Travis Barker, Steve Aoki Talk Addiction, Depression Challenges For Musicians

By Victoria Kim 10/11/17

“It was sad that it took a plane crash and almost dying to finally sober up. My second chance at life and my kids was enough to never touch drugs again."

Steve Aoki and Travis Barker
Steve Aoki and Travis Barker

In the wake of two major losses this year—respected rock vocalists Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington—more people are opening up about mental health, depression, and drug use.

These issues present a special challenge for those embedded in the music industry, says Forbes contributor Steve Baltin. The deaths of Cornell and Bennington serve as a “wake-up call,” he said, shedding a light on the need for better support and resources for artists who are struggling.

Baltin recently hosted a conversation with DJ Steve Aoki, Travis Barker of Blink-182, and more, to get their perspectives as music industry professionals.

The fatal overdose of DJ AM (aka Adam Goldstein) in 2009 deeply affected both Barker and Aoki. Barker was the only other survivor, along with Goldstein, in a plane crash that killed four people and severely injured Barker and Goldstein. 

“It was sad that it took a plane crash and almost dying to finally sober up,” Barker told Forbes’ Baltin. “My second chance at life and my kids was enough to never touch drugs again."

“When DJ AM passed away that’s when I made the distinction, ‘It’s not about taking a break, I’m just not gonna drink,’” said Aoki. The famous DJ now draws a clear line to protect his sobriety, noting the limitless opportunities to imbibe in drinks and drugs at gigs. “I just say, ‘I don’t do it,’ and then the conversation’s dead in the water,” he said.

Aoki recalls that Goldstein often talked about his struggle to stay off drugs. “That conversation needs to be had,” said the DJ. “I think a lot of the time it’s an issue of shame.” Dialogue is the “key to finally pulling the skeletons out of the closet [and] dealing with the issues,” he said.

The “isolation and loneliness” of the musician's life can be a challenge, says Anthony Green of the rock bands Circa Survive and Saosin. And feeling more, or having heightened senses, is part and parcel of being artists and musicians, says Jeff Jampol, who managed iconic acts like Janis Joplin, the Ramones, the Doors, Otis Redding, to name a few. “Sometimes you just want to turn the volume down,” said Jampol.

It can be difficult for artists to prioritize their well-being over their work, especially if they’re lacking a good support system. “In the entertainment business some people’s higher power is art,” says Jampol. “A lot of people’s higher power is the dollar. So, many times, people get very short-sighted, they don’t care as much about a life.”

But Jampol stresses the importance of focusing on “what’s really critical,” minus the dollar signs. “Yeah, you might lose an album cycle, you might lose a tour, you might lose a live appearance, but you gain a life and you gain a career and you gain knowing you did the right thing,” he said.

For artists who struggle to stay sober, staying on the wagon is a team effort, says Harold Owens, senior director of MusiCares, a charity that supports artists in need. “It’s up to the person who’s sober to really set some guidelines and parameters,” said Owens. “They have to have a plan for their recovery.”

For those who have come out the other side with a new outlook on life, the hard effort has been more than worth it.

“Being present and sober is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Music is my drug,” said Travis Barker.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr