Halifax musician on her borderline personality disorder, and the ‘solace’ music brings

Artist Wren Kelly. Nathaniel Cole

Music and mental health are related to one another for 26-year-old Wren Kelly, a Halifax musician, and songwriter.

She wrote half of her latest single ‘Game Over’ in a car, and the other half in her little office space surrounded by plants, so she can be alone and in touch with her inner world.

“When I incorporate mental health into my art, it’s more of like a reflection … and then when it gets brought into music, it’s me sharing what I’ve already processed,” said Kelly in a zoom interview as she sat with a large mandala tapestry hung behind her.

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Mandala tapestry is the perfect symbol to show that process of introspection, which leads to having confidence in directing one’s life. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘mandala’ is ‘a circle.’

“My main goal (through my music) is to encourage people to learn to hold themselves accountable and be able to self-reflect and just be healthier versions of themselves,” she said.

Having said that, Kelly is still aware of the challenges that come with trying to become a healthier version of herself, and it’s something she touches on in her song ‘Game Over.’

“I wanted to sing my entire life. It was very romanticized. I have a personality disorder, so when you have a personality disorder, it’s very common to really romanticize things, especially from a young age,” she said.

Kelly said she has borderline personality disorder, which is a mental health disorder that impacts the way a person thinks and feels about themsleves.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the disorder can also cause problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships.

As Kelly started singing for other people, she felt the pressure to take her music and singing more seriously, which meant focusing on the business side of music that doesn’t lend any space for romanticization, and it does demand practicality for the musician to achieve success.

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“‘Game Over’ is really about how that can be really stressful, and there are a few lines in it, where I say, ‘you’ve chained yourself to this. It doesn’t have to last’…to remind people as they’re singing along that you can feel uncomfortable with something and it doesn’t make it inherently a bad thing,” she said.

She said starting her mental recovery journey has been a game-changer for her writing and art, and how she interprets her emotions.

“I think that it’s helped a lot because I’m able to reflect so much. I mentioned earlier how people with personality disorders can really romanticize things. So that’s in a lot of the music that is popular,” Kelly said.

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She explained that the songs you listen to on the radio can contribute to negative ideas or unrealistic expectations, especially for people who have a personality disorder because they tend to think in hyperbolic and romanticized ways, and wouldn’t always be aware of it.

“How many times have you heard in the song someone says, ‘I can’t live without you?’ and these songs drive home these toxic negative ideas about relationships and life in general,” Kelly said.

“And for a neurotypical person or like an emotionally well person, it wouldn’t really matter that much. But for especially younger people growing up where you have this tendency to think about things in a hyperbolic way, I think that it can be kind of damaging,” she added.

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Having a borderline personality disorder has made her music particularly raw, in the sense that people with personality disorders tend to feel things deeply and more strongly than a neurotypical person, Kelly explained, and her music and lyrics reflect that.

This is why she describes her music to be a “raw” fusion of pop and R&B.

“I used to really struggle with the fact that I have a hard time making art when I’m happy. It can be frustrating. So a lot of my music comes from being in a lot of pain or just discomfort,” Kelly said.

“In the recent years, I’ve tried to reflect on where it’s coming from, why (the pain) is there, what to do about it and why it’s beneficial because I think that any time we feel some sort of emotional pain, it’s really telling us something about ourselves,” she added.

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Now she can write something with tears in her eyes, but once she starts singing, it makes her happy and excited about her art.

‘You don’t need to leave to be a successful artist’

Kelly’s recent single ‘Game Over’ features hip hop artist MAJE, who she knew would “emotionally resonate” with the song.

“I know that he also has a tendency of being a bit of an anxious person, not always necessarily seeing his full potential. And that’s kind of the whole premise of the song, is like questioning what the end result is going to be and feelings of being unsure,” said Kelly.

MAJE brings an energy of power to the song, and as an artist, he’s known to rap about self-confidence, reflection, ownership and Black excellence.

Hip-hop artist MAJE.

As far as a feature, MAJE said it’s his best verse, which speaks about some of the challenges he experiences as an artist in Nova Scotia.

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“Your parents want you to do the school thing and your peers don’t really have the same vision, and it’s Nova Scotia, so it’s like everything just seems impossible. I was going against all that,” he said.

“I think the biggest thing is that everyone talks about how you have to leave to make it here…and that sounds like a challenge that I want to tackle, and the fact that you don’t have to leave to be a successful artist,” MAJE added.

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MAJE said he always loved Kelly’s voice and writing and said it was a “no-brainer” to do this song with her.

“You can be a decent singer and maybe have a decent vibe as a rapper, but lyrics are super important to me and Wren is a good writer…so she was more like a gift to me,” he said.

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In the meantime, MAJE and Kelly are in the process of shooting a video for ‘Game Over.’ Kelly will also be performing at The Stubborn Goat in Halifax on September 12 at 3 p.m.

“We need to have places of solace and joy and hope. And that’s really going to come from artists and entertainment,” said Kelly.

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