A few months back, Support Act launched their long-awaited Wellbeing Helpline, a 24/7 service that allows anyone working in Australian music to call a professional counsellor to talk about issues that support their wellbeing.

Fast forward a few months, and Support Act have teamed up with the folks at Levi’s to launch a range of limited edition band shirts with the aim to raise awareness around mental health issues.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Support Act have used band shirts to help promote mental health awareness, with the organisation being the driving force behind the beloved annual Aus Music T-Shirt Day. However, their partnership with Levi’s is one of the first times they’ve given music fans a chance to purchase their favourite bands’ shirts.

Launched alongside World Mental Health Day, names such as Cold Chisel, DMA’s, Saskwatch, and Midnight Oil to name a few have all gotten in on the action, with 100% of proceeds from these shirts going to Support Act.

To celebrate this new line of shirts, we spoke to The Preatures, Bad//Dreems, and Ecca Vandal about the first pieces of merch they ever owned, and what it’s like to work with an organisation like Support Act.

If you’re keen on learning more about Support Act’s collaboration with Levi’s, or Aus Music T-Shirt Day, be sure to head along to those websites for more information.

The Preatures' Isabella Manfredi wearing the band's Support Act t-shirt
The Preatures’ Isabella Manfredi wearing the band’s Support Act t-shirt

What was the first piece of music merch that you owned?

Luke Davison, The Preatures’ drummer: I bought a Metallica t-shirt at Flemington Markets. Real or not, I felt like the biggest badass of grade five.

Miles Wilson, Bad//Dreems’ drummer: I reckon it would’ve been a Nirvana shirt; an old Nirvana shirt. Not the one with the crossed eyes and the smiling face, but just a K-Mart one – I reckon it was in ’98 or something. That’s probably the first one that springs to mind. But I also had a The Album Leaf shirt.

My coolest piece of merch is this black Cosmic Psychos shirt with this really crazy illustration on it. I didn’t get it that long ago, like maybe a year or two – at one of their gigs – and it’s this really crazy, detailed picture of this long-haired guy with red eyes and jagged teeth, dressed in a flanny. He’s sitting in the meditative position with crossed legs, but in one hand he’s got a dart and in the other hand is a beer. It’s just a really cool shirt, with just a great design.

Ecca Vandal: My first band t-shirt – or artist shirt – would probably have been a Missy Elliott or a Janet Jackson t-shirt. I can’t remember which one it was. It would’ve been that my sisters would have gone to their concert and bought me back one of their t-shirts. But I’m pretty sure it was a Janet Jackson t-shirt, around the Velvet Rope tour.

[My coolest piece of merch] would be my Black Flag t-shirt. I wear it all the time, and I mean, it’s pretty worn – it started off black and now it’s definitely grey. It’s so thin and ratty, but I just wear it all the time, and I think that’s probably my favourite band t-shirt.

Bad//Dreems’ James Bartold and Miles Wilson wearing the band's Support Act t-shirt
Bad//Dreems’ James Bartold and Miles Wilson wearing the band’s Support Act t-shirt.

What went into the design of the Support Act t-shirt?

Wilson: We wanted to do a hand-drawn design that involved the whole band. Obviously some are more able in terms of being artistic than others, so it couldn’t be that we all drew part of this person or face or something. But we had a chat with the band members and we put some ideas out there, and we wanted to make sure they were relevant to Support Act.

It was Alex [Cameron, guitarist] who came up with the idea of a person, sort of looking up at this huge cloud with all these words, and it’s just an ode to be feeling inundated and overwhelmed by life. It just uses the euphemism of the dark cloud above you, always carrying it around with you, and the burden of it always being there and always gazing upon it.

I enjoy illustration. I’m a graphic designer and I have drawn a lot of things for the band in the past and for other bands. Alex described it to me over a phone call and I drew the person looking up to the cloud of words, and initially it got knocked back. It just wasn’t what he had in mind, and the other guys weren’t too sure about it, but eventually they came back and said, ‘Yeah, I really like it’.

So I redid all the words, got them all to write down the different words they wanted to be in the cloud, then I scanned them and dropped them in, so the words you see on the shirt are the band members’ individual handwriting, scattered around. We were talking the other day about how much we love the shirt and the design, and the fact it happens to be for such a good cause.

I also really liked the social media pressures reference with the 100 likes above his head. It’s just a really subtle reference that we wanted to put in there which was, I guess a direct portrayal of the pressures and oppressive nature of feeling validated through social media.

Especially being in a band, everyone always feels so much pressure to look as though they’re achieving and portray that they’re doing great things and that they’re successful. It becomes a real burden and an addiction, and we thought that was something other bands could relate to. I actually showed it to Zach [Stephenson] from Hockey Dad who said that he thought that it was really poignant to him as a musician as well.

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Ecca Vandal: In February this year, all of our live equipment and some of my recording gear was stolen. I was so fucking angry and super desperate to try to get it back. The thought of trying to replace the gear was absolutely sickening: I was flat broke and only seven days out from a show.

I threw this photo of me flipping the bird on my Instagram, mainly to say FU to crooks who stole my property, and the post was shared around to all the pawn shops and cash converters in Melbourne at the time. The word got out there and luckily half of the gear was returned back to us! A miracle really.

This is just one small example where I’ve seen a pretty shitty situation in my life completely turn around; a shitty situation that at the time I legit couldn’t see an end to. This same shitty situation made me realise that the people who stole my equipment could have stolen it out of desperation, a quick fix to make money. I truly feel for those people and that they had to resort to theft to get by.

Perhaps they’re in the middle of their own dark place too. It helped me put things into perspective and made me realise how lucky I am. It’s just a little reminder that you too can flip shit on its head and turn your negatives into positives. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s definitely possible.

Ecca Vandal wearing her Support Act t-shirt
Ecca Vandal wearing her Support Act t-shirt

How does it feel to support a charity like Support Act?

Wilson: Awesome. It feels really good because Support Act do great work with initiatives for musicians and those in the creative arts, and they’re a real shining light and a real steadfast body within the music scene that makes you feel safe and understood.

They’re endorsed by and run by musicians for other musicians, and they also put on a really cool thing for like, stage techs, people who are involved in the lighting side of things, tour management. Like, no one really misses out: they make sure they give time to all the different facets of the music industry. They make sure that people understand that there’s always people that are like them and that they’re not alone, and that their problems are being heard.

They’re just really important, and we’re really stoked to be able to do something that donated money to them. Hopefully we can do more stuff for them in the future, they’re really important, they’re really effective, and they’re really respected.

Ecca Vandal: It’s great. I’m really proud to be part of this campaign. I think it’s really important to raise awareness around mental health, especially creative workers in the industry, like musicians and anybody else who is working within the industry.

I think it’s really important to support creative minds. I just think Support Act is a great cause, and it’s really great to see the work that they’re doing.

Are you worried about your own mental health? Or worried about someone else? The Support Act Wellbeing Helpline is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 1800 959 500 within Australia.

Check out Ecca Vandal’s ‘Future Heroine’:

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