Brett Newski Talks New Book ‘It’s Hard to Be a Person’, Navigating Anxiety and More (INTERVIEW)

Brett Newski is a singer-songwriter from Wisconsin who has supported artists such as Pixies and Violent Femmes. He is also the host of the Dirt from the Road podcast, which has seen guests such as Dashboard Confessional and Frank Turner. If that weren’t enough, he has also written a book called It’s Hard to Be a Person. It is a lighthearted look at dealing with anxiety that is illustrated by Newski and hopes to give the reader some different ideas for dealing with anxious thoughts.

By phone, he recently discussed the origins of the book, his dreams of playing in the NBA, and how to laugh at your anxiety instead of letting in control you. 

Glide Magazine: Have you done a lot of private shows in the last year?

BN: No. Not a lot. But even when I did, they were kind of strange because people didn’t know how much they could hug or what the limitations were. 

GM: What has it been like for you to be unable to tour?

BN: I was constantly promoting gigs, getting in and out of the van, driving eight hours a day. Eliminating all of that, all of a sudden it’s like “Oh shit!” I can set aside a songwriting block Monday through Thursday once or twice a day, and just be cranking out music. You’re going to write some turds here and there, but if you keep doing it, at the end of a year, you’re going to have a great record.

GM: At least one. What’s more challenging? Writing songs or publishing a book?

BN: Publishing a book is the work of like 15 albums. It was brutal for me. It’s amazing to be done with it. It’s one of the most fulfilling feelings I’ve ever felt. Through the whole process, there wasn’t that constant joy that I get when I’m recording music. It was more of a struggle. The hours spent are probably 15 times more than you would spend making a record. When you finish all the content of a book, tying it all together and organizing it, putting it all in one place, then getting it pressed, it’s a different beast. It kicked my ass in a good way. A good challenge.

GM: How did the idea for the book come about?

BN: It started probably three years ago. I was goofing around. I was drawing. My drawings and illustrations have not evolved much since fifth grade. But it kind of works. They’re these quirky little meat and potatoes illustrations. I made drawings making fun of my own anxiety and depression. Like, what to do if someone doesn’t reply to your email and you have a panic attack. Or ways to relieve stress. I’m just trying to think of pages. After I started putting those up, people responded to them favorably. I kept going and making them. I had enough drawings for a book at the end of three years.

GM: Was the response along the lines of people realizing they’re not alone?

BN: I think that’s a big one. People talking about mental health is still pretty new in the world, especially in the American landscape. When I was growing up, I was in a very conservative community. It was all about sports and being tough. You wouldn’t show a lot of emotion. Or if you did, it would be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s a relief to people that we’re finally talking about mental health openly. It’s totally OK to talk about it, and it’s normal to be anxious. That’s all exciting and great. It gives people a place to go and feel better. At the same time, I notice that it can go to the end of the spectrum where it’s pandering. I see that online. There’s plenty of pandering in talking about mental health because people feel it will get a lot of clicks or a lot of digital traction. I’m always conscious to ride the line of being useful to people and not pandering to social-media clicks.

GM: That’s probably a tricky line to walk.

BN: Very much so. There are specific nuances of anxiety. I made a drawing about what to do when someone doesn’t respond to your email because when that would happen to me, I would take it so personally. I’d be like, “This person is too important. They don’t like me.” And I would have irrational worries about it. At the end of the day, people are busy, and they can’t get back to everyone. It’s no reason to excessively worry about it. It’s about specific micro-nuances to anxiety that I tried to cover in the book.

GM: Give us one example from the book. 

BN: The first page is what anxiety and depression want you to do. That’s a little more heavy-handed. I’m a big fan of the one-on-one hang. I never realized how much I didn’t like going to parties until this year when I was by myself a lot. There’s a page that says, If you’re feeling a little nervous or anxious at a social event, it’s good to know that nearly everyone in the room feels  the same way. Here’s a page that says what to do when you get trapped in your own brain. How to break the ice with new people. How to avoid going insane from social media. They all have a comedic look at that anxiety.

GM: All good ideas. I know you do other things, like the podcast and the book, but what would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

BN: I’d probably be in the NBA. In my dreams. That’s a great question. I remember my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. Of course I was like, “I’ll be in the NBA.” He told me, “You’re not going to be in the NBA.” I remember being crushed. Surely, I could be one of those guys. My parents would always tell me like it was. We weren’t really a participation trophy family. My dad was really strict. If we were having delusions of grandeur, they would let us know and put things in perspective while still being encouraging. I don’t even know if I answered that question. I’d probably try to wrestle puppies for a living. 


It’s Hard to Be a Person (and the accompanying soundtrack featuring Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies) will be available everywhere on June 22. It makes a great gift for yourself or for someone you know who could use a laugh about feeling anxious. PRE-ORDER

Photo: Alejandro Albuernes

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