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INTERVIEW: Andrew Neil

Hi Andrew, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thank you for the opportunity to speak about my music and my well-being.  I am doing well considering.  I’ve been extremely blessed.  I was diagnosed with Lymphoma Cancer during the time I was recording this album.  That made things a bit more complicated and dawn out, but overall I am doing well.

I was in the final stretch of the recording process of my new album “Freak” when I began to have breathing problems while recording vocals. I went to a Doctor and at first diagnosed with Bronchitis.  I got worse so they and they X-rayed me and found a fist sized mass in my chest between my heart and my lung.  The Diagnosis was a fast-growing non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer.  I have had six Chemotherapy treatments. The final treatment ended on 11 October.  Now I wait for the results, too see what happens next.   The doctors are very optimistic and feel strongly that the Chemo has done its job.

In-between my Chemo treatments I was able to get back in the studio and finish recording my album. It was difficult and painful at times, but my family and my producer, Andy Waldeck, helped me with their positive vibes and loving encouragement.  We managed to finish the record.

You know cancer has been a battle…but battles make you stronger. My heart has been renewed which is great for my art but even better for me as a human being…to love more, to live more and to be more thankful for all the little things in this small world.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Hope”?  

The song itself is really just about freeing your mind from the restrictions of negativity and embracing the power of positive vibes…the power of hope.  I felt strongly about the message of the lyrics because I saw so many people in the world were feeling hopeless.  Some of the lyrics originated from a poem I wrote years earlier about a girl I had a crush on.  So it was a mix of inspirational sources.  I must also add I am a big Bob Marley fan and this song I hope would make him proud.

I had just written the song “Hope” when we began doing the sketch tracks for the Album back in January (2019).  I played the song for my father and my producer Andy Waldeck…… they liked it and we decided that it should be on the album, so we did the sketch track.  We began recording vocals for the album at Ravensworth Studio’s in May.  I remember that I was having some difficulty and feeling fatigued.  I had to do several takes.  I remember my dad asking me what was wrong.  At the time we brushed it off as just feeling tired.  Somehow, we got through it.  Of course, everyone realized why I was fatigued and short of breath after I was diagnosed with Cancer.  We toyed with the thought of redoing the vocals on “Hope”, but decided to release it as it was, even though the vocals were a bit compromised.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I struggled with mental illness for a decade, and still take medication to this day.  Over the years I have been diagnosed with depression, schizoaffective disorder and then bipolar disorder with complex PTSD.  So, this journey through mental illness played a role in my inspiration to write this song.
The line in my song “Hope” which reads “she threw away my knife” refers to a particular event.  In July 2013, I had a bad Psychotic episode and stabbed my little brother through his arm.  In my mind I thought he was trapped in a fluffy suit and I was trying to cut him out.

I was locked up in a regional jail for 7 months in an isolation cell before being found “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” (NGRI) and subsequently committed to a State Hospital in Virginia for what would be a three-year stay.

While I was a patient there, I saw folks struggling with a lot of emotional and physical pain.  Many seem to have this sense of hopelessness in their lives.  Many of them had no loving family that cared about them.  Since I was conditionally released in April 2017 from Western State Hospital in Staunton, VA, this vivid imagery has remained glued in my mind.  I was fortunate to receive help and treatment for my mental illness and was able overcome my own sense of hopelessness and learned to manage my mental health struggles.

Loving support from my family and the positive vibes of “Hope” have always been the mainstay of my recovery.  When I see or hear about someone who feels hopeless in their life, I always have this feeling of empathy, because I have been there.  I want to let folks know that “Hope” is real.  I needed to get this message out.  “Hope” is a something you breath everyday.  I wanted to send that message to the world as far as I could, to anyone who would listen.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

Yes hopefully a video will be made one day….I’d love the idea of making a visual representation of my songs.  There were no plans to produce a video for this song in particular, but the more I think about it, it would be powerful and maybe help some folks in their battles against hopelessness.  We were thinking about doing a video of the title track “Freak”, but my cancer diagnosis and Chemo treatments put that idea on hold.

The single comes off your new album Freak – what’s the story behind the title?

