Sep 4, 2023

129: Original Maroon 5 Drummer Ryan Dusick Talks About His Exit and Finding Recovery

Ryan Dusick is the founding drummer of Maroon 5, one of the world’s most popular bands. In the nineties, Ryan and his high school buddies Adam Levine and Jesse Carmichael dreamed about making it big…and they did! 

Ryan joins host Laurie Barkman to talk about his book, “Harder to Breathe: A Memoir of Making Maroon 5, Losing It All, and Finding Recovery.”  

Just as his career was taking off, Ryan left the band after suffering from a breakdown on the Grammy award-winning “Songs About Jane” tour in 2005. After a decade, he pursued a path of recovery and new life full of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. Now working as a mental health professional, Ryan is spreading the message that recovery is possible and some astounding things can come with it.

When you spend years architecting your life around a goal and suddenly it’s gone, it’s understandable that you may face an identity crisis and depression. Accepting the reinvention process enabled Ryan to let go of the past and embrace a new future.

Enjoy this special “What’s Next” Succession Stories episode about exit and recovery with Ryan Dusick.

Show notes:

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Show Transcript:

Laurie Barkman:
Ryan, welcome to Succession Stories. Congratulations on publishing your memoir, Harder to Breathe. I’m excited to be with you today and learn more about your story.

Ryan Dusick:
Thank you so much for having me on. Laurie.

Laurie Barkman:
You’re in a special room in your house, there’s drumkits all around you. Describe your collection in case people aren’t watching us on YouTube.

Ryan Dusick:
Well, this room has been–it was kind of a labor of love to build. When I moved out to the San Fernando Valley, I had this fantasy of having a room where I had all of the gear I’ve ever collected over the years in one space, and it’s a long journey since I was 12 years old. I started playing the drums and actually, my very first drum kit is behind me back in that corner. That blue, kind of sparkly-looking 1960s Jazz kit was the first kit that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was 12 and I didn’t play that one for very long because this was the late 80s and it was the time of the hair bands and I wanted a big rock kit with cymbals over my head. and so I graduated pretty quickly to that style of drum kit. But since then, being in a band for 12 years and going from the garage all the way up to the biggest stages, there were a lot of opportunities to collect a lot of different gear and there were some things I lost along the way, but most of the things that I’ve I’ve gotten are in this room, not just drums; guitars and amps and basses and other things.

Laurie Barkman:
Yeah, it’s super cool and I love that you’ve kept your first drum set and if I recall the year it was 1989 and if that’s correct, that was the year that I was a senior in high school so just to give everybody kind of a level set for the Gen Xers listening in and we can put ourselves back in that time zone. You covered a lot in your book, you covered a lot, the highest, the lows of your experience and in a really honest way. It’s been more than two decades since Maroon Five’s amazing album acclaimed album, Songs About Jane was released. Were you nervous for your former bandmates to read the manuscript?

Ryan Dusick:
Oh, yes and no, I think I certainly wanted their approval and I wanted them to like what I had done, I was very proud of the book that I had written and it’d be nice to have their support, of course, as well, or going out into the world and trying to promote the thing but at the same time, I felt very confident, I felt like I had done as much work as I possibly could be as honest and balanced and fair in the representation of everything that had happened over a decade and all the relationships involved and even in moments when I was at all critical o presenting things that might not be entirely flattering. I was very mindful as a therapist, now, to look at the system and to look at, there’s three sides to every story and to try to really be self-aware in how I was representing something because there was no intent to harm anyone or slinging mud, so to speak so I felt really confident going to them and saying, “Here is here’s the story as I lived it, as honestly, as I could tell it,” but just a little nervous to see how they would respond, but they responded very well.

Laurie Barkman:
Yeah and they were endorsements for your book, all of your former bandmates, as well as talented singer-songwriter, Sara Bareilles and Adam Levine wrote the foreword, so I just want to let the audience know in case they haven’t read your book, but they should read it because it’s an amazing book. That is absolutely, with the support of your former bandmates, and let’s go back, let’s rewind, take me back to your early years because this is really where everything starts growing up in LA.

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, well, I grew up in LA. I was born in 1977 so I was a child of the 1980s. Really, this was the era of MTV, and it was the era in LA, it was an interesting time to grow up because there was–it was the 80s it was the Reagan era and there was all the opulence of Beverly Hills that was very close to where I grew up, and I played in Beverly Hills Little League and AYS) so but then there was also in the same city like the worst epidemic of you know, the crack epidemic and poverty in the inner city and, and gang life and all that stuff. Growing up somewhere in between those two worlds, I kind of saw myself pretty early on as the product of a lot of intersections which I talk about in the book.

I was the child of a Mexican-born mother, and an LA-born Jewish father so a bit of an intersection there in terms of cultures and background and then my brother and I growing up where we did, we were exposed to a lot of different kinds of music, and a lot of different ways of thinking and we went to a public elementary school that had kids from all different sides of the city. It was very diverse and had different ethnic backgrounds and so I look at my childhood and LA being a really rich sort of tapestry of a lot of different influences that I’m grateful for. I didn’t know any different at the time, but looking back, I’m grateful for the kind of the way that it informed the way that I see the world as an adult. Then just musically speaking, there was there were a lot of different influences in our early love of music and my older brother Josh took up the electric guitar when he was about 14 and so classic rock and that era of 80s rock were big influences on me when I started playing the drums at 12 and so by the time I was in high school, I was playing in, in the in the school band I was playing in my older brothers band, and I had a passion for music, which was at that point, sort of supplanting my first pet passion, which was baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers, thinking someday I would be pitching for them.

Laurie Barkman:
That was your dream, wasn’t it, to be on the LA Dodgers?

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, from the time and we were really lucky in the 80s in LA with the sports teams we had we had Magic Johnson on the Showtime Lakers and we had Fernando Valens, Wella, and Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers, great pitchers to look up to for me and that was my love, pitching and I really thought that was at age 12. I was sure I was going to be pitching for the Dodgers someday and I was pretty good. I was a pretty good pitcher.

Laurie Barkman:
You smoked it. There’s a photo of you in the book and I don’t know, you must have been double-jointed or something because the way you were, you’re a right-handed pitcher, right, and the way your arm was sort of bent back and you were doing a tremendous lunge so it must have been your fastball or curveball. I don’t know what you were throwing. It was it was a really cool photo.

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, that’s it. When you see that pose like that ou see how much torque is on your arm when you’re throwing a fastball like that? I think that was like an all-star tournament out in Malibu when I was 12 and you look at that picture and you think that’s not a 12-year-old kid. That’s an adult, right?

Laurie Barkman:
You do touch on it in the book, you talk about the successes of your early baseball career and your dreams for being on the Dodgers but then something happened, where you started to get some anxiety on the mountain. Do you want to talk about that?

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, it was weird, I’ve done a lot of therapy looking back at that point in my life and realizing that the first inklings of some issues I might have had in terms of anxiety and mental health might have started around baseball and my relationship to baseball because I was an overachiever, as a kid did well, in most things, and baseball was my first passion and the place where I felt most sort of comfortable in my own skin and powerful and, pitching in all-star tournaments and feeling like I was really sort of the master of my domain when I was on the mound.

I broke my hand when I was 13 and it was right at the end of my first season pitching for my high school and it was really unfortunate because I wasn’t able to pitch in the postseason in the playoffs and all that stuff but then there was a senior league tournament that started right after that, and I got my cast off, and I think started pitching a little too fast, too quickly after an injury. I didn’t go into any physical therapy or anything, I just kind of picked up the ball and started throwing again and there was this moment where I was pitching at 13 within the senior league tournament, and we were in the sum game where it was a seven-inning game, and I’d been pitching six innings already and we were winning like 13 to one or something and I started having pain in my elbow and I remember, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t particularly religious, but I was in the dugout praying to God and saying, “Just let me get through this game or let this pain subside and I won’t ask for anything ever again.”

