Will Foley – The Music, the Power, the Pain
Written by Liam Sweeny on July 1, 2019
All music tells a story. Whether the lyrics take you to the first time you fell in love, or a violin movement brings you a burst of sadness from deep down in your soul, few things beat music’s ability to take an experience and pass it around, letting every listener play around with it in their own version of the telephone game.
Will Foley, former rock frontman faces rocky road braced at the jagged twists and turns by trusty six-string showstoppers. That’s a story. But a story can’t truly exist without the teller, and Will Foley, the teller, is out there lighting candles and handing them out in the darkness.
I sit with Will and we talk about the cost of living and the price of life.
RRX: Your music is very close to the heart. The lyrics land on you and bring you closer to what’s going on in your life. That’s how I’m hearing them off of your self-titled album, anyway. Like a story spread out across the tracks. Can you talk a little about that story?
WILL: First, Liam, thanks for giving me this opportunity to connect with you and your readers. I find it hard sometimes to convey my feelings. Music remedies that in many ways. My songs are autobiographical in one way or another. I look at recordings the way I do paintings. They are moments in time. They tell you a story, but you, the listener give it meaning, put it in your suitcase and travel with it. They are companions on the road of life.
I sing about what I know, live and experience. I like to convey the raw emotion and let that breathe. Let it sit on you like your favorite tee shirt or pair of jeans. When I write its coming through me. It’s a part of me, but it’s not me. I am not that gifted. The muse sends the vibe. I am just the conduit. I get a little closer to feeling comfortable in my skin. It takes practice. I am an infant, I am not that good at it, but I am getting better.
RRX: You’ve had some darker periods in your life where music was far away from even consideration. I can empathize with that myself and writing. Do you think that the ability to engage in music, art, writing – creativity in any form, really, is maybe a barometer showing how the rest of our life is at any given moment?
WILL: The ability to engage in any activity let alone a creative one can be a barometer for sure. Engagement is challenging enough these days with all of our distractions. We are constantly looking for the next shiny object.
For me when I am off or depressed or just melancholy it is hard to get started. The negative records start dropping. You can’t put a sentence together. Nothing sounds good, nothing makes sense, hard to focus. You’re frozen.
The creative juice doesn’t flow. It’s dammed. That can send you down a very dark road. All of a sudden you can’t seem to perform. The process becomes strained and forced. It’s very cyclical. As one thing goes so go the rest. Energy moves in the direction we focus it on.
It can affect you so much that it makes you do crazy things. Crazy things like sell all your gear and quit doing something you love, more than once. You see the world through a filter of failure and separateness. You have this wave of everyone else is better, more talented, taller. You drown in your own worthlessness.
When I get nervous I am the same way. I tend to disengage. I procrastinate and self sabotage. I try not to draw much attention to myself. I am definitely not comfortable in every spotlight. I am uncomfortable here. Might not be the barometer you’re looking for. My comfort level is a good example. When I get self -conscious, my comfort level drops. We can use any scale for a barometer. You have to have a true north that keeps you in the middle of the path and try not to get to close to either side of the bridge.
Steven Pressfield, in his book; the War of Art calls it resistance. That is all those forces that keep us from fulfilling our not only artistic duty but our mandated at birth duty to defeat it. I know resistance has been kicking my ass all over the area for years now. That is why the muse becomes such a spiritual focus of making music. She has definitely sprinkled me with the dust. I give her thanks.
RRX: In the nineties, you were the lead singer for FREAKNATION, which went huge, really had success in and out of the area. Given how rock was in the nineties, we’re talking about some ground-zero level experiences. Can you give us a story that was illustrative of the larger music scene at the time?
WILL: The nineties were a great time. Pre-internet and cellphones, at least while I was in FN. People weren’t watching you through a tiny screen they held up in front of you. They were there. They seemed to be more connected to the moment, just not always connected to you. If you wanted people to know who you were you went to them. You were out hanging and handing out flyers. You spread word about your band at the mall. There were record stores. No TV talent competitions.
Every scene owes something to the scene that came before. So many of the same talented people are still playing, promoting and writing in the press, voices on the radio, raising their fists. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. We all benefit from those that came before. It is our duty to pass the knowledge on. You can’t keep filling a cup when it’s overflowing, you have to pour some out to bring more in.
