Samantha Hartsel of the Lowell band Tysk Tysk Task was on her way to Colorado when she called her long time friend Kyle Cuneo to tell him she did not plan to come back.
Embroiled in a divorce, and with her father terminally ill, side effects from a change in her antidepressant medication had driven her to the point of breakdown.
“I was going to kill myself,” she said.
Rather than panic, however, Cuneo, who also suffers from depression, made a simple proposition to his friend — “go to Colorado; have a spiritual experience; but then come back. We’ll make music together.”
Hartsel liked that idea.
“[I thought] If I’m going to end my life, I’m going to do what’s always terrified me first, which is really start a band, really comitt to it, put my art out there and really talk about the things I’m embarrased to talk about like sex, abuse, power issues, misogyny, the patriarchy, anti-Trump shit, all of that,” she said.
That’s exactly what she has done.
Though slowed by a pair of hospitalizations due to Hartsel’s mental illness, and a busy schedule for Cuneo that has kept him away from the band particularly in recent months, Tysk has coalesced as a quartet that now includes Hartsel on guitar, Mike Hayden on bass, Ben Kotce on harmonica, and former URI drum corps head Jina Moran on drums.
The band is teasing an early 2020 album release and has performed frequently throughout the Lowell and Boston scenes. On top of that, they’ve granted the Lowell Spin the opportunity to premiere their latest single “Yeah, Right,” which is now available for streaming everywhere. (See below!)
“We’ve been really active in that sense,” Hartsel said. “We want to get out there, we want people to know our name.”
Indeed, though, Tysk Tysk Task is hardly a party band. In line with Hartsel’s founding goal of singing about that which scares her, these frequent live shows feature primal screams and interludes of violent noise all on top of lyrics Hartsel writes.
Prominent in many of those songs are issues of sexism and misogyny, which Hartsel says has dogged her throughout her career.
“We’ve dealt with promoters who say ‘Can the guy in your band call me back?’” she said, speaking particularly of the Boston scene. “I’ve had to say ‘No I’m the frontwoman, I handle scheduling, you can talk to me.’”
Beyond misogyny, Tysk Tysk Task does not shy away from PTSD, a disorder their frontwoman suffers from.
Working for years as a “written storyteller,” Hartsel saw intense violence and received rape and death threats as a result of her work at her old job. Her diagnosis stems from those traumatic experience.
“That’s what a lot of my music is focused on,” she said. “That [anger and frustration] is a big part of my story…Tysk Tysk Task tries to bring that out.”
Then there’s politics, and, particularly, the mental health care system. Hartsel’s pair of hospitalizations and long term experience with the outpatient arm of the industry has opened her eyes to shortcomings within the system that she now seeks to bring to light through her art.
“There are a lack of resources because mental health is not prioritized,” she said. “We are one of the highest taxed states and we have such an amazing health care system and yet we’re so behind. Can you imagine what it’s like in Mississippi and Alabama?”
Ultimately, though, what has driven massive portions of her band’s work is the heartbreak Hartsel suffered as she and her husband separated roughly a year ago.
“He loves me and I love him but we’re just not talking right now,” she said. “It’s hard.”
Tysk Tysk Task’s brand of rock, Hartsel says, comes in direct response to those emotions, seeking to make bare the loneliness, sadness and anger its members feel.
Singing that way about those topics, Hartsel says, has been hard and even outright scary. But, a year after forming her band from rock bottom, she says it has given her a reason to “keep going” in life.
“Jina will often ask how I’m doing,” Hartsel said of frequent conversations with her drummer. “I’ll say I’m depressed; I miss the love of my life; but we’re going to have an amazing set tonight, I’m so happy to play with you.”
Now for a BRAND NEW single from Tysk Tysk Task ~Dakota Antelman