Soothing Souls with Rock 'n' Roll
Featured Guest: Wes Geer
Today's guest is Wesley Geer, musician and founder of the music therapy non-profit Rock to Recovery. After getting sober and leaving the band lifestyle behind, he found an outlet for his creativity and his desire to help others by bringing the healing power of songwriting and musical expression to treatment centers across California. He sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how he sees music change people's lives first-hand and to introduce us to their concert series, which honors famous musicians in recovery and proves that rock 'n' roll and alcohol don't have to go hand in hand.
David Condos: Hey, guys, welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted I’m David Condos and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. Today’s guest is Wesley Geer, former guitarist for the band Korn and founder of Rock to Recovery. After getting sober and leaving the band lifestyle behind, he found an outlet for his creativity and his desire to help others by bringing the healing power of songwriting and musical expression to treatment centers across California. Wesley sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery Conference in San Diego to share how he sees music change people’s life firsthand and to introduce us to their concert series which honors famous musicians in recovery and proves that rock’n’roll and alcohol don’t have to go hand in hand. Now, here’s Wesley.
I’m here with Wesley Geer. Thanks for being with us today.
Wesley Geer: Thanks for having me.
David: Let’s start by having you introduce us to some of your background, some of your personal story and how this journey got started for you.
Wesley: Let’s see. I’ve been a musician since I was like 14, right around the time when life really started getting weird and I got really into smoking weed. I have the typical story of destroying my life with drugs and alcohol. I got kicked out of school for smoking pot and I got really into a drinking. It was causing a lot problems in my life, did I ever think to quit? Heck no, I just tried to not have problems, which is impossible when you’re living I was and my dad finally kicked me. Here I am, 18 years old living in my car and, course, always trying to carry the dream and then I get a good job and things straightened out for a while and then I discovered methamphetamine.
The current band I was in at that time, I was like the leader of the band and I got into methamphetamine and we started getting really popular. We were playing local clubs with the Deftones and Incubus and System on the Down. We were having a lot of success, meanwhile I was killing myself with methamphetamine. I signed my first record deal right here I am, I have record labels flying out to see us first time that, “Wow, labels are going to come see us in Yorba Linda, they’re not even going to Hollywood, they’re coming to see us in a little small town area, they really like us.”
Did I go home and rest up for the big show? No, I went out and was doing creepy stuff on methamphetamine, I got arrested. I was powerless and out of control. I thought I was just a drug addict but really I’m an alcoholic I have the allergy, when I pick up and I put anything in me, whether it’s weed or booze or something, I just want more and more and more. Other people aren’t like that that’s what separates people like me, alcoholics, from other people. We got the record deal and we toured. I was the mastermind and the leader of the band in the beginning, I had these guys trusting their music careers to me and producers and record labels but by the end, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say because I was so unreliable.
David: You’d burnt that trust?
Wesley: Yes, I burned the trust and it’s like, since I start taking, they went from hanging on my every word to like “Yes, yes, yes” but people like me were always trying to control and enjoy our using. That’s the key word, we were trying to control, “Well, if I just don’t drink too much, maybe if I switch from whiskey, maybe if I don’t do meth and I just drink whiskey, maybe if I just drink beer, how about if I only drink on the weekends?” You try all the stuff to prove you don’t have a problem. Sometimes it feels like it’s working, you stay out of trouble for a minute, you get things seemingly in control.
David: Yes, you’re able to justify like, “I got it together”?
David: About how long had you been doing that band at that point?
Wesley: Almost a decade, probably actually over a decade if you count the early days but I was kind of controlling it but then we’re having a beef with the singer and then so I bailed. What I didn’t realize is how much I identified with myself being an artist and a musician. Once I left the band I went into a depression. It really messed me.
David: You lost part of your identity?
Wesley: Yes, and I didn’t even realize I was bumming out as hard as I was bumming out and of course, what did I do? I went back to the drugs and then I thought, “You know what, last time I used the snort meth, this time if I smoke meth it won’t be as bad.” Here I am trying to keep it more in control but I’m back on the meth and now doing meth and heroin. Finally, I just broke down on my brother and I told him what I was doing but I told him, “I’ll get it under control.” I couldn’t stay quit. I’d get a couple weeks in and then I’ll go, “Well, I’ll go have a Corona” and then I’ll have a Corona and then I’d be off to the coke dealer’s house going, “What the heck Happened?”
