Im Interview: Walt Hamburger

Walt Hamburger steht schon seit Jahren auf meiner ‚diese Songs könnte ich ohne Probleme Tag und Nacht durchhören, ohne dass es mir irgendwann aus den Ohren rauskommt‘ Liste. Außerdem habe ich das Gefühl, dass er oftmals viel zu sehr unter dem Radar fliegt, ein wenig unterbewertet wird, obwohl er so viel zu bieten hat, ohne mit unnötigen Schnick Schnack auftrumpfen zu müssen. Während der Tour mit Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Yotam Ben Horin (Useless ID) und Laura Mardon überzeugte er nicht nur musikalisch, sondern auch menschlich: er pfiff sich in sämtliche Herzen, nahm Menschen im Publikum schnell den Wind aus den Segeln, wenn er mitbekam, dass sich über ihn lustig gemacht wurde. Ein Entertainer der Extraklasse, der nur wenige Minuten brauchte um auszuloten, wie er das Publikum zu nehmen hat. Walt Hamburger: Bodenständig, talentiert, charmant, sehr gewitzt und oftmals mit einer spitzen Zunge versetzt. Ein Musiker, der über dieses gewisse Strahlen verfügt, wenn er eine Bühne betritt. Wärmend und sympatisch zugleich.

Umso überraschender war es für mich, als immer mehr Beiträge von Walt auftauchten, die nichts Gutes erahnen ließen: dieser Mensch, der so offenherzig und mit sich im Reinen schien, hat seit Jahren mit Ängsten, Suizidgedanken und tiefen depressiven Phasen zu kämpfen und all das spitzt sich in diesem Jahr nochmal mehr zu. Im Frühjahr fragte ich bei Walt an, ob er eventuell Interesse daran hätte eine Playlist via Spotify zu erstellen, mit Songs, die ihn gut durch dieses Jahr bringen und etwas über ihn selbst aussagen. Es ist mehr als eine bunte Mischung geworden und bei mir lief seine Auswahl bereits einige Male hoch und runter (Spotify-Player ist ganz unten zu finden. Wer kein Spotify hat: Walt hat ein Video mit allen Songs gebastelt, zu finden unter der Rubrik Playlist weiter unten!). Da Walt diese Lieder eher für sich sprechen lassen wollte, machten wir dafür aus, dass es dazu einfach ein kleines Interview geben wird. Über Covid-19, Black Lives Matter & die Wahl. Das größte Augenmerk bekam die Rubrik Mental Health. Ich haderte tatsächlich mit der einen oder anderen Frage, da dieses Thema für betroffene Menschen eine unfassbar schwere Kost ist, gerade wenn es dabei noch um quälende Suizidgedanken geht.

Aber ich finde es unfassbar gut, wie offen und ehrlich Walt die Fragen beantwortete und nicht hinter’m Berg hielt. Oftmals weiß man selbst nicht wohin mit all den Ängsten, Sorgen und runterziehenden Gedanken, sodass ich sehr hoffe, dass es ihm genauso hilft darüber zu schreiben wie mir. Mental Health- ein riesiges und so wichtiges Thema, welches definitiv nicht mehr unter den Teppich gekehrt werden sollte, denn das kostet am Ende viel zu viele Menschenleben, obwohl einige davon hätten gerettet werden können. Isso.

Vielen Dank an Walt, der diese Tür zu seinem Innersten öffnete und damit zeigt: hey, redet drüber, tauscht euch aus, holt euch Hilfe und fresst nicht alles in euch hinein, das geht irgendwann richtig schief. Für Walt und für uns anderen, die täglich mit den tiefsitzenden Dämonen kämpfen müssen, oftmals gut versteckt hinter einer perfekt sitzenden Maske, ist jeder Schritt nach vorne so unfassbar anstrengend und gespickt mit unzähligen versteckten Fallen. Diese Krankheit wird uns ein Leben lang begleiten, die größte Herausforderung dabei ist: nicht komplett aufzugeben.

Bevor es zum Interview geht: auch Walt hat es in diesem Jahr sehr schwer, um finanziell über die Runden zu kommen. Wer ein wenig übrig hat, um ihm oder seiner Foundation via Paypal unter die Arme zu greifen- es würde die enorme Last auf den Schultern etwas erleichtern.

