(Original Photo By: Tunde of Fresh I Am)


There are millions of Americans and people worldwide who suffer from depression. There are even more people who deal with substance abuse and addiction. Can you imagine having both and then manage to form a semblance of a life and career? It would be difficult, however, that hasn’t stopped Daniel Pollard, better known as Atlanta-based producer and DJ, HXV (Heroes x Villains). Ever since his Run the Trap EP was released in 2012, Daniel has proven to be one of the most unique artists in the game. However, success doesn’t guarantee happiness and this is something Daniel has learned the hard way.

“I suffered a lot of loss early on in life. I wasn’t equipped to process it all and drugs and alcohol were a way for me to cope with it. There is addiction in my family, but at its core, addiction is really about unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was in tremendous pain and didn’t know how to handle it. I have a very intimate relationship with death and I think getting close to that edge continuously felt good. As messed up as that is, that’s the hard truth. I didn’t care…I was completely immersed in myself and I didn’t care who I hurt, including myself. The recovery process has been a long, difficult journey that’s not necessarily linear. Recovery for me has been like peeling back an onion one layer at a time – really understanding my disease and also now helping others understand it for themselves and get clean.”

We all know dance music is known for parties, and drugs are prevalent in the scene. This makes it all the more difficult for a person in recovery to find a way to fit in. That’s something that Daniel says he’s struggled with, finding a way to fit in. Certainly he’s produced a lot of bass music, and although his earlier productions found its way to Mad Decent and he’s remixed Major Lazer, Gucci Mane, and Flosstradamus, he says fitting in with any type of a scene has always been difficult. From the moment we step foot in school as kids, people are constantly struggling to fit in. As Daniel tells it, you can satisfy many interests at once, but you have to find a balance.

“I’ve faced a lot of career-related struggles. I would say the most prevalent, though is I just don’t fit in anywhere. I never have. When EDM Trap music was first beginning to pop, everything was still dubstep and no one would really book me because I would ‘just show up and play rap music.’ Then EDM Trap blew up and I would go out and mix it with rap music then people would question why I played rap. And I’m like, this IS trap music; this is the culture, but all these kids came from dubstep so they didn’t have the same references as I did. Then when I was traveling through Europe and going to techno shows I loved the minimal vibe with extended eight-hour sets. It was so new to me, I started combining rap, trap, and techno into sets, and people that wanted to hear trap hated the techno because it’s such an acquired taste.

At the end of the day I have to be an artist, though and I’m trying to combine all of these things real time as I’m growing. Where I’m at now creatively is the perfect balance. All of those elements are in my music and I’ve added even more influence from bands I love like Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, Joy Division, The Cure, and Slowdive. I’ve also got a network of new producers I’m helping out and we are all making slower, darker, heavier music with trap elements. I just kept making what I wanted to and eventually other people who felt the same started gravitating toward me and it’s been very organic.”

Daniel was so open with us about his battles with depression in the past, and as he learned, the best way to combat depression is to share your feelings with people who support you. Depression among artists can be very common, whether it is Avicii announcing his retirement and then returning a year later, Kanye West having a mental breakdown, or artists abusing drugs. Daniel has also found additional forms of self-care too. However, support from family and friends is the most important and that is not replicable.

“The shame that builds up around active addiction is very formidable. It reinforces itself and creates a feedback loop where shame layers on top of more shame. It’s enough to keep you from getting sober. My addiction wants to isolate me…it wants to kill me. What better way to isolate me than to build up walls of shame for me to be buried behind? Again, breaking down the shame around all of this took a long time and lots of work. The way I have healed from this and have helped others to do the same is by sharing my struggles with trusted sources. Someone who won’t judge me and will love and accept me despite the things I’ve done; someone with empathy. Being met in that space…being seen and accepted and to know there is compassion allows space for forgiveness of oneself.”

While Daniel worked through his personal issues and continued to release music, one of his greatest struggles was sharing his troubles with those around him. However, fans of his music were sharing their struggles with him in hopes of developing the same type of relief and secure feeling. He shared a powerful story about a fan who was dealing with substance abuse issues and how Daniel’s music had helped him through such a dark time. Musicians have a unique gift to impact people’s lives, and artists like HXV embrace it.

“I love my fans and I love when they share with me the various ways I’ve impacted them, but the ones that stand out the most are those who found the courage to break free from the binds of addiction. This last year I’ve been more open about my recovery. The first few years I just wasn’t in a place I felt comfortable sharing it publicly. After I came close to relapsing last year, I doubled down on my recovery and hit a point where I realized if I wasn’t sharing this with others, then I wasn’t being authentic with myself.

