The world needs more unsung heroes in the world, those that do work in the background and take very little or no credit for what they do. They are rewarded, but only by their sense of knowing that they did something to help others. It seems that this is far to rare in life, and in the music business that is even less common. So, when I was introduced to Don Lawson a few weeks ago by a mutual friend, it was very pleasing to know that I had been introduced to yet another one of these individuals, Don Lawson. Don is not only a musician and songwriter that does quite a wide variety of styles, but he is also very active in some amazing charities that are doing wonderful things for others, The Peyton Heart Project and The Songs of Love Foundation.
The Peyton Heart Project is a project that leaves little crocheted hearts with uplifting sayings in random spots all over the globe for people to find them and be inspired by their messages. And Songs of Love is an organization where musicians write songs for children and teens currently facing tough medical, physical or emotional challenges. Not only does Don do work with both of those great projects, he also has written a song that is being featured in a new anti-bullying movie entitled, Worthless. With all of his charity work and his advocacy for suicide and bullying awareness, I thought it would be great to find out what he was all about. Here is what he had to say:
You were not always a professional musician, you were actually a mental health counselor for many years. What made you decide to focus solely on your music?
My background is in mental health. I worked at a California University for many years doing psychological counseling. I got in the field initially because some family members were dealing with mental health issues, and didn’t realize it. I found that their mental health issues started encroaching on my life. I went back to school and got a masters degree in psychology and counseling and then worked with clients for many years dealing with many different forms of mental illness including suicide ideation, major depression, situational depression, personality disorders…pretty much every type of illness you can think of. It was wonderful working with these college students whose age ranges would be from 18 to 60. But it was predominately between the ages of 18 to 25 including the grad students. Now I am retired.
I was a musician since I was 12 years old. I started playing drums and played in many bands over the years. When I got in college I started guitar and actually stopped playing drums for quite awhile and just focused on the guitar. I was playing a lot of coffee house performances back then. And then, as time went on, I got back to playing drums and played in a cover band and did a lot of casual gigs. I have always been a songwriter, but never really had the time (to focus on it)…and my dream which I am really living today where I have a recording studio in my home and I get to pretty much write every day. My motivation was that I was at the point where I could retire and I could write songs and focus on the charity work that I do to help other people. Which is always on my mind, to write songs that are meaningful and touch the hearts of others.
Although you do very serious music like “We Breathe Together”, you also seem to have a bit of a bit of silly side with song titles like, “I’ll Dip the Moon in Chocolate”, “Hot Sauce Hangover”, and “Every Cowgirl has a silver lining”. Do you feel there needs to be a balance between the seriousness and the lightheartedness when it comes to your songwriting?
Absolutely, I like having fun with my music. The other songs that I am crazy about and had so much fun writing is the song “She Snaps”. You’ll notice that my music is a very eclectic. Some of it is more country, some of it is more rock. And that song, if you pardon the comparison like “punk bubblegum pop”. When I wrote that I was reading an article about the chewing gum industry and how they were on the decline. One of my favorite past times is chewing gum when I am driving. I thought that song would be great for the chewing gum industry. I thought, “Let’s make chewing gum sexy.” Because it can be a very sexy thing, maybe not everyone can agree with me, but that is what that song is about. It’s in the lighthearted vein. I try to draw a balance between the seriousness and the lightheartedness.
The song “We Breathe Together, I wrote that song a few years ago I was watching the news and it was another one of those horrific shootings…I believe it was the Sandy Hook shooting. Also on the news, as we hear almost every day, there was a child that was bullied and committed suicide. I said, “I have to write this song.” The premise behind that song is that I don’t want people to stop breathing. I want people to hear that song and realize that the world is with them. Please don’t stop breathing, because we are in this together. That line “We breath together as we sigh”, the sighing part kind of ties back to my background as a psychologist. It is a reflex that we all use whether we know it or not. It is a reflex where are bodies are telling us to take a deep breath and chill. So, again, I just want to let them know we are all breathing with them.
Speaking of the song “We Breathe Together”, it is featured in the anti bullying movie, Worthless. How did you get involved in the movie?
I have a network of people that I am in touch with. I got an email one day telling me that they were casting for this movie. So I contacted the people there at the movie and submitted submitted songs. After they approached the producers and several other people that were involved in the project, they said they really liked the song and wanted to use it.
You mention in the video introduction from Worthless that you are involved with The Peyton Heart Project. What is it that they do and how are you involved specifically?
