Davey Muise was just eight-months-old when he was abandoned by his drug dealer parents in the middle of a police raid.
He was shoved in a drawer and it was only thanks to a police officer that he was discovered. Although he immediately went into foster care and was adopted by a family the following year, the vocalist has since dealt with severe depression, alcohol and drug abuse. One night, around nine years ago, a friend stationed overseas called Muise out of the blue while he was preparing to end his life.
It was after that conversation that Muise dedicated his life to music and ended up joining Vanna. By channelling his energy into the band, he was able to overcome his issues and reclaim his life. More recently, he’s also been working as a motivational speaker, sharing his story in order to inspire and help others.
It’s been 30 years since you were discovered by the police during the raid. How do you feel looking back on your life experiences?
Davey: “It’s funny. I never really gave it much thought until I went away with a friend for a weekend a few years ago and told him my whole spiel, and he said to me, ‘Have you ever told anyone this like you just did, front to back?’ and I was like ‘No’. And he said, ‘You know how crazy and messed up this whole thing sounds, right?’ and I didn’t really realise it until that point, because this was just my life. I’ve had a really great support system, so I never really thought that what I went through was weird. I’ve always know I was adopted. But by going over it, it does sound like a made-up movie! As wild as my story may sound, it’s my story. I’m just very grateful that I’m still here with the support of many people around the world. I don’t think ‘lucky’ is the right word, because that implies there was no work involved – but I feel very blessed that I’m still here.”
What’s the difference between telling your story through Vanna’s music and telling it to a group of people?
“I was really hesitant to tell my story via lyrics, because for a long time I thought if I joined a band I was supposed to be a cool guy and not have problems. I was supposed to be this guy that everyone thought was awesome and, honestly, I put on a front for a really long time. But I started sharing through lyrics a little bit of the things that I had been going through and it took a few kids coming up to me at the merch table after shows to be like, ‘I never knew anyone in the world who dealt with divorce.’ Because a lot of these kids who come to the shows have no friends. There’s no-one telling them that divorce, depression and anxiety are big things. It took those people coming up to me for me to realise maybe I should really share what I actually went through instead of just scraping the surface. And my friend told me I should share it, that there was more that we could do. But he also he knew that I worked so hard with music that I didn’t really have much of a career outside of the band and he linked me up with this professional speaker called Mike Smith, who’s one of my best friends in the whole world now. I told my story in front of Mike and he said, ‘We’ve got to get you into schools to share this with kids.’ It’s been a few years now and, for me, there is no difference between shows and speaking in schools.”
I was nervous admitting to a large group of people that I dealt with depression. But I just started talking and I just didn’t stop.
How are they similar experiences? “It’s bringing that freedom of punk rock and the acceptance of that atmosphere to a high school to kids that are never going to go to a punk rock show, because it’s not necessarily for everyone. So it’s sharing my story with those kids that aren’t going to listen to the band but are going to listen in a gymnasium, and it’s funny how one sort of sets the other one off. On the new record, I started sharing even more about myself and started sharing stories kids told me and telling their stories in lyrics, and it’s kind of just like a ping pong game that goes back and forth between speaking and shows, and the music and what I do in schools. To me, they’re the same thing. I try to integrate them as much as possible because that’s my life and music did save my life. And every time I’m in a gymnasium or a cafeteria, I feel like I’m having a punk rock show with all these kids, but there just happens to be no band behind me. So they’re really one and the same, and I treat both equally with the same amount of respect and passion.”
Tell us about the first time you recounted your story in front of an audience.
