Many have heard the saying, music speaks where words fail. For John Russo-Zirkel, this took the shape of a musical endeavor—The Wildfires Projekt. However, it is more than an alt-rock band; it’s an outreach project. Through music, John strives to encourage, inspire, and comfort those struggling in silence. A goal that is not new for the singer.
John first appeared on the music scene with local New Jersey band, Reverse Order. A quarter-finalist on America’s Got Talent, Reverse Order began a non-profit, Reverse The Trend, an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to bullying in schools, with the ultimate goal of putting an end to it. John builds on this concept with The Wildfires Projekt, reaching out to those with mental illness.
I got the scoop on the project, and their debut EP, A Letter to Myself when I caught up with John about its inspiration. As I quickly found out, both are fueled by more than an idea—they are fueled by personal experiences. When asked about these experiences, John quickly points to his own struggle with mental illness. He spoke frankly, saying “The Wildfires Projekt [was created as] an outlet where I can speak out about mental illness without having to conform to, or get approval from, an outside source.” But, it doesn’t stop there. The Wildfires Projekt does not just seek to vocalize the issues related to mental illness. It is an “outreach project [that seeks to] build a community and family to aid those suffering from mental illness and those who want to help in the battle against it.”
As for A Letter to Myself, The Wildfires Projekt’s debut EP, it comes from the perspective of one suffering from mental illness. It is an expression of the emotions that come from one’s daily struggles. John explained this concept to me, revealing, “the record is titled A Letter to Myself because it is completely based off my own personal struggles with anxiety, depression, OCD, and faith.” These personal connections are evident on each track, as they pull back the curtain on vulnerable emotions many do not publically express. For example, “Save You” the second track on A Letter to Myself, proclaims:
“These voices in your head / They make you feel like you’re better off dead / With tooth and nail you fight for your life / You fight for the moments when you feel alive / I just wanna save you / Just wanna save you / I know what you’re going through.”
These lyrics exclaim the singer’s desire to help those in need. The desire to show those hurting they are not alone—there is someone in their corner, someone who knows how they feel. But this message is not only in “Save You.” It is the overall message of A Letter to Myself. In fact, John says his hope for the record lies in the message listeners take away from it. He voiced this desire, saying, “My hope is that people would listen to A Letter to Myself and connect with [it], and know they are not alone. They can beat whatever they are going through.”
It is from this response, along with one listen to A Letter to Myself, that you can tell bringing mental health awareness to the forefront of conversation is important to John. Pointing to his own battles with mental health, John explains:
“I went through some serious mental health issues. It’s not fun, and it’s overlooked. It’s also way too romanticized. It’s become a fashion statement. People think it’s cool so they play into it as an image. Mental illness isn’t something people should want, and romanticizing it just hurts the people who actually suffer from it.”
The Wildfires Projekt, along with A Letter to Myself, brings a light into the darkness surrounding mental illness, while facilitating a conversation to help people understand it. A Letter to Myself reveals the thoughts and emotions one can experience, uncovering the truth that listeners are not alone in how they feel. There are others who understand. Yet, it is more than the music. The Wildfires Projekt is an outreach project that has created a community—one that was built to assist those suffering from mental illness, along with those helping in the battle. The Wildfires Projekt was started by John to “not only be a voice for the voiceless, but a voice to the voiceless.”
If you would like to learn more about The Wildfires Projekt, visit their website: https://www.wildfiresprojekt.com
A Letter to Myself, The Wildfires Projekt’s debut EP, is available now!