CONTENT WARNING: The following article discusses mental health and depression.
Y.O.G.A. is a new music project from Rueben Styles. In Peking Duk, his songs frequently explore ideas of freedom and the feeling of breaking loose. Y.O.G.A., short for “You’re Only Great Always”, does the same. But with a very important twist.
Here Rueben seeks to disrupt the stigma Australian culture places upon mental health. With Y.O.G.A. he wants to encourage others to open up, talk seriously and share their stories. Launching the project is new single and music video ‘Wolfer & The Dove.’
The clip stars Nicola. Confronted by a series of visions, this hard-working sheep farmer learns to embrace his identity as a drag queen. And, in doing so, embraces his feminine inner self.
It is a story partly inspired by Rueben’s own experiences. The Peking Duk producer recalls one time when, after a childhood of watching The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, he decided to stun his primary school classmates with a drag rendition of ‘Man I Feel Like A Woman.’ The performance of Shania Twain’s hit 1997 single did not go down quite exactly as he expected. His full thoughts below.
Music Feeds: What is Y.O.G.A?
Reuben Styles: Y.O.G.A. is short for “You’re Only Great Always.” And that it is, you know? That is the simple answer.
The long-form explanation is that when I was 17 one of my best mates passed away due to depression. And I have been continually learning how it happened. I have never really understood why. I think a lot of it comes down to the culture in Australia. We have got a very solidified and ingrained “harden the f**k up” attitude. Which is really hard to get away from. It’s generational amongst Aussies.
With that friend of mine, it was completely invisible. He was smiling, he was dancing, he was keeping the conversation alive and doing all the fun happy person things. Seeing how invisible it is made me aware of how badly people do not want to talk about it or let people know that they are suffering.
MF: Why now?
RS: There was a moment around a year-and-a-half ago when a family member of mine ended up in hospital. They were under 24-hour supervision after a really sad moment where they tried to take their own life. And I straight away just thought, look, I’ve got a new project coming along the way and I don’t want to make this project only about celebrating.
I wanted to make this project give me, other friends of mine and people near and dear opportunities to look and to share stories. To break down that barrier that is “drink a cup of concrete and harden the f**k up!” And make it feel like it is okay for people to open up, talk and share stories.
Since the project started, every two weeks on Instagram we have been doing a new mental health story. Each story is about someone who has had the advantages of therapy, is talking about therapy and is being open and transparent with their friends about seeing psychologists.
In Australia, there is also the stigma of “I don’t want to be the crazy person at work.” Instead of something like that they say, “Oh, I’ve got a doctor’s appointment.” Or they say they are going to a dermatologist or something like that instead of saying they are going to a psychologist.
People are still worried to share that. And I think that’s what Y.O.G.A. is all about. It is just about congregating and telling more stories so it is less weird for people to just say, “Yep.” It is a sick thing to see a psychologist.
If your car is broken down, you take it to the mechanic. Or even if something is not quite right you take the car to the mechanic, if it’s got a funny sound! If there is something that can be improved mentally, then you head to the psychologist and see what you can do. And I think that should be the attitude. It should just be the same as anything else.
MF: Relative to your work in Peking Duk, has it been difficult translating some of these stories into lyrics?
RS: Lyrically, I still love just getting into any topic whatsoever. I also love creating stories and characters and putting myself in the mind of a character in a story. And then maybe experience what they are going through.
I guess there has not been much of a shift. With Duk songs we do often talk about – you know, the music is a party but lyrically it is often about dramatic breaks, being free of something that’s been holding you down. Lyrically with Duk we have always really fallen for those types of lyrics. It’s a self-journey quite often and so I don’t think I have had to steer too far away.
When it comes to celebrating in general? I do want Y.O.G.A to be a celebratory project, of course! I just wanted to also include the important conversations as well so that they aren’t harder conversations eventually.
MF: Which leads to the new ‘Wolfer & The Dove’ video clip…
RS: The new clip is a beautiful story about a man. I guess the character is a farmer, quite a Hard Yakka bloke who is out on the farm. He is out there doing all the regular tasks that a sheep farmer would do and starts seeing visions of himself dancing.
He starts daydreaming, seeing hallucinations of himself dancing around the farm as “herself” dressed in drag. And so he starts seeing it and seeing it more and more. Eventually, he is having some drinks with the local townsfolk.
One of his friends just says, “F**k it, just do it.” And so he completely dresses in drag and puts on a show for the locals who are a bit weirded out at first. But eventually, they are like, “This is sick!” And then they are on board.
