Story by LISA ANDERSON
“When I step on stage, the person that I am, the person that I have to be in front of people melts away. For an hour, I get to be my perfect self,“ he says.
Joshua Jacobs cuts an impressive figure as he enters the room. He’s well over six feet tall, but his demeanor is closer to a gentle giant rather than a bouncer. He takes a seat at my desk. His nerves and self-doubt are almost palpable. He shifts in the chair, picks at my desk, and he avoids eye contact for most of the interview. But when Joshua steps on the stage, the introvert, the guy struggling with depression and PTSD, is gone. His Mumford-like voice transports you into another world, and his lyrics are the only clues to his mental health struggles.
“I was 12, I think, when my dad bought me my first instrument, which was a First Act drum set,” Joshua remembers.
That’s when he found out he was “complete shit” at the drums. “I could only do the feet part,” he says with a hint of a smile, “but I couldn’t break up the beat math that it takes to make a cohesive beat.”
Joshua has gotten better over the years. He attributes this to learning the art of producing music, but guitar and singing are his strengths.
A Life-Defining Year
He was 14 when he got his hands on that First Act guitar, but he didn’t consider music as a career until age 18. He had moved to Bonifay, Florida to stay with his dad’s best friend, whom he affectionately calls his uncle, and one of the best guitarists he’s ever met. “He always had this idea he and I would go play bars. I never really sang until I moved up there with him. He really encouraged me to find my voice.”
His move brought more than music lessons and bonding time. It also brought with it the feeling of isolation, acknowledgment of depression, and uncomfortable memories from his childhood. “Things happened to me that shouldn’t happen to a child. It was out of a lot of people’s control, but it still happened. As a child, you think, ‘This is my fault. I did something bad to deserve this, so I’ll keep it to myself because I don’t want to get in trouble.’ So, I did! I was nine when it happened.” Joshua looks down as he tells me this part of his story. “And I was 25 when I told people [about it].
“While I was up in Bonifay going to college, I did what every college student does—try everything, do everything.” He lists off several things that fall into a typical college experience, but one also filled with inner turmoil. “It was the first time I realized I was alone, and I didn’t know why I was alone,” he recalls. “I got a bag of pills and decided effectively to end my life.”
Joshua’s recollection is slow and thoughtful. His choice of words and the details he shares are deliberate. His courage in this moment penetrates my every emotion, and I can see why his songs are so perfectly balanced between sharing his feelings and letting his audience decide what the music means to them.
“As fate would have it, as I had a handful of pills, my Facebook Messenger goes off.” It was the first message Joshua received from Sarah, his now wife. Her simple text included two words that saved his life, “‘Hi there.’ I’ll never forget those words,” Joshua muses.
Those words sparked an all-night conversation and a clarity only a failed suicide attempt can bring. “I immediately stopped doing drugs, I stopped smoking cigarettes, and I stopped drinking for a long while, just so I could get a clear head.”
Moving the Music Forward with Summer Sessions
Joshua came back to the Ocala area, where he pursued a career in music. In 2012, at 21 years old, he put his original music out on stage for the first time. It was through his uncle and wife’s encouragement he participated in a show held at a local theatre called the Insomniac Theatre. “That was my first show I ever played any original music,” he says. “It was a little show put on by this girl named Summer Patterson. We were tasked with doing covers and one or two originals.”
Joshua laughs at himself as he thinks about those early days. “I had really vague, really long named songs that had nothing to do with the lyrics.”
After stepping onto the Insomniac stage, he knew he was meant to be a musician. The defining moment has led to his current band, The States, an album release, and several gigs in the Ocala area and around the state of Florida.
The Year the Stage Was Gone
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Musicians lost all of their gigs. The world came to a stop, and the stage became a digital platform. It was hard for Joshua and for many performers who thrive on the energy and joy of a crowd to only be able to perform online. “It definitely felt like a rug was being pulled out from underneath you. To be real honest, it didn’t hit me until May or June. So, we were in quarantine for a while. Then I realized, ‘I’m not playing shows this year at all.’”
Joshua leans forward and places his arms on my desk, and the sadness he must have felt during the pandemic washes over his face. For him, there was a genuine feeling of isolation, which is the worst thing for depression. “You have to rely on people to be there for you, and so I felt alone,” he recalls.
To help combat this feeling of loneliness, Joshua and his band mate, Matt Weisberg, began writing and producing songs. Two were released: “A Song for the Rain” and “Isolate.” Writing, producing, and releasing the songs helped in the moment, but the good feelings didn’t last. Joshua played a few live shows online, but in the end, it made him feel worse because he saw no one was watching him. Twenty-twenty made him realize his self-worth as a human being was tied to being a musician, but one that plays on stage and connects with the audience.
As the world settles into the new normal and vaccines are being distributed, Joshua and his band are back playing a few gigs. They even plan to release a new single this year called “Revival.” This new release is a game-changer, and the song embodies the band more than any of their previous releases over the last six years.
He knows his struggles with depression and PTSD will always be there, but Joshua still puts on a smile. This year is bringing life back into focus and creating more on-stage opportunities. The future looks pretty bright for him and The States.