Australian hip hop outfit, The Herd have been active and successful since 2001 and have earned a reputation for being one of the country’s best live acts. Known for their anti-war stance and anti-corporatism, their songs also deal with more personal topics like divorce and the slow death of the Australian outback/country.

MusicFeedback was able to catch up with guitarist Toe-fu (Byron Williams) and have a chat about their music and its connection to mental health.

MF: Firstly can you describe The Herd in three words?
Toe-fu: Large, passionate, plasticine.

MF: How did you get involved with The  Herd to begin with?
Toe-fu: We were all creating music back in the day and had no means to release it. Kenny Sabir (Traksewt) decided to start a record label to address this predicament and Elefant Traks was born. From this, different collaborations began to sprout up and the idea of forming a giant band was entertained  – The Herd was born!

MF: Music Feedback is all about connecting music and mental health, what role do you think music plays in shaping views and attitudes towards issues such as mental health?
Toe-fu: Music is a socially acceptable vehicle for expressing one’s thoughts and emotions. How many songs have you heard about break ups, tough times, love, being lost, being down, being on the outer, being overwhelmed ???? Heaps! Music allows you to express your deepest thoughts, whereas having a conversation about such issues may be somewhat more difficult and confronting. Music makes it normal.

MF: On a personal level how does playing in The Herd help you with your own mental health?
Toe-fu: I get to hang out with 8 of my best friends, create beautiful and conscious music, travel Australia, eat great food, play amazing venues and festivals. When looking at that list it can only be a good thing!

MF: Do you find song writing to be a cathartic experience?
Toe-fu: For sure! Making sense of thoughts that are bouncing around your head and getting them into a song is a very therapeutic experience. You get to explore the issue on a deeper level and find ways of expressing it through words, melody, structure  – all the elements of music.

MF: Unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma in the community surrounding ‘mental illness’, what do you think people can do to help reduce the stigma?
Toe-fu: I was at a conference recently where one of the actions encouraged to reduce stigma was to talk to a person with a mental health issue! You will quickly realise that they are normal people and live normal lives.

MF: What do you want people who listen to your music to get out of it?
Toe-fu: I suppose the main thing I’d like people to take from our music is that The Herd write songs about issues that we are passionate about – whether it be politics, love, partying etc. As long as you’re passionate about a story then you’ll be able to put your heart into it and make art. If you’re writing for a particular audience/market, that is when you start making product which inevitably is soulless.

MF: And finally do you have any words of wisdom to young up-and-coming musicians?
Toe-fu: Write about issues that you’re passionate about and enjoy the beautiful complexity of the creative process and take time to learn of as many different musicians as you can – you can learn something of anybody no matter what their level.