Mope Grooves' Poppy Post-Punk Pushes Back Against the Stigma of Mental Illness

"Joy," the band's new album, is a portrait of painfully alert despair and the sublime brightness at its border.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Mope Grooves.

WHO: Stevie Pohlman, Jon Barron, Matt Radosevich, Joe Benassi, Nik Barnaby.

SOUNDS LIKE: A war between terror and bliss.

FOR FANS OF: Alex Chilton, the Feelies, Brian Eno.

Stevie Pohlman thought the worst of the depression was over. But last year, while working on Joy, the debut LP from Pohlman's band, Mope Grooves, darkness rushed in.

"It really took me by surprise, and it was just as bad or worse than when I was a teenager," the 27-year-old Pohlman says. "Like really bad, suicidal ideation."

The day after completing work on Joy, which features contributions from members of Honey Bucket, Woolen Men and Patsy's Rats, Pohlman checked into OHSU and waited for a bed to open up in the psych ward. As Pohlman tells it, September 2016 was a peak month for severe depression in Portland. There weren't any beds free. Pohlman eventually bailed, opting instead for a 'shroom-assisted camping trip on the Clackamas River.

"It was so much better after that," he says.

Mushrooms aren't a permanent cure, though. And making Joy, a quickening portrait of painfully alert despair and the sublime brightness at its border, did not provide much of an afterglow. Pohlman has been having a hard time again, though Mope Grooves' upcoming North American tour might provide a routine to ward off the shape-shifting demon of depression.

"To escape my head, I need to work," Pohlman says. "I need to be really busy all the time."

Pohlman's hard work has resulted in a poppy post-punk masterpiece, a perfectly sequenced album that lights up the spaces between Brian Eno, the Feelies and Dwight Twilley. Although it will surely bring more people into the Mope Grooves fold, the success of the band isn't a priority for Pohlman. In fact, the band's members didn't want to release Joy on vinyl unless they were sure it would be useful for other humans.

"I only want to justify the creation of these platters that go into people's rooms if they come with some kind of meaning behind them that can be used as a tool in everyday life," Pohlman says. "I only want to run this operation if it's something that can give to the community."

While Pohlman's vision of community is a global one—proceeds from cassette sales will be donated to Nuevo Leon Mental Health Institute in Monterrey, Mexico—the singer is especially committed to fostering safe spaces for people who turn to the music scene for solace and meaning. Pohlman sees Joy as an opportunity to destigmatize mental illness, and would like this project to play a small part in larger campaigns fighting for a more inclusive scene.

"Having all these wonderful people in my life gives me something to grab onto when I'm sliding away," Pohlman says. "If you have all these things to do with other people—people who care about things, people who take inclusive communities seriously and are concerned about what's going on in the world—it can be a lot less scary."

SEE IT: Mope Grooves plays American Legion Post 134, 2104 NE Alberta St., with Honey Bucket, Marcy's Band, Nick Normal, Super Hit, Toxic Slime Records and Cool Schmool, on Friday, March 24. 7:30 pm. $6, $10 includes copy of Joy. All ages.

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