He called in the family and they did a small intervention on me and then I went to a rehab. That’s when I learned about the disease of alcoholism and the allergy that I was talking about. Yes, I could stop but I couldn’t stay stopped. I learned stuff in the rehab, cunning, baffling and powerful. That was the first thing that stuck out to me because it’s like, “Yes, this is cunning, it sneaks up on me and it’s baffling like how did I get loaded on a three day run again when I had no intention of doing?” and obviously, the powerful made a lot of sense to me.
David: How did that intervention, is that what finally was the turning point for you?
Wesley: Yes, he gave me which was great. My brother is so smart, he’s not an act but he basically gave me consequences, he’s like, “You’re fired from the job unless you want to get help.” Even then I was like, “Maybe I’ll just go to Thailand, I got like two grand left, maybe I just need to go ride some elephants.” I still almost didn’t go and I had this, what they call a moment of clarity, I lied on the bed, I just started crying, I’m like, “Dude, you are out of control.” I knew it was like, “I can’t control this thing, I have been trying for a long time” so I was like, “Yes, I’m going to go to rehab” and that’s what I did.
That’s when I learned about the disease of addiction. When I read literature based on that I was like, “Yes, that’s me”, it talks about you can’t differentiate the truth from the false and your alcoholic life seems the only normal one? Yes, I thought that, “Hey, isn’t everybody on meth?” [chuckles] You’re right? That’s what happens, we start taking our alcoholic life as the normal life.
David: To justify like, “I’m not doing anything that’s really over the line.”
Wesley: Yes, even when I was on tour in the bands, people would be like, Jonathan Davis of Korn, we’ve got some gigs with them, he was like, “Hey, man, I heard you’ve got problems partying.” I was like, “I don’t understand, what am I doing different than anybody else?” A lot of us don’t. Because I heard of myself in that disease model of addiction, I ascribed to what they were saying the solution was. I did the 12 steps, I applied into my life, I got on to it. My brother was like, “You are farther in the music business then a lot of people, why don’t you just start leading a normal life?”
I was like, “Okay” nut I wasn’t happy, I wanted to get back into music. I didn’t think I did for a long time, maybe I was in denial but I would go to shows and see people play. I couldn’t even watch because I was like, “I feel like I’m supposed to be out there”, not in an ego way but just like, “Man, I can play well.” Then I started praying and meditating on doing this “Aaa” meditation for manifestation, literally going, “Aaa” and you visualize what you want to attract, you imagine the energy going from your root chakra up to your chest, out of your thorax and then I was like, “Man, I need $10,000 to start this company” and I did “Aaa” meditation, “Aaa”. I got a weird check out of nowhere for my first band for like 12 grand. What? Then I was like, “I want to get back in the music – Aaa” and the band Korn called me – well, texted me within 10 days that “Hey, do you want to come and play with us?” I got to go to tour with Korn around the world totally sober.
David: I was going to ask about that. What was that experience like, going back into that world with a totally different perspective, totally different lifestyle than you had the previous time?
Wesley: It was so cool. I felt like it was like all my hard work in recovery and stuff was paying off.
David: You’d finally come around?
Wesley: Yes, and it was great to just go and be present for that and I felt like I was giving back to my God by living sober. I don’t know, it was the most incredible gift.
David: Are the guys in Korn, are they in recovery? What was that dynamic like being out on the road with that?
Wesley: That’s why I got the gig, their original guy left and they wanted a replacement. My name came up and they’re like, “That guy is a nut, he’s so loaded, no way.” Years went by, they wanted somebody who didn’t party so much and worked – a couple of guys got sober, they’re not in any program but they did it on their own, some people can do that. They wanted somebody who’s in control so it was rad then I got the gig because of my sobriety. That’s an important point in my stories like, I would think like who can be in music business and be sober? Now I got the biggest gig in my life because I was sober.
David: You mentioned the 12 step groups, the meditation, what are some other elements of your life now that have worked for you in your sobriety?
Wesley: It’s about a daily routine and the cool thing is that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. People I know that have long-term recovery, we don’t reinvent the wheel, we have something that works out. I basically, I wake up and I pray, I give thanks, I ask for guidance, I ask for help with the things I need to be helped with, whatever I’m going through. I ask to be shown where I can help other people, that’s a big one, help other people, and I meditate and I bring into meditation what I need answers on, or maybe I just need serenity. That’s a big part of it but you know, the other part is the 12 step process of purging all the stuff, the shame and guilt I had in my life, all the people I was mad at and looking at my part and everything, and really cleaning house, it was incredibly important.
