Whether I knew it or not that was always one of the main avenues for songwriting, the catharsis, the venting of my anxieties…(on creativity and mental health).
Brett Newski

Musician/Illustrator/Podcaster, Dirt from the Road Podcast

We sat down with musician, illustrator, and podcaster Brett Newski, we chatted about music, mental health, and his new book “It’s Hard to be a Person”. We also chatted about his “Dirt from the Road” Podcast, where you can hear stories from fellow musicians about touring and living the musician life.


Brett Newski 01:17
I was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And you know, very basketball, sports minded kind of family and my dad was always a rock and roll fan. But no one in the fam was ever like a musician or even, like, really ever thought about playing an instrument. So when I like got a guitar and got a job at McDonald’s to buy the guitar. It was like, yo, this is a new thing for the fam. And I think my pops was like, a little bummed I loved the guitar more than basketball. But now I think he’s all about the electric guitar. You know, something that I’ve been, you know, just noticed over the last couple of days checking in on your music, the new book, which we’ll talk about, but also the podcast, which I’ve been digging is just your honesty about mental health. You know, it seems like it’s a through line to everything you’ve been doing. Has that always been the case? Um, yeah, I think whether I knew it or not, I mean, that was always one of the the main avenues for songwriting was like the catharsis, the venting of, you know, anxieties and that kind of thing. But, I mean, I didn’t really even know what anxiety was, or generalized anxiety disorder until, you know, I think my like mid to late 20s, when I actually got diagnosed by an ENT because I was having this like, absurd crippling acid reflux. And I had been to all these different doctors, and like, I couldn’t sing my voice would get tired out and sore. And all these seven or eight different doctors just told me to triple my medication for like protein pump inhibitors like acid reflux medicine. And then when I went to the ENT, and like the eighth doctor, he’s like, man, your anxiety is killing you. You’re I’m like, what I don’t even know what anxiety is. What is that? He’s like, you’re worrying, you’re obsessing about your voice and having these like, almost mini panics, or like low level anxiety all the time that you’re having this acid reflux trigger. And then so he started treating my anxiety and like gave me like a low dose of, I think it was citalopram, and right away, all my acid reflux went away. And that was a big holy shit moment of like, wow, this is a thing that’s real, I have this and I feel less insane. So now all of a sudden, there’s this like, name for that, like, you know, weird underwater feeling or loss of control of your own brain kind of thing. So that was a big one. And that kind of gave me a launch point to actually start working on it. And I’m still working on it.

Brent Hanifl 03:54
Just on the podcast, and we’ll come back to it, but you know, just it’s interesting to hear when you’re talking to your guests. You know, I listened to Charlie Berens and also, you know, I believe Adam from Horseshoes and Handgrenades, it automatically makes them open up to you. Is that kind of the point? You know, cause some of these people you haven’t met before?

Brett Newski 04:12
Thanks for saying that, Brent. Yeah, I mean, you know, some guests, you know, I connect more on a heart level than others. But I think it’s always, yeah, it’s always the mission to kind of like, you never want it to be an interview, at least for me and on the Dirt From The Road Podcast, it should be like a hangout. And I think it took me you know, some episodes to get better at like making the guests comfortable. I think if you listen to the really early ones, I’m maybe a little more anxious and just kind of trying to figure it out and find my voice kind of thing. But, you know, I mean, it’s a different era of quote unquote journalism. You know, I mean, I’m sure you remember like in the 90s, and before like the CNN exclusive breakthrough interview where like, sometimes the journalist would be like interviewing like some big celebrity like, I don’t know Carl Lewis on steroids scandal or Quentin Tarantino. But the journalist would like intentionally be just an asshole to try to like dig up dirt and like stir up controversy, because I don’t know, because it was like Blockbuster Entertainment or something. And I don’t know, that never made any sense to me. Or music journalism in the 70s or 80s, or 90s, just like trashing the band to get more like reviews or get more buzz out about your press that you’re doing. So I don’t think that’s really effective. I think it’s just kind of corn syrup. And yeah, I think the goal is to, you know, have the guests maybe talk about some things they’ve maybe never talked about on air before. And that’s, that’s kind of one of the missions of Dirt From The Road.