I think at that moment, I could give you the whole history in terms of how I’ve psychoanalyzed myself. I just didn’t really want to I didn’t want to let anyone down. I felt like it was my responsibility to carry that team and do what I had been doing for the last few years that place that I had felt felt most powerful and most confident. I felt that first tinge of feeling vulnerable and I didn’t like it and that carried me forward for the next couple of years trying to pitch for the varsity team, I just didn’t have that I had a lot of injuries and I didn’t have the same confidence, because I was constantly trying to play through injuries or come back from injuries and it was very frustrating. I think it really kind of messed with my head in terms of my confidence and I think every time I would try to come back from injury, there was a little bit more of a diminishment in terms of how I was able to tap into that place that I felt so in charge at 12, that by the time I was about 15, it just wasn’t fun anymore and I just felt like the ball wasn’t coming out of my hand the same way. The experience of being on a team and playing baseball didn’t have the same joy and passion and purpose that it once had and so everything that I had found a lot of meaning in was kind of missing at that point and I thankfully had music at that point in my life to sort of buoy me because I was feeling very disillusioned. I was feeling the pangs of teenage angst at that point.

Laurie Barkman:
By the injuries in baseball. It’s tough enough to be a teenager, right?

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, I think it’s a moment in your life for most teenagers, really, for all teenagers, where you’re questioning things for the first time, and you’re trying to figure out who you are in the world, what your values are, what you can’t really care about, where you stand, and what who you’re going to be as an adult, not that you have enough self-awareness at that age to know that that’s what’s going on, but that’s what the feeling is. It’s sort of like pushing off of things and trying to find your bearings like, “Who am I?” and I was certainly doing that.

Fortunately, it was in the early 90s, at this point and it was the era of grunge rock and the Seattle alternative scene and I was kind of in that moody teenager mode already and then outcomes, Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vetter and Chris Cornell and, these guys that were just such an awesome intersection of both powerful in what they did, but also sort of wounded and vulnerable in the things that they were talking about in the way that they were expressing their emotion and so I really related to that… it was, it was for me, having felt that, that aggression, and that power as an athlete, but also just as a young man growing into myself bBut then also feeling that vulnerability and being a sensitive kid and not feeling very comfortable yet, with that sensitive side of me. The heavy music of that era was really a nice thing to have, a nice place to put all of that energy, all of that confusion, and angst that came with that, that time in your life in general but that time for me in particular, where I was going through that transition from something that felt like an identity to me to now I don’t know what my identity is.

Laurie Barkman:
Then you found it, you got introduced to your bandmates when you were, what? 15 years old?

Ryan Dusick:
Well, yeah, Adam was sort of an extended family friend, Adam Levine. Growing up, he was a couple of grades below me and so when I would see him at family events and things he just seemed like an annoying little brother to me. He was kind of kind of rambunctious and hyperactive kid and ADHD, as we have come to understand it and I saw myself as this more grown up. [Laugh]

Laurie Barkman:
[Laugh] Yes, two years older, very sophisticated.

Ryan Dusick:
At that age.

Laurie Barkman:
Absolutely.

Ryan Dusick:
It wasn’t until we were in high school. I had played a little bit of music with him when we were in middle school and that didn’t really go anywhere but when I was in high school, and my older brother had gone off to college, and the guys that I was playing in the school band with were all kind of graduating and leaving me I was looking for younger blood to start up with and then I remembered my old buddy, Adam Levine. I realized I knew he had been playing some guitar, but I didn’t know how good he was and then I saw him perform one night at The Troubadour with another band, a band in which he was just the sort of the afterthought, he was just a rhythm guitarist but they invited him up to center stage for the last song to sing lead vocals and that was the moment when I was like, “Oh, okay. Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Laurie Barkman:
Okay. From there you had a couple of other bandmates? At that time, Jesse Carmichael and Mickey Madden, right, there were four of you.

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, Jesse and Mickey were friends of Adams from middle school when I was in the at the high school already and so when they were freshmen, and I sort of had that coming back together with Adam, he introduced me to Jesse and Mickey, and he had been playing in some bands with them. I just kind of wanted to steal out him for myself and start a new band, he would be the singer and we’d find a good bass player and guitarist to join me for the rhythm section but he had other plans, because Jesse was his best friend at that point, he’d been playing with Mickey for a couple of years. Also, I was reluctant, because I had been playing with older players that were more experienced and these kids were really novices but I had to admit when we had one fateful day, in the school orchestra room, in 1994, I guess it was, we were playing a Rage Against The Machine song and it just clicked. I mean, there was just a sort of chemistry between the original four members, that regardless of the level of experience, felt really magical, it just felt like we were really on the same page and it came together in a sort of synergistic way where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts and from that day forward, there was new purpose in my life, there was this collaboration, there was this new family that we were forming, and we were like a little band of idiots.

Laurie Barkman:
Well, you’re you guys were in high school, let’s put ourselves back in time, you didn’t know where your future was headed. You just knew that these were musically talented people that you wanted to be with, and then you together, we’re creating something fun and exciting and special and then it took off from there but of course, in the beginning, you didn’t know where it was headed.

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, it was entirely driven by passion at first and just our love of the music that we were emulating and the early sound was very much that grunge rock. Adam and Jesse were absolutely obsessed with Pearl Jam and they had all of their pictures all over, their bedroom walls. Instead of you know, the normal teenage boy thing with with the sexy girls and their bikinis. They had Pearl Jam.

Laurie Barkman:
Just looking down at them.

Ryan Dusick:
Exactly.

Laurie Barkman:
That’s awesome. You were older so you had the car, and you had a little more maturity so you were assuming a role with the band, you were in the band, of course, you were the drummer, but then you were taking on additional responsibilities like managing and bookings and things like that and in some ways, you were also helping manage the brand identity, were you not?

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, it was a combination of me being the oldest and having the car but also being sort of the Type A personality in the group. Like I said, Adam was a very talented kid and a very charismatic, charming kid but scatterbrained just by nature, really not very organized and I was by nature, sort of OCD, and highly organized and motivated to be the one that was on top of things and so yeah, I was the one that made sure that we had a demo tape and I was taking it around town to all the Hollywood clubs, the Whiskey, the Roxy and the Troubadour and meeting with the club bookers and negotiating a contract to buy a certain amount of tickets and sell them and then I was responsible for going around town and selling these tickets to our friends and family and taking down a mailing list in those days. At 16 years old, hustling around driving and you know, my hand-me-down Jeep Wagoneer around town. I was certainly kind of the entrepreneur, I guess of the group, this sort of brand manager.

Laurie Barkman:
Yeah, you were, and the name of the band, the first name, Kara’s Flowers has a funny story. Do you want to tell that little story?

Ryan Dusick:
I was, weirdly enough, as much as I had been confident as a pitcher and behind the drums now, and, I was, hustling in that way. I was very shy with girls. I was an introvert by nature, but then with girls in particular, I just, hadn’t yet figured out how to talk to women. That’s 16. Adam had that charm and even as I think as a middle schooler, he was he just had that charm with the ladies, even with a faceful of acne, which is amazing and he had a couple of friends that were cute girls, and they’re in the freshman class, and I was a junior and so I was like, that was an added reason to be friends with Adam. I was like, maybe he could introduce me to some of the entourage there.

The night that we formed the band Adam and Jesse and I went out to a show at The Troubadour, and we decided we were forming this band and we ended up back in my bedroom at my parents’ house. When we wrote a couple you know riffs and things we were talking about how great this band is going to be and Adam being the precocious young man that he was, this night isn’t over we need to do something to put an exclamation point on the night we formed the band and so after midnight, when my parents were asleep, we snuck out and put my Jeep Wagoneer in neutral and rolled it onto the street and headed off into the Hollywood Hills to find his friend Kara’s house.

Kara was a friend of his that I thought was cute and it was her birthday the next day and so we thought we’re gonna go wish her happy birthday after midnight. The thing with Adam is scatterbrained sort of mentality, he neglected to tell us that he didn’t know exactly where she lived. He didn’t know what street it was. He just knew somewhere in the vicinity of the Hollywood Hills above the Whisky a Go Go so we drove around for an hour, couldn’t find it. We had to sneak back into my parents’ house to get the school roster to find her address. Still couldn’t find it so we had to scrounge up a Thomas guide in those days. This was long before we had a map on our phone and it was like four in the morning.

