May is Mental Health Month, and this year the National Alliance on Mental Illness is focusing their efforts to “CureStigma.” According to the organization, “One in 5 Americans is affected by mental health conditions. Stigma is toxic to their mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment. The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act to change it.”
One of the many “one in 5’s” will be familiar to Alternative Control’s local readers. When Joe Morbidelli, a former singer of well-known Connecticut metal band Dead By Wednesday, contacted the blog about some new projects he was involved in, I was hesitant to talk with him and wasn’t sure where our discussion would lead. Joe opened up quite candidly about his mental health and alcoholism struggles and his departure from DBW following a burglary arrest, as well as how music has been a source of positivity in his life. Below are excerpts from our March 2018 phone interview — his words and his take on events, transcribed without interpretation.
How ya doin’?
I’m good, livin’ the dream.
You ready for the big phone interview?
Yeah, you got me nervous, it’s gonna be fun though.
All right so let’s say someone has never heard of Joe Morbidelli. What would you tell readers about your history in the Connecticut music scene?
Oh my goodness…. Well, I grew up in the New Haven area. When I was a kid, I guess my first attraction to music was that it was an escape. My first tapes I ever had and really got into — I took them from my father, he had tapes and I borrowed them, kinda sneaky listening to the Walkman back when tapes were hot — the first tapes I got were Queen’s greatest hits, Iron Maiden’s greatest hits, and I think the other one was Smash by Offspring. I just murdered those tapes for years. I would walk around the basement, pretend to sing and have my own little concerts by myself. I kept doing that as I was growing up, performing by myself in my room — try to lock the door so nobody would see me running around singing Freddie Mercury songs and shit.
Then at about thirteen, I got interested in the guitar and started taking lessons. I first learned how to play twelve bar blues, since that’s the basic for most rock songs I was told. After that I continued listening to CDs that were an escape for me when I was a kid — y’know, regular emotions. I think everyone around thirteen or fourteen starts to get really into music as they create their own identity.
I was an angry kid, I listened to a lot of Korn and then I got into metal — I was like Oh my God, what is this? It was angry, it was rough… Punk rock too…. And started forming little bands with people around the area, pretty soon just moved from guitar to singing. After that I was in garage bands, basement bands, and after that so goes the story.
The question was what would I want to tell people? I’m a performer. […] I gravitated towards singing and I wanted to entertain a crowd. I wanted to express myself in a way I otherwise didn’t know how to. I could get all those feelings out, and gradually it shifted towards doing it for a crowd and I moved up through the ranks. […] I don’t know how far you wanna go there…
Joe and I then discussed his time in Dead By Wednesday, beginning in his early twenties when he joined the band (after they released their second album The Killing Project), through the writing and touring for The Last Last Parade, and leading up to their 2014 EP Death of a Rockstar.
So after Death of a Rockstar, then what happened?
After the Death of a Rockstar CD, we lost our guitar player Ross Ragusa. He wanted to do some things in his personal life and it was an amicable split when he left. […] For me, it was like, “I love you bro, go do what you have to do.”
Touring and dedicating years of your life to this — I was in DBW from when I was 22 to about 27, 28ish — it takes a toll on your personal life. Deaths, you can’t go to the funerals, you lose girlfriends, jobs… So anyway, after Ross left DBW picked up Joey Concepcion and he played on tour for that, but Ross had recorded the guitars for that.
So then I have to ask this question because I feel like it might be coming up in the timeline soon… What happened with the pharmacy? (In reference to Joe’s November 2014 arrest for breaking into a Hamden pharmacy)
What happened with the pharmacy…. That is the hot topic question. Well, [sighs] after Death of the Rockstar was released and we were touring on that, my drinking had steadily started to get out of control. When I started with the band, my drinking was fine, I wouldn’t even drink before shows… But steadily with tour life and with having (suppressed) emotional and mental issues, things with alcohol got worse and worse and worse. I started to use it for everything — I’m anxious, I’m afraid, I’m awake and I need to sleep… It became my quick fix answer for most things. It got out of control.
It’s foggy, but I remember coming home from tour and I was staying at my mother’s house. I was going to therapy for mental issues I didn’t even know I had — they diagnosed me with PTSD, anxiety, bi-polar, and borderline personality disorder. I was taking medications for these things and going to therapy to deal with trauma I had in the history of my life that I didn’t know how to deal with, hence the alcohol abuse. I was physically abused as a child and emotionally abused. My family went through a lot, with a single mother raising five kids, poor as hell… It was rough.
When I got back home after one of the tours and I had broken up with another girlfriend. […] I started taking medication and I stopped drinking for a month or so, and then I relapsed. I couldn’t get my medication — my medication provider couldn’t provide me with my meds because of a problem with my insurance, which is a whole other heap of problems — so I was off my medication for a week or two and I was going cuckoo. You can’t just stop taking psych meds like that; when you stop taking those, your symptoms get heavily worse. It’s bad for you. […] So I decided to get wasted, my answer for everything at that point at time.