Brent Hanifl 05:49
So speaking of kind of, you know, letting down walls, I think you do with your guests. You now have this book, which is It’s Hard To Be A Person, I guess the tagline is defeating anxiety, surviving the world, and having more fun.

Brett Newski 06:01

Brent Hanifl 06:01
So I mean, that’s just a, you know, a great title. How did the book come about?

Brett Newski 06:05
The book came about because I think I was like, just doing some doodling. And, you know, humor is always kind of like the main catharsis I go to when like, heavy stuff comes at me, almost to a fault. sometimes. Like sometimes I just need to be more serious about certain topics. But I think I was just, I was drawing and making fun of my own anxieties in the drawings. And then my person Anna was like, those are pretty good, you should post a couple and see like, how people respond. And then people like started to really dig them. So yeah, I just kept making them. And after like, three years, I had, I had just like, a shitload of them. And I was like, I gotta try to organize my scatterbrain and get this into a book. So yeah, it’s finally happening.

Brent Hanifl 06:51
You kind of touched on it a little bit, but what do you hope the viewer or reader gets out of it?

Brett Newski 06:56
Yeah, I mean, if nothing else, just like feeling better in your brain even for an hour, a couple hours. It’s um, you know, there’s some silly stuff in there, but there’s some also like utilitarian like anxiety, depression tackling tactics that I mean, I’ve used over the years. I mean, even something as simple as like, when I was feeling really anxious, I would, I would just start to take a baseball and when I, anytime I drove, I would just grind the baseball on the back of my back like a DIY massage. And like, that would always loosen me up and like there are different kinds of stretches or whatever, or I think there’s like 140 pages of things in there. So it’s just basically stuff I’ve used over the years to kind of like, work on myself a on like a more longer lasting level, but also like little quick fixes to like anxiousness, too. If that makes sense.

Brent Hanifl 07:50
So the book is being published by Ramshackle Press based out of Viroqua, Wisconsin. Just listening to your podcast over the last couple days, I’ve heard a lot of praise for the area. And us being out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, what’s the connection to this area in the Driftless?

Brett Newski 08:03
Yeah, I mean, the Driftless, I think I originally went up there for a gig at at Driftless Books, you know, the old eddy shop, the giant tobacco factory, that’s now one of the coolest bookstores in the world. So we kind of gradually became pals. And, you know, I feel like I saw him every time I went up there. And we hung out a little bit and drank some coffee. And then we just got like, tighter and tighter. And he’s an ideas guy, you know, so we would always just like sit on the porch of the bookshop, and just bullshit and like riff about cool arts projects, like mostly just hypothetical things. Like, what if we did this? What if we built this studio? What if we put a, what if we did a tour of American diners and all the shows started at 10am, and you got free eggs when you did or whatever it is. And so yeah, and then he started doing like, little pressings of books on the side. And I was just finishing this at the time he told me about it. So it just made sense to kind of do a collaboration with them.

Brent Hanifl 08:58
It all has kind of the one voice, the music, the podcast, the book, they all work collaboratively together. What led to the podcast? Was that COVID inspired in some ways that everyone’s home and are able to talk, or what led to the beginning of that? It’s only been basically published the last four months?