We’re sitting at the norms on La Cienega Boulevard, and contemplating just packing it in and then there’s a guy selling flowers walking down the street at like four in the morning on La Cienega Boulevard and we said, “It’s fate. We have to buy some flowers, and we have to find her house and deliver it to her for her birthday, we have to give her these flowers,” so as fate would have it, we actually as the sun is coming up, pulled onto her street and found her house and crept up to her bedroom window and knocked on it and she came to the window and was very confused and then very flattered and was absolutely like blushing. I was probably blushing too because like I was so nervous to be doing this at all. We snuck back into my parents’ house and we said, “We have to name the band Kara’s Flowers,” to commemorate this epic journey that was as much a bonding thing for us, I think as it was anything else and Kara’s Flowers, that name, stuck for about eight years.

Laurie Barkman:
You had an album, you cut an album. How did that album do to give us kind of a quick story around that part of the journey?

Ryan Dusick:
Well, we were very precocious but naive and green and in some ways, but we started getting attention within a year or two of being a band and Adam started to find his voice a as a songwriter. Lyrically not yet, but as in terms of melody. He was he was definitely beyond his years and Jessie as well. It was really growing into the two of them became sort of a songwriting duo so much so that we were writing songs that caught the ear of major record labels. and we got eventually signed to Reprise Records, which was part of Warner Brothers, and recorded an album in 96. That came out in 97 and we went on the road for the first time when I was 19. I had done a couple of years at UCLA at that point, but pretty much dropped out at that point to make the record and go on the road and we had Stars In Our Eyes. They told us we were going to be the next Pearl Jam or the next Weezer. At that point, we were emulating Weezer, because this was now the mid to late 90s, Weezer and Green Day, and then we went out onto the road thinking that was just a fait accompli, the record would come out, it’d be a hit and we’d be stars didn’t work out that way. It didn’t take off the way it did. For a number of reasons.

The timing wasn’t right, the lyrics weren’t quite there yet and we kind of came home with our tails between our legs. Realizing that it wasn’t so easy, even when you had the big record label and the big manager and all those things. The planets still have to align for you to break through and it just didn’t happen that time so we ended up really having to go back to the drawing board after that. After having had big label, big manager, big everything, agent, attorney, we now had nothing again and we were back to square one and with me as the manager hustling around and booking gigs around town, and I was back at UCLA handing out flyers and taking our demo tape around and it was back to the drawing board and so I kind of fell back into that role of the hustler but it was a good time for us because we at first it was tough.

We had to deal with that loss and not knowing if we were going to go on. I know Adam in particular was really kind of distraught over having had that disappointment but when we came back together when we figured out that we did want to go on, even after a period of sort of splintering and not knowing if we were going to be able to work together, we somehow came back together on the same page with with a new, with new inspiration, like we were all listening to, for a while there different kinds of music, and then all of a sudden listening to the same kind of music again, and finding inspiration now in more groove-based music, more R&B and hip hop and classic soul and we were all listening to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson and Prince and more contemporary hip hop and R&B and, and so there was a sort of a renaissance that happened in my life as well as in the life of the band in the late 90s, to early 2000s and that’s when we started writing the songs that became the first Maroon Five album,

Laurie Barkman:
It’s amazing, as you’ve laid it out in the book, and I went back and I listened to the album that we’re talking about Kara’s Flowers and then listened to Harder to Breathe, and all the songs on Songs About Jane and they really are quite different so to hear you explaining it in the book is one thing, but I encourage everyone go back and listen to these albums, because I think it helps bring the story to life.

There’s just one thing I want to rewind on real quick before we transition and talk about Maroon Five. The business side of this is really interesting for those of us who are not in the record business to just get a glimpse into how does this all work and in the book you talked about when Reprise decided to drop you from the label and that stung, I’m sure, and they paid all of you to I guess they broke the contract so they paid all of you at that time $30,000 per band member, which I did the math and by the way, today’s dollars would be more than $50,000 each but still, it wasn’t a huge number and you said you felt like they dropped you like trash. I was thinking about it in terms of venture capital firms. They place a lot of bets and the way their math works is that they’ll spend money, they’ll invest, they make these initial investments, maybe some follow on and if one or two of these companies make it big, it usually is enough to get a good ROI on the portfolio and when you were talking about the record business, and these older days, to me, there was a parallel description where they were willing to spend a million dollars on you. They were signing 10 acts a year, or however many it was and they were going to make one or two on the made it big and so when you didn’t make it big with the album sales, they cut you so I don’t know if that resonates but for those folks listening who have been through startups, perhaps you can think of at that time your band was a startup.

Ryan Dusick:
It was and let me just say that we were one of the lucky ones in terms of how the the contract that we were able to negotiate. We had really good representation and the fact that we got an advance and then we got a payout when we got dropped was not the norm. I don’t think I think we actually fared pretty well given. That whole story that the sink or swim model is what they used to call it, basically the record labels in the heydays, I think probably like the 70s, to the 90s of big corporate rock, they would sign 10x a year spent a million dollars on each of them and one of them would sell 20 million albums, and they would make a ton of money and they would take all those other nine as a loss and so that was the model the business and nevermind the bands that were basically signed to a record label for about a year, they made an album and put their whole heart and soul into it and at the end of that year if the thing hadn’t taken off, it was over. I mean, your career was essentially over. We were also very lucky that we had that experience as teenagers so we had another go-round before it would have really been over for us if we had been in our 20s when that happened. That might have been it for us. It might have been the end of our career.

Laurie Barkman:
Yeah, you bounced back. There was a time you talked about in the book when Adam and Jesse moved to New York. They went to college for a bit and I think they were pursuing their musical career. Adam started to work on a television show that some people might remember called Judging Amy and that’s when he started to take some notes and write some song lyrics and he was inspired by a high school girlfriend named Jane and it goes from there.

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, well, I don’t know if it was, I don’t think she was a high school girlfriend but she was, strangely enough. Jane was a friend of my girlfriend at the time, Taryn, but she wasn’t introduced to Adam through Taryn, it was like a small-world thing. He met her through someone else but he was yeah, he was in his late teens, early 20s, I think when he started dating Jane, and it was this sort of tumultuous on-again, off-again, relationship. She went to school in New York at NYU and every time she would leave town, it was like the song, this love, this love has taken its toll on me, and so there was there were some songs that were very tender, very sweet, almost sappy love songs about that relationship early on and then there were these very tumultuous ones and those ones intersected with that time when we were starting to write songs with a bluesy feel, a sultry or feel that had sort of the combination of sexuality, and sort of angst and the discomfort and pain of a heartbreak, right, because we’ve been through the heartbreak of losing our our first record deal. Adam had that life experience to draw from, he’d had this tumultuous relationship, we were now working on our second record deal and everything, all the pressure that went with that and so there was a kind of a nice brew there, to put together different elements of inspiration and passion and love but then also this darker element of disappointment and heartbreak and pain and I think that was a nice kind of toxic stew for the songs that became Songs About Jane.

Laurie Barkman:
You talked about the name Maroon Five, and that there’s a story behind it, but you’re not allowed to share so I’ll just check in. If you want to share today, you’re more than welcome.

Ryan Dusick:
Well, I would, I’ll tell you this much. It’s probably not as exciting a story as most people imagine and part of the reason why we don’t talk about it just for that reason, because if you don’t talk about it, then it builds a bigger sort of mystique.

Laurie Barkman:
The mystique is still there. You added James Valentine so now you are five and in the book, you talked about the process, the recording process, and you were just alluding to it a second ago, that there was a there was a break, there was a storm and any of us who have worked in organizations know, it doesn’t always go swimmingly, right. There’s a normative description of forming, storming, norming, and performing and as I was reading your book, I just kept thinking about that framework, because that happened to you as you were recording the album. Here you are Type A control freak, there probably was one or two others and I think you talked about the micromanagement that was happening and that there was drum tracking by committee, I thought that was a really funny phrase. Maybe you could just give a little bit of a description of that.