Paypal I Shop I Walt Hamburger Foundation I Homepage I Facebook I Instagram I Spotify

Playlist

Complete the sentences…

The first song that landed on that list… Do You Feel It? By Chaos Chaos.

The song that reflects my innermost being at this moment… Probably Growing on Me by The Darkness.

I was quite unsure about…. Putting so many depressing songs on there, but this is a representation of my brain. These are the songs that make me feel something. As a performer, my goal more than anything is to make you feel something. Using other’s art to do that is a challenge, but I wanted to give it a shot.

With this song selection I want to say… So I made this playlist for a girl I like. I told her I wanted to make her a mixtape CD, she said I should, and then I realized I don’t have the technology to do that any more. Like, it would’ve cost me hundreds of dollars. Pretty fuct up. Anyway, it’s not just your traditional, these songs make me think of you, kinda playlist. I mean, a bunch of songs are about that. I hope it’s a representation of my brain, warts and all. Now that’s a sexy thought, ha. If you do listen to the playlist, I suggest you listen to it front to back, and have it loud. Volume is key.

I also like how some songs are just, duh, She is Beautiful, Fix My Brain, I Can’t Wait Until It’s Over, and Not Proud of the USA. Not subtle. Then there’s songs like Miso Ramen, Panic Song, !!!Noble Stabbings!!!, where there’s more to those than you might catch at first. And then there’s songs I interpret differently than maybe someone else would. Say Something has always to me been a song about looking in the mirror, convincing myself that I need to go on, to live. I cut a lot of songs, too, because it was getting way too long. Also if i put the MASH theme song on there, a van is gonna pull up at my house and take me away to a padded cell.

Anyway, I hope she likes the playlist.

I chose Tony Sly in the end, because… the last 4 lines of the song.

Nobody would expect… the drum track in Na Na Na Na was recorded for an entirely different song. That’s why the drum fills are so random.

For people who don’t have Spotify:

Corona

At the beginning Corona was not taken seriously in many countries and was labeled as a normal ‚flu‘. What was going through your mind when the infection and death rates continued to rise?

I guess I wondered if it would ever end. Would I ever be able to tour again? Will I lose friends, family members? What would it take for people to take this seriously?

How do you perceive the way people deal with Corona in your home town?

Where I live, Wisconsin, in the middle of the US, it’s really bad. Our governor has tried to implement restrictions, but the GOP here has done everything they can to prevent safety measures. It’s been both horrifying and humiliating. We literally had to create a new category of severity recently and almost all the counties here were already in it.

Your opinion about mask deniers and conspiracy theorists? What do you think causes this defensive attitude coupled with wild speculations?

I’ve been struggling with this question throughout this all. My friend Amos Pitsch, whom you may know from Tenement, and I go for walks a lot because we can’t work in the studio right now for safety. This isn’t verbatim, but he felt that not being told what to do is deeply ingrained in American culture. There’s always been a few antivaxxers I’d come across, but nothing like this before. I still don’t think I understand it. Science is clear. And while people ignore it, pack bars, book indoor shows, get the family together for holidays; my friends and family who work in healthcare risk their lives every single day. Their life is a nightmare, a preventable fucking nightmare, but we’re too stupid and selfish as a society to care.

Trump has made some missteps (again)- how do you think he should act in this crisis?

Missteps implies that he made mistakes. He has willingly held rallies, lied thousands of times to the public. He knows what he’s doing. He’s evil. I hope on January 20th, 2021 at approximately noon he’s hauled off in a squad car, and he and his family spend the rest of their lives in jail. His inactions and actions have cost 250k Americans their lives and by the time this is over, it will probably be over a half a million.

It’s definitely not an easy year for people with mental health issues: how do you handle it?

I’m actually not sure I do a very good job at this. I adopted a husky this year. Amos and I go for walks most nights and just vent. But mostly I’m just miserable. Everytime I see a local band play a show, a packed bar on our walks, a holiday get together; I realize we’re still on day zero here. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do my job again. People talk about the arts like they are crucial, and to some they certainly are, but the actions of our selfish society suggest otherwise.

Black Lives Matter

What went through your mind when you heard about the tragic death of George Floyd?

Sadness. Anger. Helplessness. Guilt. Empathy.

If you were the President of the United States: how would you deal with such appalling acts?

I’m in no way qualified to hold that office, but I certainly wouldn’t handle it the way it was “handled.”

