Sound & Vision: John Van Deusen on Mental Health, Music, and Religion

Sound and Vision
John Richards
photo by Cole R. Whitworth

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.


John Van Deusen, formerly of the Anacortes band The Lonely Forest, wouldn’t call himself a Christian musician. Instead, he prefers the term Christian who makes music – approaching issues like his own mental health through a spiritual perspective that can be critical of the church. His latest album, (I Am) Origami Pt. 3: A Catacomb Hymn, was released late last month on Tooth & Nail Records. Sound & Vision host John Richards spoke with Van Deusen about his views on Christianity and being okay with not being okay.

On addressing mental health and the church in his music:

I do think that it's really important to discuss mental health issues specifically within environments that historically have done a really poor job of giving people that type of freedom. And also, remembering that when an organization like the church, one that's immensely powerful and has immense cultural influence over millions and millions of people, when they disregard mental health specifically, there's blood on their hands. Because, anytime somebody is made to feel ashamed of being sad or depressed or doubtful or angry, what tends to happen is that they become isolated and insulated within themselves. And that's a very dangerous place to be and a church is supposed to be a welcoming place, it's supposed to be a home where all are welcome and, as is abundantly clear, that's not the case in a lot of churches and, quite frankly, it makes me very angry and sad. So, I do think, as a Christian, it's important for me to talk about it and sing about it to make art that reflects my insecurities and my doubts and my depressions.

On singing about his depression and isolation:

Well, for me, it's just it's a therapeutic tool. I needed to do it. I needed to sing about it because that's what I've done since I was 14. And, it was important for me to sing so explicitly about my struggles because I didn't want there to be any question. It’s just: no, sometimes I want to die. That's just the way I feel. If I say anything else, I'm lying to you and to myself. I need to say it out loud and I think those who have connected with the record, I would hope they would feel less alone when they have a week that's just really heavy and really hard. 

On his song “Social Sucker,” which examines his relationship to social media and the internet:

I often consider removing myself from it completely – removing myself from the internet. My wife and I we don't have internet at our house for that very reason. I think my generation and Generation Z, the one below me, I think we are going to pay a massive price because of our inability to connect in real tangible ways. I think we're going to pass on some really destructive and detrimental habits to our children, which they'll then perpetuate within society. “Social Sucker,” that’s me just simply saying to a friend that's not who you are. You're not a social ladder climber. These connections you're making are not real. And we're going to de evolve, all of us, if we continue to live in this way. So that's really what the song's about.

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