Ryan Dusick:
When we first started recording in the 90s, it was reel to reel tape and we didn’t even record to what you’d call a click track or a metronome, you would just press record and start playing and you did overdubbing, you did track the guitars and vocals and stuff separately but essentially, you’re just trying to get a good performance, the way that you play it live, maybe a little tighter a little bit more, do it enough times to get as good a performance as you can and then you build on top of that framework but now we were in the era of, well, the hip hop style of production, which was much more, drum machines, and doing things to a grid, where you had a click track and if you had live elements, you had to fit it all onto that grid in order for it to all come together with whatever programming you’re doing and you’re doing it all within a digital framework now Pro Tools, which was the software that was becoming the the the industry standard, as opposed to the reel to reel tape.

On top of that, being influenced by that style of music, Adam was doing a lot of the demos for Songs About Jane when he was writing songs with his buddy Sam Farrar, who was from a band called Phantom Planet, which was a rival band of ours and Sam was a budding producer and he had his own rig in his garage where he was doing these demos that it was a lot more economical to do a demo with with a drum machine than to book studio time and bring in the whole band and so they’d go in over a weekend and throw down a bunch of stuff, but it was all to this grid and so Adam got used to, I think, a level of perfection that was higher and his own version of perfectionism started to ramp up whereas I was the kind of perfectionist that I just put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best version of me in every context and just that sort of level of anxiety and self, just demanding a lot of myself.

He started having these visions of perfection and seeing the framework of what we were doing improving to where he was comparing it now to like, what was on top 40 radio, not just like alternative rock, and so we went into the studio to make Songs About Jane, those were the kinds of comparisons that were being made. Now, we wanted to make a record like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, that had like eight hit songs on top 40 radio, that every single track, you could hear being a hit and that every moment of every track that did nothing sounded like it was sloppy, or, just a band in the studio, laying it down live and so there was this push and pull, whereas I had been the one that was always the one wanting things to be perfect, so to speak, within the context of the looser thing that we were doing, now, Adam was the one who wanted things to be perfect within that, that pop world and so yeah, we had like the whole band, we did, we used to be the whole band in the tracking room playing the thing live.

Now, it was just me on the drums in the tracking room, with the rest of the band, and the producer and the engineer, all standing behind the glass watching me go bar by bar, and trying to get everything exactly on the grid so that was another level of pressure, I already put enough pressure on myself but now it was like when that red light would come on, it was like, oh my god, I have to perform to perfection and if not, we’re going to listen to it, over and over and over again and edit it, it within an inch of its life. That was, it was, I didn’t enjoy that process, that first week of drum tracking on Songs About Jane. Thankfully, the record label actually was on my side in terms of wanting to have more of the live performances, which we lost in that process a bit so after we had done the other instruments and vocals, we actually went back and did another drum session, where we set up the live drums again and I played live takes over the top to try to recreate more of that feel and that looseness that comes from a live performance and in my mind, I think actually Adam would agree with this in the in retrospect that some of those live performance performances kind of saved the the vibe of the record, because if you listen to Songs About Jane start to finish, there are some tracks that sound very edited and very clipped in that way of the first pass and then there the other half, which sound very loose and vibey and sound like a band in the studio playing live and I think it created a really interesting dynamic, and and more interesting listen, as you go through the record because it’s unique, you don’t really hear a lot of records that have that balance between a very top 40 sound, but then a very jazzy and rock’n’roll kind of vibe.

Laurie Barkman:
Absolutely. Do you think there’s a musical gene? Is this a nature versus nurture? There was an argument you had with Adam about this and also we should probably talk about your training, because I think it’s going to relate to the next part of the story.

Ryan Dusick:
I think as a therapist now I look at everything as a combination of nature and nurture. We have predispositions for things and natural temperaments, natural inclinations, or talents and then there’s the way in which that manifests in the world and all the influences and contexts in which that either flourishes or gets squashed. In some instances. I think I would say that probably by nature, I was born with some rhythmic talent. I mean, my parents say that when I was like, age three, I was dancing by myself to music at a wedding, they saw me and they were like, he’s right on the beat. There was some innate rhythm in me, I suppose but music wasn’t something that came naturally to me right off the bat in terms of melody and harmony and that kind of thing. Even though there was a lot of music in my family and my dad was somebody who sang and wrote songs. My aunt was a Broadway star and so she was a great singer and there were musicians on both sides of my family.

Is it in the blood? Or is it in the influence of growing up around it? Again, I think it’s probably a combination of both. Having music around you when you’re growing up is a big impact on you but for me, it wasn’t until I was about 11, 12 and my older brother was playing the electric guitar and I was inspired by that and, and found hard rock and that influence that it became a part of my soul so I think there was a big part of the influence and the nurture element for me, but then I look at somebody like Adam, and he’s kind of a savant, I think you couldn’t deny being around him and watching the things that he’s been able to do that there was natural talent there and natural tone to his voice, a natural ear for melody and harmony, without any training. I mean, I’ve been astonished by Adam in a lot of different contexts and that’s saying a lot, because he’s my little my little idiot brother and I’d be the first one to say like, “Oh, yeah, Adam, what’s he good for?” Just like so impressed by him in so many ways, from from age 14, all the way up to now and seeing the things that he’s able to do. Just a natural talent, which has been fostered over time with all the experience that he’s had but I remember going into the studio for one of the first times, and as far as I know, he had never sung harmony or never taken any vocal lesson or anything. He took a little bit of some guitar lessons and he would go into the vocal booth and the engineer would be like, “Well do you want to throw a harmony on that?” And he’d say, “Sure,” and he would just sing a harmony and I was like, “How did you pick out that harmony? Who taught you that?” He’s like, “I don’t know. It just sounds right.”

Laurie Barkman:
Sounds right. That’s what–that is innate talent.

Ryan Dusick:
It was that age old debate about that we that Adam and I had it that I did put in the book that was frustrating for me, because because I was, the hard worker, and somebody who felt like, we have to put in the 10%. 10% of inspiration goes with 90% of perspiration and Adam’s argument was, “Well, yeah, but you either have it or you don’t.” It doesn’t matter if you put 100% perspiration and if there’s no natural talent, nobody’s gonna care.” I don’t know, you can analyze that in a lot of ways but I just found it a little self-serving at the time and was frustrated by it. In retrospect, I think we were both right to a certain extent.

I think if you put in all the hard work that we did, and you didn’t have that natural talent, and that natural chemistry that we had, I don’t know that it goes where it goes. At the same time, if you take all the talent in the world, and you don’t foster it, and you don’t put in the work, then I don’t know where it goes either. For Adam, it was when he discovered his work ethic, that’s when things really changed. Around the time when we were making and writing Songs About Jane, that’s when his work ethic was really improving and he was writing a lot more material. He was really working at his craft and then he started thinking more about what kind of performer he wanted to be, and how he wanted to take that onto a stage and present it to the world so there was, his biggest hero was Kobe Bryant, who was this incredible natural talent physically and what he could do with a basketball on the court but it was when he discovered his work ethic and became this, he had this sort of undying drive to be as good as he could be. That’s when he really became a champion so I can see parallels there as much as I didn’t want to see that at first.

Laurie Barkman:
Well, the story unfolds with this album going on to huge success but it took a while. Some people call it a sleeper hit, and it sold. I’m in my notes here, say 10 million copies. The 10th best selling album of 2000, for two years after its initial release, now it went on to sell more than that over time but that is a story in and of itself, talk about the touring, what were the responsibilities of the band to promote the album, and how that two year period what that meant for you, for you personally, and for the band?

