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The ‘Secretary of Bass’ opens up about mental health

BY Noelle Huser / University of Montana | 31-Oct-2018
Bassist Rob Cave has come far, living six years symptom-free from his schizophrenia. He has learned that it’s okay to put yourself out there and to trust yourself and the people around you, “not limiting yourself cause of the circumstances you are in.”
Bass players may tend to fade into the background of a band, but Rob ‘Secretary of Bass’ Cave is hard to miss. He’s touched many souls in the underground music community of Missoula, Montana but few know how much the community has touched him.

Cave is 28 years old and the bassist for three bands, Fuuls (psych garage), Go Hibiki (pop- punk) and Tormi (jazz psych) and works as a bean boy at Drum Coffee on the side. He grew up in Great Falls. He was introduced to its music scene by his best friend’s older brother who was in a band and took them to shows. Drawn to the inconspicuousness of the bass, he picked it up and started playing in bands. At 14, he formed a Christian rock band Charity Motion with Thomas Cornelius, who would go on to be the guitarist for FUULS.

As six-hour practices-turned-sleepovers, Cornelius and Cave became close. Cave was charming, witty and popular in high school. He was active on speech and debate and well read. On a promising track, he planned to go to college at Montana State University. Two weeks before the start of classes, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Cornelius witnessed Cave’s first episode when Cave came over and sat down on his couch, displaying symptoms of delusion. Cornelius knew something was wrong and described the episode as “scary and heartbreaking.” Cornelius said Cave’s illness “took a toll on him in every way you can imagine.”

Cave said mental illness is intimate and individualistic, and no one has the same experience. His symptoms include talking to people who aren’t there and hearing auditory hallucinations. Upon diagnosis, Cave first felt relief because it validated the extreme and confusing encounters he was having and gave him a definition he could understand, he said.

He was put in a psych ward and prescribed heavy antipsychotics. His high school friends evaporated, but Cornelius stuck around, walking a mile to spend time with him after he got off work. He said Cave is still the same person he’s known and loved but “part of him was arrested in his struggle,” becoming fully dedicated in the mental health fight through medication and monitoring his emotional state.

On intense mood stabilizers for the first year, Cave didn’t laugh, cry, feel intense emotions or touch his guitar. It took a switch of medications for him to begin playing again. “I felt like I regained a little bit more of my old self,” he said. “Music was something where I could paint a picture of what I was feeling without having to say anything.”

Cave moved to Missoula in 2011 where he met drummer Justin Haider and joined his garage rock band, Boys, and recorded two full-length albums over the course of two years. Before going on tour, he had another episode, beginning another dark period of his life.

His FUULS’ bandmate, Cornelius, also dealt with mental illness after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The opportunity arose and he moved to Missoula with the intention of helping Cave. He, drummer Aaron Soria and Cave “would kind of just pal around,” Cornelius said describing the genesis of the band.

“We want our band to be all about empowering each other and being open and honest about our struggles,” Cornelius said, “to tear down these walls that separate us from one another,” including mental health.

Though he doesn’t think they were the most natural candidates to be best friends, they have become integral parts of each others’ lives. “It’s been one of the most fluid and natural relationships I have had in my life, simply just because I really care about him,” Cornelius said. “I have always cared about him. We have been there for each other for so long.”

With a mentality of “looking at life one day at a time,” Cave’s been able to keep an open mind, allowing him to play in many bands. The list is extensive, totalling over two dozen grouops in the last 15 years. What first started as friends from Great Falls hitting him up to play bass in their bands turned into a combination of friends and acquaintances requesting his talents. Spanning a wide range of genres, each band is unique and covers a wide range of genres indirectly influencing one another. “I like to think I bring a style to all those genres that is uniquely my own,” Cave said.

Prioritizing self-care by sticking to his medication and making sure he is not over-stressed is key, he said. For Cave, it’s “like dating 13 different people.” It takes communication, respecting each others’ opinions and feelings and checking in on each other. He takes things at face value and doesn’t make assumptions about people. He embraces them for who they are, he said.

“One of the things that give me some edge to play with all these people is that I have dealt with so much in my life,” he said. “The hard times have made me a better, more empathetic friend, and that is one of the reasons I can relate to a lot of people.”

Jordan Perkic, one of Cave’s closest friends and a former bandmate in post-hardcore group Sunraiser, said Cave is one of the kindest and most genuine humans, always checking in on people he cares about. “ I think his compassion is very much highlighted in his music and has been a large part of his success,” Perkic said.

“He is incredibly expressive, there are no other bassist like him,” Cornelius said. Emily Silks, drummer for one of Cave’s bands, Tormi, said Cave is a “genuine friend” and ”a mainstay in the community.” She said that watching the projects he contributes to shows how he and the music scene evolve.

Both Cave and Cornelius said normalizing conversations about mental health is key. “There is always this competing element with our ignorance towards something and us pushing on to new territory and having to stumble over ourselves until we have the right answer,” Cornelius said.

“There has to be more of us who have started to win our battles, who have taken control back over our lives to be vocal enough about it and say ‘well this is the shit I went through.’”

Cave has come far, living six years without symptoms. He feels lucky to have great friends, a job and to be able to play shows constantly. More people with mental illness should pursue their dreams, he said.

“If you are good at something and want to do something, pursue it at 100 percent,” Cave said. “Don’t let society dictate how you feel or what you can and cannot do.” He has learned that it’s okay to put yourself out there and to trust yourself and the people around you, “not limiting yourself because of the circumstances you are in.”