I assume you are referring to the title of the Album “Freak”.  I wrote the song “Freak” in 2018, just as my first studio album “Merry Go Round” was released.  I remember playing the song for my father the first time at our family home in Gordonsville we call “Hawksnest”.   After my dad heard the song, he got up out of his chair, walked into the dining room, and pointed to a painting my younger brother, Kyle, had done a while back and said,  “Freak” will be the title track of your next album and we already have the cover art”.  So that is how this album was conceived.  The song itself is about being different and embracing that fact. It about being comfortable in being who you are no matter how extreme that difference may appear.  I struggled with that myself for a long time and have seen others struggle with how others see them.  We just have to be “like a flower in the mud” and embrace our uniqueness….and not care how others see us.

How was the recording and writing process?

The recording process was great. My producer Andy Waldeck was a pleasure to work with and showed a lot of patience when I began to have coughing and vocal issues during the recording sessions, before I was diagnosed with cancer.

As far as the writing process, some of the songs, “Put Me Back Together”, “Drum Song” and “Rain” were written while I was still hospitalized at Western State Hospital.  The song “Rain” is interesting because my dad helped write it.  When I was hospitalized, my parents would visit on weekends.  They would take me out on a pass for the day.  We would go out to eat then go to a local park.  My dad brought guitars so we would jam.  He began playing this chord sequence and I really liked it.  A storm was approaching, dark clouds were rolling in.  I picked up a pen and pad of paper and wrote the lyrics while he played though the chords.  We decided to include the song on this album.  My dad plays the acoustic guitar and sings backup vocals on the chorus.  I am excited about that because now I have his voice forever on that record.

How has Donovan and Kurt Cobain influenced your writing?

I listened to Nirvana quite a bit while I was growing up.  I also listened to the music of the 60’s and 70’s.  Donovan’s song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was a favorite of mine.  I love this verse in that song:
    Histories of ages past
    Unenlightened shadows cast
    Down through all eternity
    The crying of humanity

Both Donovan and Kurt knew who they were, and I’m pretty much done figuring out who I am and my music is a reflection of this discovery.

How has tragedy served as a source of great inspiration for this record?

Everyone experiences some form of tragedy during their life and I have experienced my fair share of it.  Sometimes I feel it flowing out of me when writing a song.  When I graduated from High School I was on my way to success.  I had not yet suffered any real tragedy to speak of.  I was a recruited athlete and was granted admission to the US Military Academy at West Point.  Then things began to unravel for me.  Mental illness began to control me.  I went from the top to the bottom very quickly.  Then I had the incident in 2013 and was institutionalized.  So, yes, tragedy and pain has played a role with respect to a source of inspiration.  Pain helps the heart be honest and I suppose my past hurts have made my heart and instrument of truth and I think people who really listen to my music will hear truth.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I read a lot and that helps me write new songs.  I also keep my eyes and ears open.  I listen to what people have to say.  Sometimes I can sense what they are feeling.   I guess I listen more than talk.  I also keep a journal and go back to that sometimes.  Some inspiration comes from family.  The songs on this album were inspired from many sources.

The idea for the song “Kentucky Whiskey” came from my grandfather, who was born in Western Kentucky.  He was an only child who lost his dad at an early age to alcohol and cigarettes.   He was a big fan of Kentucky bourbon.

The song “All Over” is about intimate love I never really experienced but hope to someday. Some inspiration is wishful thinking, I guess.  I wrote the song specifically as a duet, hoping to find the right person to sing it with me.  It turned out to be a girl named Savannah Weaver.  Although we never met in person, we both shared some similar experience.  Her story is very similar to mine.  She was also hospitalized in Maryland for an extended period of time after a mental health breakdown gone bad.  She recorded her vocals in a studio in Denmark, where she now lives with her family.  Her story is very inspirational in and of itself.  I have huge respect for her and I also love her voice.  I hope we can collab again someday.

Any plans to hit the road?

I’d very much like to hit the road with my dad…get a van, roll the windows down, talk about life and eat some good food, meet beautiful people and just live the music.  I would also like to put a small band together.

What else is happening next in Andrew Neil’s world?

Just taking it day by day and hopefully keep having the heart to write songs that resonate with people!!  We are thinking about another album but are probably going to approach the next album differently.   I will probably be a bit more raw and lofi.  I think want to go back to my outsider side……maybe just me and a percussionist.  I have written a bunch more songs since we finished “Freak”, enough for another full album.  Plus I have such a large back catalogue of older songs that we might look at making new again.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my music.

LISTEN HERE

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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