It’s difficult to find a silver lining with a hurricane bearing down. Sitting alone in an empty apartment, Shawn Fisher, one half of the harmonic duo Flagship Romance, was struggling to cope with the anxiety that only a category four hurricane can bring. He needed a task, something to occupy his restless mind and calm his fraying nerves that shivered with the howling wind. He decided to write.
“Up until that point, I’d had little moments where I would talk about my anxiety in song form, but that was a moment for me. I was having a panic attack, and it was the final straw. ‘Okay, I’m telling the world. This is just me laying it all out there,’ but I never thought it would become a song. It was more of an exercise for me to cope and get over this hurdle I was facing,” he says. “Jordyn came home and I played it for her, and she was like, ‘No, this is going on the record.’”
The record is Tales From the Self-Help Section, a collection of 11 deeply personal tracks written by Fisher and his wife and creative partner Jordyn Jackson celebrating life’s sweeping victories, punishing losses, and all the magic in between. It also details the struggle to stay present and shines a light on the fight against anxiety and depression. It’s a lesson in fearlessness wrapped up in a sophisticated, multi-dimensional musical offering.
‘Nemesis’, written as Hurricane Matthew hovered dangerously close to the coastline, found its rightful home among the beautifully layered songs on Tales from the Self-Help Section. It served as a cathartic tool for Fisher in his battle against depression and anxieties, and it extends a message of hope to anyone fighting similar wars. “I stare at the ceiling, I stare at my phone, I stare in the mirror, I’m lonely but never alone.”
“Before the record was released, we’d have a lot of people come up and say, ‘Hey, I deal with the same thing, and the way you presented it in such a snarky, almost sarcastic way really helps me put my own anxiety and depression into perspective,” says Fisher. “As much as it kills me to see anybody else who deals with anxiety or depression, solidarity is the strongest thing. To know that there’s someone out there who presents it without a stigma attached or who can cope with it and create something powerful with it has been inspiring to a lot of people.” Flagship Romance teamed up with friend, multi-instrumentalist and producer Lucio Rubino at his studio, The Fish Tank Recordings in St. Augustine to record Tales From the Self-Help Section. It was an invaluable, if not transformative, experience.
“Lou has always been a friend of ours and we’ve always hung out, but this was the first full project that we’d done together, and it was the exact right person to handle us at the right time. We didn’t want to do another record where it was just us and a guitar. We wanted to do something that was a little more fleshed out, but we also didn’t want to go crazy. Lou was the perfect person to handle us with kid gloves and expand our sound but also be super respectful of where we came from and what we want the focus of it to be. We had the best time and I certainly feel that the energy in the record is reflective of the fun we had with Lou making the album.”
The album photos taken by Jacksonville-based photographer Miguel Emmanuelli with design by artist Brian Manley of Fun With Robots Design, Co. visually portray the back and forth battles that happen with anxiety and depression. “Typically, we put on a smile to mask the appearance of not having it together, especially when around other people. With this album cover, we wanted our outward appearance to portray that serious demeanor, while on the inside showing that by allowing love, compassion, and acceptance, you can handle any curveball thrown your way. The splash of color further adds to that narrative.”
Tales From The Self-Help Section is a silver lining for the disenfranchised. With Fisher’s strong musicianship and Jackson’s delicate, airy vocals, the record is a source of light. It champions hope where it’s lost, light where it’s dark, and transparency where walls once stood.
“Sometimes we’ll sing ‘Nemesis’ and it will be a soulful, successful night, but then it’ll be three or four in the morning and the anxiety will just kick in and I’ll just shoot out of bed,” he says. “It’s almost like my anxiety is like, ‘Look man, you gotta stop talking about me because I’m going to come back twice as strong and I’m going to knock you right on your ass.’ It’s a powerful thing, but also with as much good energy behind this record, I feel like sometimes my anxiety is just waiting around the corner to jump me.”
Confronting his demons in the light of day was a scary decision for Fisher as an artist. The concept for the song ‘Scare Yourself’ was literally born of fear. Since he’s afraid of heights and Jackson is petrified by the thought of skydiving, Fisher proposed that the two film themselves jumping out of an airplane for the video. Jackson wasn’t having any of that, so Fisher challenged his wife to come up with a better concept, which she readily accepted. “My initial idea was to have the whole thing be Jordyn and me jumping out of an airplane. I’m deathly afraid of heights so for me to suggest it was kind of weird. Jordyn was like, ‘There is no way.’ And I said, ‘Okay, if you come up with a better idea we’ll do it.’ We were driving back from Tampa, and Jordyn was all of a sudden like, ‘I’ve got it’. She said we’re going to walk around with a white board that says ‘What Scares Me the Most.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s a much better idea. We’re not going skydiving.’”
The pair invited the public to share their fears as part of the video project during a shoot at the Riverside Arts Market. To ensure authentic responses, the duo approached people at random and asked them to fill in “What Scares Me the Most” on a white drawing board. The result was an inspiring compilation of expressions ranging from a fear of snakes to a parent being a disappointment to their child.
“We wanted it to be that moment where it’s just like ‘right now, what scares you the most’ and not a premeditated idea. It was one of those circumstances where you have an idea and you think it’s going to be cool, but it ends up being so much deeper and so much more powerful and impactful than you ever expected,” says Fisher, who approached a woman with her young son. The woman wrote, ‘My son not being proud of me.’ “The concept for the video was to have them erase what they wrote but I handed the eraser to her son and said, ‘Here, you erase it.’ It was just super intense. It was a lesson in our shared humanity. We all feel so walled off from each other. We all put up these barricades thinking that no one is going to understand or no one wants to even know what is going on inside and for something as dark as our deepest fear, to shine a light and be like yeah, ‘I totally get that,’ just takes something negative and does something positive with it.”
Tales From the Self-Help Section was funded by positive energy. Flagship Romance initiated a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the recording of the album and raised 169 percent of the original fundraising goal. A total of 42 people invested over $42,000 to cover the recording costs for this album and the next one.
Before leaving town to embark on a six-month “Really Long Tour,” Fisher and Jackson paid it forward, hosting an intimate pop-up concert at the Chapel of the Beaches History Park in Jacksonville Beach as a collective thanks to everyone involved in bringing the project to life. “We wanted to do something totally different, and it’s in my backyard. The room sounded great and I hope that more artists do their shows there. It was awesome for everyone involved,” says Fisher.
Tales from the Self-Help Section is available on multiple formats that address the needs of every music appreciator and is the first record Flagship Romance has released on vinyl. “Now more than ever, artists if they plan on touring and making their living on the road, have to cater to almost every single age group and every single method that someone would consume your art. For us, we still do CDs and we offer digital downloads and if someone only streams, we’ll encourage them to stream and we’ll have vinyl and we have USBs with our entire catalog on them. The album is being pressed locally and is the first vinyl offering from Flagship Romance. We’ve never been more excited and more proud of a record and for this this being the one we’re literally pressing onto a physical substance is something that is kind of a no brainer for us,” says Fisher. “It’s exciting because people do want to support live music and people want to support independent music but you have to be on the cutting edge. You can’t be a purist about it but you have to be smart about how you’re presenting your music.”
Find the album in your preferred format at www.flagshipromance.com.