When anxiety and depression re-emerged for singer-songwriter Lydia Cole she was able to call the New Zealand Music Foundation's new Wellbeing Service for help. The 29-year-old Aucklander has just released her sophomore album The Lay of the Land.

1. Recently you tweeted; "Just had a massive cry on the phone with the NZ Music Foundation's Wellbeing Service. Thank you so much for very real help!" What was going on for you at that time?

I had a lot on my plate in the lead up to releasing my new album and was feeling overwhelmed. I knew I wasn't coping but the thing with anxiety and depression is you lose perspective on how unwell you are. I went to the Music Foundation website and found that I ticked all the boxes so I realised I must be quite bad. I sent an email and a counsellor called me back the next day. It was so helpful to have someone who understands the specific pressures of the music industry. She said, "I'm familiar with your work and you're doing a great job." That meant so much. We talked for 40 minutes and she said I qualified for more help if I wanted but one call was enough. Just knowing it's there really helps.

2. A survey last year of over 1350 members of the New Zealand music community last year showed a high proportion suffer from emotional difficulties, problem drinking and drug use, mental health disorders and attempted suicide. What are some of the specific pressures of being a musician?

To write music you have to be sensitive and have a thin skin but then to put yourself out there in front of people and have reviews written about you, you have to have such a thick skin. I'm an introvert so I need a huge amount of adrenaline to push me through a show and I crash afterwards. After each leg of my tour I come home and don't talk to anyone for two days.


3. What have been the biggest barriers to you seeking help in the past?

The cost of counselling. Especially when you're feeling low, you think you're not worthy of help. When I got Kickstarter funding to record this album I had anxiety so I started seeing a counsellor but I could only afford a few sessions. It's a horrible helpless feeling when you've identified that you need help, you've found someone to help and you can't afford it. This free service is a game changer.

4. It's been five years since the release of your debut album Me & Moon, what's different this time round?

My first album wasn't as successful as I'd quietly hoped and that got me quite down for a while. But I learnt that it was what it was and it doesn't define me. This album has been a much more free experience and I've had the confidence to be much more playful and trust my gut. I booked the studio before I even had the money. That sounds risky but I've learnt that sometimes what looks like wisdom on paper is actually stupid.

5. Such as?

In the past I'd been in a long distance relationship that ended really badly. I promised myself I'd never do that again but last year I met this amazing guy, a Kiwi who lives in Berlin. My initial reaction was a red flag but I've had this really quiet trust in the situation and going with it has proven to be the best decision I ever made. I'm moving to Berlin next month.

6. Why did you decided to part from your manager, Paul McKessar at CRS, two years ago?

I had a gut feeling it was something I needed to do. As soon as I did, all sorts of positive things happened like I was able to start writing songs again. I'm the kind of person that assumes others know better than me. So instead of trying to second guess what people want I've learnt to trust my instincts.


7, The first song on your new album begins; "I have lived my life heart out on my sleeve" - is this approach wise given your emotional vulnerability?

It's just the way I am. I don't know where the 'line' is, so for me it's all out there. I find the concept of constructing a self for people to see quite exhausting. At Northcote College I never wore makeup because I had really bad acne. I'll never forget walking to school one day and seeing a girl crying at the bus stop. She couldn't come to school that day because she hadn't put makeup on. That struck me as really sad.

8. Do you find people connect to your music in unexpected ways?

Yeah. One reviewer said that my lyrics can be self-absorbed but I disagree. I'm not saying, "Listen to my heartbreak because it should matter to you". The reason I write is to process my own feelings. It's therapy for me but the payoff is that by me going into those dark places and speaking honestly, people can hear themselves in what I sing and it can give them revelations that they might not have had the courage or opportunity to face themselves.

9. Can you remember your first episode of depression or anxiety?

I've always been a very sensitive person and that ballooned at around 13, just trying to grasp the world. My ability to feel all the tragic things that happen to people was extreme but that wasn't balanced with an ability to understand or cope with that. When I was 14 there was a 10 week period when I didn't go to school at all. My parents said if I wasn't going to school then I couldn't go to youth group so I became quite isolated. My GP said it was depression, which was kind of a relief.

10. Are you still a Christian?

I grew up with the Baptist church but at about the age of 24 I started to see the flaws. It was too judgemental. I knew more about what our church was against than what it was for. My faith was like a big tangle of threads - I tried pulling out the unhealthy strands but they were so interwoven I had to throw out the whole ball. I cut myself from organised religion for a few years and only held onto those parts of my faith I couldn't let go of. That boiled down to; there is a god and he's loving.

11. Does your music contain a Christian message?

I don't try to convince people I have the answers because what's right for me might not be for them. I always felt uncomfortable with evangelism at my old church. I didn't like this underlying idea that we had all the answers. The thing I love about my new church, Edge Kingsland, is we're all in pursuit of God together but the point is that you're on a journey and knowing you're not there yet is really important. The most spiritual song on the album is Glimpse but it's about anxiety too. It's about how the answers in life are only revealed when we step forward. We never know the whole picture but we have to keep on walking. I've been through anxiety enough now to know that even though I'm feeling torn up and horrible on the inside, in a month I'll be on top again and wondering why I ever felt so low.

12. You've just finished touring your new album in Australia and New Zealand playing to full houses in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. How are you feeling now?

Really good. Australia was really good because I couldn't afford to take the band so I had to play solo. I was doubting there would be enough interest but it worked and people connected. It's been another step in confirming I need to trust my gut. Sometimes I take for granted all the little steps I've made over the years and how far I've come.

The NZ Music Foundation is holding a fundraiser at the Gibbs Farm sculpture park on 23 March. Tickets from NZ Tix.