In Conversation with Greywind: "Swing and Sway" and Navigating Loss Through Music

Brother and sister duo Greywind (Steph and Paul O’Sullivan) recently released their latest single, “Swing and Sway,” a song written by Paul about watching Steph struggle with her mental health following the loss of their uncle. The band is bringing a fresh perspective to Ireland’s scarce emo scene, and touches on topics such as grief in an explicit, vulnerable way that is often strayed away from. 

Sounds of Saving had the chance to sit down with Greywind and talk about grief, songwriting, and the creative process for their new single.

January 31, 2024

Interview by Alyssa Goldberg

Photo Courtesy of Greywind

SOS: Your new single "Swing and Sway" confronts your firsthand experiences with navigating depression and suicidal thoughts within your family. Would you tell us a bit more about how these experiences have impacted or transformed you?

So our first experience with suicide and mental health was our uncle [dying by] suicide when we were teenagers. It was such a difficult time, and it made us realize how short life is and how important it is to do what you love. So that's why we actually started Greywind. The first songs on our first album were all written from that grieving place. We both struggled with depression and anxiety. I've struggled really bad with my anxiety, and it got worse when we started Greywind with all the pressures of that. We went through a lot in the music industry and that affected my mental health really badly. I was having suicidal thoughts and everything. That's where the song "Swing and Sway" was written. Paul basically wrote it about watching me struggle through that. But thank God I'm out of that now. Obviously, we still struggle, and it's not easy, but we're in a much better place now. I think writing and performing our first album has helped a lot as well. Getting to see fans relate to it and share their stories with us has helped me a lot because I feel like I'm not alone, and then when they say they're not alone because of our music, it's great.

SOS: Are there any particular lyrics in the song that you felt like really encapsulated the way that you were feeling?

PAUL: Even with that, even with "Swing and Sway," I wanted to write from the point of view of watching someone you love struggle and [wondering] how to cope with that and when you feel kind of helpless, how can you save them? So that's why I think it's my favorite song we've ever written, because it's so personal. I'm just so excited for people to hear it because hopefully it can help people who are struggling.

STEPH: I think even the first line of the song, "A simple remedy will make this go away." Like, basically, 'Oh, if I do this, I'll be fine. If I don't exist anymore, maybe everything will be okay. I won't feel anything anymore.' And I think it's such a powerful opening line to a song, it's probably the most powerful opening line we have to a song. And it's just so sad. We haven't played it live yet, but we're playing it live later this month, and just being able to sing that is going to be a whole different experience.  

PAUL: I think it's my favorite lyric ever written. "I'm hanging from a tree and you won't cut me down." It's probably the darkest lyric I've ever written. It kind of twists the meaning of like, it sounds like a dark lyric, but I'm saying it in the sense of like, 'How can I save you? How can I help you?'

STEPH: You feel like you're stuck. 

PAUL: It feels like I'm with the burden of watching someone struggle so much. So I think that line is probably my favorite line in the song.

Getting to see fans relate to it and share their stories with us has helped me a lot because I feel like I'm not alone, and then when they say they're not alone because of our music, it's great.

SOS: Yeah, and it's such a real feeling, too, that I think a lot of people have experienced and will find themselves relating to, especially with this type of music. Relatedly, how has your own relationship with mental health changed over the years? Has music played any role in this? 

STEPH: Like I said earlier, I really struggled about five or six years ago. And I thought, 'Oh, there's no getting out of this.' Like, 'There's no light at the end of the tunnel. This will never get better.' And then to bring the music industry into it, I thought, 'Oh my god, this isn't helping. This is only making it 10 times worse. Why am I even in a band when it's affecting me this much?' I would have all these thoughts thinking, 'Oh my god, I can't sing. I can't do anything. Everyone hates me. Why does no one like us?' But I went to therapy. I had my medication, and I really worked on myself. And now looking back, I'm glad I went through that because I think it's such a good lesson. When fans send us messages and say it when we're at shows, I feel like I can help in a way. I can relate to them even more than other people might, and I feel like going to therapy really helped me a lot.

I would have all these thoughts thinking, 'Oh my god, I can't sing. I can't do anything. Everyone hates me. Why does no one like us?' But I went to therapy. I had my medication, and I really worked on myself.

PAUL: We were surrounded by very toxic people in the music industry. When you're already struggling with mental health, it just makes things 10 times worse. Even if you're not in a band, just the wrong friends or even family members who can be toxic, escaping that situation and surrounding yourself with better people, even for us, has helped massively. 

STEPH: I feel like a lot of people don't realize how negatively that can affect your mind. And it takes a while to learn that. I mean, I was surrounded by, like, friends and relationships with bad people. And you think oh, no, but they're good, they're gonna help. And you don't realize they're the problem, or are adding to the problem.

SOS: That's such a great point you guys make about the people that you surround yourself with because I think a lot of times we don't realize how much certain people either can suck the life out of us or really push us to be our best selves and make us feel good. 

