Exclusive Interview: Carla Harvey From Butcher Babies

photo by Marie Korner

“When we realized we could make a difference with our voices, we changed everything.”

Carla Harvey explores the gift of expression she’s been given as a member of Butcher Babies and how she changed her life by helping people cope with grief.

Let’s start by talking about your background and why grief counseling is important to you.

As most people know by now, I was an embalmer and a funeral director for a few years before the Butcher Babies took off. I was always attracted to that career since I was a kid. I always wanted to learn more about it. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life. At the time I was going to school for Mortuary Science, I was lost myself. I had been in the entertainment industry for a few years. I worked for Playboy. I did a bunch of acting jobs and wasn’t really happy. I wasn’t living a very healthy lifestyle. I needed a change in my life and going to school for Mortuary Science proved to be the exact change I needed. I was focused again and was doing something that I loved. Then, when I started to work in the field and work at a funeral home and help people – I also worked for hospice in the evenings – it just changed my life by being able to help people when they needed it most. Being in front of the camera reciting lines suddenly seemed so trite to me. I was actually making a difference in people’s lives. Being able to see that made a difference in my own life, the way I carried myself, and how I felt about living. It was life-changing and life-saving for me. It was a crux in my life that led to what I do now. Even though I can’t work at a mortuary anymore, I do grief counseling now. I do Skype sessions and in-person sessions at my office in Los Angeles. I’m still able to work with people one-on-one. As a musician, we started off having a lot of fun. I don’t want to say we didn’t have any direction, because we did somewhat, but not like we do now. When we realized we could make a difference with our voices and the things we were saying, we changed everything. We’ve all helped people who are going through hard times by writing music they can connect to.

Change like that is hardest because there will always be someone that doesn’t “get it.”

I think that’s why some musicians express such levels of frustration. I know before Chester Bennington died he was expressing frustration with not being allowed to grow. Butcher Babies fans have given us a great gift because they allow us to be who we are. From album one, they’ve allowed us to express ourselves in whatever ways we see fit to do. All five of us come from such different musical backgrounds that we wouldn’t be authentic if we did one style of music all the time. We like to explore and be creative and we’ve been given this amazing gift from our fans that allows us to do just that. We’re very thankful. As for naysayers, there’s so many people that are stuck in the past and the first image they ever saw of Butcher Babies. We’ve been a band for eight years now. That image of the band back then is such a snapshot in time for us. When we started this band we started off as five friends that wanted to play some shows on the Sunset Strip, play some rock n’ roll and bring metal back to the Strip. We did that with the help of other bands that we came up with. We didn’t know how far we would go. We didn’t know we’d be traveling the world together, having eight-year-old girls in the front row screaming their heads off. When we started getting an inclination that what we were doing was going to be bigger than anything we’d ever thought, we decided to use this as a vehicle to express ourselves. Music saved all of our lives. Music was a huge part of our lives when we were children. We decided to give back and really make this something important. We didn’t want this to be a trite, flash-in-the-pan, local band. None of us are kids in this band. We’re all mid-30’s, early 40’s. To be able to do what we’re doing at this age, we’re very lucky. We see it as a gift. We started to write about things that were important to us. Our shows run the gamut from the screaming eight-year-old girls to middle-aged women who say they wish we would have been around when they were 15 and looking for inspiration. When we see someone singing back lyrics we wrote with such passion, it’s the most incredible feeling we’ve ever experienced. It’s a beautiful thing.

What part of the grieving process is most misunderstood?

Grief is not just about death. I had one client that focused on losing his job but there were other things he had lost in his life. Then it all started to make sense. It could be the loss of a pet. A lot of people who are caretakers for their significant other develop issues where they can’t be a normal partner anymore. There’s a grief that goes along with that. I recently had a chance to work with some vets who had been hit by IEDs. They had to learn how to live with staggering headaches every day. I worked with their families. When you deal with someone coming home who has changed like that, you go through a period of grief as well. There are so many things and it’s not just about death. I always tell people there is no hierarchy in grief. I will approach someone who just had a child die and someone else who just had a pet die the same way. Everyone experiences grief differently.

It’s not always about the thing that happens that causes grief. Sometimes it’s about the way others react to how you deal with it.

Death used to be something that occurred in the home and it was a very natural part of life. As your grandparents aged, they lived with you and they would die with you. Nowadays, death has become very institutionalized. We shut it behind doors. No one wants to look at it anymore. When your parents or grandparents get sick you put them in a home. I worked for hospice and I worked with patients whose family didn’t come to see them. It happens a lot. People are afraid of their own mortality and they don’t want to see it. Death isn’t normal anymore. Death has become the loss of the American Dream, the end of everything. People don’t know how to react. They don’t know how to say “I’m sorry” to someone. They don’t know how to talk about someone’s death. People just need to talk. When you lose someone it’s so important to just vocalize it. Say their name. Talk about them. So many people just don’t know what to say to their friend who has lost someone. That’s where someone like me that wants to help comes in. I put together workshops for people who have someone in their life who has lost someone. How do you react to that person? How do you be normal around them? I’m working on a video for people with tips how to do that. I’ve learned not to focus on how someone died or their last moments. It’s important to focus on how they lived and to allow people to talk about the things that they’ve lost. We live in a world that is so online. We’re more connected than ever, but less connected as ever. No one really looks in each other’s eyes anymore and says, “Are you OK? Talk to me.” It’s really hard to have a conversation with someone without them looking at their phone. They’re on social media while they’re talking. It’s a very strange time we’re living in and I’m doing my part to help people heal.

