James Veck-Gilodi Hopes Anxiety Sufferers Find Solace In Deaf Havana's Songs

16 August 2019 | 9:00 am | Bryget Chrisfield

Frontman James Veck-Gilodi acknowledges that Deaf Havana's songs wouldn't have connected with people to the same degree had he not endured incapacitating panic attacks. Bryget Chrisfield also discovers his "biggest influence as a singer, 100%" is Daniel Johns.

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CONTENT WARNING: This article contains discussion of mental health. If you are suffering from any of the issues that have been discussed or need assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

Given that Deaf Havana first toured our shores as part of the 2013 Soundwave line-up, we're keen to hear whether James Veck-Gilodi wound up partying with any of his heroes during that touring stint. "That whole tour was full of stuff like that," the band's frontman reveals, "but really embarrassing stuff like bumping into the guy from Smashing Pumpkins while I was wearing a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt. And they're notoriously not nice to their fans, so I didn't speak to him. I was drunk, luckily, so I just sort of walked away. 

"But I remember the first day we landed in Brisbane – and before anybody had even played a show – Metallica hosted a massive BBQ and, like, invited everyone down to the BBQ. Everyone was there getting drunk and eating and stuff, and Metallica were just goin' 'round introducing themselves to everyone. And that was my first few hours that I'd landed in Australia, which was a country that I'd wanted to be in my entire life, and then a band that I grew up listening to were, like, walking around introducing themselves to us, which was so weird!" he laughs, before stressing that Metallica "were super nice" people.

Veck-Gilodi formed Deaf Havana while he was in high school and explains, "I didn't have any of my own equipment so I had to borrow [it from] the guy who used to sing [Ryan Mellor] – he used to scream in our band when we first started." 

When asked which bands he was obsessed with around this time, Veck-Gilodi offers, "My favourite band – well, still – is probably Silverchair... Me and the guy whose equipment I used to 'steal' were, like, obsessed with Silverchair so we just used to try and learn all their songs and we covered loads of their songs." 

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Sadly, Veck-Gilodi never got to see Silverchair live ("so annoying"), but praises Daniel Johns' vocal ability: "He's my biggest influence as a singer, 100%."

When Mellor left Deaf Havana in 2010, Veck-Gilodi took over lead singer duties and admits, "It took me a long time to actually become comfortable with doin' it... The playing became ok after a while, it was more the talking in between songs that I was really uncomfortable with; I didn't know what to say."

After moving to London in 2008, Veck-Gilodi started experiencing incapacitating panic attacks, which informed material on 2011's Fools And Worthless Liars, Deaf Havana's second record, but the first to feature Veck-Gilodi on lead vocals. "The thing that is the most rewarding for me is to know that other people can listen to [the songs] and feel like, 'Oh, it's not just me that has [panic attacks],'" he offers, before acknowledging, "The songs wouldn't have been the same if I hadn't started to have panic attacks."

Although Veck-Gilodi didn't seek professional advice, he did enlist the help of 'Dr Google'. "There's a band I like called Counting Crows and the singer [Adam Duritz] has the same thing; he has this thing which is called depersonalisation [disorder], where anxiety makes it feel kind of like everything's a dream and it's not real, and I had that as well for ages and it was horrible. But once I read that and found out that it wasn't that weird to have it, I just kind of did a bit of research and figured out that as long as you know that it's your head that's doin' it and you're not gonna die, I think you're alright. But it takes a long time to get a grasp of it."

Veck-Gilodi says his panic attacks were "quite vision-related". "I'd get tunnel vision and black out and feel like I was gonna pass out and stuff like that. And it was triggered by certain things like changes in light or temperature – it was so weird."

Even though his triggers tend to recur throughout live performances, Veck-Gilodi marvels, "I never really had a panic attack while on stage, but when you're not playing on tour it definitely happens a lot and, like, when you're hungover it happens a lot. Drinking [alcohol] helps it, but only in the moment and then afterwards it makes it worse; so it's kind of a catch-22, really."