Ryan Dusick:
Well, we toured for the first time in 97, on the Kara’s Flowers album, and that was about six months and as I described earlier, it was that sink or swim, we went out there. We got whatever gigs we could for a while they put the single out it didn’t really take off and once the tours dried up, it was done and there was no sort of big campaign to build a following. It was just throw the dart at the wall and it didn’t stick and we’re done so the next time around, we were very mindful of wanting to do it a different way of wanting to be more sort of in control of our own destiny and thankfully, we found a record label Octone Records that was an upstart independent label that presented that very model to us. It was the best of both worlds in that they had distribution through a major corporation, the BMG group, but they were this upstart label with just three guys at the helm and they saw in us a project that was not going to be easy to break, but would have legs as they say in the industry, if they could break it and that was after we had to showcase at that point in that incarnation with the songs that became Songs About Jane, we had showcased for every record label in the industry, and they all passed on us, which is kind of amazing to think about now, but nobody had the vision to see that, because we were unique because we weren’t exactly a rock band anymore but we weren’t fully a pop band or an R&B band, and that we were something unique and in between all these influences, that provided a unique opportunity to grow, and find our own niche.

Octone had the vision, thankfully, that they wanted to put us on the road for at least a year and during that time, basically just build the first single in a grassroots way, and build an audience in a grassroots way, just going out and getting tours, find one tour at a time and one radio station at a time, promote our first single so we knew we were in for the long haul and that sounded good to us, given our previous experience. I was somebody that by nature, I was a little bit reluctant to commit to the life of a touring musician for the rest of my life. I was an introvert, kind of a homebody and the long hours of being on the road and that lifestyle didn’t really appeal to me.

At the same time, having had a lot of fun in college with my buddies, I was okay with the idea of leaning into a couple years of my life of really giving this thing a go and getting out on the road and doing everything we could to see if we could have some success and so the first two years, we played over 500 concerts in just those two years in oh two, and oh three and that doesn’t include all the other promotional stuff that goes along with it. We were rallying the troupe, so to speak, going into local district distribution centers and playing acoustic shows for them, going to radio stations and bringing in our acoustic gear and playing on the air doing interviews, meet and greets in stores. Back in the days when there were still record stores, you’d go out and play an acoustic show and then add on top of that, of course driving ourselves around the country in a passenger van for all of that and it was exhilarating and exciting, and exhausting, as you can imagine.

The first six months, the record, the album wasn’t even out yet, at the single wasn’t even out we were just going around and trying to build a following one little tour at a time sometimes playing a show a one off in Nebraska for the bartender basically and then the single came out Harder to Breathe was the first single and we worked that single for a year. You know, and we went around and the tours were getting bigger, we started getting some bigger acts that we were opening for and by the summer of 2003. We had a little bit of buzz, we were starting to sell some records the album came out in I think the summer of ‘02 and by summer of ‘03 we were approaching a gold record so it wasn’t until a year and a half in and or a little bit more in the fall of ‘03 that we did our first like club headlining tour with a gold record under our belts, and a moderate hit with Harder to Breathe and you think, “Okay, well, you’ve done all the hard work and great,” but by the end of that headlining tour and the start of ‘04, we were now two years into promoting this album, and really just getting started because now it was the big time. Now the BMG group was taking over and the major promotion would start and all of the billboards and advertisements and the second single This Love would be released internationally, and a major push at MTV and VH1 and every radio station across the globe and within a matter of weeks and months we were playing on Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show and the David Letterman Show and going to London and doing Top of the Pops on the BBC and you can just imagine what a whirlwind that is and when you’re doing it, when you’ve already been on the road for two years living that life and really kind of burnt out already, all of us not just me, but me in particular dealing with some of the things that I was dealing with.

Laurie Barkman:
There’s one particular story I think might have been the Top of the Pops in Britain that you talked about meeting U2 backstage in the green room area and Bono said some advice to you and you guys all took it to heart but you had already been doing it. Do you want to share that?

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, that was a lovely meeting and obviously one of our heroes and a great thing to meet those guys. We were coming off stage from Top of the Pops, having just done one of the rehearsals, and Bono and Edge were coming out of their dressing room, which was right next to ours and I had my girlfriend, Sean with me and she was walking with me and Bano being the charismatic guy that he was, he’s kind of scanned the six of us, the five guys in the band and my girlfriend, Sean and he made immediate eye contact with her. She was a very cute girl and he looks at her and goes, “Telecaster, right?” She was the rhythm guitar player in the band, knowing full well that she wasn’t, he was just flirting, she blushed immediately, of course, and we all thought he was very charming.

We got into a conversation pretty quickly, and I’m sure that they would do this with acts that they saw were on the way up, and it was very nice of them to give us a moment of their time and their infinite wisdom. They shared with us, “This is your first record that’s going to break. You’re not going to get another one so, this time around, say yes to everything. Whether it’s you just got back from Europe, and they’re asking you to fly to Australia, and do a TV show, just say, yes, just do everything on this record that is offered to you, because then you won’t have to in the future but if you say no now, then they won’t ask again.” It was great advice. We had heard from a record label and other other sources that knew well that if you have a hit, you have to establish your career in every way you can by saying yes, and doing everything that’s asked of you but it was kind of funny, because we were already two and a half years in at that point of saying yes to everything. We were on our last legs of exhaustion and burnout and we had to just kind of chuckle to ourselves like okay, thanks.

Laurie Barkman:
Check, done that. Done that. Doing it. Thanks. No. I think that was for what comes next, which is what we’re going to talk about and your transition because you were in the eye of the Maroon Five storm, as you’ve put it, from 2000 to 2006. You won a Grammy, the band won a Grammy Award in that time, which is an incredible honor and that was what, 2004?

Ryan Dusick:
I think it was Best New Artist at the 2005 which was for the year 2004, which is ironic, even in and of itself, because it was two or three years into that album cycle and literally a decade into being a band winning Best New Artist at that point in our career was kind of funny, but of course an honor we were happy to receive.

Laurie Barkman:
I watched the video clip of all of you receiving the award at the Grammys and you were seated near Kanye West, he was up for several Grammy Awards that year as well and he was very gracious to all of you. You guys gave him hugs, and then you went up to the stage and it just was a big moment but back to this transition time for you. What started to happen with you and the band for you physically, emotionally, and with the band because of the toll that touring took on you in particular?

Ryan Dusick:
Well, it’s a complicated answer and it’s why it took me a whole book to describe it because honestly, as I was going through it, I didn’t understand it and it’s taken me a lot of years of overcoming some of those issues and reflection and some of even the experience I have as a mental health professional now to understand everything that went into what was essentially a nervous breakdown, which is not a clinical term or anything that anyone diagnosed me with but to me it’s a term that best describes everything that happened because, going back, I was that that kid who was a little high strung. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well and everything that I did and now we were in a context in which the internal pressure I was putting on myself was meeting up with a lot of external pressure, a lot of expectations, a lot of things that day in and day out.

You had to be your most dynamic self and it wasn’t just the pressure I put on myself. It was what we had a whole team, that was hinging on the success of this record and the success of our touring life and going on live TV and playing in front of millions of people and that’s a lot to do once, it’s another thing to do it day in and day out, month after month and year after year so I think it was in our first headlining tour in ‘03 that I started having physical symptoms, which at the time, were disconcerting. I had old pitching injuries, and I chalked it up to that at first, I had pain in my right shoulder, which was that old rotator cuff injury, just inflammation and tendonitis but then something happened in that tour, which I couldn’t understand then, which was my hand would start shaking after a gig.

I couldn’t sign my own name. coordinating things became more difficult, it wasn’t just the pain playing through the pain, I had to start contorting, and changing my mechanics to try to get through a set and not knowing what was going on and being just like, when I was age 13 In that game, just like praying, hoping, hoping maybe it’ll go away and, “If I can just get through this. I won’t ask for anything else.” Inside feeling like what’s wrong with me? Why am I breaking down in this way? Why am I not able to keep up with this, and not having an outlet, not having a voice to talk about it, not communicating it to anyone and wondering, “Is anyone noticing that I’m not playing as well?”And knowing that the other guys in the band, were starting to notice that things were breaking down a little bit. I was just internalizing all of that and so whereas I already put pressure on myself, I already had this sense of imposter syndrome.