PAUL: 100%

SOS: Yeah, I think it's hard too with the music industry because it's so cutthroat, but then at the same time it can be such a beautiful community. 

STEPH: Yeah, I feel like with our current team now, like with our new manager and everyone in our band and our label people, everyone is such a good person. We're very conscious of who we let into our bubble because we had such bad experiences in the past. And you don't realize like... you know when you hang out with someone and then when you come home, you're exhausted? You're like, 'Oh my god, they've just absolutely sucked the life out of me.' And then you think, why am I hanging out with this person? Why am I working with this person, if I feel like this? It should be fun and life should be fun and you should be surrounded by nice people.

PAUL: Even the music industry is very difficult because you have to sometimes trust strangers very early on in your career. It's kind of changed now with the power of TikTok and Instagram, a lot of people, you can do it yourself. But even a couple of years ago, you needed to have a manager and a label to do something. And if those approach you early on, it's like you're putting your dream in these strangers' hands immediately or even like, financially, they're getting a cut, and you don't really know them yet. The music industry is a weird place.

SOS: Totally. But I'm happy to hear that the team that you have right now is really uplifting. It makes a huge difference, especially as you're like diving into such personal material with your songs, you want a good support system around you and a team that really stands by your vision and your goals. Thank you for sharing, too, about your experiences with loss and suicidal ideation and such. How has grief shaped you both as an artist and as a human being?

STEPH: I think for us, we wouldn't be the band we are without that happening. As horrific as it was, and with all the experiences we've gone through... it's a weird feeling of like, you're so proud of these songs, but they've come from such a sad, dark place. But then I feel like if they can help someone else get through grief in a way, which a lot of people have said our songs have, it makes me think something good has come out of such a bad thing. 

PAUL: Yeah, same. Honestly, exactly the same. When you start writing songs, you're just writing for yourself. You're just in love with what you're writing, hopefully. But the amount of messages we get from people saying 'this song has saved my life' or people getting our lyrics tattooed on them, just like takes things to a next level.

STEPH: I feel like it makes all of that sadness worth it in a way, which sounds so weird to say. But when I look back at the times with our uncle passing and all that, if you had told me years from now I'd write a song about this and people will say that it saved their life, I'd be like, 'Okay, what is going on?' Like, it's such a weird situation. But I think a lot of people stray from that topic in songwriting, so I think it's important to have bands like us write about that and put that conversation forward.  

PAUL: Obviously, lots of bands sing about this type of stuff, but they do it a lot more vaguely. We're more blunt in our lyrics, so people can really [know] what we're writing about is real. So yeah, having people just know that we pour absolutely everything [into our songs]. When we release this new song on Friday, people will hear that this is our most lyrically raw form. And so, we're so proud of all the music that we're creating.

SOS: Yeah, it's so strange because grief is so universal, like most people are going to experience loss, but it still is so taboo in normal conversations. But it's so important to talk about. I think music is one of those spaces where you can tap into those emotions and connect through it, because sometimes it can be awkward to talk about grief, even with a friend. 

STEPH: Yeah, I remember even I was scared to go to therapy years ago. Especially I think, I don't know what it's like in America, but in Ireland, it's still very... I don't know, like you said, it's taboo. People get a bit uncomfortable. But I think it's so important. Like, I tell everyone, 'Oh my god, you need to go to therapy.' I think everyone should go to therapy at least once in their life. Even if you think there's nothing or you don't struggle with anything, I think it's just so important to talk. Even if you have a really good friend or if you're lucky enough to have a family member that you could just talk to, it's so important, and I've become so much more open. Like years ago, I would barely tell [Paul] part of what was going on but the song "Swing and Sway" came from [Paul] seeing me struggle, but I just was not opening up and talking. And I feel like it's just so important to speak out about these things because, like you said, everybody, at one point in their life, does struggle with mental health issues.

PAUL: Exactly, 100%

SOS: It's okay if you don't want to answer this, but from hearing you guys talk I'm curious to ask. Being siblings, you experienced, in a sense, the same loss of your uncle. But I know grief appears in people in such different ways. Through your individual grieving process, was music a place where you could come together with it? Or was it really separate for a while, and music brought you together?

PAUL: When that happened to our uncle, it connected us even more because we played a song at his funeral, "Hear You Me" by Jimmy Eat World, and it was our first time us even playing in front of––

STEPH: People.

PAUL: Saying "an audience" is weird for a funeral. But that changed us, just being able to breathe through music and listen to our favorite songs and practice together, and just remember good times with our uncle. He was living with us a month before it happened and then he moved to the U.S., and then this happened. So we were so insanely close with him.

STEPH: He was basically like a second dad to us. Like, he was our dad's brother, but it felt like we had two dads in the house at one point. And you know, he would cook dinner for us, and he was just super close to us. And then when that happened, it was just, I remember we were literally practicing just covers. I think, what were we playing? Like, a Fall Out Boy song up in [Paul's] room. And I remember my mom came in and told us. And it was just insane. And I just still couldn't kind of process it.  

