Today is the second day of 320 Festival, the mental health initiative created by Talinda Bennington and Kevin Lyman. After today’s panels and speakers, there will be a special aftershow concert, “Songs That Saved My Life,” featuring artists performing from various quarantined parts of the world. And Dominic Harrison, aka YUNGBLUD, is massively stoked to be a part of it.
The genre-fluid Harrison has spoken freely and often about his personal mental health travails in his music and in conversation. Given his personal history and the stories he hears from fans, there was simply no way he wouldn’t participate.
“My whole ethos and the way that I am as an artist revolves around life and mental health and making people feel like they’re not alone out there,” he says. “They can be who they are. I just want to get involved in this incredible cause and put YUNGBLUD’s name on the roster.”
AltPress caught up with Harrison prior to his 320 appearance to discuss the importance of the event, his relationship with his fans and the good he still sees in people.
So you’re quarantined in L.A., right?
Yeah, man, I got stuck here. We were going to go back to the U.K., but I thought it would be better to be in the sunshine, right?
Who are you there with?
My guitar player, my photographer and my manager. They’re all official titles, aren’t they? They’re just my best mates.
It sounds like such a clichéd thing to say, but that’s the most important thing.
Absolutely not clichéd! It’s what’s keeping us sane. We’re getting so much done, and we’re having fun with each other. You know what I mean?
I completely get it. What made you want to get involved with 320 Festival?
Kevin is such a big inspiration and a big part of my life. He gave me a really big shot in my early days on Warped Tour. And he’s always been an advocate for change for the better. My whole ethos and the way that I am as an artist revolves around life and mental health and making people feel like you’re not alone out there and they can be who they are in these communities. I just want to get involved in this incredible cause and put YUNGBLUD’s name on the roster, as well.
As a culture, we do make a lot of jokes about mental health. Like a self-deprecating offhand comment such as, “Dude, I need to change my meds,” or “I’m going to pay for my therapist’s next vacation to Aruba.” It’s commonplace and allowed, but should we reexamine our attitude toward that?
I think it’s just coping mechanisms, man. Everyone deals with what makes themselves feel as good as possible. If you put rules on it, it makes it worse because there are no rules [with] the way our brain works. I think when you try and put people in boxes, people don’t belong in boxes. Boxes are for fuckin’ cereal. When it comes to mental health, how you should be, where you should live, why you should exist, I think everyone’s different. And everyone is entitled to express themselves in a way they want to, as long as it’s not offensive or directly hurting someone. I think people should be free to joke about it if they want to because that may make them feel better.
There’s always going to be a diversity between coping mechanisms and how people cope in different ways. Me personally, I don’t care because I use my mental health and my issues and anxiety and try to turn it into positivity and spread love with it.
What are you hoping the 320 event will accomplish?
To make people feel like they’re not out there on their own and make people feel like they can breathe the same air as everybody else and they’re not a complete alien. To build a world that people can exist in.
Obviously, a lot of people have a great connection to you through your music. I’m sure you get tons of emotional comments of how a song you wrote pulled someone through a dark time or you made some kind of public gesture about something. But sometimes that has to be overwhelming.
It can be. But [it’s] part of the reason why I started this whole YUNGBLUD thing. YUNGBLUD ain’t me. YUNGBLUD’s an ideology that doesn’t connect in the same way that Amy in Florida connects to or Joe in Perth, Australia, and Jens in Berlin, Germany, connects to.
I felt like the world didn’t want to know me. Like I couldn’t belong on this planet because of the way I was and because of the way I looked, the way I thought, the way I dressed, the way I spoke. So I wanted to build a world where people could come and be who they are, no matter what race or sexuality or how fucking mad or fucked up they think they are. They can be whoever they are in this place. That’s what I wanted to create. My connection with everyone does get overwhelming. I use it as therapy as well because I’m not alone in the way I feel.
There are a lot of 320 panels comprising so many different aspects to mental health involving various people and communities. Do you have a particular passion or cause within the framework of the whole event?
I usually speak broadly, but a lot of my fans [have] a lot of conversations about self-harm, anxiety and depression. I have ADHD, so I’m a big advocate for that. I’m an advocate of trying to make people realize they don’t have to hurt themselves in order to feel something. They just need to potentially look deeper and find people to accept them that will actually listen.
The cool thing about 320 is that it’s from a guy who built a festival for young people. Well, not just young people, but Warped Tour connected to me as a young person because, again, it was a world where I could exist, and I wouldn’t get kicked into a fucking locker. And that’s what I love about 320: It feels young and not preachy or clinical or mathematical. I don’t want to take a science class. I just want to know that I’m gonna be all right.
Do you think that’s the part people get wrong? We know the background of certain things, and we know the nuts and bolts of a particular condition, but we really don’t convey the true empathy of it.
Absolutely, man. That’s it. We’ve got to connect on a heart level instead of a head level. That’s the thing. We always talk about what’s going on inside our heads, but it’s what we feel that defines us. And I genuinely think that instead of thinking about it, like talking about what’s going on inside your head, how do you actually feel inside? That’s what’s important. Not “Go on this drug because this helped X, Y and Z people in the past.” That’s a formula. We’re not math. We’re fucking biology.
How are you feeling right now?
I feel trapped, anxious [and] isolated. I feel more connected to my fanbase than ever. There’s a lot of love in the air right now, which is amazing.
I think everyone’s in the same boat, and it all feels the same for the first time in a very, very long time. Things are really weird and strange out there right now, and it feels that we’re all trying to catch smoke. But if we remain unified, I think we’re gonna get over this thing a lot quicker than we expect.