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Josh Franceschi on music, mental wellbeing and smashing toxic masculinity

Ahead of the release of their new album, SUCKAPUNCH, we caught up with Josh Franceschi, singer-songwriter of You Me At Six, about how the album revolves around embracing vulnerability and smashing toxic masculinity. Chatting about music and mental wellbeing, Josh opened up about the importance of connection and organisations like CALM. 

Rewind to Autumn 2019 and You Me At Six were tucked away in a recording studio in Thailand making SUCKAPUNCH. Josh describes recording the latest album as a “musical rehab” and with all five members of the band experiencing personal challenges, the album carries the emotional weight of each band member.

“It was the first time we were all in sync. I’d never told the lads when I was going to therapy or openly spoken about issues that I had before. I think when there’s a space where more than one person is being transparent and showing vulnerability, it acts as a catalyst for other people to feel like they can be honest with themselves and honest about what they’re going through. 

“It was a very different recording experience, it wasn’t about clocking off at six and going out partying until four in the morning, it was about realigning. Thailand offered an environment for non-negotiable commitment to making the record, but also commitment to getting the best out of ourselves and each other.”

The title of their seventh album, SUCKAPUNCH, refers to emotional blows. Fusing rock, dance, and R&B, the album revolves around reflection and redemption. From Beautiful Way, an unconventional break-up song rich in catchy riffs, to the punchy punk-rock track, MAKEMEFEELALIVE, the record is about transforming painful experiences into something more positive.

84% of men say they bottle up their emotions, and only 55% of men who’ve experienced depression will tell anyone about it. A result of damaging gender stereotypes, toxic masculinity can prevent many men from feeling they can open up or seek support, something the band grappled with head on during the making of their latest album. A pivotal moment for the band, their time together in Thailand helped unlock emotions they’d previously found difficult to express. 

“In 15 years, the band have gone from boys to men and I think if we’d understood each other’s vulnerable sides and how to communicate and accept that, we might not have had the bust ups we sometimes had. Opening up gave us the opportunity to make something good out of a bad situation. Even now, getting the boys to open up sometimes is like getting blood from a stone, but conversation is at the absolute core of progression.”

As well as allowing the band space to connect with one another on a deeper level, Josh recognises the power of music to unify people, connecting them to a feeling or to a crowd of like-minded fans, a role he doesn’t take lightly. 

“Music has always been good for the soul. It offers an escapism from reality and has the power to connect people to happy, bad or vulnerable places. When someone is feeling misunderstood, they can feel like music understands and accepts them. It’s an unbelievably powerful thing, but also comes with responsibility.” 

Josh is a passionate advocate for emotional wellness, both personally and collectively. Disclosing the fact that just before our chat he’s been writing in his journal, just one of the tools he uses to keep his mental wellbeing in check. As the storyteller of the band, he uses journaling and songwriting as an outlet for his feelings:

“It’s like I’m throwing up the bad toxins into a song and I guess in a way it’s the same with journaling. There’s a list of things I have to do to look after my mental health, I write in my journal, exercise and spend quality time with my dog. When you go back through a journal and see the correlation between not feeling great and what you’ve written down, you can pinpoint what needs to change, or what you don’t have control over and simply have to accept.”

On the phone there’s an overwhelming sense of frustration from Josh. He talks in depth about feeling disappointed that people are not armed with the tools from a young age to look after their mental wellbeing and communicate their feelings – frustrations that have been amplified by lockdown. Josh explains:

“I said to my partner when we went into lockdown, I’m worried about what this is going to do to people’s mind states if they don’t have a support network around them or have things that make them feel good. I think society as a whole has been let down massively in terms of any sort of compassion.”

Keen to help people to reach out and connect with one another in the same way he and his band have, Josh feels it’s his duty as a musician to use his platform to talk about emotional health and raise awareness for the services charities like CALM are providing. He says:

“These services are fundamentally important because they’re actively promoting taking care of yourself and your mind. I don’t think any human has complete control over their mind, but rather than being a passenger on your journey, you can jump in the front seat and have a bit more control and understanding over your mental health. That’s got to be a positive thing.”

SUCKAPUNCH will be out on January 15th 2021. 

Photo credit: Katy Cummings.

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