Trevor Mills: An honest conversation about Mental Health Awareness and his latest EP
Vancouver, BC – Bell’s mental health initiative “Let’s Talk” day recently passed for another year, and drew substantial awareness and funds to the topic of mental health initiatives across Canada. But, we still find it fairly rare to watch rappers get vocal about a subject that is unfortunately still considered to be a socially touchy one.
Vancity rapper, Trevor Mills, sat down with us to talk about how the loss of his own brother to suicide has been the inspiration for his latest EP, as well as motivation for the campaign that he’s lead this past year to raise awareness for mental health initiatives in British Columbia. We love that music has the power to connect people and influence dialogue. We especially love that this emcee has given us a project that’s been fully dedicated to evoking positive change. Check out my conversation with Trevor Mills below on his new EP Evidence of a Struggle, the stigma of mental illness, and how he’s influencing constructive conversation in his community.
“I just couldn’t write about another topic once I started writing. I had to write about my brother. He was just such an inspiring guy, and he really helped me become who I am. ” – Trevor Mills
Trevor Mills: Q&A
Interview conducted by Kira Hunston for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: How long has this project been out for?
Trevor Mills: The official release was May 29th of Spring 2015, so it’s been out for about 7 months. It was important for us to get the backers a hard copy as soon as possible, and then to formally release it to the public once we had some visuals. We just dropped the first video, and now we’ll be pushing it further online.
HipHopCanada: Were your intentions initially to touch on this topic?
Trevor Mills: When my brother died, I didn’t pick up a pen for probably 3 weeks. I didn’t really write anything. A good friend of mine, Terry Perdido, the assistant producer on the project, was the best friend you could possibly have when you’re going through a tragedy. He was by my side, phoning me all the time, and helping me see any positives I could take away from this. He introduced me to Savage Beats, who gave me a track, which is now “Hood Boys”, and I just purged on that.
I just couldn’t write about another topic once I started writing. I had to write about my brother. He was just such an inspiring guy, and he really helped me become who I am. At first I was like “Oh, I’m doing two ‘miss my homie‘ tracks. Now I’m doing three…then four…” It started taking shape from there.
HipHopCanada: The production is really good on this album. The beats are especially good. How was the experience working with Savage Beats?
Trevor Mills: Savage has had a lot of experience working with tragedy, and he really got it (my experience). He was sensitive, compassionate, artistic, and he brought his flair onto the project. He opened up his catalogue to me, which was really cool. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a Vancouver veteran in the game. He made the beats, and then Galen (who is the executive producer of my first project) made them into songs. Galen really added the dynamics and took it to the next level. We also got Sean Cole on the project, who’s done a lot of SonReals’ stuff. Sean came in for the final mixing. It’s a not-for-profit project, and they all really put their best work in.
I’ve also gotta’ acknowledge Max Maier who was a student of mine over at Kitsilano. He produced the track, “More than a Moment” which is track five. Those were all high school students that were rapping on it.
HipHopCanada: How did your students get involved with this project?
Trevor Mills: My staff and principal were really supportive of the project. We had CTV come into my classroom and feature the kids. We started a hip-hop club called “Thought Watch” which was all students in grade 9 at the time. I took a leave when Spencer (my brother) died, and I didn’t return to school. I bumped into some of my students on the street and they were like, “Mills when are you coming back to school? We need the hip-hop club.” They were excited about being featured on the project. Max approached me with the beat, we wrote it, Simon New added his verse and then we had Emma Jones and Eva Stulberg jump on it. They all performed at the album release party.
It was really important to me to do an all ages album release party, and the Rio was super accommodating. My students had already released 2 records themselves, so this was like their third appearance on a piece of published work. We had about 330 people come out.
HipHopCanada: How did the people around you react to the release of the EP?
Trevor Mills: I came from a family of four brothers and sisters. I’ve also got a mom and a dad to consider who went through the tragedy as well. In every interview I did, and every song I wrote, I had to keep them in mind. I didn’t want to be selfish with this grief because in some ways it could make it harder for them. It’s not easy for my family to listen to the music, but they were really, really supportive. My dad said to me, “A year ago I wouldn’t be ready for this, but I am now.” He shared the kickstarter with his entire network, and my family did as well. I wanted to make a project we could all be proud of. Most importantly, I wanted to make a project my brother would be proud of. He was a huge inspiration for me in hip-hop, and he never liked fake shit… so I needed it to be authentic.