“I’m a brand ambassador for this company called Ruckus Apparel based in Colorado. We did this leadership retreat where we took a bunch of loyal Ruckus customers up in the mountains there. There was bunch of speakers coming in to speak and we went white water rafting and hiking and a bunch of other cool team building stuff to teach the kids that signed up leadership skills, and Josh Schmitz, the owner, asked me to share my story. He’s the one I originally told it to and who said everyone needs to hear this. So there were all these professional speakers – some pastors, some community leaders – and then there was me, who jumps on kids heads at shows. Mike Smith – he’s the kind of guy that when he speaks he makes you feel like you’ve never done anything in your entire life and you want to do everything – told us his story around a camp fire in the evening and Josh then told me I was going to speak the next morning, and I’m like, ‘Oh great, I’m going to speak after the professionals!’ So it was morning and we were having breakfast around the campfire when Josh gave the floor over to me.”
How did you feel as you faced the audience?
“I was nervous admitting to a large group of people – besides my band, my wife and family – that I dealt with depression. I just started talking and I just didn’t stop. I had notes on my phone to reference and I never picked up my phone once. I just spoke freely and it felt almost like I was in a therapy session in front of all these people. And I got to the end and there was a shovel on the ground. I looked down at this shovel and said, ‘It’s like this shovel. The thing that I love is music, so music is like my shovel. It’s dug me out of everything I’ve ever been buried underneath.’ I made that analogy and that’s how I came up with the Find Your Shovel thing. It was just a happy coincidence that I happened to be on this camping trip!”
How did you feel at the end of your first talk?
“I cried towards the end and that kind of brought it all together. Whenever you share anything about yourself, whether that’s art or academics or sport, whenever you share something that you love, you always open yourself up to criticism and judgement and you’re a little bit nervous, but as soon as I was done I got like 50 hugs from everyone there. It was really emotional, and that kind of sparked my whole speaking career. That was my jump-off for everything.”
And that was the point you realised your story and your music could help other people too?
“Yeah. I was like, ‘Why do they need to hear my story?’ because, to me, I’m not important. But I guess the story of my life is important. And I’ll tell you right now, fast-forwarding years later, going to these schools and talking to these kids, I had a line of kids out the door who needed to hear this stuff. But it’s not me. I’m not special. It’s the story, and I’d encourage anyone that has a story, as small as it may be – it doesn’t have to be as drastic as mine – to share it, because that could get someone through their day, and who knows, maybe that day they were thinking about killing themselves or dropping out of school or harming somebody else. Sharing everything has really helped me come to terms with everything, and it’s taken me to a really cool place. And I’m happy. I was very sick of being angry and sad all the time and this whole thing has launched me into happiness. And if it all ends tomorrow, I’m just happy that I shared myself with as many people as I did. My life has changed drastically and it’s been this amazing journey.”
“I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason…”
Let’s talk about the phone call that saved your life.
“That was the night where I was like, ‘This is it. This is the end of my rope.’ And I want to be clear about this – no-one did this to me except for me. No-one put me in that spot and, in fact, I’d pushed everybody that I knew away from me, and I put myself in this awful situation where I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. I wasn’t addicted, but I was definitely abusing substances and numbing the reality of who I was, and a lot of people who knew me at the time said ‘I didn’t know you were going through that’ and it was one hundred per cent because I was putting on a front. I was lying to everybody. And that night I was like ‘This is my last night. I’m done.’”
What did you plan to do?
“I was listening to records and drinking and I pulled out a bunch of pills and was like, ‘This is how I go – miserable, just like how I came into the world.’ I used to be a pretty fun and popular guy, but I didn’t get hit up anymore because I was miserable and no-one wants to hang out with someone like that. My phone started ringing and it was a number I didn’t recognise. I answered it and it’s my friend overseas on a military phone. My nighttime was his morning time and he kind of just went right into… ‘What’s your deal? What’s going on with you?’ because he hadn’t heard from me in a while. I hadn’t sent him any care packages and wasn’t trying to keep up with him on the internet. Truth of the matter is I don’t think he knew what was going on, but he knew that I was among the missing for a while and he reached out. We went to shows growing up together and we shared that passion and he asked me what was going on.”
Did he offer any advice – and did you take it?