There are also the things that haven’t changed. You still have to practice. You
still have to call a club or venue multiple times before you get someone. After you send them an electronic kit now, that doesn’t get opened, you have to follow up with a real kit and get in front of them, anyway. So you still need good people skills. Manners still work. Old fashion work ethic.
Don’t get me wrong, you hear no more than most other jobs, outside a traditional corporate sales job. Now you have to spend, or at least it feels like, I spend to much time on social media. Most of the time not doing what I was on there to do. So promotion has changed. The DIY of the 80s-90s were a training ground for all of these musical entrepreneurs of the 2000s.
I see reflections of that scene today. We have a growing scene that is peppered with national acts and regional acts that call Albany home. We have periodicals like this one. We have local radio owned by local people now, that were on the radio then. I think the past can teach you. It can give you a roadmap. I do not think that we need to recreate it, because there is no way too.
I honestly cannot say for sure the scene was bigger then. When you are out there you have your friends that you share bills with. We did that. You have your friends you go see when you aren’t playing. If you play all the time like we did, you don’t get a full view of the scene because you are just a spoke in the wheel. You are happy to be a part of it. You have no idea how lucky you are to be a part of it though. You just hold on for the ride. I’d like to think that I added something and didn’t detract from it. I hope to leave it better than it was because that’s what are duty is; to make it better. It’s not ours to use.
At this point in my life, I am so busy I don’t get to go to as many shows as I would like to get to. Family and projects keep me busy, but I have been making a point to get out whenever possible. Before we close the nineties and I have a chance to share a story. Bogies which was on Ontario in Albany was a great place to hang. FN threw a CD release party second to none there for our album. During that run we were asked to play at a Blotto Tribute show. We were asked to perform, Metalhead, at this show. What a great night it was in celebration of a band that was truly on the tip of the new frontier back in the 80s. In the day when music video meant an entirely different thing. With us having lost Greg Hyames recently, I just wanted to share a cool memory of that time. Greg is rocking with all the greats now. He did stories and write ups of so many us, myself included. Keep rocking, Greg.
RRX: You’re very active in mental health, specifically suicide prevention. I know that being on the stage is as much acting as it is performing in the strictly musical sense. What has being on stage, putting on performances taught you about the nature of mental health, or the perception of it?
WILL: From the stage we do not see the hours of practice, crumpled pieces of paper, notebooks, or tears that go into writing and performing. We do not see mental illness. The performer is there. We take for granted the homework that is involved. We take for granted that everyone has the same structure as us. Their emotional body is ok.. You don’t see it. Unless, you witness someone having a psychotic episode, mental health don’t show visible scars. It’s an invisible illness, it don’t exist, yet here it is.
I am not surprised by the rate of suicide. I am saddened by it. You can see the loss of hope in so many. The comparison, keep up with everyone and look like everything world we fly around isn’t real. We keep trying to live up to something that isn’t are path and it is breaking us.
Most of what we learned were bad habits that never consisted of emotional regulation and coping strategies. Our parents learned from theirs and they had less of a clue than. I am just trying to learn how to take it one day at a time. I can’t worry about the future, but it is a practice to learn how to get better.
I started on my journey of recovery in ’13. Late 2012 I started to put a plan together to end my life. I was depressed and feeling like a burden. Lots of chaos was going on. I was getting ready to face a neck surgery that can sometimes render you unable to sing following. I felt like I let everyone that needed me down. Worst, I let myself down. I had lost the will to live. Even with all the gifts I possessed.
I went to therapy for awhile with a therapist that wasn’t interested. One day searching YouTube, I came across Wayne Dyer. He was a spiritual teacher, author, professor. One of his rules for life, don’t die with your music still inside you, came on and I feel to my knees in a heap of tears. I kept rewinding it. The help of my family also was beneficial. I also have some close friends.
It has been a road back. I started back out playing in 2015. It was rough at first. I had a few panic attacks before shows that forced me to cancel. A new occurrence for me since I have never had a day of stage fright, in my life, up until those few. I have gotten over that and it’s feeling like home again.
Let me leave you with this. Depression is the leading cause of most suicide attempts. Mental health is more important to take care of first. Without your mind you can’t function. Untreated and worse yet undiagnosed conditions pose a major threat.