Many thought the riots at the demos were exaggerated and wanted to see more peaceful variations. What do you think about that? Were you able to understand the escalations?

If I lived in neighborhoods where these were happening, I’m sure I’d be scared. On the other side of the coin, this is literally how our country was founded. Inaction doesn’t get a lot done. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to this, but I understand and was part of the mentality that this has to stop. And there were some riots, but way more of it was peaceful protesting. Trump gassing a crowd to take a picture, now that’s a riotous act.

What do you think needs to change to curb police violence and racism more and more?

I’m no expert here either, but I’d like to see more of a peacekeeping role in law enforcement.

How do you react when you witness racism?

Not enough. It’s everywhere. I quit a baseball team I was on about 11 years ago when teammates and fans were yelling the N word at a black player on the opposing team, but I should’ve done more. Internally, it destroys me. We’re all just people.

Election

We in Germany also followed the election: were you surprised that Trump still got a lot of votes or could you already imagine that? Why do you think so many still hold on to Trump?

What’s really terrifying to me is that if Covid didn’t happen, he probably would’ve gotten another term. He runs a cult and it contains about 47% of the American voters. I don’t understand how it ever got past him mocking the disabled reporter. But even today, there are completely brainwashed and/or hate-filled people that believe what he says. I understand having a conservative mindset, even if I disagree with it. But I’ll never understand accepting that monster as my leader.

How did you fare when Biden got the upper hand more and more? What do you think of him?

He’s not Trump. I was very much a Bernie Sanders supporter in the last 2 presidential elections. I’m looking forward to sanity being restored in the white house. He was not or is not my ideal candidate, but that week of election results was more than I could handle. I went to bed Tuesday night thinking my life was over. I mean it. I had no plan on how to survive another 4 years with Trump. I couldn’t do that.

What goes through your mind when Trump keeps talking about election fraud?

Liars lie. But it is troubling that anyone has bought into any of this thousands and thousands of lies.

Mental Health

Walt Hamburger: Entertainer, talented, open-hearted, quick-witted & smart. This is how I experienced you during the tour with Joey, Yotam and Laura. But there is another side of you that I would not have suspected: a relatively dark side that is characterized by anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and depression. When did you realize this for the first time? Was there once a key experience? How did you learn to live with it?

I was clinically diagnosed with ADHD, depression, and anxiety as an adult. I’ve tried various ways to cope from medication, not medication, self-medication, being an artist, and just lying in the fetal position in my bed for weeks at a time. I don’t remember first realizing this was part of me, but I know it’s something I have to cope with and try and manage. This year has been exceptionally hard for me. I can’t tour, I can’t record, all the ways I pay for my life. So I’m just home. Broke. My dad is extremely high risk and he’s my roommate, so I can’t just go get a regular job. I have to keep him safe.

When did suicidal thoughts come up for the first time?

I was hospitalized about 11 years ago briefly, but I don’t know if I was truly feeling suicidal back then, or just lost. My marriage was ending and I felt helpless. I acted extremely self-destructively and it just made things worse. This year was the first year where I really thought, I don’t think I want to go on any more, and it’s come up a lot. I try to think of how much it would hurt my family, my friends, my pets; so like Tony says, I will live for the sake of others so they can do the same. That’s where I’m at as of writing this.

Were there moments in your life when you gave in to these thoughts or were briefly away?

Yes. Once I drove a car into a mailbox at high speed hoping the mailbox would go through the window and just end it. It didn’t and I ended up just fucking up my best friend’s car and someone’s mailbox. I’m glad I didn’t die, in retrospect. But I think that cloud that hangs over someone never really goes away. You just have to try and figure out how to survive it.

How do you deal with these thoughts today? How do you steer against them? To what extent do you talk about them with friends and/or family?

This is certainly the most I’ve opened up about this publicly. I’m not really looking forward to the backlash of that, but I promised you an honest interview. Lately I’ve been trying to not post things online which is harder than I thought it would be. I’m hoping to just disappear a little bit, although this article will probably blow up that idea. I think I’m pretty honest with my friends about my own demons, but I feel bad I haven’t and can’t be a better friend to them. A lot of people are hurting, are isolated, and struggling just like me right now.

When do you realize that you are getting much too close to the abyss again?

Shit pops out of nowhere. Sometimes I know why, sometimes I don’t.

‚I can’t sleep at night‘: How would you describe yourself if you were in a depressive phase? Which symptoms are causing you the most trouble?