I was a self taught drummer, I was somebody who never took a lesson and now I was playing. Whereas it was fine when we were a garage band and playing in clubs, now we’re playing with pop bands that have very polished musicians that were trained at Juilliard, or were at Berklee School of Music and, and so I felt very self conscious and now I was actually having real problems keeping up and my body was kind of giving out on me so it was kind of a downward spiral where the negative thoughts were reinforcing the physical problems and then the physical, it was a feedback loop, the physical problems, and then there was more negativity in my mind and ruminating on how this is all going to end and so it just kept getting worse and the physical issues got worse over time. Until some point in 2004, I just literally couldn’t coordinate playing the drums anymore and I had taken a couple breaks at a certain point where we had another drummer to fill in for me, but finally the band said to me, “Go home, go to a doctor, go to 10 doctors figure out what’s going on, and what’s going to fix it even if it takes six months and we’ll be here when you get back,” which was a very gracious thing for them to say and I’m grateful that they gave me that time and space to try to figure out what was going on but it was also very disconcerting, because I didn’t understand what was going on.

It seemed to be bigger than anything, than any explanation that anyone was giving me because I went to every kind of doctor and I went to several orthopedist who said, I had chronic tendinitis and a lot of inflammation in the shoulder and I received a series of cortisone injections, that didn’t solve anything so I knew there was something more fundamental going on and I went to a neurologist who did a series of tests and said, that diagnosed me with something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is best I could understand it kind of like carpal tunnel syndrome of the whole arm. That made sense to me, because it was a nerve issue and maybe that was affecting the coordination, but they just said, “Basically, you just have to wait for the inflammation to go down and wait for the nerve to re innervate,” and so it just became this waiting game and sitting around and not knowing how long it was going to take and still having that feeling inside of like, “There’s something fundamentally wrong with me. There’s something defective inside of me,” and that just made me feel like a failure and so my self confidence was getting lower and lower my self esteem, my belief and hope that I was going to be able to overcome this. Really just spiraling downward and then now I’m sort of back home watching the band from afar and the thing that I built over the course of a decade was at the highest level, and it was inescapable. The constant reminders of what it was I was missing out on at that point. You turn on the TV and there was my band. You turn on the radio, and there was my band. You drive down the street and there was a billboard advertising the show at the Staples Center of my band and even just like going to the mall, you’d think, “Oh, I’m gonna go to a movie and check out,” you’d walk through the mall and my song was playing so it was really difficult psychologically for me and so it was the intersection of the physical aspect, which was was painful and disconcerting with what this was doing to me emotionally and psychologically and it was a whirlwind that had been external and was now internal, and just losing faith that I was going to be able to find a way out of it.

Laurie Barkman:
You turned to alcohol, because it helped numb the pain. Maybe literally, and emotionally, and you were in a really dark place. Did your bandmates know that? How deep it was, this chasm was for you? Did your family know?

Ryan Dusick:
I think yes and no. The alcohol crept up on me and it got to the point where it was at its worst after I left the band, but it did start to become a problem during that time, in particular, when I wasn’t playing anymore and I had a lot of free time and really feeling sorry for myself and not really knowing well, what to do with all of that, I mean, I was going to therapy, I was going to a psychiatrist, but it just seemed futile at that point to talk through the level of confusion and pain that I was experiencing and on top of that I wasn’t communicating with the people around me as I was breaking down on the road, it was kind of the elephant in the room, I think everyone knew there was something wrong but we were guys in our 20s in 2004, or five, where there wasn’t really a public dialogue about mental health or about, it’s okay for a man to be vulnerable, and to talk about, the things you’re struggling with and so I wasn’t really keen to open up.

On top of that, I just didn’t even have the level of self awareness at that age, to understand what was going on, or to process the emotions in a healthy way and I was hiding a lot of it from my family, I didn’t want my family to be worried about me and so that made things worse because it was isolating. I was sitting alone with all this stuff that was going on inside of me and I really felt like nobody would understand and so a lot of times, the best way to cope with that was just to escape, to sort of tie went on with alcohol and sort of strap on this alter ego of this guy who didn’t have a care in the world and pretend like I was this rock star just living the Rockstar life and so I think externally, people saw that and saw me kind of just going out and partying and I broke up with my girlfriend at the time and I was just like dating a bunch of people and going out and picking up chicks and acting like the schmuck you’d expect a guy at that age to be.

Laurie Barkman:
Rock star schmuck life. Okay.

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, but it was all fake. That wasn’t who I was. It was just, it was a way to escape, it was a way to try to build up my ego for a moment and to nurse those wounds in a way that I didn’t have to face the reality just for an evening and I think that my bandmates when they were around me could see that that’s what was going on, I think. I think that it was clear to everyone that I was kind of spinning out, and drowning but again, there wasn’t really that open discourse and it was just the elephant in the room and I think that they didn’t know how to talk to me anymore than I knew how to talk to them and so it was really just a really unfortunate situation that I don’t think anyone really knew how to navigate it, or what the best way through it was.

Laurie Barkman:
It’s not clear that there ever is one good way to do it and I respect there was a story you shared in the book about the conversation that you had with the band about your transition and you set the stage. You were in the Houdini mansion for recording sessions and I think you described it like it’s a whodunit crime scene when you started out talking about it but this was the culmination of the realization that maybe it was time for you to move on. Do you want to share that story?

Ryan Dusick:
Yeah, I painted that picture of that scene as the prologue to my book, Hard To Breathe because yeah, it was exactly that I look at that moment as sort of the moment that my whole life changed and it was everything that led up into that moment and everything afterwards and if you look at it, like, like the murder scene, it’s like how did it come to that, and where did it go from there? It’s not that it came out of nowhere, though, it’s not that I didn’t, probably in a large part of my mind, see it coming. It’s just that I was in so much denial, and trying to escape the reality of it and in that moment, I had to face the reality, I couldn’t live in denial anymore because my band called a meeting at the Houdini mansion, which was this beautiful old estate in Laurel Canyon, here in Hollywood. We had been sort of holed up, they were working on material for the next album, the follow up to Songs About Jane.

Matt Flynn, who’s now the drummer in the band, who had been my replacement on the road was there too and he was playing and I was trying to come in and re-enter the fray, but it wasn’t really working out and still sort of the elephant in the room until the band called a meeting in the dining room of the of the Houdini mansion and it was, a very solemn occasion, everyone seemed like they were walking into a funeral and I felt like I was walking into my own funeral because I knew it was coming and it was just the moment in which I had to face it and it was, this is not sustainable, we have to make a record and after that record, there’s going to be a whole other world tour booked and we’re really worried that even if you can make it through this album, somehow, the same thing is going to happen and we’re going to be scrambling trying to figure out how to not cancel a world tour and so, I’d like to say I handled it well but I was in the deepest, darkest Hell of my life at that moment. I was desperate and I begged them to keep me on in some other capacity to allow me to shake a tambourine or do something, be the sixth member of Maroon Five, or to stay on as the producer of the next album and I thought I had enough experience in the studio to do that and it was just a really uncomfortable conversation and I think I walked out of that room completely dazed and out of it, and not knowing what the rest of my life was going to be.

It just felt like my entire sense of identity was just gone in an instant. It had been my purpose in life, the source of all the meaning in my life, it was my entire social world. It was my best friends and my extended family and my sense of self worth, how I built up my sense of self. With all of that just kind of pulled out from under me, I couldn’t see how I was going to walk forward into the rest of my life with anything other than just disappointment and pain and so after that, I did kind of dive headfirst into the alcohol for a while as a coping mechanism, if it had already been a problem, it became a real real issue where I was isolating a lot more drinking, going on benders, really, and that lasted for a while, until I went to the phase of alcoholism that I referred to in the book as the illusion of control. Which is where you tell yourself okay, enough, so now if I just gotta get my shit together, and maybe learn how to drink like a gentleman, and take a little bit better care of myself and start to learn how to move on with my life with a little more grace. I was able to do that, to a certain extent, I was able to sober myself up and create a more presentable version of myself to my family and to my friends and show up to events looking like I was relatively clean and healthy and happy but I was really just fooling myself, it was an illusion, fooling myself with the rationalization that if I can stop for a time, or I can sober up for a time, or I can fool everyone else into thinking I’m doing all right, than I am alright, and that I have control over this thing.