One story stands out…I was attending my daily meeting and I was in line for the restroom when a guy approached me and said he followed me on Facebook. He proceeded to tell me that he was dope sick on the couch, his ex-girlfriend had just died of an overdose, and his friend was in the hospital on his last leg from an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin. He told me he was scrolling down his Facebook feed when my post of my four-year chip came up with a blog post that I wrote about addiction, recovery, the process, and the battle. He said at that moment, sick on the couch, with nothing left to lose he found inspiration in that and said, ‘If he can do it I can.’ He checked himself into treatment and in the meeting we spoke he received his 30 days of sobriety chip. Last I heard he has a job, is still sober, working with others and helping them to get sober. That’s the point of all of this. This is so much more fulfilling and powerful than any musical success, plays on a song, or a festival gig. It’s incredible being able to use this platform to reach other people and let them know I’ve been through hell too. To let them know that the only way out is through, and to remember someone like me who has walked through it and crossed to the other side. And then to have them turn around and help someone else through it? That has the biggest impact for me.”

Daniel has finally come to terms with his addiction. As he moves forward in life, however, he doesn’t try to bury the past, but instead he embraces it. He makes a great point about how we all have these ideals in our minds and a lot of times they can be very unrealistic. It’s important to embrace failure and mistakes, as those are the ultimate character builders, not likes on your Instagram. It was great to talk to someone who makes music for a living, but views that as secondary to simply being a good person and making the world a better place. If only we lived in a more altruistic society like that then we could more frequently inspire others to overcome their struggles.

“I still struggle with depression. I don’t take any medication so I have to figure out how to balance it and ride it out when depression swells up. I pay attention to my cycles and allow myself the space to feel depressed and be OK in it. This is hard sometimes because I want to just keep going and not feel that way…resist it, but resistance is the root of suffering. Some days I just can’t do it and that’s OK, that’s where I’m at. Small turns of language helps. Instead of saying “I’m depressed” where I identify with the feeling, I tell myself, “I’m experiencing depression” or “I’m feeling depressed.” It’s a small change, but it works. It reminds me that there’s an end and feelings aren’t facts. On the flip side of my depression are manic stages, which the people close to me can tell when I’m getting manic. I don’t sleep well, I get tunnel vision and immersed into creative projects, and there’s usually a lot of creative output that’s highly conceptual and complicated. The last manic period I went through I became obsessed with how my brain processes information so I took about 200 index cards and made a mind map on the floor of my loft. I literally made a 3D model of how I understand that my brain processes and assimilates information. It was very therapeutic, but also pretty dark, getting all of it out of my head and into a three dimensional structure helped me to understand who I am and at a philosophical level, who we all are. 

So imagine coming home to a compulsively clean and very minimal house. Then seeing a floor full of index cards with the various compartments of a personality, thought processes, fears, value systems, the way the ego colors perception and how… I’m pretty sure that’s what a mental disorder looks like. 

It’s healthy when you own your whole story, the good and the bad. Our culture loves to put the highlight reel of people’s lives on display and it becomes this unattainable goal; it’s not realistic. A lot of it is because we tell stories to make sense of the world…it’s how we comprehend our surroundings, our culture, and our place in it. A lot of the things that we may not be proud of get left on the cutting room floor, but a lot of it is really helpful. There’s a passage in the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (he was considered the last great emperor before the fall of the Roman Empire) where he talks about not wanting to get out of bed or deal with his annoying soldiers on the battlefield. I love this because here’s someone that is universally considered one of the greatest leaders of all time and he’s hiding under the covers because he doesn’t want to deal with the day. I find just as much inspiration and strength from the ‘failures’ as I do the victories. We construct these neatly packed narratives that all follow close to the same storyline and we digest it and move on. It doesn’t challenge us. It doesn’t stretch our perceptions at all and ultimately it only does us a disservice because we wind up comparing ourselves to an unrealistic ideal. Embrace the whole story…the entire journey because there’s a lesson to be learned at every step of the way.”

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If you or anyone you know is suffering from any form of substance use issues or addiction, do not hesitate to act. Visit JED’s Mental Health Resource Center for information, resources, and tips for how to help yourself or a loved one:

Check out JED and MTV‘s HalfofUs.com to hear from others who have struggled with these issues. And, if you’d like to share your own story…please visit bringchange2mind.org/talk/stories.