This article discusses addiction and mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.
JukeBox County, the stage name of Kingston’s own Rich Tyo, sat down with The Journal ahead of the release of his upcoming debut 10-track album, Inner Space Outer Space. Everything Tyo does radiates quirky creativity, and the name JukeBox County is no exception.
“You look at a jukebox: it has this spectrum of emotion and music,” Tyo told The Journal. “I like making music that sounds different. When you look at the album, every song kind of has a different feel to it.”
This statement isn’t an oversell.
The track “Need a Bit of Spacetime” is an upbeat tune driven by rocking guitar leads and a sing-along hook, while “Pluto” is a somber ballad dense with southern jazz and country influences. Both tracks from Inner Space Outer Space are quite different yet maintain the free spirit that is central to JukeBox County’s music.
“It’s fun, it’s joyous. You can dance to it.”
Fewer artists are valuing the album format during the current era of music streaming—most release frequent singles to maximize listener retention. Each single also presents an opportunity to sell new merch collections.
However, Tyo feels this format allows for cohesion as his songs paint of a wide canvas of styles and thematic territories.
“This is more of an album where songs go into each other,” he said. “You’re sort of on this journey from the beginning to the end. I’m really trying to bring back [the album format] and pay homage to people who really appreciate it as well.”
For JukeBox County, the songs are just the story’s beginning.
Leading up to the release of Inner Space Outer Space, Tyo will donate 25 per cent of the money raised for his album’s release on Indiegogo to several mental health initiatives in Kingston, including Pathways to Education and the Kingston Youth Shelter. The connection between Tyo and this community runs deeper than music.
“When I first moved to Kingston, I got onto the crisis team [at Addiction and Mental Health Services],” Tyo explained. “It was pretty heavy, seeing the stuff that no one else will see.”
During his time with AMHS, he responded to non-criminal police calls to assist with everything from crises to psychosis. Tyo learned to alchemize these experiences into music that could hopefully help people in need.
“I started doing music groups in the psych ward and different shelters. That led to doing mental health education with youth groups. [Those experiences] really informed why I find mental health important, and why it’s so important to talk about it and break down the stigma.”
The ways JukeBox County’s music challenges these contemporary conceptions of mental health come from an honest and authentic place. Tyo was open about how much work it has taken to manage his own mental health over the last few years.
“Whether it’s just day-to-day life or just exposure to trauma in my work, I work hard to practice what I preach. I can show people what [the things I preach] look like through trial and error.”
Music’s capability for driving change is not lost on Tyo.
“It’s a really cool way to break the patriarchal way of looking at mental health. What if mental illness is a reaction to a [flawed] system?”
Next for JukeBox County is to translate this energy into a live setting as the slow-approaching end of the pandemic makes such events possible.
“My home base for music is Wolfe Island. Some friends have bought the hotel there and are revamping it into a great live venue. There will be some shows there whether that means streaming it online or doing some in-person that are COVID-safe.”
Some time to smell the roses is also well-earned.
“I’ve never done this kind of stuff before,” said Tyo. “I’m [excited] to get the music out there and see how people are connecting to it.”
Inner Space Outer Space is out May 26th on Wolfe Island Records.
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