That’s kind of the life that I lived for some years there. In the meantime, like my life was just kind of stagnant because my entire identity had been wrapped up in this thing. That was still a thing. They were out there, having hit records and selling out arenas, and I was living a simpler life, working on music and writing and doing some producing and stuff, but everything that I did, I was comparing to them and not just what they were doing, which was so much more successful, obviously, but also just to the experience that I had had, which had been so magical, and had been so defining of me and my and my inspiration in life that everything I did after just couldn’t hold a candle to that. It was like, once you’ve walked on the moon, how do you return back to walking on Earth and not feel depressed.

It was just a period in my life where I didn’t have the tools to move forward and find new meaning yet and I was just kind of waiting through the anxiety and depression that was the aftermath of what I’ve come to understand as trauma. It was very traumatic going through an extended break down on the world stage, and seeing my livelihood slip out from under me and then having to deal with the loss of that and then going through all the cycles of self medication. and seeing my panic disorder creep up on me, and becoming more agoraphobic and dealing with bouts of depression. There was a lot of trauma to work through. AMy only tool at that point was just to self medicate but it got to that point, as it always does, where it got worse and worse, and I got sick and tired of being sick and tired and finally was able to start walking in the other direction which at first was terrifying, as any addict will tell you.

You take those first steps towards sobriety, and you have no idea what’s in front of you, or where it’s going to take you or what it’s going to take for you to, to maintain sobriety and that’s why they tell you just one day at a time, right. But it was, it was, it was something that I knew at that moment. If I kept walking in the direction I was going, it was just gonna keep getting worse. And that my way of doing things was making it worse. And so really, if I had any hope left in my soul, that life had something, you know, that was worth living for me, that now is the time to start walking in the other direction. And that, you know, there was something inside me that wanted to walk back towards life, towards connection towards finding meaning in my existence, again, not that I understood these concepts at that moment in my life and being so spiritually broken down. But it was pretty early on in my recovery, that I did start to have that sort of spiritual awakening and rediscover purpose in my life

Laurie Barkman:
You had a very powerful quote in the book, which is, “Nobody tells you it’s the good old days when you’re living them,” and absolutely, as you shared your story, Ryan, which thank you for going to that level of authentic detail, it’s quite remarkable to hear how you reflect on your experience, because now you have the benefit of hindsight, but I can only imagine the pain that you felt at that time and everything you’re saying about identity, I’m sure there’s regrets wrapped up in there, too. As you were a young man, and you have a whole life ahead of you I’m so glad that you recognized that you, you could find that passion again and you could find that hope and that you could find that purpose and you checked yourself into a recovery center. I know it was short lived, and then you ended up going to a second recovery center and that’s where you really got started on your path and your journey. I did see in a few of your interviews, many people do ask you the question, what would you do differently? In one of the interviews you talked about the power of mindfulness. Do you believe that mindfulness is something that really is so centered in your recovery and staying on the path that you are now on today?

Ryan Dusick:
Yes, however, when I started it was very difficult for me. I was at the Betty Ford Center when I finally got clean and we had a whole program. Your whole day is kind of mapped out for you and we had groups and we had meetings and we had exercise and we had self care and we had individual therapy and a lot of different modalities. The thing that was hardest for me and all of that was meditation. We had this spiritual guide, who would, we get into a circle and we’d meditate and I realized that the hardest thing in the world for me was just to sit still and be present in my body.

Focusing on my breathing would cause me to hyperventilate. It was just all of the anxiety and the things and the thoughts and the emotions that I had spent so much time and energy trying to push away and tried to do everything in my power not to sit In the present moment, to escape it in any way possible and so mindfulness, the reason why it’s so powerful for me and can be for I think, for a lot of people is that it is, it is the tool that allows you to sit in the present moment. It’s a practice and you do it with a beginner’s mind. You do it without self judgment or criticism, you do it with the expectation that things will arise, the thoughts will come, that you’re not trying to change anything that’s happening, you’re just trying to sit in the present moment more fully, and exercise radical acceptance of whatever is occurring and the reality is that most things that are occurring in the present moment aren’t as scary as what we project onto it, right?

A lot of times, the reason why we end up so stressed out or anxious or depressed, is because of the things that we’re putting on the present moment, not what’s actually happening so when you cultivate that practice, when you get to a place where you can sit in the present moment and actually see what’s happening without judgment or changing it or, imposing all of our own neuroses onto it, it’s not as terrifying as we think it’s going to be, and we have a greater resilience and ability to accept what’s going on and find serenity in it and that’s the ultimate goal, I think, because I had had such high highs in my life, and was comparing everything to that. I was running from the lows and expecting the high highs, and that’s the life of an addict, right, you end up having a lot more lows than highs when you’re deep into your addiction.

When you’re in recovery, what you learn is that serenity is really the goal, finding contentment, finding a place where you feel comfortable in your own skin and that’s more sustainable than the high highs and when you’re in that place, life is just much more pleasant in general but then you actually have access to the high highs. Again, when you’re living the life of extremes as I was for a while there, you end up living in those lows, and you don’t really even have access to the highs anymore, you’re just trying to get up to the middle. When you’re in the middle most of the time, that can feel boring, because you don’t have the extreme dynamics of between the high and the low. It can feel mundane at first and that’s a hard thing to get used to but once you find the appreciation for serenity and and for the mindful approach to living, then you actually notice that there are natural highs that come you know, you’re in the present moment, you’re able to be fully present with with other people in your life, with the things that you take meaning from, and then all of a sudden, you’ll get that glow and you’ll realize, “Oh wow, this wasn’t accessible to me a few years ago, because I was so I was so wrapped up in my own bullshit that I couldn’t even recognize a good thing when it was sitting in front of me, and now I can,” and that’s been the difference maker for me in recovery more than anything is that if opportunities came along 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have even recognized them, let alone have the wherewithal to go after them and make something of them.

Now being in a much more grounded place. I see opportunities arise all the time and I see them and I get excited and I say, “Oh, I want to walk forward into that and I know what to do with it.” Even if it’s a little scary, even if it causes some anxiety. I’m like, well, nothing scarier than walking out of my addiction into sobriety for the first time. If I can do that, I can walk into this and as long as I’m just taking that mindful approach of just acceptance, and sitting in the present moment, it’s not going to be as scary as I might think it is and so in doing that, a lot of people in recovery, you meet people in AAA, and I don’t disagree with them, but they’ll tell you, God or the universe loves sober person and as long as you stay on that path God will reward you. I wouldn’t correct someone and say that that’s not the way that the universe works. However, my belief is essentially that when you’re in that position, you’re ready to accept those gifts. You’re ready, and you know what to do with them and so that’s what it’s been for me and I have been rewarded because each step of the way, as I’ve walked into a new opportunity, I’ve been able to recognize it. I’ve known what to do with it and then it leads me to another opportunity and another opportunity. And now I’m doing things that I couldn’t have possibly imagined that I would have been doing seven years ago when I got clean. Just following that impulse and just following that feeling. That’s been the inspiration and the source of contentment, and ultimately fulfillment so here I am. It’s beautiful.

Laurie Barkman:
It’s beautiful and it’s like the universal magnet that something is pulling you. There’s a force that’s pulling you forward, and you’re embracing it, and you’re exploring, and you’re open to it, which is amazing. Why don’t you share with me what you are doing today, you’ve got your Master’s in clinical psychology, there’s not a lot of rock stars that went to college, and probably even fewer, and probably a percent of a percent have gotten a master’s degree so congratulations to you for that achievement but yeah, talk about what you do now.

Ryan Dusick:
Well, thank you for that. I was very lucky to have found a window there to get my bachelor’s degree when I was in the band. It was right in that moment in between the Kara’s Flowers album and the Maroon Five album, that I was back at UCLA and able to get a an English degree, I didn’t think that I would do anything with that degree, because I thought I was just going to go off and be a rock star and that would be it.

