definitely hard to share openly.

LP: I was just about to ask whether or not you felt any trepidation revealing your mental illness and your struggles with it through the album. There were some pretty worrying details, such as releasing suicidal thoughts at times.

ADWL: If you asked me this 5 years ago, then yes, I felt fear. Now I kinda look at it like my issues with sadness and just feeling unworthy are a part of me. Like there are highs and there are lows in life. Nowadays most of what makes me sad is a part of feeling and actually being less than other people. And talking about those inequalities I face is validating in bursts, and working towards restoring these inequalities helps a lot. If I want to change my pain I have to fight for it and by not feeling fear is just the beginning for me. Also, what do you mean worrying parts?

LP: Like if someone you knew listened to it, they would instantly run to your Facebook asking if you were alright.

ADWL: To be honest, no one has asked me if I am alright listening to any of my albums. I don’t write my records as a cry for help but knowing that does make me wonder does anyone really give a fuck or even understand the pain I am speaking about. But nonetheless, I persist.

LP: Cool. Let’s discuss the themes of the album. Specifically, you taking on white hypocrisy considering human rights and crisis around #BlackLivesMatter. “Black in DIY” was based highly upon the people who patronized you because you were supposedly rare to them in a black man making emo/bedroom pop music. What was more irritating to you then? His focus upon your skin or a member’s ignorance about a pretty active scene of black people looking to do things in the alternative community?

ADWL: It’s definitely been the skin color. I wrote an article on Medium and my website called Being Black in a White DIY Scene. I wrote that article because from many angles I feel like I’m not really on the same page as DIY, I’m not for tokenization and feeling fetishized for being black and playing a guitar. I want to be accepted not analyzed like a DNA sample for my skin color.

LP: Also, has anyone ever given you the age-old talk about how being black and making anything outside of hip hop or R&B wasn’t practical? Rather, how did people you know perceive you making the music you did, assuming they heard a recording or you played it for them??

ADWL: Yes, my family. My family is huge, but they don’t come to my local shows. If my family came to my shows, I would literally consistently sell out Philly gigs. My family respects my music, but ever since I started playing guitar they would jab at me ask me to play soul or R&B or say I wouldn’t be successful till I started sounding black.

LP: Plenty of songs on Diary calls out the titular white hipster Twitter activist. One of which you had once revealed was a friend of yours. Do you take part in a bit of activism on the side at times?

ADWL: Growing up in the church, donating money to charity, helping out at food banks, marching, joining non profits, attempting to start and then failing at a non profit,…I can certainly say I participate in activism. I also have done a 1000 dollar fundraiser via my music for mental health awareness.

LP: Ahh, so you were most definitely on the frontlines while the others were merely sipping Starbucks with a twitter account. Cool!

ADWL: Not in that incident unless I was not aware other than share opinions online I don’t know if there was a march or anything that can be done. However, I have refused to consume coffee or cake pops at Starbucks since the incident.

LP: What would you say is one thing white people need to understand about being a successful ally?

ADWL: Stop pitying us! Literally, stop acting different around black people or any marginalized group and treat people fairly. It’s that simple. Just love, respect and communicate.

LP: What do you personally make of the whole debacle in the past where Candace Owens harshly tells black people to “not be a victim”? You think there was any bit of a merit to her words?

ADWL: That is contingent upon the situation. I grew up in Philadelphia. Many of the people I grew up with fell on hard times. But the question comes is this: did your hard times fall as a result of the system or your decisions? Some hard times I have fell upon was without a doubt a result of my decisions; others were a result of the system. When I hear don’t be the victim it angers me because more analysis is required. We need to ask to what effect are you a victim? To a system that didn’t give you the tools you needed or because you didn’t make the right decisions? As a teacher once always told me you gotta come correct. But I definitely think Candace went overboard.

LP: In a way, it is almost like she applied that to not only black people but those who were wrecked due to past events.

ADWL: Well, think about what I said in the intro of my album “why are people mean to unhappy people?” I was trying to say people aren’t empathetic to people in difficult situations. Instead, they run away unless it comes with a reward.

LP: Was that one of the things that also motivated you to write about politics?

ADWL: Experiencing injustice from being paid unfairly, to being harassed by cops on tour, to being pulled over, being socially excluded for the color of my skin, being at the brunt of bad healthcare policies, not being able to afford mental healthcare.

LP: You did mention your inability to really be able to afford what was necessary for your health. Has there ever been a time where you felt like you music was not just therapy, but a side hustle to do what your job hasn’t quite done?

ADWL: Yes, music had indirectly been a side hustle many many times

LP: Gotcha. What are your plans as far as you and music right now?

ADWL: Well I am already writing a series of EPs and I am going on a New England tour with Marcelyn. The EPs are going to be short 3-to-5 song records with collaborations with different artists. But I want to lose weight and rediscover myself and write about body positivity and self-love.

LP: The thing about having mental illness one must realize is that there aren’t a whole lot of answers for it, but there could be advice. Do you have any for those going through it like you?

ADWL: Don’t depend on anyone to the point where it will make you doubt yourself, and be honest with yourself enough to know when you need to improve or have guidance. It’s a healthy balance, to be honest.

Diary is out now. https://adaywithoutlove.