I find so much value in community work. I am a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I sit on the board of the capital region NY chapter. I knew when I came out of the darkness, I would be called to do my part. If I can brighten one light and keep it shining than I accomplished the mission. I wa s in the studio following the death of Chris Cornell and recorded a version of I am the Highway, which is available on my website. His death shook my core. I was affected by his voice and was deeply saddened. I cried in the car. We lost another one. I am not naïve, we will not save everyone. Some don’t not want to be. That is sad enough. So we must save who we can. Before we lose another’s music.
RRX: A man named Brian Fitzgerald came into your life when you were pretty disconnected from music, and you two were able to be such a great benefit to each other, creating an album and going back out into the circuit. Can you tell us a little about the partnership?
WILL: I was Brian’s mailman. . He used to love and come out to talk about music. I gave him a copy of some of my stuff and, couple of days later he asked if I had time to stop for lunch. I said I would. He said he was writing songs for a therapy project he was working on and asked if I would want to write. I said yes.
I contributed two of my songs and we wrote a few to add to a batch he had. Justin Metz was a big hand in this project also. He produced, co-wrote, engineered and played guitar and bass. We had Brian Melick on percussion. The title of the album is Take the Time. We put it out under the name the Will of Fitz. Brian suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. He had good days and some really bad ones.
We would rehearse once a week and put a set together and played a few gigs. The big moment for the project was the 2102 Center for Disabilities Services Telethon on Fox. We played on TV and Brian knocked it out of the park. That was the highlight and we started writing again soon after, but due to my own crisis and his failing health the project ended abruptly.
I never had the chance to tell Brian how much that project meant to me at that time. He awakened a part of me that was painful to look at, but screaming to get out. He passed away a couple years ago. I gave him some music and asked him to write lyrics for something I was having a hard time writing. He came up with a catchy melody and lyrics. I have been working on that song for five years. It is called, Beautiful One. I will be recording that soon. I have demoed it a couple times. Rest in musical Peace my friend.
RRX: You’ve been through good times and bad times, and music has been an outlet on every wall you’ve had to bang your head on. Music is really that kind of “3 a.m. friend.” We have a lot of people who read this as music lovers, and as music players. What, if anything, about music connects both player and reader?
WILL: Music connects people. It is the universal language with almost no barrier. It helps us feel and articulate ideas and convey emotion. It is our input to the human condition. Lights us up, sets us off, breaks us apart.
I think the non-playing reader wants to know more about why and how an artist works, learns and shares. People connect to you at a different level when they read your lyrics or an interview like this. People listen to music and read for the same reason to color their life, lose themselves or maybe, find yourself.
RRX: Here’s where you get to answer any question I didn’t ask. Have a tale to tell? Anyone we should be looking out for? Anything you got – the floor is yours.
WILL: Thank you for taking your time to ask these questions. I can tell that a lot of energy went in to them. I appreciate it. I just want to leave you with a few thoughts and updates. I will be releasing a new EP at the end of 2019, entitled, YEARS. These are some new recordings. One song is just about finished a couple others are in various production stages. Couple others to track. I had a hard time making up my mind about what direction to go into. I over think and freak my self out of making a decision. That self worth, self sabotage battle I struggle with.
My good friend and former drummer of the hardcore band, Section 8, Timothy Patrick and I just started releasing a new podcast from the peer, non -professional side of mental health called, Above Ground Podcast. It is a weekly podcast. Drops on Wednesdays. I am slowing learning the production side. I hosted a radio show for a short time and never lost the yearning to behind the mic in that capacity. Podcasting gives me that chance. I find the more you create the more different things you want to create. Technology gives us so many tools and resources for our muses now.
I just want to leave you with a very large hug and thank you! Thank you to all of the awesome musicians, writers, poets, artists, press, radio, TV, restaurants and bars that I have had the blessing of sharing my art with. Thank you for allowing me the space in your universe. I truly appreciate it very much. In no way can I ever return what I receive from the experience you provide me with.
There are far to many names to thank musically alone. I played my first gig in the backyard of Dan Schleicher (Drummer , Let Go Daylight) when we were in a band together when we were both in high school in 1989. I was seventeen. I have played on very cool stages of some great clubs, but far from all of the ones I would like or have liked to back than.
Thank you for the lessons and the friendship; opportunity to perform with and share ideas, share stages and alcohol and coffee. Share the road, the drive and the ride. Thanks for listening. I am stoked about the future in my baseline midlevel excited neurotic way. I am starting to believe in myself a bit again. It has been a while since I strummed the strings of hope. I better tune it up. Thanks, Liam