Thankfully, when I was in early recovery, I was volunteering at a recovery center, an intensive outpatient program and what I was doing there, I was just a peer support, and I was co- leading groups. I was just kind of talking about my story and offering some of the things that I’ve learned and I volunteered there for about two years and in that time, that was like, the most meaningful thing that I was doing in my life or had been doing in my life for a long time. It also gave me a lot of confidence that I had been lacking because I was speaking in groups, and I felt that I had something to offer other human beings in a helpful way and that kind of built my self esteem back up. Also, I was getting a lot of positive feedback, there were people telling me, “Hey, you do a really good job of articulating the ideas of recovery and I feel like you’re a really good listener, you listen to me when I’m talking and you offer some really good feedback and you have a knack for this kind of thing. Have you thought about going back to school and doing this professionally?” Honestly, I hadn’t at that point but then I realized, wow, if this is this fulfilling to me doing this, and I’m getting such positive feedback, then I’d be a fool not to see that opportunity and walk forward into it so I just like didn’t even hesitate. I just started going online and looking for places I could apply that I could go out and get a master’s degree and become a therapist and thankfully, I got accepted to Pepperdine. I didn’t know if that would be easy with an English degree but I was able to and yeah, it took me a few years to get my Master’s in clinical psychology. and I figured I was gonna go work at a recovery center but my horizons just kept getting expanded upon and I saw new opportunities. I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna be a therapist. I don’t know what kind of therapist yet,” right out of school, I got offered a job and started working at a clinic for anxiety, and IOP for anxiety and in the course of getting my master’s degree, I also had to do a lot of self reflection, a lot of papers both case studies on other people and on myself, because you have to be pretty self aware in order to become a therapist and I rediscovered my passion for writing and doing that, and realized, “Hey, I have a story to tell now that has a happy ending,” and given my background and the platform that I might have, because of that, and the education that I’m gaining in my master’s degree and becoming a therapist, and in my own personal experience with a lot of these things, I could probably offer some things that might be helpful to people that could see themselves in my struggles. I just started writing down my story while I was still in grad school and after I graduated, I started this new job, I got a publishing deal for my book. I started when the book came out and I started promoting it, I started doing speaking engagements and just became an advocate online and in speaking engagements for mental health and it kind of brought me back into the music world talking in that arena again and so now, I find myself in a place where I’m a therapist. I’m a mental health advocate. I’m a speaker and a coach. I’m an author. I’ve written a column for a Variety magazine, and I’m doing some other writing. The sky’s the limit for me, whatever comes next is going to be something that feels fulfilling, and that I’m passionate about and if it’s not that then why would I do it?

It’s really all about putting myself in those places that really fill me up and give me that sense of meaning and purpose again, which is what I had been lacking for so long after I left the band, until I realized that meaning and purpose is not something that comes and bonks you on the head, it comes from investing yourself in something and creating it, creating that purpose for yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is, it is different for each person and you can go back to the argument we were having earlier about, is it? Are you born with it? Or is it something that comes from the context of your life. It might be a combination of both, you have your natural inclinations, and then you have the situations that life presents you that might lead to something really meaningful that you hadn’t even foreseen and it’s been both for me, it’s been a combination of both and I like the fact that I’m doing something different now in my 40s, than I was in my 20s and I find it exciting to think I might be doing something different when I’m in my 60s that I can’t even foresee now that’s what keeps life interesting.

Laurie Barkman:
Well, cheers to that and cheers to all the transitions that you’ve successfully navigated, because there’s many more to come, I’m sure as we all live on life’s journey and trying to figure out what’s next for us. Your story is so powerful and so helpful, not only to people in the creative arts, I know you speak at different events that are, as you said, music and performance oriented and I think I read somewhere that kind of tongue in cheek that, of course, you’re doing marriage therapy, so are you going to do couples therapy for band partners, you could probably do couples therapy for business partners, it’s healthy thing to do and it doesn’t get talked about enough and when you and I first met, and we talked off air about why I thought your story would be so beneficial to the Succession Stories listeners is because there is absolutely an emotional fallout that people feel when they sell their business, or they leave their company that they’ve started or if they’ve been part of it for generations, and they’re no longer part of it. There’s an identity, there’s something so powerful with that and when there’s a transition that maybe we’re not ready for it, or we don’t really want it. That’s the mind, body spirit is misaligned and what happens there, and many business owners, regardless of age, do experience depression and they’ll go into very dark places. There’s one example with Markus Persson, excuse me, Swedish inventor of Minecraft, when he sold his company, he started to put a lot of tweets out there. and so people were reading publicly what he was saying and he was saying, “I’ve never felt more isolated,” and he had 2.5 billion in his bank account so it wasn’t about the money and it can take a period of years for people to adjust and get back into flow, after selling their business.

I want people to listen to your story and really take it to heart that even if we’re in the highest of highs and you experience the lowest of lows, you can come back to that middle ground, which is where you found yourself Ryan, and in such a very strong, confident, powerful place and how you’re helping other people and you’re really inspiring people with your story and I just wanted to thank you so much for all of your time with me today. This is my longest interview. You’re so gracious. I just could talk to you for hours, your story is fascinating so I just want to wrap up, I know you have to go. I do ask everyone if they have a favorite quote, and I’m going to share one from your book but I’ll ask you if you have one, something comes to mind.

Ryan Dusick:
Oh, I thought you were gonna give the quote from my book first.

Laurie Barkman:
You go first and then depending on which one you pick, I have a couple up my sleeve.

Ryan Dusick:
A quote from my book or a quote from somebody else?

Laurie Barkman:
Whatever you want to share, whatever inspires you.

Ryan Dusick:
Oh, wow, kind of put on the spot.

Laurie Barkman:
One, you talked about this too shall pass and it’s only four words. But isn’t that a powerful phrase?

Ryan Dusick:
Yes. It’s the best moments in life. We wish they could last forever but they don’t but there’s a happy thing that comes with it. Which means that the worst parts in life, they also don’t last forever and that’s a really important powerful thing to remember because it’s hard to see that when you’re in the depths of something as painful as I was to recognize this too shall pass. That’s the nature of life. Everything passes in time and it’s only with the knowledge of that, that we’re able to get through the hardest moments of our life. That’s something I find myself saying to myself a lot. If I’m in a moment of crisis, mini crisis or anxiety or whatever, this too shall pass. I find myself saying it to my clients a lot to remind them because we’re all guilty of that right in the midst of something not being able to recognize that it’s transitory, the things that are challenging to us are a moment in time, just like every other moment in our life.

Laurie Barkman:
Absolutely. The other. piece that I’ve talked about is when you make a commitment to let go and start to change the things you can see significant growth and change do begin so you absolutely have told your story in that fashion and I can see why you wrote those words. I want to encourage everyone to get the book Harder to Breathe, and for no other reason than this amazing story that Ryan lays out but there’s some really cool photos that he has in the middle of the book, and I loved seeing all those old photos and there’s a poem that you wrote at the end, and I’m not going to read it, I want everyone to go get their copy of the book and read the beautiful poem that you wrote at the very last page so that is something that we deserve to read, and everyone needs to read it. Ryan, if people want to learn more about you, and get in touch, what’s a good way to do that?

Ryan Dusick:
Well, I have a website, RyanDusick.com which has everything that I’m doing, hopefully on there and a way to reach out to me if you’re looking, as a therapist, as a coach, as a speaker, that’s the way you can find me and then my Instagram page is kind of the fun extension of that with the videos that I post both of old stuff of the band, and all the stuff I’m doing now speaking gigs and other other ways of reaching out to people. It’s @RyanMichaelDusick is my tag on there.

Laurie Barkman:
It’s perfect. Ryan, sincerely, thank you so much for coming on Succession Stories. It was an absolute pleasure to talk with you today.

Ryan Dusick:
Thank you so much, Laurie. Appreciate it.

Laurie Barkman:
To the listeners, thank you so much. Be sure to follow Succession Stories on your favorite podcast player or YouTube. To maximize the value of your business and plan for future transition, reach out to me for a complimentary assessment at meetlauriebarkman.com. Join me next time for more insights from transition to transaction. Until then…here’s to your success.

S

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