Through that process of the 12 steps, I get to start loving on myself again, I make peace with everybody through making amends and these processes that are in the steps and then from there, the rest of the steps is about continuing to work on my spirituality, which will continue to lead you to new books and new friends and new things that help grow your contact with God or your higher self or whatever you want to call it, and then keeping your house clean, don’t create drama and continue to look for ways you can improve yourself, calling yourself out. Not just that, but also looking at any time I’m disturbed, bummed out, depressed, I really got to look at why and not settle for accepting that and looking where the deeper work needs to be done.
There’s a lot of people to do 12 steps, they get sober and they’ll maybe go to meetings or whatever, and they’re cool and they’re happy, their life’s cruising, they’ll go 10,20 years like that but there’s still pockets that they struggle with, that they just won’t address. What I love is like, let’s keep going deeper. Dating’s been a struggle. I’ve been dating a lot of women that seem really sick, why? That’s not their fault. That’s me going out with them. So what is it in me? That I’m really angry, I’ve been getting really self-loathing and hating myself lately. Okay, why? Let’s dig deeper. Let’s get a therapist. Let’s do some work. You know what I mean?
David: Yes, and not just accept it
Wesley: Not just accept it. That’s really the journey and I love it because then you’re continually — It’s like taking a car that runs like crap or doesn’t run and you keep repairing it and getting it better. Then you get the old engine working perfect. You don’t have to stop there, you can now maybe give it some more horsepower or another carburetor. You know what I mean? That’s what we’re doing to our souls and our minds —
Wesley: Rebuilding and then some, right? We’re repairing neural pathways and creating new ones, and it’s an endless process.
David: Yes, you transitioned out of Korn and you were looking for something new to do, a new mission to have, then you came to what you’re doing now with Rock To Recovery. Can you tell us kind of what led you to start that particular organization?
Wesley: Well, I was looking for something, first of all, and I’m like a musician, I’m sober, and then it just kind of came to me. I wanted to take music back in the treatment centers. When I was in rehab, there wasn’t music, we did our therapy yoga. I had my guitar there and I remember that people would want to play the guitar but they didn’t even know how to play and they would have so much fun. I’d show them two chords and the whole world would go away. The shame, the guilt, the stress of the mom who’s pissed at you, it all went away. You know, when you’re in a treatment center, you’re insecure. You’re judging everybody, you have a couple people you’re comfortable with. When we’d do these dumb songs, everybody would come together and we’d dance around like we’re cowboys or something, we’d just be silly. That stuck with me. The idea was like, “Well, man I want to bring music into treatment centers.”.
David: Is there some healing power there? Of music?
Wesley: Oh, man, it’s so magic, it’s underutilized. My thing I do with Rock To Recovery is I get non-musicians, just anybody, anybody who’s in a treatment center, to write and record songs, and we do it together. If you have 10 people in a group, we figure out who plays what instrument. When you listen to music, it engages half your brain, but when you play, it engages your whole brain. It’s very unique, but not only that, and the druggies love hearing this part, is it does to your mind what meds do, what psych meds do, it helps with —
David: With the brain chemistry, right?
Wesley: Right, endorphins, serotonin, dopamine. When we get everybody singing, it releases oxytocin which is the love molecule, which is released when you hug somebody for 20 seconds or after childbirth.
David: Just to dive a little bit deeper into that, how does that integrate with other treatment programs?
Wesley: We go to the treatment program, we drive up there, we’re mobile, we’re mobile musical missionaries [laughs]. We’re part of the weekly treatment curriculum of over 100 treatment programs.
David: It’s like once a week kind of thing?
Wesley: Once a week, weekly treatment, curriculum, yes. We have a nonprofit side too where we donate our services to state funded and nonprofit organizations that would never have money for a music therapy program. That’s cool and we do about 400 sessions every month.
David: One session, what does that look like, just one session for example?
Wesley: Yes, well, one session is anywhere between an hour or two usually, based on how the program works, but we come in and we start talking. The cool thing is that we can say like, “Hey, man, I was in rehab just like you.” and that instantly gets that common bond. I get what it feels like to be doped, sick and lost or coming off meth or drink whiskey every day. We get a topic for recovery, “What’s something you’re struggling with today? What’s the lie in your head tells you?” We use that topic to get everybody chime in on where they’re at and see how we’re connected and then that becomes the lyrics. That song becomes our song for us.
David: Kind of like a journal for the journeys that they don’t do.
