VATTICA is a true warrior and activist for mental health awareness and LGBTQ+ representation in rock music. Their latest release, “BACK TO LIFE” draws unique inspiration from the worlds of emo rock and industrial to create an anthem built for stadiums. Their wise words are sparking awareness of societal biases and misunderstandings while their musical chops add harmony to difficult conversations.
We spoke with vocalist Alexander Millar about their hard-hitting music, educational TikToks, ways the rock scene can improve inclusivity, and plans to continue spreading their message through music.
1. Why is “BACK TO LIFE” significant to you and what do you hope your fans take away from the song?
“BACK TO LIFE” is about my struggles with my mental health, specifically OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Anxiety. The first 2/3 of it are written from the perspective of my OCD, with the last chorus written as me reclaiming my own mind. I know from personal experience how agonizing it is to be tormented by your own brain, and I hope that folks going through similar struggles will find some comfort in this song.
2. “BACK TO LIFE” is about your personal struggle with OCD. What is the #1 thing you wish more people understood about OCD and those who constantly struggle with it?
That it’s not quirky and funny like as is so often depicted in shows and movies. It’s not a preference or a fucking personality quirk that makes me a more interesting character, you know? It’s a literal misfiring of part of my brain that causes suffering. Before I go on, just a quick trigger warning for anyone reading this with OCD: I’m going to give examples of what it’s like, so maybe don’t read this part. For example, imagine you turn off a light and as you do a horrible thought pops into your head. Something truly repugnant. A neurotypical person would just be like “huh, what a weird thought” and go about their life. A person with OCD would experience panic-level anxiety, and real physical sensations. They would think that somehow the light switch and the thought were connected in some way. They would know, intellectually, that the probability of that being true was next to impossible, but their body is reacting like there’s a real danger, so they would start to worry, start to ruminate, “what if…what if…” etc. All of that would happen in a split second. Because of the fear and anxiety, which again, are totally real within their body, they would seek to try and make it stop by “undoing” the bad thought through a compulsion, in this case trying to turn off the light switch without thinking the thought, or thinking a different thought that “cancels” out the other one. Of course, what’s the first thing your brain does when I say “don’t think about pink elephants”? Exactly. So now they’re caught in a loop trying to have a “clean” interaction with the light switch. Over and over. Again and again. And each time they get it “wrong” again, their anxiety goes up, which in turn makes them want to repeat the compulsion; it’s a wicked cycle. And there start to be real-world consequences! Imagine instead of a light switch you’re worried you have a disease on your hands because you took out the trash. You’ve already washed your hands 3 times but you’re not sure if it was enough because they still “feel” contaminated. You needed to leave for work 10 min ago. But the OCD won’t let you leave. Even once you manage to pull yourself away from the sink, all you can think about on your commute is how you’re not only contaminating yourself but everything you touch. All day at work, you’re ruminating and stressing about it. On your first break, you rush into the work bathroom and wash your hands some more. Of course, then you start to remember how gross bathrooms are. Your OCD pivots to worrying about catching stuff from the bathroom. Even if you wait until someone else leaves and opens the door for you, are you sure that you washed your hands enough? Are you SURE? Would you bet your life on it? Other people’s lives? This internal monologue continues all day, like a radio station in your mind that you can’t turn off. Maybe by the end of the day, the anxiety has burned out. You make it home. You’re so, so tired. You go to pet your cat and your OCD says “what diseases could cats have” and suddenly you’re ambushed by a fresh wave of level 10 anxiety and you’re washing your hands again. Imagine you do this every day. The skin on your hands is paper thin. They crack and bleed but you can’t stop washing your hands, especially now that they have cuts! Maybe more contaminants are getting under your skin! And it’s on and on and on like that until you get treatment and learn how to fight back.
3. How do you decide which topics you want to address on your TikTok and what is your typical process for brainstorming, researching, and creating your content?
My work is based on my desire to be a force for positive change in our world to the extent that I am able to do so, with the tools currently at my disposal. To that end, I have several series I do right now; my most popular one is called “Self Made is a Toxic Myth” which investigates how the systems of white supremacy shape the popular music industry, both historically and presently. I focus on how toxic individuality, a byproduct of capitalism and a core tenant of white supremacy, drives the narrative of how we speak, write, and think about the concept of “success” in popular music, specifically as it pertains to the myth of the “self made” artist/group.
I have a series called “Nothing is Neutral” which focuses on the damage that us white folks do across industries, from Music to Gaming to Film. Often those videos have a call to action of some kind. For example, my latest one is about why the video game Fallout 76 thought that including the confederate uniform as an in-game player craftable item was neutral, and what if we all asked the vice-president of the company that makes the game to remove it? Incidentally, his name is Todd Vaughn and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also have a series called “WTF Music Industry” which talks about various sociopolitical issues within the music and entertainment industry.
Of course, I also post my music stuff on TikTok too! I guess you could say that I shifted away from just being an “artist” and more towards representing myself as a whole person, which includes activism.
4. Ultimately, it seems that inclusivity and greater empathy are two prominent focuses within your music and content. What are some of the ways that you think the rock music scene can improve to be more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community?
I’d say that there are many folks that are a lot more knowledgeable about the best ways to achieve this. As someone who’s only been out as queer for like 5 years, and as nonbinary for 2 years, I’ve spent the majority of my life so far in the closet and doing my best to navigate an industry and world that I didn’t feel any sense of belonging in. Hell, I didn’t even understand that I could CLAIM the terms queer and nonbinary until my wonderful partner Kai, who’s also queer, introduced me to the language that finally described how I’d always felt. So, since I’m effectively a baby queer, I don’t think I should speak with too much authority on how to solve the problem.
However, since you asked the question, here are my current thoughts as a layperson: I think a great starting point would be for all white cis het folks to begin their own personal work of LGBTQIA2S+ learning, as well as anti-racist education. The music industry is notoriously majority white cis and het; most white folks I’ve encountered are still at the level of “there’s Gay and there’s Lesbian and that’s fine”, which is an ok start but still pretty stuck in the 90’s. I think that understanding that queer folks exist in all shapes, sizes and configurations, that bi folks exist, that nonbinary and genderqueer folks exist, that trans folks exist, that it’s not a simple binary of “you’re gay or straight” would be a great upgrade. Knowing what pronouns are, and using them. But also in tandem with that queer learning, to really start interrogating their own white privilege. As a white person who’s engaged in ongoing anti-racist learning and activism, something I’ve been taught is that it’s not enough just to say “we’re a safe space”, you have to actually make it so through education and action. Which means diversity, both in terms of sexuality, gender AND race. Every label, management firm, PR firm, agency, etc should invest in BIPOC-led DEI education for their white staff, as well as take a hard look at their hiring practices, at all levels. I’ve learned that part of anti-racist work as a white person is making space by taking your cues from BIPOC activists, teacher and leaders in your community, using your own privileges to open as many doors for others as you can, and getting out of the way as much as possible.
5. If you could pick any 5 adjectives to describe your music, which ones would you choose?
Anthemic, catchy, emotional, atmospheric, textured.
6. What are your upcoming plans for 2023?
Well, I’ll be washing my hands a lot haha just kidding. I have “BACK TO LIFE” coming out which drops 02.24.23 and you can pre-save it right now at https://lnk.bio/vattica. I will be releasing more singles throughout the year and trying to crack the TikTok algorithm.