So I picked up a bottle and started walking around Hamden, drank the whole bottle. The last thing I remember is standing in front of a pharmacy and kinda blacked out. What happened was I threw a rock through the pharmacy door, went in, stole stuff… I didn’t even know what I wanted. Apparently it’s called, like, a fugue state I guess. So I grabbed all this shit apparently…
And side note, contrary to what I heard in the “knitting circles,” I didn’t have a problem with pills or opiates or anything like that. I was just a raging, depressed alcoholic. So I stole a bunch of stuff and I just went walking back home… A lot of people were like, “Why didn’t he walk in this direction?” and “Why didn’t he bury them in the woods?” and blah blah blah. You can’t think when you’re off psych meds and drunk as shit.
So the police pick me up and I wake up in the jumble of this — I’m in the cop car and they picked me up because my hands were bleeding from the glass, smashing the window… So they take me down to the police station and start interrogating me. They’re like, “You did this, you did that, blah blah blah…” and there was actually a string of robberies around Hamden and they we’re gonna try to pin them on me. And I was like, “No no no, I plead the Fifth, I’m not saying shit to you.” So they put me in a holding unit, jack the AC up, and don’t give me a blanket or a phone call. I was in there for like two days.
Yeah…. After that they shipped me to Meriden and I was in those holding cells, then I was in front of the judge, and then they were like, “You’re going to jail.” It was just a whirlwind. There was no time for me to get home and explain anything. It just went from that incident to jail.
I wasn’t really thinking about what was happening next, it happened so fast. I was just in this place and I was freaked out. I was like, “Okay, I’m in jail now, let’s see what this is like.” It was just like the trauma I went through as a kid. You had to be somebody else. You had to guard yourself. Walk around with a brick wall…
When I did get out, I was bailed out or bonded or whatever…. And my friends were like, “Your shit’s all over the news.” […] DBW was like, “We gotta move away from you.” At the time I was very angry and resentful, but at the same time I can’t blame them. I can’t blame them for my actions. It’s what I did. I am responsible for that. I’m the one who broke into a pharmacy. I’m the one who robbed the place and I’m the one who went to jail. So…. There’s that.
I focused more on myself for a few years, I still go to AA, I still go to a personal therapist and have learned what I can about addiction. It’s crazy and it’s rampant everywhere — it’s no joke, people are dying from this. It’s not something you can close your eyes to. The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand addiction. They’re like, “Just stop, kid, just stop,” and it’s like, “No, that’s not how it goes.”
It’s hard to change habits —
A lot of people need help and don’t know where to get it. And with depression and PTSD and whatever other issues people might have, it’s dangerous. People need to be a little bit more aware of these symptoms because you can’t change your brain chemistry right away; you need to train it with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) skills and all this stuff that’s actually really good for you, but depression can bring you to a dark place and that’s where I was for awhile.
How are you feeling now? Like aside from music stuff, do you feel like you have a handle on things?
Now I feel great. For about a year or two, I’ve been doing the AA meetings and therapy as well. I’ve had relapses but I came right back to it. Currently I’m sober — I’m clean, I feel good. I’ve been working on other projects, side projects, getting myself better again using music as therapy. It’s very healthy and I think other people when they listen can relate to that because that’s what I looked for when I was thirteen or fourteen — people I could relate to, you’re singing to me, you’re making me feel you. I want to do that — I wanna recycle that kind of feeling for people because that’s what helped me through my darkest times: music.
So that’s what I wanna I continue to create as I move forward. That’s not me starting from the bottom; it’s just me starting from a different place. If you keep yourself positive especially when you feel that there’s nothing to keep positive for, that’s how you get out of this shit.
Now I’m just back in the saddle and using my sobriety to tell other people, “Yo, I’m still here. I didn’t go anywhere.” I fell in a hole for a little while, but everybody does. I had good friends to back me up, and that made me find out who my family and true friends were, who I could trust.
I’m thirty-one years old and I’ve been through shit, but now I’m back and better than ever because I went through those experiences. I’m thinking of them in a positive light. If you stay in the past, you’re screwed. You can’t do anything about the past, you can only move forward — and that’s where my mentality is right now.
That’s great to hear — that’s good advice.
Thank you. You live and you learn, and then you get better. Then you gotta give that back to people who need that too — now I know I can’t turn my back on people who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through. Everybody needs a helping hand, as long as you’re willing to put your hand out…
My conversation with Joe was a reminder not to judge others by my own experiences. In terms of mental illness and addiction problems, it can be difficult to understand or empathize with something you haven’t been through yourself. I hope that I never walk a mile in Joe’s shoes, but I can appreciate his advice about moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.
As for Joe, he is moving forward with various musical projects. Death Metal Homeboi has a new recording that’s in the process of being mixed and mastered, and Bitchtits (a Misfits parody band) will be coming out with new material as well. Stay tuned, because The Scene hasn’t heard the last of Joe Morbidelli!
Photos courtesy of Joe, used with permission.