Torch Songs campaign sees musicians cover tracks that get them through tough times to support male mental health

Twin Atlantic on Torch Songs

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm) is asking musicians to record covers of songs they consider meaningful to put male mental health onto the national agenda.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK – about one every two hours – and creatives at Harriman Steel, including former MTV UK marketing vice-president James Scroggs who helped found Calm a decade ago, hope Torch Songs can help arrest that troubling statistic through a softer approach.

Scroggs and the agency's executive creative director Julian Harriman-Dickinson (who has directed videos for the Chemical Brothers, Radiohead and Leftfield, in addition to numerous ads) created the bespoke label Torch Songs in the space of three weeks to entice prominent artists to record and share the songs that help get them through tough times.

Calm runs a helpline, lobbies the government, and runs a magazine focused on its core ethos but music was seen as a great platform to encourage debate. With Scroggs’ connections to the music industry, and the agency’s experience in production and brand building, Torch Songs accumulated the likes of Years + Years, The Vaccines, Frank Turner and Twin Atlantic and more new acts to record music videos and discuss their feelings as male artists.

Scroggs said: “We’re trying to challenge the media agenda around the culture of masculinity. In a world where women have since the 50s stretched the traditional notion around their identity whereas men’s role and expectations have scarcely changed since the stoneages."

“How do we get male artists to reveal that life as a man in this industry has its perils?” he asked, claiming that it was important to show that these musicians can suffer the same sort of stresses as the average Joe. The end game was getting the artists to commit to camera how they overcame their problems, centred around an exclusive cover of a song that got them through the tough times.

“When we present Calm to the artists, most were aware of us, as we act more like a media brand than a charity in the way we enlist their services, and once we present the issue in a positive light, discussing masculinity rather than suicide, and the healing powers of their go-to music, the response we had was amazing.”

A differentiator between the campaign is that the main objective is to spark discourse, challenge perceptions and not, like many charities, drive donations. The operation has benefited from being small, Scroggs told The Drum, explaining that it sped up the decision making and turnaround of everything from the Torch Songs identity to the actual recording sessions.

The inspiration for the campaign was Biffy Clyro’s frontman Simon Neil who Scroggs said was on the record about his depression and how he had a go-to record when he was in that place (Red House Painters – ‘Rollercoaster’).

“I wonder which Red House Painters song Simon would cover,” he thought. This evolved into “I wonder what other artists would cover if given the chance". On the execution of the campaign, there was a task in bringing each individual song and audience together. The task was to “join the dots” and create a brand identity and website that houses the artists talking to their respective audiences.

Honesty and authenticity is a notable feature of the videos: artists appear without much ado either around or within a ‘Torch’. There’s little done to touch up the content, both to bolster the authenticity and because of the constrictions of the limited resources available.

Harriman-Dickinson said: "From a creative angle, the really nice thing is that the artists and management did not become precious, all the contributors did it pro-bono or for a very small fee, they appeared in their own clothes, and with no makeup, with no touch-ups on the visuals, which was very unusual.

“It was because everyone entered into the project in the right spirit, we burned the midnight oil creating the music videos. Once everyone was aboard there was no way we could create a unique music video for every single one but we used the simple circle motif to carry through.”

With more than 20 artists on the site, since the launch in November 2016, Scroggs claims that “some big names” will appear imminently in 2017 in what he calls a “second wave” to continue with the momentum the movement has garnered in such as short time. He also underlined the fact that the post-Christmas/New Year comedown is an important time for the conversation to be elevated.

As a result, in addition to the artist, listeners are encouraged to share the hashtag #WhatsYourTorchSong. Check out the songs on the Torch Songs website here. Below are some of the statistics the campaign was founded upon (courtesty of Calm).

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