The most beautiful moment out of the journey was at the release party. My little sister, who lives out in Toronto, got upset with me that I had picked a day for the release party that she couldn’t make. I was in an interview with a mental health agency backstage at the Rio before the show, and I just see my little sister bouncing down the hallway. I thought I’d lost it, and just snapped from the pressure. She gave me the biggest hug.
HipHopCanada: I feel like people feel uncomfortable creating dialogue about uncomfortable topics until someone takes the bullet and says something. Were you ever afraid of people’s reactions?
Trevor Mills: Definitely. I think the really great rappers over the years were the ones who dared to be vulnerable. Drug addiction was always something that my brother struggled with. Artists like Dead Prez have spoken out in their rap on the subject of drug dealing, and opposed what other rappers were boasting about. A stance like that made themselves really vulnerable. They were daring to be brave, and teamed up with The Outlaws, Tupac’s protoges, and made “Can’t Sell Dope Forever”.
HipHopCanada: Did you ever have any negative reactions when you released it?
Trevor Mills: Surprisingly, I didn’t. Some people have said it’s heavy. But we opened for Rich Homie Quan and have brought some of this stuff to that crowd. And, when Bone Thugs was in town recently, we performed “So Dirty” and “Breathe” and it felt nice to bring some positivity to that crowd as well.
HipHopCanada: Music brings people together. Even if people can’t necessarily relate to this exact experience, do you feel like this EP is relatable?
Trevor Mills: I think that loss is a basic human experience. You come across it at different points of your life in different ways, but grief is something that everyone is going to deal with. I think that a lot of rappers underestimate how real fans are willing to get. When you put your heart out there, it’s undeniable. People really appreciate it when you cut the shit and get real. “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar was totally about alcohol abuse, and it’s a party jam calling out some real serious things. I’d love to see more of that authenticity.
HipHopCanada: Was there ever a time during the creative process when you reached a lull in your progress?
Trevor Mills: There was a time when I was debating releasing the kickstarter. I was fighting feelings of embarrassment about asking my network for money, and to invest in it. There was a lot of fighting with my own self- doubt. But, one of my students said to me, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” I realized I needed to put it out there and just do it.
HipHopCanada: How did you come up with the title for the EP?
Trevor Mills: I was watching TV and I heard the term, “there was no evidence of a struggle” on a CSI-type show. It just resonated with me, and I knew it was important but I didn’t know why at the time. I chose it because when there’s a homicide, detectives examine whether there was evidence of a struggle to try to determine the cause of the death. But, when there’s a suicide there’s no evidence of a struggle. I thought that statement was inaccurate, because with victims of suicide the struggle is internal. The title is an attempt to help dignify and bring light to the struggle that occurs. It’s saying – I see you.
HipHopCanada: How were the proceeds divided?
Trevor Mills: Leading up to the release, 100% of the proceeds of every show that we performed went to the Segal Family Centre. All we kept was enough to cover production costs. We did close to 50 shows, and toured Europe. The first donation is sitting at about 30,000 dollars for the Segal Family Centre, but we’re hoping to make a second donation for 2016. We’re focusing on the music videos now, and getting those out to promote the album better to people.
HipHopCanada: When you released this project, how did the Mental Health community react to it?
Trevor Mills: Everyone was super supportive. Dr. John Oliffe, who researches men’s mental health up at UBC, was the backer that brought us up to $5,000 on the kickstarter. If you go to my youtube channel, there’s an interview with him where we’re speaking about men’s mental health. Bell was also really supportive. They reached out, because they own CTV, and featured us last January for Bell Let’s Talk Month. As well, I was just followed by a few other mental health agencies that have reached out. It’s been really positive. I’m feeling some pressure to learn more and educate myself because I’m surrounded by a few experts in the field. I’m really looking forward to learning more, and I’ve got great feedback so far.
HipHopCanada: Before your brother passed, did you feel like you had a strong identity in rap?
Trevor Mills: No. It definitely changed. I would say I’m a much different person since losing my brother. Prior to this, I went by T-Train or Thought-Train. I dropped that, decided to go by Trevor Mills, and to go right to the core of who I am. I’m not the same person, but definitely in a positive sense. I’m definitely a more grateful person. It put life in perspective – that we’re not guaranteed anything.
HipHopCanada: How did your brother influence you?
