What was the inspiration for creating Artists United Against Bullying?
The whole thing really started with one of our main guys, Paulo Mendonca. He’s got a young son who was being bullied at school. He and I happened to be talking on a day that he was fuming mad about the situation. He said to me…
“Man, I’m so angry. I just don’t tolerate this stuff, and I want to do something about it to help raise awareness about bullying.”
Even though there are a lot of things being done to raise bullying awareness, he wanted to create his own personal message to deliver through music.
I was on board with him right away. He got the guys from In Flames, and some friends from Sweden involved as well. The only drag for me is that they get to do everything together in Sweden, and I get stuff after the fact being in L.A.
Since bullying is such a widespread problem, I think that there is always room for anyone (particularly artists) to get involved with doing their part to raise awareness.
One of the reasons that it was an immediate “yes” for me to be involved in this thing with Paulo and the guys, is that everybody in one sense or another has been bullied when they were kids.
There are so many different levels of bullying. Bullying in life goes beyond kids being teased in school, although the majority of it starts there. You get people who just carry it through their lives into adulthood. I have even had instances of bullying in the music business from former bandmates (who I’ll leave nameless).
How did you get involved with Paulo initially?
I was a big fan of his music. No one really knows him in the U.S., and even in Europe, only a small core of people know him. He was an artist in the early 90s who was successful in pockets of Europe. He started to sour on the performing side of the business, and ended up just writing and producing for a number of years.
I was such a fan that I sought after him to record with him. He is the one who produced my solo album, Beautiful Mess, in 2008. Thankfully, he got the bug again and decided that he wanted to start recording music.
Have you recorded any anti-bullying songs yet?
The first song that we came up with is a song called “Hero,” which hasn’t been released yet. I wrote the lyrics as if I were writing it to my own son, but it is meant to be a message to Paulo’s son.
The message of the song is that, as your parent, I don’t want to be your hero; I just want to be the one that sets you on the right path and makes sure that you know what’s going on in the world. Instead of me always being there to protect you, I want to show you that you can actually stand up for yourself.
That’s a really interesting take on being a “hero,” and also about being empowered to stand up for yourself in difficult situations.
You know, there’s so many ways that I could have gone with the whole “hero” side of things, but those types have songs have been done already. I wanted to put a different angle on it.
NOTE: “Hero” will make its debut on Hard Rock Daddy when it is completed!
One of the things that I’m finding interesting about this awareness campaign is that as Americans, we tend to think of bullying as an American problem, but clearly, it’s a worldwide problem.
A lot of people get into music around the world because they have been bullied, and it’s a way to express themselves. They have dealt with some sort of oppression in their lives, from people in school to people at work, and even their own families at times.
They end up taking their painful experiences and putting it into their music. One of the reasons that we have such amazing music is because there are a lot of tortured artists out there who are able to share their pain and connect with others who are going through the same things themselves.
I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to hard rock because it’s a way to get out your aggression, at least it was for me when I was growing up. I think that it’s much tougher today for kids in a lot of ways.
There are so many extremes now. We used to worry about different things when we were kids. I’m going to be 49 next week, and things have changed so much since I was a kid with regard to what is safe and what isn’t. It’s a great world, but it’s so much more dangerous than it was when I was growing up.
Did you have any personal bullying experiences that inspired you to join Paulo in launching this project?
Absolutely! Being a gawky kid, I dealt with bullying growing up. Luckily, my height surpassed what I was supposed to be for my age bracket, and that helped the bullying stop. Obviously, they weren’t going to physically pick on the bigger kid. However, there was another sense of bullying because I was a bit nerdy. I wasn’t confident with my looks, and didn’t know what do to them, so I would get teased.
Did you have any physical bullying experiences?
I remember getting into a fight in summer camp when I was around 8-yrs old. I’m not a violent person, but this kid just kept teasing and teasing and teasing, and my older brother said that you’ve got to stand up for yourself. He told me that he couldn’t always be there to fight my battles.
This kid taunted me enough that I put him in a headlock and just held him there while I was banging on the counselor’s door to come and break us up, because I knew that if I let him go, he was going to beat my ass! I knew that I had to shut him down; otherwise, he was just going to keep taunting me.
I guess you sometimes you have to resort to physically standing up for yourself, even if it’s not in your nature.
Violence isn’t the best way to get through the teasing and the bullying. You can fight your “war” with words if you can find the right words to say to shut them down. It can actually work more effectively than punching their lights out, but you also have to be careful, because shutting them down verbally can make them more aggressive and then they’ll come after you.
Have your kids dealt with bullying?
My son is 26-yrs old now, but he did go through some things when he was in school. However, he had such a strong personality that he was able to curb it pretty much immediately.
He was kind of the cool kid, who went through a phase himself where he was verbally bullying another kid by telling him that he looked “gay” in what he was wearing. I had to sit him down and tell him that it’s not ok to use that word in that context. I told him that we had the same issues when someone was doing it to him, so he shouldn’t turn around and do it to someone else. He ended up apologizing to the kid and using his influence to stop others from doing the same.
Nowadays, I’m dealing with my wife’s kids who are still in school, and luckily, they haven’t had to deal with anything like this yet. We have talks with them all the time telling them that if any bullying happens, that they have to tell us. It’s not that we’re going to step in, but we’ll be there to help them know how to deal with it.
I think that is one of the keys to dealing with bullying. Not to excuse the kids that do it in any way whatsoever, but parenting is a key to making sure that your kids behave properly. If parents stepped in more, we would have a better chance of solving this problem instead of relying on the schools, who are already overwhelmed.
Can you talk about the mission of Artists United Against Bullying?
Well, it’s still in the embryonic stages. So far, it’s just been about coming up with the idea for the song and working on it together. We’re still at the early stages of how involved everyone will be, and how far we’ll be able to take it.
We decided to start with what we do best, which was to record a song. If we like where it’s going, we’ll do more songs, and maybe even eventually record an entire album. Ultimately, this is more than a band; it’s a cause. If we do get funding, it will all go towards the cause.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story, Jeff. I’m really looking forward to the debut of “Hero” and seeing all of the good that I think you will do with Artists United Against Bullying!