Ty Herndon is Leading the Tribe

Written by | Entertainment, Music

In 2014, Ty Herndon came out to the world in his People magazine exclusive, becoming the first major male country artist to come out as gay. In our current boom of celebrities coming out as LGBTQ, it is easy to forget just how terrifying it was and what a career killer it was for someone to come out, especially someone in the country music scene. Ty’s fans, who had helped him become a chart-topper since his solo debut in 1995, supported him and have followed him on his journey. Ty became a trailblazer for singers, especially country music singers, to come out in a safer space. Now, eight years later, Ty has come out again. Herndon, under the media’s eye, is sharing about his recent drug relapse and his diagnosis as bipolar. In a very real brush with death, he got back on track and is telling his story through the media, his music, and his new podcast, SOUNDBOARD, discussing mental health topics with celebrity guests. Starting the podcast was a major part of his healing. His voice now, is stronger than ever.

Through healing and trauma work, I discovered that recovery and mental health wellness is really the Magic Kingdom and I’m tall enough for all the rides. I’m prospering and am now able to get down to the bottom of my mental health – just finding out that at 59 years old I’m manic bipolar. It just never crossed my mind. Trauma in your mental health situation can be like tar and feathers – layers and layers of tar. It takes a lot of work to break that up, but there is freedom on the other side. I wanted to do SOUNDBOARD and talk to other artists who have been on journeys, maybe not exactly like mine, but just their own personal journeys of wellness and what they do to turn up the positive voices and keep those negative voices at bay.

Working through mental health has only in the last few years become a subject that has been brought into the spotlight. Whether it be cultural, generational, or even considered good manners, no one talked about their mental health. In today’s age of social media sharing, people have become more comfortable sharing their stories and seeking out help. Celebrities have been more open about their own struggles with depression, addiction, and bipolar disorder. Before, Ty’s headlines were talk of his sexuality, now there is an emphasis on his mental health and sobriety. Is that constant focus triggering for him?

I spent so many years not talking about it, that it’s a pleasure to open up. So quite honestly, I have a lot of pride. I want to change the whole face of the discussion – so it’s not that if you have some mental things going on, you’re broken, if you’re in treatment or been to treatment, or if you’re sober, you’re damaged.

Refusing to be seen as broken with his recent bipolar diagnosis, he did the work, and he knows what each day must look like incorporating his mental health with his sobriety and his career. He is making it a positive.

Anytime we get a diagnosis of something that is making our life bad, that’s a success story. You have to find your own mental health journey with it. Nobody’s story is the same and there are so many resources to help figure out how a medication is going to work, and how to find a balance. Especially for people in recovery, you must find a really good balance that works for you and will work in the long run. I was fortunate to have some great teachers and counselors that helped me with that.

Stripped of false confidence enabled by drugs or alcohol, Ty has returned with his first all-new material album since 2016. Perhaps his most intimate album to date, JACOB is a detail of his personal struggles and triumphs as he explores his past and how overcoming crystal meth, sexual trauma, mental illness, and hitting rock bottom has brought him back to salvation. Without addiction, his creative process has certainly changed. The theme for the album would come from Ty’s restart at recovery.

I always say that you just have to tear that town down because it’s not serving you. I can function better. I’m a better songwriter. I’m a better everything. And certainly, a better businessman. Get real with yourself. That’s the number one thing. I think being balanced you’ll learn new habits, because, for me, I was surprised after doing all this trauma work that it was very little about drugs and alcohol.

We spent close to a year on this music. When I went into treatment this time after my relapse, I pretty much had said, “I’ve got a legacy of music I’m kind of done, I’m gonna do something else.” On the third day, sitting down with my spiritual advisor, Clint at J. Flowers Institute, he asked, “Hey man, I know you’re spiritual. You’re a God guy, right?”  I replied, “Yeah, yeah, pretty much.” He said, “You know the story about Jacob in Israel? That’s totally you, man. You’ve been crippled. You got some scars. Now it’s time to go out and be a leader in your tribe.”  And with those few words, it hit me like the old Pentecostal belt, my next record is going to be called Jacob and it is going to be about my scars, my failures, and my successes. The very thing that I’ve run from my whole life is sitting center stage and I never thought that would be possible, but through wellness it was. It’s the greatest music of my life. The fans are loving the new music and it’s the most authentic thing I’ve ever done.

A chilling track from JACOB is “God or the Gun” which candidly talks about his brush with his suicide. Ty credits his survival to his guardian angel and a phone call with a friend, with a fistful of Ambien. Though he started singing in church choirs as a young boy, his relationship with God is fluid and exists outside of a building.

