Sitting down on a quiet Friday afternoon in the Commuter & Transfer Commons of the HUB with Cameron Lavi-Jones, I felt at ease. The lead vocalist and songwriter of UW alt-rock band Gypsy Temple exuded an almost palpable comfort that seemed to suggest our conversation would be one between peers, not strangers.
Gypsy Temple, whose distinctive sound and stage presence reflect its desire to revolutionize alt-rock, just released its debut album “King Youngblood.” The 11-track LP has soaring, emotion-laden vocals, melodic instrumentation, and lyrics that explore underrepresented, recently politicized topics such as mental health and gender fluidity.
In addition to music, Gypsy Temple has used its platform to take on an activist role. This past fall, Gypsy Temple partnered with the League of Women Voters to encourage voter registration and turnout in the 2018 midterm elections. The band traveled across Washington on its Make Your Voice Heard Loud and Vote Tour, performing at high schools and community colleges while volunteers registered students, parents, and teachers to vote. The band was ultimately successful in registering over 3,000 people to vote, an achievement that Lavi-Jones said made the band aware of its ability to affect positive change.
In early May, coinciding with the start of national Mental Health Month, the band launched the Hold Your Crown campaign to raise awareness for youth mental health struggles. Lavi-Jones said that, following the vote tour, the band wanted to focus on a topic like mental health because it was “youth centralized, but still stigmatized.”
Hold Your Crown, whose name was inspired by lyrics from the band’s song “Up Becomes Down,” is intended to promote constructive conversations surrounding mental health and is working to provide resources and a sense of community to those in need.
At the “King Youngblood”album release show June 1 at The Vera Project, the band intends to talk about the “action plan” for the Hold Your Crown project. Lavi-Jones expressed that, although the band is still considering what the campaign will “look like on the ground,” mental health is an issue that impacts the lives of all the band members and is a topic they want to continue to advocate for going forward — not just “for a season.”
“The campaign is a long-term effort to raise awareness and do good,” Lavi-Jones said. “Gypsy Temple are always going to be mental health advocates, [even if] that takes different forms.”
As someone who has experienced struggles with mental health, Lavi-Jones said that he wishes advocates like Gypsy Temple were present when he was growing up, because it would have meant seeing activism in an “authentic space.” He went on to say that this authenticity, which he sees as being fostered by the connection — both physical (at shows) and digital (through streaming) — between bands and their fan base, is achieved through outreach and person-to-person activism.
“We’re doing more shows where we talk about and advocate for mental health,” Lavi-Jones said. “We’re also starting a video series where each band member talks through a few things they do to keep their mental health in good shape.”
While Hold Your Crown aims to provide support and, in the words of Lavi-Jones, “a place to turn to” for Gypsy Temple’s fan base, the campaign is also a means of directing people toward additional resources and outlets.
“We want to kickstart people being able to care for themselves, not creating dependencies on people,” Lavi-Jones said. “We want to empower them to do the things they want to do, which is function and get to [the] point where they’re feeling healthy and welcomed.”
When prompted to discuss the UW’s approach to mental health, Lavi-Jones expressed a desire to see the campus become more accepting of what have become “hushed” conversations. He said that university culture has allowed having poor mental health to become normalized as “something that college students, who connect over dread and stress, do well.” Ways of combating this toxic environment, Lavi-Jones stressed, are to normalize the struggles most of us face, hold the people who further stigmas accountable, and make sure resource providers and activists are doing their jobs properly.
Hold Your Crown is also concerned with how mental health evolves over time. The campaign is driven by a desire to impart upon younger generations the tools they’ll need to adapt to inevitable stresses and changes in their lives. By teaching effective communication, providing positive resources, and facilitating access to supportive communities, Lavi-Jones said, people will be able to “handle things in a healthy way” once they grow past life’s developmental stages.
Reach writer Brooke Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @bkaufmanLJ
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