Interview: Courtney Paige Nelson On Breaking Mental Health Stigma

Courtney Paige Nelson took an unusual road to enter the music industry. After first gaining awareness as a model starring in America’s Next Top Model, she then set her eyes on music, making her entry as a recording artist at the age of 27. Despite her unusual path, it would appear music is what she was meant to do all along and it’s a talent she possessed long before she made her recording debut. Artistically her stunning music combines the world’s of edgy pop with the dark smokiness of alt-R&B and has already gained nods of approval from the tastemakers such as Ear Milk, Pop Dust and Popular.

Through her latest releases, she addresses the intense hardships in her life and daringly shows off a vulnerable side that many typically shy away from. She recently put out a three-chapter story with the songs “Sorry I’m Not Perfect”, “Better Now” and “I Saved Myself” through which she shared her experiences with the pressures within romantic relationships, mental health and everyday life. The tracks feature hauntingly stunning lyrics that dive deep into the story of a difficult breakup and treatment she went through to get to where she is now. So to celebrate their release, we sat down with her to have a chat about her story and talk about the experiences that we hear her address within her music.

The journey and experiences you’ve endured are no easy accomplishment. We commend you on your strength. While most people tend to hide their mental health experiences in fear of judgement, through your EP you have been brutally honest. How has that journey sharing the intimate details of your struggles been? 

Thank you so much! I appreciate that. To be honest, it’s been super therapeutic and a bit of a relief. Now that everything I’ve been through is out on the table, there’s no part of me I have to hide. For a long time, I would hide the fact I tried to take my own life, that I had Depression/PTSD, and my upbringing. Now, I can just relax because people can make their own assumptions about me and what I’ve been through, by meeting me and listening to my art. I feel really good! I’m in such a good place, I want to inspire and help others get to where I am. 

Throughout the process of those stories you’ve overcome a lot. Could you share one or two pieces of actionable advice to someone in those circumstances? 

The second you need help, go get it. It’s so important to realize that mental health is the MOST important thing. Don’t think about cost, don’t think about how people will view you, don’t think about anything except getting help. There is always a way. Free counseling, hotlines, coping skills, and if you can afford it.. a treatment center. I would say checking myself into residential treatment was the best thing I ever did for myself. It literally saved my life. 

Your songs have opened a conversation and helped many process and explain their struggles. On “Saved Myself” you mentioned you were isolated and alone during your treatment. Did you have any songs that you leaned on? 

I felt isolated because I didn’t have anyone outside of treatment, and no one to call inside treatment. So I had to fight my own demons and eventually become friends with them. Learning to coexist with mental illness and realizing your past happened, but you can learn to cope with the memories and trauma. As for music, there was no phones or electronics allowed because they want you to focus on your reason for being there, so I didn’t have music. I did however, write part of my breakout single ‘Sorry I’m Not Perfect’ in treatment. 

You’ve transitioned from modelling and acting into music at an age many could consider as late. Your voice sounds like you’ve been training for decades. What would you say has been the most difficult part about the creative process in music? 

Thank you so much! That’s extremely sweet to say. To be honest, I don’t know where this voice came from. I always liked music, I always liked to sing in my shower (hahaha), but I didn’t think I was any good and I DEFINITELY never dreamed this would be my calling and career. Though, I am a firm believer in fate, and having a path.. so music is mine. I could say I’m sad I discovered it so late, but truly I’m not. I needed to experience more of life and experience more hardships and heartbreak to really be the artist I am right now. If I had started 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have known who I am enough to have a lasting career. 

Growing up, who were your favourite artists?

Oh man! That’s such a hard question. Jackson 5 was the first group I discovered and loved. I cried my eyes out when I found out Michael was older because I was 4 and had a crush on him. Janet Jackson, babyface, LED Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jewel, Kenny G, Toni Braxton, Brandy, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye.. the list goes on. 

Most of your songs have been released during a very unusual time in history, given that much of the world has faced significant isolation in one form or another. This time can be very harming. Do you have any routines or activities that help you keep you happy? 

The one thing that makes me happy is working and music. So I’ve had a lot of time for both of those! I took this time to really zero in on who I am, what I want, and where I want to go. A lot of people have viewed this as a negative experience, but we have an opportunity to build a game plan and focus on ourselves and career path. I’ve been writing and collaborating so much. I’m excited!

How different would your life be right now if you didn’t travel over to Australia?

Damn, this question really hit me hard. I travelled to Australia because I was in a long-distance relationship with an Australian. I wouldn’t be a musician if I hadn’t gone. I wouldn’t have 3 songs about the hardest point of my life; my breakup and going to treatment. I couldn’t fathom where I’d be at. It honestly gives me anxiety thinking about who I would be and what path I might’ve been on. I truly believe things happen for a reason a lot of the time, so I went there and had that exact experience for a reason. 

Your music is self-released, what are your thoughts on the role of labels in 2020?

Me personally, I want to be signed with a label. I know I will soon enough. I’m confident in my writing and artistry. The thing about labels is you always want to read the contract and know that you can and should negotiate if something sounds off. I’m lucky I have a really good team behind me so I don’t have to worry about that when the time comes for me to sign. I do however have a general idea of what is and isn’t okay because I’ve studied up on music business to make sure I always know what’s right and wrong in those types of agreements. 

What would your dream collaboration be?

My dream collaboration would be any one of the EDM DJs I’ve specially bought tickets for previously to go see. I think being able to write and do vocals for Duke Dumont or Subfocus would be an absolute dream. Being on a song with Post Malone would be a dream. James Blake would be another dream collaboration. Rufus Du Soul, Above & Beyond, Hayden James, Chainsmokers, there’s honestly so many artists I would be happy writing or singing top line for. 

Lastly, could you tease us with anything happening on the tail end of 2020?

I have another song coming out called ‘Kindred Spirits’ in the fall which is a teaser for my EP I hope to put out in first week in March. My music video premieres in a month, I have 3+ features I did with other artists while in quarantine, and so many good things happening that I can’t talk about. Just know I have so much in store for people I’m excited to let everyone even further into my world of music. 

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