I had the opportunity to speak with Jason Blades, the music and events coordinator for non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA for short) at Warped Tour’s 4th of July stop in West Palm Beach. To Write Love on Her Arms is an organization that helps those struggling with depression, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. They
exist to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. Since its start in 2006, they have donated over $1.5 million directly into treatment and recovery and have answered over 180,000 emails from over 100 countries. In recent years, TWLOHA was awarded a $1 million grant from Chase at the first-ever American Giving Awards (AGAs) announced on NBC.
We spoke about how To Write Love on Her Arms organizes and picks the artists for their tours, their Warped Tour booth, and their mission.
How do you choose artists for your events?
The artists that we pick for our Heavy and Light tour or some of the events that we do, it’s usually just artists that we have an existing relationship with or we really believe in the music that they put out and they also believe in the organization, so it’s kinda like a symbiotic partnership/relationship. They recognize the work we’re doing is needed and we love the fact that they have a big platform that they’re willing to use. So that’s been a really big factor in how we select our artists for our Heavy and Light tour and other events that we do.
How did the idea for “Heavy and Light” come about?
It actually grew out of one of our friends passing away and we wanted a show to celebrate his life. Not a benefit show, but to recognize the fact that life has heavy moments but it also has light moments. So something that’s heavy, people who are struggling but also the light moments of finding treatment and getting plugged into help. So we wanted to use that night as a chance to bring some conversation to the topics of depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide but also to encourage people that there’s help and to use music as a way to connect with people. So just loving the contrast between the heavy and light.
Favorite Warped experience? Can be from this year or any of the previous years you’ve been on the tour.
So I’ve done Warped for the organization since 2009 and every year since. I’d say it’s kind of a daily thing. Just really getting to connect with the kids and the people at the festival. We offer localized resource guides that have resources for each city that we are visiting. So if someone comes up and needs help or is looking for help for a friend, we’re able to give that to them and know that the hope is that they might be able to connect and find help if that’s what they’re needing or if they’re struggling. And then really just the conversations. Making friends, seeing old ones from over the years. In each city, I look forward to knowing that, tomorrow, I have a couple of friends that I can connect with or see, since it’s been a year. So I’d really just say the people. That’s definitely the best part.
To Write Love on Her Arms is almost as well known for their connection to music as they are for helping those struggling with depression, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. Why do you think music is such an important force in your organization?
We grew out of an attempt to help a friend and a big part of that was using music to help keep her safe and taking her to concerts because we realized the ability it has to connect people and to heal. I mean you look around today, we’re at Warped Tour, and there’s probably 10-15,000 people here. And they are all from different walks of life, but they’re all here for one reason because they love some of the music. They really connect with it. So I think that common bond, we love the ability that that has to bring people together, to form community, and to ultimately, you know, meet people where they’re at. So Warped Tour has become a really unique and awesome opportunity for us to connect with almost three quarter of a million people in a short, brief window of time and in 50 cities across the U.S. We really love the fact that Warped Tour, but especially music, just the way it can bring people together and connect people.
What are some of your favorite types of music?
I know it’s cliché, but I really like a wide variety, then again because of its ability to transcend words and the way it connects people through emotion and through community. It’s hard to pick one type. If I had to pick one type, my favorite would be post-rock. So I guess just modern, instrumental rock.
My favorite band would be Caspian. Bands like that, Explosions in the Sky type stuff. Mogwai. That kind of stuff, it’s considered post-rock.
Name one song people would be surprised to find on your iPod.
Probably that I have the Taylor Swift discography on my iPod.
Hey, I love Taylor Swift. I’ll totally turn her up on the radio.
I think when people see that, they’re like “really?’
Anything else you want to add?
If anyone finds themselves at Warped Tour or any of the stops remaining in the summer, or they’re just looking for help or resources, we have a website and Find Help page. It’d be T-W-L-O-H-A.com, that’s our website. People can get connected to the work we’re doing or resources for their local city if they’re struggling or they have a friend that’s struggling. Yeah, if anyone does find themselves struggling, to not feel alone, to know that they can reach out to us or to friends to ask for help and to try and find treatment or whatever kind of help they might need.
As for Warped Tour, what is available at your booth? Can people talk to you at your booth?
None of us on staff are considered trained counselors, but we consult with them. What we do is, I am here to meet them where they’re at and then connect them to resources we have. But yeah, if someone just wants to come talk and share something, we’re more than willing to listen and to offer them whatever we can in the form of encouragement and resources. We have a campaign that’s really cool that people get to fill out. We’d encourage anyone to come by and check it out and stick around and talk for a little bit.
[smiles] Okay. Thank you.
[smiles also] Thank you very much. Awesome.