I assumed this is a reference to my song, Wubba Lubba Dub Dub. Not being able to sleep continues to be a huge issue.

How do you differ as a person in public and as a person in your own home?

I guess sometimes I wonder which person is the real me. I definitely have both introverted and extroverted traits. On stage, in front of an audience, that’s when I think I feel the most like me. But sometimes it’s when I feel the lonliest. The view I have of the crowd is of friends and couples, people who have people to share their life with. I’m not saying I don’t have friends. I have amazing friends. But I’m a single guy and I’m often touring on the road alone, often for a good chunk of the year. Airports gets lonely, you know. So I’m up there, the center of attention for lack of a better term, but I also feel invisible. After the show I’ll go back to my hotel alone, but their lives continue. And every night we repeat the cycle.

Home life has changed a bit the last 5 years or so. Because of my work with the Walt Hamburger Foundation, I think I’ve actually kind of become a community leader in a strange way. So here, everybody seems to know who I am (looking like a walking cartoon character probably contributes), but I often don’t know them. So someone gets excited to see me in a grocery store and it’s super flattering, but I feel like a total asshole not knowing their name or even recognizing them. It’s also weird here because I think people like me for what I do, but it’s not like when I tour. When I play local shows, people don’t sing along much, they don’t know the words. They just „know“ me. On the flip side, I’ll play in Montreal where a good portion of the crowd doesn’t speak English well, and they are belting out every word of every song. That’s a mindfuck.

Anyway, with my close friends, I think I’m pretty open. They understand that with my mental stuff, I have lots of personalities depending on how I feel that day. I guess that is what makes them my friends. To a fan, I think it’s up to them what I am. I try to put on a good entertaining performance. But if you listen to the words of the songs, there’s a different message being sent out. Choose your own adventure. Something between an attention-seeking whore to someone who has body image issues and feels like everyone only sees that.

When was the last time you really felt alive?

When I hang out with Amos, you would maybe never know I deal with depression. I mean, my face and stomach muscles hurt from laughing. I feel alive when I hold my animals. A tougher question might be when was the last time I felt worth something. And I don’t have a good answer for that. Montreal? Munich?

‚I hope everyone is finding happiness in something, somehow.‘ In what do you find happiness? Who or what can cheer you up or help you through difficult times?

I guess similar to my answer from the previous question, friends, family, pets. The woods help. I used to say music, but even writing has just not felt right lately. I don’t want to write about Covid, you know?

‚The meds work here no more‘: What is your opinion about therapies and medication? What experience have you been able to gain in these areas yourself? What has helped you the most?

I think medication is great, but the gains i’ve gotten from them haven’t always outweighed the side effects. Therapy is super important, I wish I was doing that.

‚The mess in my head‘: What worries and fears are your daily companion?

I guess I feel worthless financially. I’m not really confident that I’ll find love again. My house is disgusting and I lack the ability to keep things in order. I turn 39 on Nov 29th and I don’t feel like I’m a good example of an adult. I think it’s important to note that I don’t want to feel this way.

How are mental problems received in your environment? Do people tend to turn away from the topic, to ridicule it or do they meet you openly? Which experiences have you made?

All of the above. My family is very supportive, some are better than others, but they care. On the internet, I mean, it’s the internet. People are going to attack me, especially being a public figure. I would love to say it doesn’t bother me, but it does.

‚I drink to feel alright‘: What role does alcohol play for you when you are in a deep hole? Are there any other bad habits you would like to leave behind?

Wubba Lubba Dub Dub question 4! I like it. And I certainly have my vices. Drinking, drugs, overeating, not doing things with my day, rejecting those who try to help.

Is there anything positive you can take with you from these dark moments?

Well, there’s a few records out now. People seem to like the songs.

How is it for you to play concerts via livestream from time to time and ask for donations?

And the online shows. I dunno. They are just not fun anymore. I do them because I’m desperate for money. I know they help others and people message me stuff like that all the time, but I don’t know how much more of this I can do.

Anything else you wanna add?

Listen to the playlist all the way through, loud! Please consider donating to the Walt Hamburger Foundation, a nonprofit I run to help animal shelters and artists. And thanks for everyone who has donated to me personally at paypal.me/walthamburger. I’ve literally survived off of these funds this entire year. I miss Europe and Canada so much. I’m hopeful I’ll get to see you all again real soon.