Adam Ficek is an English drummer, songwriter, DJ and
psychologist. He has had a fascinating career in music, including a
5-year stint as the drummer of Babyshambles, the group led by Pete
Doherty of The Libertines. He holds an undergraduate degree in
music from Middlesex University and a Masters degree from the
London College of Music. He has also
achieved success as a DJ.
Adam is currently training as an integrative psychotherapist at
the Metanoia institute in London. He currently divides his time
between work within the NHS, voluntary sector and private practice,
alongside his work as a performing musician and DJ. Details of his
recent musical output are available on his
Adam has spoken
openly about the turmoil which led to his exit from
Babyshambles in 2010, and I was particularly interested to know how
this has influenced his life and subsequent decisions in his
career, including his recent initiative to
provide mental health services to those in the music industry.
You've had a rich and varied career in music. What is your
proudest achievement in your career? What's been the biggest
That’s a tough question to answer! I think the proudest
achievement in my career wouldn’t necessarily be an event or
artefact. As I reflect on my ongoing career I think it is simply
the fact that I am still involved in music. I did previously hold
playing Wembley and Glastonbury as momentous occasions, but with
more insight I no longer feel that is the case.
Why is that? What factors led to your disillusionment with the
At ‘peak’ of my career, I found myself in a situation of feeling
burnt out, anxious and generally commoditised within the music
industry framework. I went from high level touring and exposure to
a sense of shamed insignificance. Admittedly, this transition was
in part contributable to my own upbringing (and adverse childhood
experiences), but it was also fuelled by the lack of any ‘duty of
care’ within the infrastructure.
It is a contentious area, as some could argue that I was in fact
operating as a self-employed person, but at the time I felt I had a
framework around me. It was only after I became distanced from the
band that I realised how quickly forgotten and unimportant (as a
commodity) I had become.
Adam (furthest right) in his Babyshambles days
Did this lead to your interest in providing mental health
services for musicians? How did it develop from there?
Yes, the disbelief, anger and frustration caused me to re-assess
my position as a musician and as a person and also to investigate
ways to help others in this position. I realised though that I
needed more knowledge in all areas of the mind to enable me to
continue my ‘music & mind’ endeavour. I initially enrolled on
an introduction to music therapy course through Nordoff Robbins
which was incredibly rewarding. I found the course enjoyable yet I
felt that it didn’t meet all of my needs regarding the depth of
psychopathology and emotion I was drawn towards. I then started my
psychotherapy training which has, and continues to broaden my
knowledge in these important areas.
Adam in singer and drummer modes
How do you feel about your involvement in the music industry
It took several years of re-evaluating my own musical process to
regain my sense of joy in music. Eventually, I discovered the same
passion and jubilation which initially propelled me to learn to
play as a teenager. From this exploration, and the growth from my
own therapy, I now feel I have a greater sense of authenticity
within my own self and my creativity.
Readers will be interested to know how you have balance your
training in psychotherapy alongside your musical career? What has
been the biggest challenge?
Well it is challenging. For example, I am currently studying for
an MSc in integrative psychotherapy at the Metanoia institute which
is based on a relational and psychoanalytical model. For a while,
my musical output had to be slowed down (though not stopped), as I
couldn’t balance everything that needed to be done.
The biggest challenge was the clinical practice, as it required
a solid time commitment without jeopardising the relationships and
work that was being done. To fulfil the practical requirements I
spent the majority of last year in a variety of placement settings
ranging from voluntary to NHS settings, long and short term.
Thankfully, I’m now at the tail end of my initial training, so
luckily have time to re-ignite my musical endeavours.
You are also interested in research in this area. Can you tell
us a little about this?
My initial academic interest in how emotions and music
intertwine came about through my dissertation for an MA in music
production. For this research, I sent out two versions of my own
album. One in an ‘un-produced’, raw ‘demo’ form and another in a
much more polished presentation. I used the feedback to evaluate
the extent to which the production had influenced the emotional
More recently, I submitted my PhD proposal which will outline
the ways in which the music industry contributes to
psychopathology. The thesis investigates how pre-existing mental
health conditions react with the industrial environment. The study
broadens the recent research that suggests that the music industry
is destructive, yet involvement in music is constructive in terms
of mental wellbeing. From my own first-hand experience, and from
conversations with many of my peers (some of which are still at the
top of their game), I have found it to be a rich and controversial
At the moment, what do you enjoy the most – DJing, recording,
playing live, or your work as a professional psychotherapist? Is
having a mix of all of these important to you?
I think all of the above roles have their own merits. My
therapist work is incredibly connecting and gratifying in a deep
and meaningful way. DJing and performing is much lighter in that
respect and enables me to connect in a different context. I also
see performing though as a necessary part of the process of
creation. Once I have written new material, it has a need to be
aired and shaped with a live audience.