PAUL: Yeah, because it just shows that you don't know what's going on in someone else's mind. Like, we were living with him. 

STEPH: You would not think he felt like that.

PAUL: You'd think he's the happiest person in the world. People always say it, people just hide how they feel. That's why it's so important to talk.

SOS: I  resonate with a lot of that. I've lost somebody to suicide, too, and it was also somebody I would have never expected it from. When I first found out it genuinely felt like being shot in the chest, it's just this whole whole body shock. I really do appreciate hearing you guys talk about your grief journey because the ability to turn it into something creative and to have so many listeners resonate with your lyrics is so powerful.

PAUL: When it happened, we weren't even a band yet. So then we started writing songs and our first song, "Afterthoughts," was the first song we ever wrote and it's about our uncle. Like, the main lyric in it is, "Would you do it again?" It's a really dark personal personal song and even our whole debut album is inspired by that event. And it's like, how do you cope in the darkest moments in your lives? So it feels like even in the last year that our songs have gone viral on Instagram and TikTok, people are discovering our debut album and connecting with the songs so much. So even now we're so excited to be releasing new music for a bigger fan base now. Good things have now come from the darkest of places. 

STEPH: Yeah, I remember even the time when that happened... I wanted to be in a band since I was probably like, 12, when I saw My Chemical Romance. I thought, "Oh my god, I want to do that." Paul was always writing songs but he never kind of knew what he wanted to do, I guess. And then when that happened, it was just like okay, Greywind was made. From such a horrible thing, like I said earlier, from such a bad thing came such a positive thing and a way to––

PAUL: Express how we feel.

STEPH: Yeah.

SOS: Thank you for sharing. Speaking of coping, we have a project called "Song That Found Me at the Right Time." What are a few songs that have helped you cope during hard times?

"Hear You Me" by Jimmy Eat World. That was the song we played at his funeral and that was one of the most beautiful songs of all time and Jimmy is one of my favorite bands.

STEPH: I remember when we played at his funeral, all of our family members were just, it was a nice way for them. They go listen to that song and even our dad, always––

PAUL: He posts it every year on his Facebook, he posts that Jimmy Eat World song. 

STEPH: Yeah. So it's like, that song means so much to him and helps him through that. And then obviously when he heard our songs, he was like, oh my god, it's another way for him to cope with that, I guess, as well, because it was obviously horrific for him. And, another song I think is "Famous Last Words." My Chemical Romance. That song is just so powerful. It's so special.  Even the chorus, "I'm not afraid to keep on living." It's a very powerful song. I'm trying to think, what else? I think they're the two most powerful ones for me.

PAUL: Yeah, even "Let It Happen" by Jimmy Eat World, that melody just puts a smile on my face. From the first time I've ever heard it, there's certain songs where even when you're not listening to the lyrics, certain melodies just make you feel better. And that's one of those songs as well.

SOS: Yeah, those are great choices. I had a feeling that "Hear You Me" was gonna be one of the ones that you mentioned. It's a really beautiful song and the chorus is the "May angels lead you in," which is so fitting I really think a big theme that's come up in our conversation is this idea of resilience, honestly. Is there something that you've learned through these experiences that you would go back and tell your younger self or would want to tell to somebody watching this interview?

PAUL: For me, it's the hardest thing, but patience. It's so easy to say it to someone that things get better, but patience. 

STEPH: I always say as well, there's nothing worse than when you're in a bad place. Someone's saying, "Oh, it'll get better. It's okay," because it annoys––

PAUL: That's all I say!

STEPH: Yeah, I remember. 

PAUL: I was right!

STEPH: It used to make me go, "Oh, my God." And I'd be like, "It won't." And then I'm like, wait, it does. Like Paul said, you just have to have patience. And it does get better. It does. 

PAUL: In like all situations, even like getting out of a dark place, patience helps. And like I said, surrounding yourself with good people. And also, wanting to follow your dreams. Patience is always so important. Even our debut album came out in 2017, and we poured our hearts into it [but] it reached millions of people only in this last year. So our patience of believing in these songs and ourselves, and getting out of dark situations and trying to cope... we feel like we're being rewarded for biting through that. 

SOS: It reminds me of like, just even as a teenager, talking to my mom about how I'm feeling and having her say, "But everybody feels this way. It'll get better." But I'm like, "You don't know how I'm feeling! Mine is unique and worse."

STEPH: Yeah, I completely get that. 

SOS: Yeah, but mental health goes in waves. And I think that's something that goes hand in hand with "it will get better" because there will be better days and maybe then there'll be a really, really bad one. But knowing that it's not forever can really help.

STEPH: Exactly. If I’m ever having one of those days where I can't get out of bed or I feel really anxious, I've kind of trained my mind to think, "Okay, wait, I've got out of this before. It's okay." And you kind of let the emotions calm and, like the Jimmy Eat World song, "let it happen" and it'll be okay.