Booka Nile & Asher Iriks Discuss Their Music Therapy Business ‘Sonic Minds’

Hey, how are you? Are you doing okay? In the wake of this global pandemic, it’s more than important to check in with your loved ones on their mental health. There are a range of services available for those who need them, but we’re here to talk about a new one.

You may know Booka Nile from Make Them Suffer, and more recently her new band Internet Friends, but what you might not know about is her new project. Alongside her friend Asher Iriks, the pair have created a business called Sonic Minds that is all about helping people with mental health illnesses through music therapy.

Naturally, to us this is an incredible idea and we wanted to find out more about it. If you want to know how to get involved or just explore another option, read on!

Hi Booka! For those readers who don’t know you, can you give us some backstory on your past working with people who have mental illnesses?

Ive been working across three psychiatric hostels in Perth for over seven years now. My role involves working with people with chronic and persistent mental illnesses and aiding in their recovery. I started as a recovery partner whilst I was doing my psychology degree at university and when I graduated and completed my thesis on music and cognitive psychology, I was promoted to the manager of one of the three facilities. When I joined Make Them Suffer I stepped down from this role as my touring commitments were too much to be able to commit to the requirements of the job and I became a casual employee, just filling in gaps and helping out when I was home from tour. Now I just work across these sites when I’m in Perth and not touring. I started doing music therapy based projects with the residents in the hostels around the same time that I joined Make Them Suffer as this is when I learnt to use recording programs. Prior to this, when I was the manager, I organised a music therapy program to take place once a week with a music therapist who I outsourced.

Tell us about this project, what’s it called and how does it work?

A few months ago I started a business called Sonic Minds with my dear friend and incredible musician and songwriter, Asher Iriks. We provide a range of services but the main one is delivering music therapy to people across the globe through Skype. We do this in the form of working with people to write and create their very own piece of music in whatever genre and style they like. We focus particularly on what’s going on for them internally and get them to channel their feelings and emotions into something creative. The therapeutic element in all of this involves them exploring their feelings, emotions and experiences internally, taking this and externalizing it by creating a song. At the end of the process we plan to release the songs and credit each client as one of the songwriters (if they agree to the release of course!).

What are the possible benefits of musical therapy?

There are multiple benefits for our mental health from engaging in music and music writing. Research on therapeutic songwriting in particular has shown that it can reduce mental distress and improve social engagement in a range of clinical populations. Research has evidenced that songwriting can reduce both negative physiological and psychological symptoms and increase our overall life satisfaction. For myself personally, songwriting and creation has helped with my self esteem, makes me feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and also helps me to feel connected with people who I share my music with.

This idea was born during your quarantine from an overseas trip, how long did it take you from conception to action?

The idea for Sonic Minds was born during my time in quarantine after I returned from a European tour with Make Them Suffer which was cut short. Basically I had to lock myself away completely for 2 weeks and during this time the only thing that motivated me to get out of bed each morning, was music and my desire to write music. Whilst I was in quarantine, I also started getting a lot more messages than usual through Instagram from people I’d never even met and who were mentally distressed and seeking help. It got me thinking ‘how many people are out there, isolated, feeling alone and as though their days lack purpose?’ I had a few days like this during isolation myself. I felt depressed and sad and like life would never be the same because of COVID-19. After allowing myself to feel these feelings and process them, that’s when I launched myself into writing more music than ever.

Realising that not everybody had this outlet in their life gave me this strong desire to change that for people and to allow them to have this same outlet that I benefited so much from. I also thought about how much music therapy and songwriting had helped some of the residents who I worked with in the psychiatric hostels and how it had hugely improved their confidence, belief in themselves and given them an outlet that they had perhaps never had before.

I think it was about a week or two after I came out of quarantine that I reached out to Asher and asked if he would help me to start doing therapeutic songwriting sessions with people online. Asher has one of the most unique and incredible abilities of writing songs of high quality in any genre and he’s perfected the ability to do this using no equipment whatsoever, except his iPhone, which is a VERY rare talent. If he could use this skill and help others learn it too, then I realised it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t have audio programs and equipment handy in their homes because Asher would be able to teach them how to make amazing music without equipment and fancy programs! I figured pairing his music and songwriting talent with my background and experience in mental health recovery and music therapy would be the perfect combination to help deliver the best possible service to people and help them create something that they could be really proud of.

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Does a potential client need any musical experience to work with you?

Nope! We are currently working with people of all varying levels of musical ability. Some are advanced musicians and others have zero musical background. It doesn’t matter because we are there to guide, facilitate and educate regardless of a person’s background. It could be as simple as we sit there with them on Skype and help them come up with lyrics and then play them a bunch of riffs or ideas and they give feedback or hum melodies they like, and then we use that to put together the instrumentals for a song etc. Every person we are working with currently has a different background and is seeking something different. It’s awesome and we love working with people of all varying abilities.

As we all know, mental illness can be a certain type of beast, so for those who don’t know whether they should reach out to you, are doubting themselves or are nervous, what would you tell them?

To anyone who might be feeling nervous or doubting themselves, just know that there is no reason for you to feel this way. We work with people of all varying abilities and backgrounds and we never pass judgement on this. We are here to help people and offer them guidance and allow them the opportunity to create. People can feel confident and safe in opening up about their experiences and feelings knowing that this information will stay within sessions and be treated as confidential.

A few people have reached out and said that they live with social anxiety and the idea of doing these face to face Skype sessions is too much for them. To those people, I’ve asked that they simply send some lyrics and instructions on what kind of song they’d like created and then Asher and I will go away and make their lyrics into a piece of music. We can start slow and we can work up to doing Skype sessions if people are feeling unsure or anxious about it. We’re here to help and we understand that launching straight into writing can be a daunting prospect. People also have the option to just start off by having a chat with us with zero pressure to commit to the songwriting sessions later on.

What does the future look like for this project? Will it continue once the pandemic has cleared?

It will continue, yes. We are in talks with stakeholders and other mental health organisations and music bodies about a range of potential directions for Sonic Minds, including the possibility of creating a talent scouting branch of our business where we would help potential talent we identify through sessions to potentially create a career for themselves in music. We would also love to start doing some of these sessions face to face with people who live in Perth, now that restrictions have been lifted a bit here.

In addition to the music therapy branch of things we also offer services to bands and musicians including assistance with song creations, industry advice and guidance, music lessons etc. We also offer a songwriting service where we can write music for people who just come to us with a general idea and direction for the song they want written. We’ve written pieces for people as gifts to their loved ones and friends which I think is something that will continue to grow as it can be such a unique and cool thing to give somebody their own song as a birthday or Christmas gift. Basically the way I see it, the benefits of music on our mental well-being can last a lifetime and regardless of the status of COVID-19. Music will never stop being healing and beneficial for our mental health.

To those people who are keen to work with you, how should they contact you?

To anyone who is keen to work with myself and Asher, just email connect@sonicminds.com.au and we can get a dialogue going and see what you’re after and how we can help. You can also hit up our Instagram DMs @sonic_minds.

Piece by Ebony Story

No illness is too big, or too small. Ask for help.

Lifeline Australia – crisis support and suicide prevention
Ph: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue – anxiety, depression and suicide prevention
Ph: 1300 22 4636

Headspace – youth mental health services
Find your nearest centre here

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