Mental health: SK Shlomo on depression, PTSD and singing

mental health

Beatboxer turned singer-songwriter SK Shlomo on facing up to his mental health issues and finding the courage to pursue a solo singing career.

For more than a decade SK Shlomo had a stellar career as a world-renowned beatboxer and looper.

A darling of the live scene, he played Glastonbury, Bestival and Edinburgh festivals. A favoured collaborator, he worked with Bjork, Ed Sheeran, Jarvis Cocker and Rudimental. There was even a sideline gig as a tech guru on the public speaking circuit.

His phone was ringing, the bills were getting paid and audiences loved him. But he was in turmoil. The highs of performing live were no longer enough. The pressure to stay on top was too much.

“I felt empty,” he explains. “There was this resistance inside of me and I wasn’t admitting it.”

Deep down he knew – at least in part – what the problem was. “I’d always wanted to be a recording artist but had never released my own music. I used the excuse that beatboxing was a live artform, but really I was afraid of getting it wrong.”

Determined to finally change this, Shlomo cleared his schedule to focus solely on songwriting – a gutsy move that meant deleting a year’s worth of gigs from the diary.

Ever the goal-setter, he resolved to write a song a day for a month. If that didn’t kickstart his solo singing career, what would?

A few days in, he had a breakdown. “I had been pretending to cope for a long time,” he says. “I reached a point where I stopped wanting to fight all these feelings I was having.”

Overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts, he turned to his partner for help. “Reaching out,” he laughs awkwardly “was the hardest thing”.

He sought treatment from the The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM).

“The great thing about BAPAM is that their support is specifically tailored for performers. The therapists understand the challenges that go with the job – what it’s like to be in the public eye and going on stage.”

Shlomo realised two home truths: ten years earlier he’d gotten sober but never addressed the cause of his dependency; in that time he’d developed two other addictions, work and the internet.

He was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which was linked to a near death experience when he was four. “I’ve always carried the feeling that it was my fault.”

After six months of therapy he felt ready to return to the music business – as a solo singer. Making this transition was relatively smooth. Years of performing meant he had the musicality, breath control and articulation nailed. A singing teacher helped him unlearn a few bad habits. “I had this weird tendency to pull my tongue down the whole time. It’s a beatboxing thing.”

In a small nod to his new outlook and direction, the artist formerly known as Shlomo became SK Shlomo. He recorded his first solo album Surrender (to be released in March). Musically it’s inspired by his love of techno. Lyrically it draws on his mental health issues. Listen to the first single The First Time here.

Shlomo also went public with his depression and PTSD. “It’s terrifying to admit a weakness in such a competitive industry. There is always someone out there ready to take your place. I worried people would think I was unreliable but sharing your vulnerability can make you stronger. But it’s important to remember though that you don’t have to share everything. You need to work through your story first so that you’re comfortable with what you’re saying.”

SK Shlomo plans to tour later this year with a show that mixes singing, beatboxing and looping.

“I’m going to do whatever I want, I don’t have to prove anything,” he says happily.

He’s excited to be back in the game with a new perspective. “I realise that the voice in my head that questions if I’m good enough will never go away.

“But doubt is not the problem, it’s how you deal with it. Every day I ask: ‘why am I doing this?’. But I now know how to manage those thoughts. I do yoga. I take time out when I need it. I take care of myself.”

Website: skshlomo.com

Do you need mental health support?

If you would like to talk to someone about the issues raised in this article, call the Samaritans 24-hour hotline on 116 123.

Bronwyn Bidwell is an Australian journalist and editor based in London. She enjoys writing about music, books, history and popular culture.