I got involved with them because one of my wife’s friend crochets and gave her one of these hearts. My wife had shown me this heart and I said, “This is incredible. Let’s contact them.” So I went onto their website and we realized that their knitting and crocheting is incredible, but there are people who don’t know how to do that. So let’s contact them and see if we can make a video for them showing how to make the hearts out of felt so anyone can do it. So we made a video for them that is on their website. It just demonstrates how to make the hearts. That is how I initially got involved. My other involvement is that I am an advocate I do a lot of tweeting to help them get the word out. I do a lot of retweeting and original tweets for them to try and get the word out. To raise awareness. It is such a great cause that I love what I do for them.
You not only work with The Peyton Project, but you also write songs for Songsoflove.
I love this project so much. It’s an amazing cause. You can choose your timeline to write your songs and I usually try to do one once a month. It’s surprisingly harder to do than I thought. But every time I get one I am just thrilled. I just got an assignment the other day, a young eleven year old boy who is struggling with major health issues. All of the cases are major health issues, even to the point that one ended up passing on before they even got the song…which is why there is always a sense of urgency when you are writing a song. And all of the songs have to be studio quality. They give me the parameters where they outline the interests of the child. The child might like certain types of food, have a dog named “Jeff”, and on and on. The challenge is to work about 20 of their interests into a song. One time I had to write a song for a baby who was in the hospital with a serious heart condition. One of the parameters was a Bobby pillow. I never thought that I would ever have written a song talking about a Boppy pillow. In fact, if the words that they want are not in the song I have to start all over again. They also can ask for different styles of music.
It sounds like a challenge but also sounds very rewarding.
I’ll tell you what, my wife and I are a wreck every time we do a song. I don’t always hear from the families, which is fine because they are dealing with these major issues, but every once and awhile I get a little note. And I just got one the other day from this new song I am doing, and I’ll tell you it got to my heart. And it made me realize that I can never not do this. His exact words were, “I can not wait to hear my song!”. That just makes it all worthwhile and, of course, I am doing something that I love.
Between Songs of Love, the Peyton Project, and Worthless, you are very active with charity or advocacy work. What do you think drives you to want to help others so much?
What drives me is what I lived with when I was doing my counseling work. I not only hear these stories today of kids being bullied or dealing with major health crisis today, but then I remember so vividly living that when I was helping clients. These are stories I heard first hand from clients and those stories never leave me. I have a million of them and they all touched my heart. I would say it is hearing those stories through television or radio and realizing that I had heard these stories before. I feel I need to try and make a difference in the world, no matter how small. That is why I do this.
What would you like those out there that are hurting right now to know?
There is help out there. They can reach out. There are hotlines out there. And I want people to know, coming from a former therapist, that there is no shame in asking for help. And going to a qualified therapist…and there are hundreds and hundreds of them out there. You are going to go there and not be ridiculed. You are going to be unconditionally loved and accepted. There are techniques and medications that can drastically help. It is a process and does not happen overnight. But having that connection with a therapist is very, very important. The problem I see with our culture is that there is the stigma. There is no parity between physical health and mental health.
The other thing I would like to say is that if you know someone who is going through difficulty and having suicidal or dark thoughts, it is okay to talk about it. People don’t want to talk about it. They feel that if they talk about it, it could drive that person to suicide. But the truth is you have to talk about it and demystify it, and give them an outlet by showing them unconditional love. You don’t have to be their therapist, but you can get them help.
Are there a couple of songs that you would like to add to the Hand Picked Playlist?
I have a few of my songs I would like to add to the list, if possible.
I wrote this song after the passing of our dog. I recognized when I was working as a therapist that almost everyone would apologize when they started crying. And I would say, “You have the right to cry or not cry. You do whenever you whatever you need to do.” So after the death of our dog, I said what I needed to do is to write a song that explains how cathartic is is to cry.
The other song would be “Grow the Good”. I wrote it after reading “Life is Good The Book” by Bert and John Jacobs. It was very inspirational and talked about their struggles as they were making their company. It was an amazing book that gives tips on how to be positive and goes over the incredible road that they went through making the company. I was so inspired by the book that I wrote this song about it and I use a lot of their words in my lyrics.
If you are interested in helping out either the Peyton Heart Project or Songs of Love Foundation, please check them out at the following addresses.
And don’t forget to follow Don on your choice of social networking sites:
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Never give up, never give in. You are needed, you are important.