Adam on DJ
dutiesHowever, I do struggle with the exposure and
vulnerability of performing, especially when I am playing guitar
and singing solo. It was much easier being a drummer, when I could
hide at the back and just take a foundational position as there was
far less pressure. DJing is much more relaxed and less pressured I
don’t feel as if I am on ‘show’ to the same extent.
All in all, yes, I do think that I need a constant mix of all of
these factors to enable me to feel satisfied and balanced. Music
does provide an important stimulation but at times this is not
enough, hence my academic and other pursuits.
What do you think are the biggest problems faced by musicians,
relating to their mental health? Are substance misuse problems
almost ubiquitous, as we are led to believe?
I think there are many innate struggles for the aspiring
professional musician. Many of these have always been apparent yet
some are becoming ever more problematic. Currently in London we are
faced with the increasing amount of venue closures, which limits
the performance opportunities for professional musicians. Together
with the financial devaluation of music sales, this has put even
more pressure on the modern musician.
Traditionally, ‘being a musician’ has always been a difficult
path with factors such as late nights, touring, relational stress
and financial insecurity contributing negatively to mental health.
Substance misuse also has a big impact. Although drink and drugs
are rife in the music industry (especially in my genre), I do feel
people are becoming more aware of the damage that can be caused.
There seems to be an overt attempt to learn from the mistakes of
the previous generations which also goes hand in hand with the
current trend of health consciousness.
Are drummers really an especially eccentric group?!
From own experience of being a drummer I don’t feel that we are
an especially eccentric group. On the contrary, I think that we are
the more stable of the group, especially nowadays when we are
competing with a drum machine or a laptop!
previous blog post, I made reference to an article on mental
health issues in music, and how it is important to consider
differences between normal life challenges and more serious mental
health problems. Aside from therapy at an individual level, what
sort of initiatives might help at a group level?
I feel this is a complex area as indeed there is a great overlap
between the two. What could be construed as a serious mental health
problem by one person could perhaps be a normal life challenge for
From my work as both a musician and a therapist, I think the
most impactful resource we all have is connection. To be able to
connect deeply and authentically with another, to feel truly heard,
is the most potent thing we have. Unfortunately in our age of
social media I feel we are in fact doing the opposite. We construct
our false selves to appeal to others then wonder why we lose the
sense of who we really are.
I'd imagine that listening to music is a major part of your
life. Outside of listening for professional reasons, how does this
fit in to your daily life? What do you listen to for
I don’t listen as much as I used to, but I generally use my
travel time to listen to new music. When it comes to relaxation I
listen to a lot of folk music, I like the simplicity and humanness
on which it is built. The less production, the better. I look for
purity and connectedness.
Can you give us a few selections of music that's been
especially important in your life and career?
Important tracks in my life have been the following:
The band were my first love which inspired me and a bunch of
school friends to want to be in a band and escape our council
This track was incredibly therapeutic for me during a bleak and
troublesome period in my late teens. It was the closest to
‘non-being’ I have ever encountered and the music of The Smiths
somehow helped to connect me to a resilience I never knew I had.
Something about the timbre of the vocal, more so than the actual
lyrical content, helped to soothe during difficult times.
I had managed to clamber up and embark up on a degree in Jazz
and knew nothing about the genre. Bebop was confusing with no sense
of melody back then and this track helped me to understand how
soulful it could be. I subsequently evolved and now spend many
hours indulging as an aspiring bebop guitar player!
I played the drums on this track. it was my first commercial
recording and I was proud to see my name on a real musical
artefact. It was during this time where I became aware of the
merits of music production especially in regards to drum
programming and the limitless creativity it beholds.
The was our first top ten single which set me on my journey of
becoming a bona fide Z-list ‘rock star’. It was messy,
under-produced, substance fuelled and emotional like our joint
states of mind at the time. During the recording of the song both
my mother and the guitar player’s father died of cancer and the
band was on the verge of implosion. It was an incredibly fractious
This track was my first single as a solo artist which enabled me
to get signed to EMI. The company was subsequently taken over and
my album became embroiled in a legal stand-off. I eventually
retained ownership. The song is a somewhat twee and naïve insight
into the beginning of my own adventure of moving out from behind
This is from my most recent EP. I feel like I’m just getting
near to where I want to be in terms of musicality and prowess on
Given your background, we'd also be interested in any tracks
you think have therapeutic potential.
Therapeutically, I feel it is a total subjective choice. I’ve
recently read a good book by Trisha Ready called
‘Music in Therapeutic Practice’, in which she discusses letting
her patients chose their own music. I like this idea, as many
people have their own reactions from their musical choices whether
this be nostalgia, lyrically or musically informed.
I will be chastised if I don't ask for at least one rock and
roll story – can you give us one?!
We were in Italy playing a club called the Piper Room when
suddenly I felt a heavy blow to my face. An audience member thought
it a fantastic idea to launch a bottle which subsequently struck me
full in the face, unsettling four of my teeth. I didn’t realise
what had happened so attempted to gather myself and play on. I
finished the song and collapsed!
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