“If someone said take this pill and you’ll wake up tomorrow and you won’t have epilepsy anymore I wouldn’t take it,” says VC Pines.
In September, VC Pines – the stage name of Jack Mercer – released his debut solo album MRI. Focusing on his experience of living with epilepsy. He says the album is inspired by living with temporal lobe epilepsy and that living with condition has given his creative output a unique style.
“Epilepsy has made me different. I’m not the best musician in the world, I can’t just shred on my guitar and do all of that but it makes me create in a way that’s different to other people.”
The sound of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is on the album’s opening track, Chamber, and in the video for the song Running, he is in a hospital gown linked up to an EEG. “I wanted to start with a brain scan taking place, which symbolises the EEG scan I had,” he says.
To Jack, his epilepsy makes him unique. “I’m fortunate enough with my condition that it’s not completely debilitating and it’s something that I try to harness and use as a tool. It’s a part of me. It’s something that I turn around on myself,” he says.
Epilepsy is present throughout the new album with song titles such as Colours, Damn Different and No One’s Gonna Save U speaking to this inspiration.
“It’s affected the way that I write,” he says. “I think my condition makes me very sensory.
“I have lots of memories and stuff that gets triggered by senses, by sounds and smells and sights, and they’ll kind of trigger nostalgic episodes, which can turn into a seizure. So, I try to use the senses when I’m making music – in my writing. All of the songs themselves, they all burst from nostalgia. So they’re all memories that have been blown up and turned into song.”
The heightened senses and flashbacks of memories that come with his epilepsy have all fed into his work.
“I think synaesthesia is one of the symptoms,” he says, adding: “When I’m making the music part of it, chord sequences and stuff, there are colours in my head.
“The stuff I’m most happy with is always violet or purple in colour. VC Pines is violet coloured pines. I try to kind of paint the songs in my head using the senses and memories.”
The Pines part of his name comes from a trip to New Hampshire when Jack was a child. There were huge pine trees all around the town, which resurfaced as a memory when he was having seizures as a teen.
Epilepsy and memory are strongly linked, with many people reporting memory loss around the time they have seizures. For Jack, his creativity is connected to his memory. And while the inspiration he draws from nostalgia helps him write, the memory difficulties he faces because of his epilepsy can create problems day-to-day.
He says: “I feel like my long-term memory is good. My senses will trigger memories that I wouldn’t otherwise remember but my short-term memory is dreadful. I will think: ‘When I leave, I have to take this out with me’ and I’ll leave it by the door. I just don’t register anything and completely forget.”
Discovering his epilepsy
Seizures remain a present in Jack’s life, and he has been living with epilepsy since he was 17.
“I started having simple partial seizures and then I had a couple of focal seizures as well and I had no idea what was going on. I just thought I was going mad and losing my mind at 17. So, I went to the neurology department in Charing Cross (London) and got scanned and diagnosed from my symptoms.
“They put me on lamotrigine and I had a really bad time with it and I would be a completely different person. I fell out with a lot of friends and it completely changed me. It’s put me off medication as a whole. I was still having seizures, so I was like: ‘I would rather be myself and have seizures than not be myself and have’.”
Epilepsy has also had an effect on his mental health.
“I’m much more prone to seizures when I’m depressed,” he says.
“Epilepsy can give me sharp mood swings that are always hard to navigate. My mood will rapidly change just before I have a seizure and it’s not something that I necessarily notice. There’s loads of daily things that come with epilepsy that you have to navigate as well as the seizures – there’s a million other things that are all emotional and mental, and things that happen every day.”
Jack began his music career with The Carnabys, an indie-pop band from south London. The band had some success, even touring with Bruce Springsteen. When the band released its second album, all the pre-sale and first-week profits went to Music Venue Trust, a charity for grassroots venues. But working in a band made living with epilepsy more challenging for Jack.
“Everything was fun and exciting, but I didn’t look after myself the way I should have when we were touring. It really did take a toll. Adrenaline would always get me through the shows and then after the gig, that’s when whatever was coming for me would happen, straight after.”
Being a solo artist has made it easier to live with his condition. “I’ve started telling myself nothing good happens after 3am,” he says. And now he sees his epilepsy as a positive influence.
“I feel like because of the niche it’s given me and my work, it’s given me a sense of confidence there because here’s a uniqueness and I guess that’s something that could help other people.
“I know how fortunate I am for my condition to not be as life-changing as other people’s, but, if you can, try not to see your epilepsy as a bad thing, try to see it as something that’s for you to use to create things that no one else could create or see things that no one else could see from that perspective.”
To find out more about VC Pines and listen to the album go to: vcpines.com
If you experience any problems with your epilepsy medication, it’s important you do not stop taking it without speaking to a medical professional as this could cause breakthrough seizures. Please talk to your doctor or epilepsy specialist before changing or stopping any medication.