[UPDATE 2/13/21]: On Saturday, February 13th, Live For Live Music will offer a live stream of The Funk Sessions from Denver. The stream of the all-star funk throwdown will raise funds for Backline. Donate any amount to Backline via FunkSessions.com to get your link to the stream.
In preparation for The Funk Sessions livestream benefiting Backline, check out this 2019 feature interview with Backline co-founder, Hilary Gleason.
[12/20/19] As longtime music scene insider and Backline co-founder, Hilary Gleason, knows all too well, the musicians who heal people with the intangible energy they bring are often in need of healing themselves. There is no shortage of songs about the gruel of life on the road, and for good reason: All the travel, time away from family and home, and absence of any sort of regular routine can take a toll on even the strongest of minds and bodies.
After the recent high-profile suicides of musicians like Jeff Austin and Neal Casal, Hilary and an all-star assortment of industry insiders gathered together to see if there was a way they could help. Out of those brainstorming sessions, Backline, the new mental health outreach organization focusing on musicians and music industry workers, was born.
On a recent edition of the Rex-A-Vision podcast, Gleason sat down for a discussion about the origins, purpose, and goals of Backline. You can listen to the full episode or read a transcript of some of the highlights from the interview below:
Rex-A-Vision Podcast Ep. 70: Hilary Gleason of Backline
Rex-A-Vision: Before we get into this wonderful thing you and your team are creating, if you don’t mind, let’s get a bit of backstory for how you got into the music industry and exactly what you do.
Hilary Gleason: Certainly! My dad is an amazing music fan and raised me on all the best music, like the Grateful Dead, Little Feat and Hot Tuna. He started taking me to see shows at a pretty young age. When I was ten and got out of school, he took off work and we went and saw something like fifteen Little Feat shows in a row and rode the rail the whole time. That was my introduction to that kind of life, and we’ve done that several times since with bands like Hot Tuna and Los Lobos.
When I was growing up, he would say, “If you can see a really good rock and roll show, you can ride that energy for two or three weeks.” I have brought that into my own life and believe that very deeply. When I moved to New York for my first job, I was right around the corner from the Brooklyn Bowl. I went there on my first night to see this band my sister had a CD from in her car—a band called Soulive. It was a little overwhelming, but I quickly fell into the scene and became a part of the family there. That truly helped shape my personal life and my career.
Rex-A-Vision: You’ve turned this passion into a career, correct?
Hilary Gleason: I have. That led, in large part, to my work for Global Citizen in Central Park. They throw a sixty thousand-person festival in Central Park and I was working on their non-profit team. I got to work a lot on how the non-profits inspire the artists, how the artists help promote the non-profits. When I moved to Denver, I realized I had all these friends in the music industry who would say, “It’s so cool you work with non-profits,” that wished they could do it themselves but they lacked the time, experience, and know-how to make it work.
In July of 2017, I launched Level, which is my consulting firm that connects businesses and bands with non-profits. We ask folks, “What do you think is the biggest issue in the world?” and we go from there. After going through the various humanitarian and environmental causes, we help our clients find a non-profit that they can believe in. Then, we work on designing campaigns and initiatives that we can support with their platform.
Rex-A-Vision: It’s just wonderful that you thought to do that.
Hilary Gleason: It’s been really amazing. I was kinda nervous at first, but I had so many people cheering me on. Helping small- and mid-sized bands realize that even though they couldn’t dedicate financial resources, there were ways they could use their reach and existing revenue streams to take a stand on issues that matter to them. I love the lightbulb moment when we tell them “Do you know that we raised ‘X’ amount for your cause?” And they are like, “How is that possible?!”
Rex-A-Vision: You’re taking that spirit of helping into a very helpful and healing direction. Can you tell us a bit about Backline as a concept?
Hilary Gleason: Certainly. It’s called Backline, or Backline.cares. It’s a way that people in the music industry—musicians, road crews, tour managers—and their families can quickly and easily access mental health resources. It’s a website. You can go online and learn about grief, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
You can also fill out a form and say, “Hey, I need help.” You will be paired with a case manager, all of whom are licensed health care providers. They will actually walk through with you what it is you’re struggling with and what you have tried so far. If you’ve tried therapy before, they can work with them to see if they can find what was missing in that. We can get services to you to help you thrive, on and off the road.
Rex-A-Vision: You mentioned earlier how a show can give you a positive charge, and the same goes for me. Sadly, a traveling musician doesn’t really have the time to see shows out on the road…
Hilary Gleason: It’s a very hard and rigorous lifestyle. There is this spirit that “the show must go on,” but it’s wrong to expect artists to leave all their issues and struggles at the door and give us this joyful experience. And when the show is over, those issues come right back. We’re trying to figure out how to help people be more open with what they are struggling with, even if it’s just [with] the people they are traveling with and their loved ones back home. We want to help people face these issues head-on and actually work through them so they can be in a good place when they get up on stage. I’m sure you’ve seen a show where the artists were just not feeling it…
Rex-A-Vision: I have, indeed. I usually try and smile and give them some energy back.
Hilary Gleason: Yes. We have to recognize that music comes out of happiness and joy, but also sadness and deep, dark places. What I want for my friends, for the artists I love, is a sense of balance. An ability to handle the highs and the lows.
Rex-A-Vision: I know you’re not doing this alone. You wanna shout all some of the wonderful folks helping make this a reality?
Hilary Gleason: I would love to! We have Kendall Deflin Corso, a big part of the reason we have been able to launch so quickly. She is out of Brooklyn, New York and has several amazing jobs right now including Backline, with 11E1ven Group management, and my team with Level.
We also have Tory Pittarelli, another one of the Backline co-founders. She did such an amazing job getting the website up and running the creative aspects of it. She is also an entrepreneur and runs a silversmithing business call The Mischief Collective.
As you can see, we all have other jobs…but it begs to be said that we all felt called to this need. It actually came about after Neal Casal died I got five phone calls that were pretty much verbatim, “This is so messed up…what are we gonna do?” I had a bigger-than-me moment and realized I was not the only one getting these phone calls. I decided I wanted to bring this into a collective space, so I sent out an email to people from across the music industry to join on a conference call where we could talk about what we were gonna do. The response was amazing and we discussed what organizations already existed, where the gaps were, and what we could do to help.
Rex-A-Vision: Well, I have to say I’m very moved by what you and your team have done in such a short amount of time to help a situation that is in real need of love. Thanks for all of your effort and leadership…and thanks for caring.
Hilary Gleason: Thanks for having me. It’s been really nice to channel this grief into something that could help.
To hear the rest of this inspiring conversation, including Hilary’s moving thoughts on attending the Jeff Austin Memorial in Colorado, check out the Rex-A-Vision Podcast on Podbean, iTunes and Spotify.
Stay tuned for more information, artist testimonials, and other mental health-related content in the coming weeks on Live For Live Music courtesy of our friends at Backline. Until then, head over to the Backline website to learn more about this important new initiative and how you can get involved or get help for yourself. You can also follow Backline on Facebook here and on Instagram here.