Wesley: In that moment, in that day, I mean, some days we write a song about pizza, sometimes about puppy dogs, sometimes it’s about “F this.”. You got to get it out but we try to tie in a theme of hope, and there we can get it out and in the course, we try to bring in some solution, and then we record the song at the end. We get everybody singing a plan, we record at the end, we upload it on our SoundCloud
David: That’s another part of the healing power of music is, using it as the expression, like a release?
Wesley: Yes, and the cool thing is you can go back and listen to it, and we’ve even had people who they tell us now, “We’ve been doing this five years”, and “I always go back to the song because it reminds me of that time when I was empowered to change my life.”
David: That’s right. It can be kind of a milestone for them.
Wesley: We didn’t have people that relapsed, who were like, “When I was getting loaded, I was listening to this song every day because it took me back to that time when I was sober. It helped me remember that there is hope and I can do this again.”. It has a long-term ROI, ROI being return on investment, and the investment being for them, you know, the energy and the time they put into the recovery, they can keep using it as a source of strength and hope and spiritual elevation.
David: The other part of Rock To Recovery is the concert.
Wesley: The concert. Yes, you did your research.
David: Yes, so you’ve been doing this for a couple years now. What goes into that? What’s the mission? What do you hope it accomplishes?
Wesley: At first it started out, “Well, we have a nonprofit. Let’s do a concert to help fund what we do.”. We had our first, concert we had Billy Morrison, who plays with Billy Idol and Steve Stevens, Billy idol’s guitar player and Chester Bennington and Fred Durst and Mark McGrath and just an all-star cast of people performing. In an effort to be creative and move some tickets, I was like, “Well, it’s a sober event, let’s try to sell some to some treatment centers.” and we did. It ended up being a magical event because you have these people who maybe were shooting dope two weeks ago, they’re in a treatment center like, “Man, what am I going to do with my life?”
The treatment center sends them to Rock To Recovery so they’re at a concert, the first time out of the house in two weeks, maybe, and it’s a sober concert so that’s kind of mind blowing. Then we’re giving the Rock To Recovery award away to rock stars who show that you can be cool and rad and sober. It’s a powerful event for the community. For the recovery community, as far as the businesses, they have a way to market themselves.
David: Yes. It’s been sponsored by the Canyon, it is part of the foundations.
Wesley: Yes. Joey, I met him at some of these events for the industry, the recovery industry and he was always like, “We should do event.” I was like, “Yes, what should we do?” then when I finally got around it like, “I’m going to do a Rock To Recovery event.” “Oh, I’m going to call Joe. Hey, man, you want to sponsor this?” “Yes.” The Canyon is the title sponsor, so it wouldn’t have happened without the Canyon.
David: Then is there another one coming up later this year?
Wesley: There’s another one coming up. The reason I’m here today is I was just meeting with my people at the Canyon, we were talking about this year. It’s going to be in September again, it’s always in September. I’m not going to say the date because the ink isn’t dry yet and we have – every year we honor a legend of music and we’ll do the same this year.
David: That’ll be here in Southern California?
Wesley: It’s at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles in Hollywood, beautiful, majestic old theater, big rooftop area to hang out on and the stage is big and beautiful. It’s just a rad place.
David: Yes, yes. You mentioned some of the other big names that you’ve had involved with the concerts specifically, how would you describe the response that you’ve seen in general, as you’re going around, introducing people to Rock To Recovery? You feel like they’ve been waiting for something like this to come along, or is there some skepticism or– how would you describe that?
Wesley: I think that lot of people are surprised because I had some drinking friends there like Jaime Presley, she’s an actress and she isn’t sober and she brought some friends who normally drink and she was like, “You know what? None of us realized we weren’t drinking.” and for the recovery community, a lot of people said, “It’s about time there’s something like this for us that we can go, be sober at, and have such a good time and people really look forward to it. Now people are like, “We need one in Nashville and Austin and we need one in Florida and so we’re looking to grow it and continue to do it”. Yes, there definitely there was a need in the marketplace.
David: Cool, man. All right, we’ll just wrap up with this final question if that’s all right. Everyone who devotes their time, their life to this mission, has their own reasons for getting up every day, for furthering this cause, could you wrap us up by summing up why helping people find recovery is so important to you?
Wesley: I feel like life just goes so much better when I do. I feel better and I feel like and this almost sounds selfish but I feel like God and the universe help me and smile on me a lot more when I make it my mission to help other people so I stay on that mission. It just seems to work, like I alluded to early, it’s like every morning, it’s like, “All right, how do I grow Rock to Recovery so it can help more people and bring love and light and music to all the people in need?”
David: All right. Wesley, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you being here.
