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New album from Bloomington psych-rockers Great Value Jesus tackles mental health

Great Value Jesus' new album release party is Saturday night at Nightshop in Bloomington.
Jonathan A Lora
Great Value Jesus' new album release party is Saturday night at Nightshop in Bloomington.

Bloomington's Noah Renken-Kapatos coined his psych-rock trio Great Value Jesus after friends said his long hair and beard gave him a passing resemblance to the mainstream depiction of Jesus.

He says his spirituality generally aligns with "be good to others and the rest will follow." On the band's new album "Disassociation Nation," Renken-Kapatos directs that goodness at himself, examining his past struggles with mental health.

Ahead of the album release show at Nightshop in Bloomington on Saturday night, he told WGLT that he used relationship issues as a backdrop on many of the songs, including the lead track, which he said triggered the rest of the seven song album.

“Any type of relationship problems, I think that's very relatable,” said Renken-Kapatos. “That can be a trigger for some people. In this instance, I had written this song, ‘Something in the Way,’ unknowingly about my partner at the time. I did not realize it until after we had separated. And when I say it triggers the rest of the record. It's like a domino that falls, you kind of proceed down this mental turmoil and go through an emotional journey.”

The relationship metaphor could also be interpreted as a self-examination. Renken-Kapatos agrees, and said a few tracks describe his own mental state at that time.

“I think it's very common to be like a deer stuck in the headlights … to be frozen … to have a lot of static to be so overwhelmed from the trigger from this initial event. So, you have the cause, and this is the effect,” said Renken-Kapatos.

The album’s fourth song “Stan” explores obsessing about death, specifically suicidal thoughts.

“Dealing with being so depressed for so long that everything is grey,” said Renken-Kapatos. “The hook of the song “on a miracle I walk the fields of grey” is really kind of describing my own experiences of ‘on a miracle, I'm still alive.’”

On a miracle I walk the fields of gray
Who are you to deal the pain?
Hoping I will never change my ways
Who am I to pass the blame?

“And I'm still walking in this kind of in-between plane of where I feel so disconnected with reality, but I'm still here. Thankfully, I'm still here.”

On this song, Renken-Kapatos layers voices in a way that sounds foggy, dreamy, medicated … well, psychedelic, an effect he said represents competing voices in one’s head.

“And the reason I wanted to layer it is to get that point where there is a high pitched part, and maybe that high pitched part is the bad part of your brain or the lower pitched part,” he explained. “I really liked it, because it creates a lot of depth that almost makes me feel like I'm walking in a sort of purgatory.”

According the World Health Organization, over 700,000 people worldwide die by suicide every year. The United Nations has warned that the pandemic is increasing risk factors for suicide. It can be difficult to battle because of the stigma that still surrounds mental health. Renken-Kapatos explains the pain as he felt it, and why someone might consider taking their own life.

“You're in a spot where you are in so much pain that you want this permanent solution to be the relief to what could be not always be considered temporary pain. At that moment, emotions can be very heightened. I know myself, if I get a little manic, kind of crazy. It's hard to have rational thoughts. I've come to a point now thankfully, where I'm really happy in life. But it took me a long time to get here. You’ve got to have some dreams, goals … live for people. And that's what I think you forget when you're in that state,” he said.

"Disassociation Nation" concludes with the optimistic “The World is Not Changing for Free.” Renken-Kapatos targets childhood as a guide for righting oneself mentally, a return to your core.

“That song is probably the most straightforward song on the record,” said Renken-Kapatos. “Lyrically, I'm very proud of it. The depth that I tried to put in visualization and in all my imagery and metaphors and such … but there is a line in the chorus, ‘fight hard for the child that you once were.’”

Fight hard for the child that you once were
Stand aside and let dreams guide your light
Become that which you set out to be
God knows the world’s not changing for free
Lightning in my hands and in my heart
I know that there’s love, it falls apart
Even though there’s a million ways it can go
I believe we can be anything

“It is a call to when you had dreams when you were growing up. There was so much mystery and wonder and optimism. You know, even the kids in the toughest situations … we all have dreams and it's important to use those to guide yourself and to stay alive.”

Great Value Jesus plays Nightshop in Bloomington Saturday night. Parachute Day, Norobot, and Aquila are also on the bill.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.