With an EP ahead, the Grand Rapids pianist with years of concussion struggles today releases a single for Brain Injury Awareness Month. Local Spins on WYCE also features new tracks by Michigan artists.
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When Caitlin Cusack hit her head on stage during a death scene as part of a theatrical production, she treated it as a minor injury and didn’t take it seriously.
“When I got back to the dressing room, I found that the mirrors were moving and my vision was a little off. I just thought, ‘That’s weird. Maybe I got a concussion,’ ” Cusack said of what she viewed as a “seemingly mild” affliction at the time. “I tried to push through it.”
As it turns out, that brain injury on her 26th birthday sparked years of brain fog, headaches, over-stimulation and vision problems.
“It ended up changing my entire life. … It’s been a really tough journey,” said Cusack, who was forced to take a hiatus from work after the injury and is still actively rehabilitating her brain nearly five years later.
“My symptoms continued to get worse as I tried to push through them, spurring a years-long struggle searching for answers and fighting to recover. That is why I want to raise awareness about the realities of concussion recovery and navigating life with a brain injury. I hope to shine a light for people who are struggling by sharing my story and resources, and perhaps help someone avoid the long road of recovery I’ve had to follow.”
The longtime singer, pianist, theater performer and songwriter from Ionia who’s now based in Grand Rapids aims to shine that light with today’s release of the first single and title track from her upcoming EP, “Quiet My Mind” – timed to coincide with Brain Injury Awareness Month.
Cusack calls the track “purposefully repetitive with an almost cyclical melody indicative of my state of mind at the time – desperate to move forward and afraid that I was falling behind, but feeling stuck. It began as a sad piano ballad but developed into a shimmery pop song with synth parts meant to reflect the movement of my anxious thoughts. This version reflects how far I’ve come in my recovery and I’m really, really proud of it.”
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE, Cusack shared that single, along with the on-air premiere of another track, “California Spring,” from her upcoming EP which officially gets released May 19 during a performance at Midtown in Grand Rapids. Scroll down to listen to both tracks, the interview with Cusack and the full radio show podcast, along with a video of a recent Cusack performance.
‘SLOWLY WORKING BACK INTO PERFORMING AND PRODUCING ORIGINAL MUSIC’
Cusack said she started writing the song about eight months into her recovery from the concussion. Four months after that, her mother died.
“At the time, my fragmented thoughts and migraine pain forced me to retreat from life, and made singing and playing piano extremely difficult,” said Cusack, who attended SS Peter and Paul Catholic School, was “a self-professed band and choir geek” at Ionia High School and graduated from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in music, minoring in theater.
“When it finally came together, it gave me hope and signified to my neuro-rehabilitation therapists that I was on the right track. … I am slowly working back into performing live and producing my original music.”
That “working back” recently included her role as part of the female Michigan super-group that released an impressive take on Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” earlier this month on International Women’s Day. (View that here.)
The singer-songwriter also plays Beer City Bread Co. in Grand Rapids at 6 p.m. today (March 24) to celebrate the single-release and March 31 at The Stray in Grand Rapids with Nathan Walton, Olivia Vargas and Lane Ellens.
Beyond her May 19 EP-release show, she’ll also play Greenville’s Frugthaven Farm on June 17 and join an all-star lineup of female performers as part of Womxn of Rock at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids on June 22.
Inspired by everything from theater music to pop, Cusack said she’s pushing her original music toward the pop spectrum, challenged in part by Joel Ferguson of Rockford’s Planet Sunday Recording Studios where she recorded her EP.
Her music on the EP also reflects “chiaroscuro,” an art term referring to the balance between light and dark elements.
“Each song has a shade of reflecting what I’ve learned: Life is about balancing the light and dark, the joy and pain, the good times and the bad,” she said, adding that elements of uncertainty, calming, dreaming and hope weave their way through the tracks that range from “shimmery cinematic pop” to “acoustic guitar-driven pop with an Americana flavor.”
Hopefulness also underscores her concussion blog at caitlincusackmusic.com/concussion, which includes resources for those affected by brain injuries.
“Any hit to the head can cause really life-changing things,” she said, “and that is something we don’t talk enough about.”
This week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which showcases Michigan-made music at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – also featured new music from Daisybox, Midwest Skies, Earth Radio (this week’s musician’s pick by Cusack), Story Café, Shawn Moulenbelt, Jordan Hamilton, Bierkeller Boys Oompah Band, Asamu Johnson & The Associates of the Blues, Singing Lungs and Mustard Plug. Listen to the radio show here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (3/24/23)
VIDEO: Caitlin Cusack at Midtown (Solo Cover Medley)
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