For most casual fans of music, the forty-five minutes that a band spends on the stage is all they can see. However, when the guitar cases are closed and the venue’s floor is littered with empty beer cans and trash, most bands load their gear into the van and return back to their normal lives.
Mother Church Pew’s Off The Stage is a series that celebrates artists’ paths to where they are and the things they do behind the scenes to stay there.
Russell James Pyle began writing songs at age 14, as soon as he could pluck out songs on a guitar; the Albuquerque-based alt-folk artist, who was chosen by the National Parks Arts Foundation as one of two centennial artists-in-residence at Big Bend National Park recently, is preparing to release his new EP, Seasons, in December. While music has always been his passion, Pyle only decided a few short years ago to pursue it full time. “I’m much poorer now,” Pyle laughs. “But I’m much more in resonance with myself, and my mental health is so much better. That’s priceless.”
“I have a master’s in counseling and was a psychotherapist for a few years before I enrolled in a PhD program at the University of New Mexico where my research focused on Ecopsychology—the study of psychology as it relates to connections with the natural world, as a way to heal mental health, among many other things,” recalls avid nature-lover Pyle. “One of the tenets of that idea is that we aren’t separate from the earth. What happens to us happens to the earth, and vice versa– when we work to heal the earth through conservation then we can heal ourselves.”
“I have a very long struggle with depression and anxiety, and PTSD. At times it’s very severe, but when I’m in nature, the symptoms subside,” he continues of the subject that holds a special personal meaning for him. “I’ve been in Big Bend National Park for two weeks, and I feel great. The majesty and the prominence of the mountains drew me to New Mexico, and I realized that the more time I spend in the natural world, the less my depression affects me. It’s like a coping mechanism.” Pyle realized that in the midst of his struggles, music was something he could do even in the throes of his worst symptoms.
“The research shows definitively that connecting with the natural world in one way or another is beneficial to mental health. It doesn’t even matter if you’re sitting and staring at the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend or you’re taking care of five plants in your office. It’s an interesting thing,” he continues. “Think about it this way—imagine you’re walking into a doctor’s office and it has that weird antiseptic smell and florescent lighting, you’re surrounded by jars of tongue depressers and swabs, and you see medical equipment and a biohazard container on the wall….then picture yourself walking into a doctor’s office where there are plants everywhere, there’s natural lighting, the office smells like lavender or cedar, there’s no biohazard box or tools on the wall, you hear a fountain bubbling in the corner; there’s palpable difference in the feeling between those two scenarios.”
With Seasons Pyle’s goal is two-fold: “I want my music to make people feel that their strength renewed, and I want them to know that they aren’t alone. You can create moods and images in words and soundscapes,” he reveals. “There’s an natural and atmospheric quality to Seasons that provides a sense of uplift, it’s meant to make you feel better about your life.”