Fans of Atlanta's Nikki & The Phantom Callers do not have to hail from the Bible belt for their well-intentioned family's faith to complicate their bouts with depression. And well beyond what folks in Alabama and Georgia call "Baptist guilt", mental health issues carry a stigma that's slowly but surely being socially demystified.
Singer and songwriter Nikki Speake tackles this tough conversation by weighing old shame against newfound hope with "Fallen Angel," a song off the group's debut album Everybody's Going to Hell (But You and Me) (out April 3) and the subject of a chilling music video created by the team of Video Rahim and Ashley Simpson (Blackberry Smoke, The Biters).
"This is one of the harder songs for me to talk about, in terms of its inspiration and meaning, because it's definitely not a happy song," Speake says. "For me, this a multi-layered theme about learning to cope with chronic depression and attempting to break out of the stigma and shame associated with mental health issues. It seems that when I was younger, depression was such a dirty word that you couldn't even admit it to your own doctor if he or she suggested it. You were seen as weak, selfish or indulgent in the face of so many others in the world less fortunate than you, which only furthers the feelings of guilt and shame. It's also no secret that women tend to have higher rates of depression, and we are many times overtaken by the chemicals in our brains and bodies. I think it's refreshing that more and more people are vocal about managing their mental health, and with more affordable and easily accessible education online, it's a lot less isolating."
As with several other songs Speake writes and performs with Phantom Callers members Anna Kramer, Russell Owens and Aaron Mason, this one's seeped in Christian allegories.
"For me, the 'Fallen Angel' represents not only those who might have succumbed to the ebb and flow of their emotions, feeling they had fallen from grace, but also newer sentiments where it's okay to admit, 'I am one - another angel falls,'" she adds. "As a common theme in the album, I think it continues to explore the darkness in everyday life, mixed with the tension of the graphic Biblical imagery of my childhood."
Rahim and Simpson took Speake's themes a step further in a video shot at Standard Deluxe, a gorgeous, nontraditional music venue located in rural Alabama near Auburn University.
"When we talked to Nikki and learned a little more about the meaning of the song, we knew we could make this simple starting concept work," Rahim says. "The video abstractly touches on female depression and feeling lost. In the video, it is meant to be unclear whether Nikki is dreaming when she wakes up on the shore of the creek or if she really is encountering an angel. The blurred lines of reality are meant to mimic the feelings of depression and feeling lost even when you're surrounded by beauty. As Nikki continues to follow the angel, it is as if she's grasping and hoping for some clarity as to what is going on with her. It's a theme that Ashley and Nikki both felt a shared passion in expressing.
"Another really amazing thing about this video, which was a first for me, was that everyone on the crew was female (besides me)," Rahim adds. "Ashley felt that was important to help carry through the message of the video and add a deeper layer of understanding to the concept."