Tim Dooley on mental illness, 'irresponsible kids,' and Timisarocker's new album, 'Natural Disaster'


Timisarocker Photo: Sara Dollens

Concept albums are few and far between these days, but Tim Dooley isn’t giving up on them.

His soul-punk band, Timisarocker, based its new debut full-length, Natural Disaster, on the concept of a “misunderstood millennial” experiencing mental illness. Citing sonic influences as disparate as Eric Clapton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, plus a community-minded conscience, Timisarocker uses music not just to move listeners, but to mobilize them.

A Decatur, Georgia, native who moved to Minnesota to attend McNally Smith, Dooley recruited Dylan Dykstra (bass guitar), Matt Lentz (electric guitar), and Avery Frisk (drummer) to form Timisarocker in 2014. Since then, the band has taken its unconventional sound to Twin Cities Pride and to Pioneer Days in St. Francis, as well as performing an annual residency at Sawatdee.

We spoke to Dooley before the album release show.

City Pages: What are the themes of this album?

Tim Dooley: As a whole, Natural Disaster is an album about how mental illness can feel like the effects of a hurricane or flood. Even after the storm, there is always hope and time to rebuild and pick up the pieces. As far as the songs are concerned, it kind of follows the story of a misunderstood millennial.

CP: Were you the one who experienced mental health issues or are there multiple people in the band with mental health issues?

TD: In the band, we all suffer from one mental illness or a series of mental illnesses. Since I’m the one writing the lyrics, I would say the feelings they convey are from my perspective. I suffer from manic depression and paranoia.

CP: What sorts of treatment have you sought out? What has been helpful?

TD: I am a big advocate for prescription medicine. That has helped me a lot. Actually, one of our songs on the album is called “Pop.” We repeat the line “A pill a day keeps the pressure away / A pill a day keeps depression at bay.” That is just a way of reminding everyone who has to take a pill that this will help you. I have had to suffer through substance abuse because of my mental illness and I’ve had to seek help for myself by going to a treatment center. I am sober now, so I’m really thankful for the help I’ve received that way.

CP: Is it hard to stay sober in the music community, given that many shows take place at venues that serve alcohol?

TD: Very much so. But the thing about Timisarocker is we are all relatively sober. The most that we do is have one beer and call it quits. It does get a little hard sometimes, especially when we’re performing at bars or at festivals where everybody is on drugs and they offer you drugs, especially when you’re onstage and after you get done, they want to congratulate you -- “hit this joint” or something. We have to remind ourselves to say no, but it’s easier because all four of us are sober and we have that support system. It’s not as hard when you have your close friends with you, helping you out.

CP: What is the relationship between suffering from mental health issues and making music? Do those issues hinder -- or even sometimes help -- the creative process?

TD: Natural Disaster almost didn’t happen because of substance abuse, but in a way it did help as well. Throughout the writing process, it seemed as though all the lyrics I was writing for this album just weren’t working. It took a year of writing new stuff and throwing away stuff and rewriting stuff. Drinking didn’t help that, either, because it made me think I wasn’t writing anything good enough or I wasn’t conveying the words well enough. Especially with someone who has a mental illness that makes you paranoid, drinking just makes you more paranoid. You think people are reading your lyrics when you haven’t shown anybody anything, so you throw them away. It does hurt, but when you have a support system like I do with the guys in the band who only have your best interests at heart, it does help.

Sometimes, not being sober -- and I’m not advocating drug use at all -- but for some people who have been in the same situation as me, where they’re trying to create something and they happen to also abuse drugs and alcohol, they might find that what they wrote during that time can be used again while sober and tweaked a little bit to sound a little bit more concise and not all over the place.

CP: You mentioned that the album is also about a “misunderstood millennial.” What do you think is misunderstood about millennials?

TD: There is a track on there called “Irresponsible Kids.” That was a song that we wrote around the 2016 election. Bernie Sanders was someone that really made a difference in the millennial generation’s voice. There were so many young people so involved in politics because of him, and not even just him -- we had other candidates who did that successfully as well -- but because we had a candidate who millennial people identified with so much, we got to see more millennial people speak up.

Even within the millennial generation, it seems as though there were some older millennials who were fighting with younger millennials and there were different groups in the millennial generation, like male versus female. There was an internal fight between the divided millennials. We wrote a song called “Irresponsible Kids” saying, “Big picture here, guys: We are all involved in politics. We all have our differences and our similarities, but just think about how none of us were this involved in politics a while ago, and now we are. We’re nothing more than irresponsible kids. All of us.”

CP: It sounds like you’re not just trying to write catchy songs, you’re making a statement.

TD: Very much so. We don’t write songs about ourselves. We don’t write songs about love, per se. We normally just take a point of view that’s not our own and run with that and see if we can step into someone else’s shoes. I think that’s what makes our music different. We want it to be about other people and have other people translate it to their own points of view.

CP: What has kept you in Minnesota?

TD: I stayed because of Timisarocker. The music scene and my band and my friends and everything about Minnesota is so great. As an openly gay man, too, it feels a lot safer here as opposed to Georgia. That does hinder us as a band, but for the most part I feel safer in Minnesota.

CP: How does your sexual orientation hinder you as a band?

TD: It’s not even just my sexual orientation. It’s also my skin color. I’m an openly gay black man in a punk band. Even though the punk scene is accepting, I have noticed that sometimes when I walk into a venue with the three other white guys who are in the band with me, they are seen as regular people, but as soon as I get behind a microphone and I start talking with my feminine voice, most people are either checked out or they think I’m used as a prop.

Even though I’m super, super happy that we’re playing Pride, every single year that we play Pride, we get the Power to the People stage, which is exclusive to people of color. It seems as though we are typecast because of my skin color or because of my sexual orientation. We either lose opportunities or get them because of that. We don’t like to promote ourselves as “the band with the gay black man singing,” even though people do that for us.

CP: How do you deal with that? It sounds like such a bummer.

TD: Girl, I’ve been dealing with this all my life. It’s just kind of how it is sometimes. I’m hopeful that that’s not how it’s going to be forever. And it’s not always the case. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be seen as an artist and not just an artist who happens to be gay and black.

Where: Triple Rock
When: 9 p.m., Fri. June 30
Tickets: $10, more info here