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Thursday October 28th

'Catharsis and comfort': UNC artists use music to work through mental health challenges

<p>UNC graduate student Simon Spire recently released the song, "Uncomfortable." Photo courtesy of Simon Spire.</p>
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UNC graduate student Simon Spire recently released the song, "Uncomfortable." Photo courtesy of Simon Spire.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Simon Spire’s description of his music and his journey to the United States. Spire described his music as “self-inquiring indie pop” and not “self-inquiring in the park.” Spire also believes people experience an “underlying sense of anger and alienation,” not “dandelion seeds of anger and alienation.” Additionally, Spire did not live in Tennessee at any point in his life. The article has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for these errors. 

With the unrelenting challenges of 2020, UNC graduate student Simon Spire articulates what many are feeling in his new acoustic single, "Uncomfortable": an expanding black hole of discomfort threatening hopes and leaving people feeling helpless.

You can listen to Spire’s songs on his Spotify or visit his website at

But there’s brightness desperate to break free, and Spire latches on to the much-needed “light-at-end-of-tunnel” philosophy for all it’s worth. 

Spire, like other local musicians and UNC students, uses his craft to work through and help understand his mental health challenges. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the country, these musicians have found music especially important and helpful.  

Growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, Spire studied economics and finance during his undergraduate education and planned to pursue a career path in the world of index funds and stock portfolios. However, music pushed him to the U.S. — first in Los Angeles, then New York and now Chapel Hill, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

“I used to describe my music as ‘self-inquiring indie pop,’” Spire said. “That was my half-joking way of indicating some of my themes and some of my lyrical content, but also acknowledging I was trying to reach people on a core level and in an accessible, somewhat mainstream format.”

Spire’s music has received considerable recognition, including the highly-respected USA Songwriting Competition, MTV, AOL, Voice of America and more. 

Spire is a self-described singer-songwriter, and many of his songs follow his love of social outreach. They focus on mental health issues and the pain of being confined to an identity and self-isolation. 

“Many of us experience the underlying sense of anger and alienation, maybe dread around the state of the world and the state of our culture. 'Uncomfortable' names that and evokes that,” Spire said. “In certain ways, people have expressed they find some catharsis and comfort in that, but at the same time, the song also points to the possibility of a process of transformation.”

Spire said “Uncomfortable” emphasizes the eternal process of human struggle and the sense of surrendering the present in pursuit of a better future. He believes that only by letting go, regardless of how frightening or uncomfortable, can something stronger emerge. 

“Right now with the unknown territory we're in, collectively I think there's a lot of stress people are experiencing,” Spire said. “There's always a possibility that if we have the right support to approach mental health challenges, there is the possibility for them to be transformative changes.”

Faith Jones, a 2020 UNC graduate, is another musician that addresses mental health issues through her songs. In her first single, "The Absence of Light," she shared her struggles with depression, which many listeners found relatable and moving.

“For me, music has always been the place I go to no matter what I'm feeling – if I’m happy, if I’m sad, if I need motivation, if I'm stressed – I can always find a song for any of those emotions,” Jones said. “Music has always helped me feel a little bit less alone. As an artist, I seek to provide that same sense of feeling for people that listen to my music, as much as music has helped me in my life too.”

UNC junior Drew Ellis, commonly known by his stage name of "Drell," also uses music to express himself and get into the “flow state” of heightened focus and creativity.

“I love to experiment with music production, and I can somewhat compare it to playing video games,” Ellis said. “You take your mind off something and get into a flow state where you just feel good. You don't really realize that you're in that Zen mode when you are. It's really beneficial to mental health.”

Spire hopes his music will connect on a meaningful level and provide comfort to listeners undergoing struggle and surrender. He wrote a blog post called "An Uncomfortable Conversation with Death, Birth, and Waking Up," which discussed the meaning behind the song “Uncomfortable.”

“I talked about a certain take on the birth process and the interminable experience of being trapped and confined in this uncomfortable space during labor and during the birth process,” Spire said. “In some ways, what we're going through collectively feels unbearable, but I also have a sense that there's possibility for transformation on the other side of this.”


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