Trevor Mills: Spencer was 2 years older than me. Anyone who has a sibling within their peer group knows the growing pains that comes with that. He was my older brother, my protector, my go-to for music. I looked up to him for many reasons. Spence was the guy in the household who exposed me to new mixtapes. He gave me a closer look at hip-hop and had a more sophisticated taste than I did. He got into the street life as a result of circumstances. But, he always kept me away from that. He was really proud that it wasn’t my path. He encouraged me to become a teacher, and to write my raps. If he couldn’t make it to one of my shows, he felt really bad. Spence sculpted me. He showed me what it was to be tough and to be humble at the same time. Losing him was like losing my mentor. “Right Arm” is one of my favourite tracks on the album, and it speaks to who Spence was.
Some of my favourite bars that I wrote on that song were – “This one’s for him, this one’s for you, this one’s for anyone who never wants to go back to an ICU. It’s for the fam’, for the friends, it’s for all the special people that we’ll never get to see again. For anyone who didn’t get a song they deserved, or died without knowing how awesome they really were. This one’s for you.”
My brother lost his fortune prior to taking his life. He got addicted, and he didn’t feel like he was worth what he really was. He suffered from acute psychosis, poverty, and addiction, but we were hoping that things were going to pull-up. It cut really deep when we lost him. It was hard seeing a guy who was successful and healthy at one time, lose everything – even their sanity. You’d never know from looking at him. Everything was low-key. All of his successes and failures were low-key. He was a guy who wanted peace. There’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding drugs and addiction, and a lot of stereotypes that come with it.
HipHopCanada: Do you feel like there was ever a time when he felt affected by those stigmas, or had a hard time reaching out for help because of it?
Trevor Mills: Absolutely. I think pride was a huge factor in him being receptive to getting help. The one time that he was being seen by health care professionals, we were really optimistic about a recovery. He was unfortunately discharged without any knowledge to us. Because of the Mental Health Act, and confidentiality with adults, it’s up to the discretion of the psychiatrist t to choose to disclose (or not disclose) to the family what’s going on. We didn’t know he was released, and he wasn’t given any support. I do feel like the shame (of the stigma) was pivotal in him recovering or not from mental health issues.
HipHopCanada: How do you feel about the Vancouver Mental Health Care initiatives?
Trevor Mills: I think that they’re under-funded, and health care practitioners are over-worked. And I feel like they’re not able to effectively treat everybody as a result of that. I don’t think it’s one person or another that is the problem. I think the problem is that they’re given 50 patients when they should’ve been given 15. With this campaign we’re looking at the policies in place to treat those who are identified as mentally ill. I think the Mental Health Act is something that should be up for review. We’re advocating for a pillar-type approach to mental health where the families are able to be included in the recovery.
HipHopCanada: What were your goals with the release of this project?
Trevor Mills: Mostly, we were interested in raising awareness about mental health. We’re hoping to reduce the stigma around talking about mental illness, and the reduce the shame associated with it. People associate success so much with materials and monetary wealth. We’re hoping to spread the understanding that we all feel weak sometimes, we all feel sad sometimes, and that there’s no shame in that. You’re stronger for being vulnerable. Reducing the stigma is more important than any money we could make. We have such a great supportive system in our communities if we ask for it.
HipHopCanada: How did you come up with the title for the EP?
Trevor Mills: I was watching TV and I heard the term, “there was no evidence of a struggle” on a CSI type show. It just resonated with me, and I knew it was important but I didn’t know why. I chose it because when there’s a homicide, detectives examine whether there was evidence of a struggle to find out what happened. But, when there’s a suicide there’s no evidence of a struggle. I thought that was inaccurate, because with a suicide the struggle is internal. The titles was to dignify and bring light to the struggle that occurs for victims of suicide. It’s saying – I see you.
HipHopCanada: What do you have coming up for you now?
Trevor Mills: We’re pretty focused on getting the music videos out. Thursdays I’ll be playing at Cartem’s Doughnuts, and then I do open mic nights with my students at Kits High. I’m also going to be featured on a song with K-Rec called “PMA” – Positive Mental Attitude. Estea was part of the hard-rock scene. He’s featuring me on that song. As well as I have a bonus track coming out for the EP.
Check out the video for the first single, “Hood Boys (Denial)” below.
Interview conducted by Kira Hunston for HipHopCanada
Tags: Trevor Mills
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.