Wesley: Thank you, my man, namaste homie. [laughs]
David: Thanks again to Wesley for taking the time to share that with us. Now I’m happy to welcome Jordan Young and JC Brook from the Foundations Events team, which puts on four great conferences for the behavioral health industry each year. Their summer conference Innovations in Behavior Healthcare is coming up right here in Nashville. I’m excited to have them on the show to give us a quick look of what to expect next month. Welcome, Jordan and JC.
JC Brook: Thanks, David.
Jordan Young: Thanks, David.
David: Of course, yes, always good to have you guys. Jordan, you’ve been on the show a few times now but this is JC’s first appearance so welcome.
JC: Glad to be here.
David: Could you introduce yourself real quick, tell us what led you to doing what you’re doing with Foundations Events?
JC: Yes, absolutely. I’ve been with Foundations for about two years now. My first year and a half left was spent on our alumni team, the life challenge team, working with all of the members of our treatment centers after they graduated and helping them coordinate their aftercare transition back into the community. Then, in February, I moved over to the conference team with good old Jordan and working on the event sales with him. It’s been great.
David: Yes, excited for innovations behavioral health care again this year. I’ll be there recording more podcast interviews. What would you say to introduce this event to someone who’s not familiar?
Jordan: Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare, this will be the fourth year that we’re hosting this conference. This one’s special in part because it is in our hometown in Nashville, Tennessee. We are at a new hotel this year, the brand new JW Marriott in downtown Nashville. How brand new is it, you ask? It’s so brand new that we had to actually reschedule the conference because the hotel wasn’t going to be prepared in time for our original dates. August ninth and tenth, Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare, the focus on substance abuse and mental health and we are actually providing continuing education credits for doctors and nurses this year. This is the first time we’ve ever offered CNEs, Continued Education for Nurses. Very excited about that.
David: Awesome. JC, what can you tell us that’s special about this conference coming up? What are some of the elements that you’re excited to bring to people this year?
JC: This year we are hosting and unlock some training on Friday morning at 7:30. That’s going to actually be open to people beyond even the conference attendees, that’s open at the city of Nashville. It’s a way that we want to use the platform for education and awareness and hosting that and opening it up to the national community. We’re really excited about that. In addition, we have awesome headline speakers that are both Nashville natives, we have Becca Stevens from Thistle Farms and we also have Miles Adcox from the Onsite and they have a big following in Nashville. We think that’s going to be great and then we also have Wes Geer, who is the old guitarist from the band Korn.
David: That’s right, we just heard from Wes. We’re very familiar.
JC: He is fantastic and a fantastic guy and he is going to be speaking at our Friday lunch session. If you get a lunch ticket, you’ll be able to see Wes, you’ll also maybe even get to be able to hear Wes which play a little something, which could be a nice snack [chuckles].
David: All right. Jordan, I know there’s a big Nashville flair to what’s going on this year, what can you tell us about the speaker lineup, both Nashville and non-Nashville?
Jordan: I’m always excited about the content of the conferences. This year, it is a national conference like every one of the events that we host with Foundations but we do have more of a Nashville feel and especially when it comes from the speaker perspective. JCR Hiton, Miles Adcox and Becca Stevens. Some other Nashville presenters that we have that I am personally very excited about is Courtney Grimes, she’s the clinical director with Renewed Support. They provide assistance for eating disorders. She’s going to be talking about college-aged women and some of the challenges they face that impact behavioral healthcare. We also have Heidi [unintelligible 00:25:21], she’ll be speaking on some business-related topics but we’re making a big clinical push this year.
Samuel McMasters from Journey Peer will be there, Phil Plant, a great interventionist in Nashville, he’ll be presenting, Stephanie Vaughn, who’s actually trained by Marsha Linehan in DBT therapy, she’ll be presenting. We also have some presenters from outside of Nashville, [unintelligible 00:25:43] will talk about cultural competence in mental health care, Tom Cordier would be speaking about peer recovery. There’s a lot more.
David: All right, for anyone who’s interested, where can people go to find out more info and of course, register to be there August 9th and 10th?
JC: Head to our website foundationsevents.com and you’ll see the Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare tab and you can register there. It’s going to be a great conference. We can’t wait to see you all there.
David: Absolutely, thank you guys again for your time and looking forward to it.
JC: Thank you.
Jordan: Thank you as always, David.
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Wesley Geer of Rock to Recovery. For more, visit facebook.com/rocktorecovery. Thank for listening today. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please take a second to share it and also be sure to check out our previous episodes for more great conversations about recovery. See you next time.