“Honestly everything I know about therapy I learned from The Sopranos,” said Josh Jurk. “There’s probably a little bit of like, ‘Hey if that guy [Tony Soprano] can go get fucking help, why not me?’ I’ve literally never killed anyone, so he’s got way more shit to deal with than I do.”
Jurk, School Drugs’ vocalist and driving songwriter, is taking a big step in his life after years of a quiet struggle. He turned 30 this year and he still has an effortlessly-cool character; still the fierce, eloquent fiend behind the New Jersey hardcore band's biggest records: their 2018 breakthrough 7-inch, Relative Suffering, and their mammoth 2019 full-length, Modern Medicine.
But the Jurk who performed at The Fest 19 this past Halloween weekend in Gainesville, Florida was tense prior to the band’s set. A combination of concern over the large size of The Wooly and a clear-eyed grasp on what he wanted to say to the crowd before jumping into one of the band’s most beloved tracks, “Not Alone,” may have been the reasoning, but at the end of the day, Jurk remains an enigma. Despite knowing him personally for the past five years, I continue to struggle with figuring him out—at every turn, he surprises me.
“I’m starting therapy for the first time this week,” said Jurk, announcing this at The Wooly to a crowd of strangers as if everyone in the room was his close friend and confidant. The Fest 19 had a contagious energy around it. After almost two years of a ban on live music and a long, difficult quarantine, it was only natural to let emotions take over at an event that fosters music, community, and solidarity.
"I witnessed a handful of people crying tears of joy at several venues that weekend, and admittedly, I was one of them. The healing power of music can have that effect. Clearly for some, it was a spiritual experience."
For Jurk, starting therapy was uncomplicated. As a continued advocate of mental health and suicide prevention, it became clear to him that it was time to start taking care of himself. “I just hadn’t been feeling right for fucking ever and I was like, ‘I should go do something about that,’” he said. “I very fortunately have the means to go to therapy, so why not just go fucking do it?”
While seeking treatment for mental health issues has become more accepted, some people still struggle and feel stigmatized, and for some artists, there is also this idea that you have to be tortured in order to create; that creation comes out of suffering, darkness, and pain. Jurk rejects this idea.
“When I’m feeling like that, I don’t wanna do fucking anything,” he said. “I can’t do anything. I find it difficult to believe that anybody else could. When the depression is at its worst, it’s not just feeling sad. It’s beyond that. I wind up feeling nothing. I don’t wanna do shit except for lay on the fucking couch.”
For Jurk, seeking mental health help was as necessary as taking care of his physical health. “If my back was just hurting, I would go [to the chiropractor] if I fucked my back up in some way, he would crack my shit and then I would feel better, and my back would hurt a lot less,” he said. “I sort of contextualized going to the therapist in the same way. Like, ‘My fucking brain hurts, so I’ll go to the therapist.’”
He wasn’t scared, and he wasn’t embarrassed to go to therapy, but it was a long time coming to finally take the big step and start. “I wish I had a long time ago,” Jurk said. “It never posed any kind of a threat to me. It was way more like laziness than any kind of barrier of entry. I think that anybody that can [go], should. If that’s something that they think would help, or even if you don’t think that it would help… it’s generally only an hour of your time a week.”
We’re all just looking for some peace of mind. Playing shows, touring, slinging merch, and all the other work it takes to keep a band alive can be exhausting. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for anyone is just talk to them. “I love when people come up after we play and they come to the merch table and they absolutely don’t need to buy anything,” he said. “It’s worth as much to me, or more, to just fucking talk to me. Especially when they can say that they relate to something
" You buy the t-shirt because it looks good, not because the thing that I said had an impact on you. The fucking t-shirt is not gonna have an impact on anybody, but the message from the song hopefully will. You hear it come from me, and you know that I’m the person you can talk to about it.”
For any musician trying to create something that will last, that will resonate, it's natural to start second guessing yourself or to become pessimistic. For Jurk, it’s become validating to know he’s heard. “People are listening,” he said. “That [adds] a little bit of weight to what I say when we’re playing because it’s very easy to think that nobody’s listening. We have plenty of other songs that deal with that exact same thing. Feeling like no one understands or listens to whatever the fuck you have to say. Shit that we all have to say fucking matters.”
Jurk’s lyrics are seething. For some, upon first listen, these lyrics can come off as overwhelming – for others, it’s a relief knowing they have similar negative thought patterns, and in that vein, they are ultimately not alone. “Validation” off of Relative Suffering speaks to his perpetual need for support: “I got my hopes all raised again / There's something dying and it better give in / Because I choked on the last situation / I'm only looking for some validation / All I have is to want.”
This need to be vindicated is the motivation behind a lot of School Drugs’ songs and Jurk admits to how this carries over into what he says on stage in between songs. “You need somebody to acknowledge that you were heard and understood,” he said. “At first, it’s just dealing with me and myself and my own ways of navigating my emotions and feelings. Then once I realize that there’s more than me and four other people in a room that are playing the thing, hearing and taking what I’m saying into consideration – it’s definitely had an effect on what I say and how I say it.”
School Drugs have been a band for five years now. In that span of time, Jurk has penned lyrics about all the dark parts of what it means to be alive. He has also given people a reason to keep going, simply because they can relate to the messages he puts out there about the struggles he has faced. There is nothing worse than feeling alone. It is isolating, dark, and often difficult to escape from without support.
School Drugs have made it cool to be weird, out of place, lost, and most importantly, human. “Admitting I needed help is kind of like the old adage about not reading the directions because you’re a man or whatever. But I’ll read the fucking directions. Clearly someone knows more than I do about this subject so why would I not follow their advice? That would be foolish.”
If you or someone you know is a musician and struggling with mental illness, check out PunkTalks.org. If you’re in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there: 800-273-8255.
The Visitation 7-inch is available now via Indecision Records, and is the first part of an upcoming full-length LP entitled Funeral Arrangements.
School Drugs tour dates:
January 6- Baltimore, MD @ Holy Frijoles
January 7- Norfolk, VA @ The Tap House
January 8- Charlotte, NC @ The Milestone
January 9- Asheville, NC @ Static Age Records
January 10- Nashville, TN @ drkmttr
January 11- Springfield, IL @ Dumb Records
January 12- Chicago, IL @ TBA
January 13- Ft. Wayne, IN @ The Bug House
January 14- Cincinnati, OH @ The Hub
January 15- Pittsburgh, PA @ Rothko House
January 16- Harrisburg, PA @ JB Lovedraft's
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