Brett Newski 09:15
The podcast is coming up on a year, actually next month, yeah, next week, even so. Yeah, Dirt From The Road started last May. And yeah, I mean, it was just a total experiment in COVID. You know, Spatola, my drummer and I would get together and we would do we would bullshit, just kind of do some trial runs. I would call my buddy Joel Havaya in Hamburg, Germany, and we would do some just kind of trial podcasts and just kind of feel it out. And after, you know, doing seven or eight or nine of those I like started to kind of formulate ideas. It was like, we have all these absurd road stories from touring in Germany or Czech Republic or Australia. You know, when we got mugged or robbed or the speaker exploded or the sound guy fell asleep or whatever. Or we got blackmailed in Germany, its like we got to start recording this on audio because otherwise we’re gonna forget and it’s just gonna get lost in the ether. So, that was kind of the start. And then as it gained steam like we started to get more high profile guests and it kind of became a very legitimate podcast relatively quickly so. And then it gave me a great excuse to talk to a lot of my musical heroes, you know, so we’ve had like Frank Turner was on there. Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies was on there and Not A Surf, do you know, Not A Surfboard? They’re one of my favorite bands and they’re coming on soon. So yeah, and then so I mean, it’s mostly a free ball free, form situation, but that the anchor is kind of the guest always tells one or two of their just weirdest road stories.

Brent Hanifl 10:44
So coming out of the pandemic here, what’s next for you? What are you excited about in 2021? Or even 2022?

Brett Newski 10:51
Great question, Brent. I mean, I’m honestly a little nervous to come out of creative bunker hibernation mode. That, I think this is that’s been a real mental boost just to kind of be creative. You know, I feel like you hear musicians all the time, say stuff like, oh, I don’t want to do any admin, I just want to write songs and have other people do it for me. And then I was like, yeah, as much as I’ve loved the business side of music, that setup is starting to be very appealing to just like, want to create all the time and make songs and podcasts in your house. But no nonetheless, I mean, I love playing live shows, and I love playing gigs, I think it’s just a matter of coming back strong, without coming back too strong and taking on more than I can chew, and just like being on the move so much to the point where your body and mind kind of get worn down. So yeah, the sweet spot is what we’re looking for here.

Brent Hanifl 11:49
Yeah, we actually started this podcast about a year ago, it’s interesting to talk to artists about how they’ve used this time as a creative outlet. So it’s almost been beneficial to them. I know, it’s been devastating as well. But it’s also interesting to hear what’s what’s come out of this pause for everybody.

Brett Newski 12:05
Totally. Do you ever feel like there’s like too much content in the world? Like post pandemic? Do you think it’s just gonna be like, overwhelming? Or is that just an absurd thing to think about because creativity is ultimately good?

Brent Hanifl 12:19
Recently listening to your podcast, with I believe Charlie Berens, you know, everyone has their audience. You know, so it’s kind of, I think you guys talked about that, where it’s like, you don’t necessarily have to reach this wide audience. There’s all these different niches. Starting stuff like this, it’s interesting to hear and also just kind of like talking about these small communities, which I think you reference, you know, Viroqua, Wisconsin. Everyone has their little niche, and it’s okay wherever you’re at, wherever that people find it interesting, or finding something like they’d like to follow.

Brett Newski 12:49
That is really a great perspective on that. You know, it’s like, I think a lot of people who create things are like, oh, we need to be reaching more people, or playing to more people, or playing to bigger audiences. And I think that’s the most calming thing you can think about, is just like, find your people. And that’s all that really matters. As long as you got the group, whether it’s big or small, it gives you a reason to create, you know.

Brent Hanifl 13:13
Yeah, I think Marc Maren the comedian said it, where he said, yeah, I’m not for everybody.

Brett Newski 13:18
Yeah, exactly. I like Marc Marin.

Brent Hanifl 13:20
So if people want to find the book, I believe it’s coming out June 22, people can pick it up. What’s the best avenue for them to follow along on yourself and the book and everything else going on?

Brett Newski 13:30
Definitely through the website, it’s just brettnewski.com, b r e t t n e w s k i.com, polish. It’s gonna be up on all the pre orders and the Barnes and Nobles and Amazon’s eventually, but right now we’re just kind of pushing it through the website because the overlords of corporate america take like 39% or something pretty wild. So yeah, scoop it up or you know, no pressure to do so obviously, but it’s there. I hope it’s useful to people.

Amy Gabay 14:03
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com. And you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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