“He knew that I was working at a day school and he was like, ‘You’re not doing music and that’s really the only thing that you’re meant to do – you’re not serving your purpose at all.’ He pushed me and he called me every week and made sure that I was doing the things that I should be doing instead of letting my tragedies control who I am. That was my realisation. This dude was literally halfway across the world and he reached out because he could just tell how tragic I’d become. And I was just ‘Wow. I get this phone call the night that I’m planning to take my own life?’ It freaked me out a little bit.”
Did you feel that this call was something of a turning point for you?
“I realised I needed to change and flip this around – and that’s what I did. That call inspired me to change and to do what I had to do. I put all my efforts into touring and being in a band again and that one phone call is truly the reason why I’m still here and playing music again. It’s everything to me and I’m so grateful for that phone call. I only told him a couple of years ago. I didn’t know how to go about it. It’s a pretty crazy thing, but I’m really glad I have such amazing people in my life who kicked me into shape and got me up when I was down. We all need that sometimes and sometimes when we don’t have that, we stay down. I’m glad I didn’t stay down.”
Did joining a band strengthen your resolve and give you focus?
“Yeah. I did the dumbest thing you could have done. I cleared out my bank account and bought a van and I tried out for a band. We booked every weekend out for like three months for shows, and then those weekends turned into little mini tours and that was my life. There were times when I’d get home and I had no money and couldn’t afford rent and would have to live in the van, but I was feeling alive again. And that’s what was important. I had purpose again. And working so hard in that band, we got to a point where we were getting bigger and getting the attention of managers and labels. I’d known the Vanna guys since they started the band because we lived in the same area when we were in college in Boston. They asked us to do their CD release tour, and the first day of that, their guitar player Nick [Lambert] sat down with me and told me their singer was leaving the band and asked me to join. My initial reaction was ‘No’, because I loved my band and I was working so hard, and that was so much pressure. They were a big band and they were doing things that were so nerve-wracking. And it goes back to that ‘I am a mess of a human being – how could I ever front a band that thousands of kids around the world really love?’ It was too much pressure for me, because I still thought that all these guys in bands must have it all together.”
What changed your mind?
“The truth is that every guy in a band is a messed up kid and that’s why he’s in a band – because music spoke to their lives and that’s the only thing that got them through. But at the time, I didn’t know that everyone in bands was the same way I was, so I said no at first. But as time went on I gave it more thought and I realised it was something I needed to do and I’ve never looked back. I stepped into a life that I’d always wanted but I was almost too scared to step into. Every night onstage I say that this band’s music and all the kids in that room saved my life, and it’s not a lie. I was still a very messed up human when I joined Vanna. The guys in the band, the kids at the shows and all the bands that I’ve met over my eight-year career have truly saved and changed my life. And I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
If you could live your life again, what would you change?
“I wouldn’t change anything. There’s a lyric in our band that says ‘You have to suffer to survive.’ I wouldn’t change anything about anything. In fact, I’d do it again. If you die after this life and you repeat your life again, I wouldn’t change anything. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I needed to go through everything to be where I am today and I couldn’t be more grateful for what I have – and also what I don’t have. My life is sick. I have a great band, I have amazing friends, I have a wife I don’t deserve, I have such an amazing career and I’m just grateful for everything I have. But at the same time I’m not going to stop working hard because I don’t want that to end. And I will die before I’m the person that I used to be, before I’m a sad, terrible mess again. I’m never going to go back to that.”
If you could say one thing to your parents who abandoned you, what would you say?
“I’d say thank you. Thank you for letting me go and thank you for letting me live the life I had, because if they didn’t get caught or whatever and I was raised in that environment, I don’t know where I would be. So thank you for not being responsible and thank you for not being in a place in your life where you could handle anything, because I am a lot better off where I am. You brought me into the world and that’s where it stopped for you. Thank you for just letting me go and letting me live, because it’s a gift that I’m looking at and I’m taking that gift and I’m trying to do something with it.”
For more information on Davey Muise and Find Your Shovel, click here.