The video addresses identity, rural stigma, and coming out. And I think it is just a beautiful video. The lead actor in it, Nicola actually danced in drag at my wedding.
I have been friends with Nicola for a few years now. He is just the greatest person and can really put on an absolute show. I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that at the wedding neither Nicola nor myself (nor my grandparents) expected Nicola to do a cock windmill on the bar whilst doing the performance!
It was absolutely incredible. And I think on my dad’s side of the family there might be a few people a bit less exposed to bearded drag queens and things like that. So it was a really great thing to break down those barriers as well.
So, straight away, I knew Nicola was just up for anything. When I got in touch with Nicola about the clip it was just too perfect to be true. I just couldn’t believe Nicola was acting as a bloke, as a really Hard Yakka bloke.
MF: The more challenging role for Nicola was playing a tough farmer?
RS: Nicola is a beautiful and gentle soul. There was one moment where he had to whack a sheep. And it was just so, ah! It was just so funny. I was cry-laughing.
MF: Have you faced similar challenges in your own life?
RS: I remember dressing up in drag myself to do the talent quest to do Shania Twain’s ‘Man Like a Woman’! I grew up with a lesbian mum and there was something so normal about dressing up in drag at home and just singing songs. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was, I guess, the movie of the house.
It didn’t click with me that it was “weird” until I was at school in a blue dress and a blonde wig about to do Shania Twain. Then it really clicked that this was not “normal.” And that this was not “fun” for some people, peers, and classmates.
When I did I felt such a crazy fear. Such nervousness. I pressed play on the song and went out and couldn’t finish it. I had to stop.
MF: What year was this?
RS: Year Five. Because I remember the Year Sixes watching. Which really spooked me.
MF: What decade?
RS: It would have been 2001.
MF: Do you think it would be different if you were doing this in 2021?
RS: It’s funny. As far as Canberra is concerned it’s very progressive. Growing up in Canberra you feel like it is a more progressive place.
There are lots of rallies, marches and protests. But at the same time, because of how small of a town it is, you do go to a school with a semi-rural vibe. Because it’s such a small town you can’t help but feel that although how progressively they vote, it still feels very, very, conservative in some parts.
MF: How can people help Y.O.G.A? And what are some good organizations people who are going through some of these things can get in touch with?
RS: Getting in touch with Lifeline is always great if you’re feeling anything. If you are ever looking to donate, I can’t praise anyone more than The Black Dog Insititute. They are putting so much into quality and really good research around mental health. Which, I think is extremely important. They are breaking down barriers.
If anyone is interested in doing something really fun while fund-raising there is also the Mullets for Mental Health campaign in September. (Which I got amongst last year and it was a damn hoot.) Updating your Mullets for Mental Health profile, you can change it to different colours to get extra donations. It’s way sicker than, you know – No, I’m not going to diss any other fundraisers!
I can’t believe I even contemplated that. But Mullets for Mental Health is a very fun fundraiser. It is the one I’m looking forward to the most each year.
MF: Who is your greatest mullet inspiration? Who has the Number One mullet?
RS: The number one all-time mullet? Oh, God! Canberra Raiders player Josh Papalii has such a raging mullet.
But I fall in love with new mullets all the time. I love all the classic David Bowie mullets and all the rock dog mullets from back in the day. I’m almost tempted this September to cut in a ‘skullet.’
MF: A what?
RS: A skullet is where you have just – It is not even close to “business at the front-party in the back.” It is a fully shaved front and then a big old whatever-you-call-it in the back!
MF: Before we close off, is there a message you want to share with your fans? It’s been a tough year…
RS: All I can say is that the music industry has done it tougher than anyone this last, getting close to, two years. Or it will by the time this is over. A really cool place to donate is Support Act. They help out with mental health in the music industry.
They also look after the touring parties of musicians, the roadies, the front-of-house engineering guys and the lighting guys. They are supporting them financially. And helping them where they can to pay their bills and stuff like that.
Go and buy some merch from your favourite band. They need all the help they can get right now because of the lack of gigs. Gigs are where everyone makes their money and musicians are struggling really, really hard right now.
So buy the merch from them. Especially the smaller bands that don’t have the streaming numbers. Get their merch, buy physical records, anything you can.
That about covers it. I hope you enjoy the new video for ‘Wolfer & The Dove.’
For help or information regarding mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.