There has been such a huge disconnect in the past five years, especially. People are so attached to their devices.

What’s really frightening to me is the way children are being thrown iPads and iPhones in situations to get them to shut up. They are raised to be a slave to a machine. Parents don’t want to deal with them. A lot of children that I talk to don’t even look at you when they speak to you. We can not let the art of conversation fall to the side. It is 100% because people don’t know how to speak to each other. It’s very awkward because people spend so much time being face down in their phones.

Music fans have seen a lot of their heroes die recently. Some may not understand, but musicians seem like family to some people.

They do. You grow up and they’re with you through the hardest parts of your life. When you hear a song you connect to, it’s like that person wrote it just for you and they understand what you’re going through. I grew up socially awkward. I didn’t have any friends. Music was my best friend. These musicians became my best friends. Chris Cornell’s death I was completely shocked by. I was very saddened. I saw so many people posting that they were sick of seeing posts about these people dying. That’s one thing social media is good for – it’s allows us to grieve together and share stories about how these people influenced our lives.

Is it OK for someone to grieve over someone they don’t personally know? Metal fans seem to have a harder time admitting this.

It’s 100% OK. These people are a huge part of our lives. Metal fans are a very specific type of person. A lot of us grew up on the fringe of society, not having a lot of friends, being a bit awkward. Not everyone, but a lot of us. That’s why we found metal in the first place. It speaks to people that are a little bit different and outside the norm that needed something. I remember the first time I heard Phil Anselmo scream. It sounded like I felt on the inside. That made me a huge fan of metal. Same thing when I first heard early Metallica. The speed of it personified my emotions on the inside. I was immediately a metalhead. These people become influences in your life. I spent every moment reading over Metal Edge magazine and learning every detail about these people’s lives when I was a teenager. Of course when they go it’s 100% OK to grieve. It’s not just a person who makes music. It’s a chapter in your life. When Chris Cornell died I was taken back to being an angry teenager in the mid-90’s. All those emotions came back. It’s a very powerful thing when someone you admire and have been inspired by your whole life goes. You should take time to grieve. I’m still planning a trip to his grave to pay my respects. I think it’s important to do those things.

Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington made the choice to take their own life. A lot of fans looked to their music and lyrics to help them avoid that exact situation.

That’s the hardest part for a lot of people. Someone who helped them through a hard part of their life has now taken their own life. One thing to remember, both Chester and Chris were on drugs for a very long time. When you start doing drugs like heroin, the chemistry in your brain is changed forever. It’s a lot harder to be normal. Even with all the money, all the love, and all the help in the world, it doesn’t always work after the significant damage you’ve already done to your system. One moment can send you back, spiraling down. It’s not an easy thing for everyone to understand.

How do you think social media is impacting our mental wellness?

When I was a kid, all I had to feel intimidated by was a couple of fashion magazines. Now, people are pummeled with how they should look. Every picture on Instagram is filtered. It’s very easy. We’ve all become bullies. It’s so easy to go online and say something negative about someone. People seem to enjoy doing this. I don’t know where this culture of bullying came along, but there’s so many people that feel it’s significant in their own lives. It’s really terrible. Some people can blow it off. If someone leaves a negative comment on my Instagram, I delete it and move on. I don’t think about it for days. I don’t let it affect me, but if I was an 11-year-old girl it might. Now that I’m older and have a very strong sense of self, I don’t let things like that bother me. There are some people who are not mentally stable who are extremely affected by these things. If you know you’re that affected by social media, maybe you should turn it off. It’s not easy to do, I know. We live in a culture of social media.

When did you first realize how therapeutic art and creativity could be?

They’ve been using art in conjunction with therapy for a long time. I remember when I was a kid I went to a counselor and the first thing she had me do was draw a picture of my family. Instinctively I’ve been using music and writing as therapy my whole life. It’s a very cathartic thing for me to write an album and get on stage and perform it live and get these emotions out that I’ve had in me since I was a child. I use that principle in my Creative Grief therapy and to also just get people to use their hands and get off the internet. I don’t want to scare people away by using art – if they think I can’t draw, I can’t paint, I can’t do anything like that – it can be something as simple as crafting or writing or throwing paint against a wall. I’m working on something really special for kids. I’m getting some musicians together to teach them how to write songs and vocalize their emotions. There’s so many things that come out when you start using art to heal. It’s a really cool tool.

“I truly believe that creativity can bring about incredible catharsis and enrich your life. Art comes in many forms. There is no skill level needed, no judgment. It is the process and exploration of self that is key.” – Carla Harvey
For more information about Carla’s grief coaching sessions, please visit CreativeGrief.com.