I don’t do religion anymore. I think it’s silly. When I counsel with kids today, I’m like, look, God’s a cool guy. What he, they, them, whatever your higher power, your spirituality is in you, you will find it in this life, I promise you that. God should be mad at us for what we’ve done with religion because the love and all the wonderful stuff has been replaced by some bad teachings. I sit on the tailgate in my truck and talk to God. I call it God, it’s a good energy. I also walk barefoot through the grass every morning and feel the Earth’s energy and what kind of goodness it has for me to help me through the day. I think one of the worst things is that in the LGBTQ community, kids think they’re broken and worthless, and they think that something happened that made them bad. That had nothing to do with God and it had everything to do with some broken families. So, one thing I love about us in the gay community, we can build our own families and I love spreading that gospel.

Looking back at his career, his highs and lows, his multiple chart-topping singles and albums, it is his coming out is still very fresh in his mind.

I spent a year just putting my mental health together, and Chely Wright is the only person I talked to. She’s in country music and she was really the first and so brave. She’s been my friend for years and helped make it better for me, and I lift her up for that. I hear people say, oh man, why do you have to come out? I’m like, well, it’s like air to me, it’s the truth. You have to know the truth. I have to be authentic. And I’ve never been afforded that quality. I came out and that was a piece of the pie for me.

There were too many secrets. There were too many relationships that had to stay hidden and that alone is trauma. I could not live in a career anymore where my blood and bones did not feel welcome in my own body. I think a lot of people feel that way when they feel the need to come out because they’re living a lie. You finally get to a place where you’re brave enough to say, okay, I look around me, I’ve got plenty of friends that are not going to leave me. If I lose a family member then I’m gonna lose ’em, maybe they’ll come back. Am I gonna lose my job? So, there’s a lot that goes into it that people don’t realize. To me, it’s a celebration and it’s also a huge risk, but I think in anything that you do, if you’re gonna take a risk, then educate yourself in what the risk is and make a decision.

The visibility of the LGBTQ community in country music is because of the courage of Ty and of other musicians like Chely Wright. The change may be slow, but it is happening.

I am seeing artists like Lily Rose, who just had her second number one, and I heard on WSM Radio that they’re talking about her wedding coming up. They were talking about how she’s marrying her longtime girlfriend. It was one of the five times in my life I had to pull my truck over. I just cried. It was a happy cry, but I’m like, would you listen to that? I got to live to see the day when they talked about a gay wedding on country radio.

Even with these advancements, situations still happen. The media grabbed hold of transphobic tweets made by country music singer Jason Aldean’s wife which resulted in the couple’s long-time PR company dropping them. Social media split between support of her transphobic comments as well as those applauding the PR firm.

I think it’s definitely our job to say something. I think if an injustice towards some precious thing is happening, then you have a responsibility, especially if you have a platform. But I think there’s a way to say it. I think there’s a kindness. Be educated in your words, think about something before you speak. Don’t speak out of heat or anger, just come from the facts and you know, we’ll let Maren Morris do the rest. [Laughs]

Ty’s premier podcast episode features LeAnn Rimes sharing her best practices for mental fitness. The debut season continues with a who’s who of the music industry in a way that you’ve never heard them before. Totally candid, totally open, and totally focused on mental health.

I want people on that really have a story. Crystal Lewis got to talk about some very difficult things, and she did it so beautifully because she’d never had the chance to talk about them before. I always tell people to go listen to the podcast to get the whole story. It’s the first time I’ve been able to talk about my story with my words, to own my shit, and to set the record straight. We all need that, especially if you’re living your life under a microscope.

On a lighter note, Ty is heading back into the dating scene. With clarity and a new voice, romance looks a bit different. How is it going?

Very poorly. My sponsor is actually making me go on a safe date – just go to a movie with somebody. One thing I learned about getting healthy, is to be okay with just me. I’ve been in a relationship since I was 18 years old, in and out, because I had to have that. I don’t have to have it anymore, but it’d be nice. So, it will look different this time. If it’s moving towards me, I’m just gonna let it. Always in the Herndon household, it shows up when it walks in. Hey, if you’re out there and you like country music and you got all your teeth, hit me up.

Check out Ty’s podcast SOUNDBOARD wherever you listen to podcasts, and check out everything else Ty at www.TyHerndon.com

Also check out METROSOURCE MINIS podcast at Metrosource.com or anywhere you get podcasts!

Last modified: October 24, 2022