Interview: Tyler Posey and Mike Henneberger

Tyler Posey and Mike Henneberger

This past week, I was fortunate enough to re-connect with author Mike Henneberger who wrote Rock Bottom at the Renaissance: An Emo Kid’s Journey Through Falling In and Out of Love In and With New York City. Mike Henneberger chose veteran actor/musician Tyler Posey to record the audiobook, that has recently been released. In this interview, Mike, Tyler and I discuss the importance of working consistently on our mental health, the process Tyler went through for recording this audiobook and what made this project different than being on screen, and also how Mike has been constantly promoting his memoir in hopes that others will benefit from his story.

Thank you guys for joining up with me today. The last time I spoke with Mike was for an interview, about a year ago, as he prepared to launch his memoir called Rock Bottom at the Renaissance. Mike, can you just describe how the last year has been since the book has been released? And what made you drawn towards Tyler to work with him on this audiobook?

Mike: Yeah, the last year has flown by because I have been working nonstop on promoting the book. Tyler, were you already recording it at this point last year? In June?

Tyler: No, no, I think I think we started recording….Wait, maybe?

Mike: I think probably like maybe June or July around then. Because when I flew to LA in August, we started but you weren’t finished yet.

Tyler: Right. Right. Right. Right.

Mike: So yeah, part of that last year was getting the recording of the audiobook done and working with Tyler on that. And then I’ve spent a lot of the last year reaching out to bands and publicists, and management and record labels and publishers and learning how to license music so I can include the songs in the audiobook. And you know, that took a lot because some of them were just as easy as like it started out with AJ the singer from the Dangerous Summer emailing Hopeless Records and saying, “Can you let this guy use our music for free so you can include it in this audiobook?” and Hopeless Records was very cool about it. And they kind of like set the tone for it and there’s Three Years’ song in there also, so they would approve that as long as the Wonder Years approved it, and then The Wonder Years approved that song. And next I had to go to BMG to get published and cleared the Alkaline Trio song “Fits” in it. They wanted to say they handled the Two Door Cinema Club song too, which wasn’t as easy. The Alkaline Trio song was on Asian Man Records and Mike Park was very cool. I just emailed him and he immediately approved that, and he put me in touch without Blanchard’s manager after a couple of emails. But some of them were really difficult. I spent the last year talking to a million different people about 20 songs so I could include them in this audiobook. But yeah, that’s basically what I’ve spent the last year doing. I don’t know if I even told Tyler this before, but the only acting I’d seen of Tyler’s before was an episode of Workaholics that he did when I was working on as their digital producer Comedy Central. 

Tyler: I like to think that he’s <the character on Workaholics> like a high school version of this character. He definitely would have turned into this character. 

Mike: Yeah. I hadn’t seen Teen Wolf. And then I binged it in like two months after I met Tyler. But just kind of knowing that he was familiar with the music and was into the same kind of music. That was kind of the main thing. And I think that’s the most important thing. Like if you’re into like emo and pop-punk, it kind of says a lot about a person. Like, you feel like you know each other already, you know? And so I knew he would get he would get it. If he read the book, I felt like he would relate to it because I feel like anybody who listens to emo or pop-punk will relate to this book. And the part of the book that talks about how that music helped me get through a lot of my mental health issues. And I had been doing research on Tyler. I’d seen that he had spoken openly about mental health struggles he had and I knew that he had DJ’d an emo night in LA. So, I kind of felt confident that he would be into it. But then just meeting him, and talking about it after sending him the book, we’ve talked on the phone and we just hit it off right away. I’ll let him talk about what made him want to do it, but it seemed like we both have very similar stories and similar backgrounds. And so it kind of was just real fate that kind of brought it together. Because there really wasn’t a better person who could have done it. And not just in the performance sense, but it was important to me to not just get “anybody” who works on this. And it’s another reason I’ve made it a point to reach out to the bands because I want people to understand the meaning behind this book and the importance behind it. And that it’s out there to help people who are struggling with this stuff. And I knew that like once Tyler and I spoke, I knew that he got it.

Tyler: I don’t even know. Are there any other actors? I don’t know if there are any other actors who are into the into punk scene, the emo/punk scene as much as I am. I just have never seen anyone be so vocal about it other than myself. And it was just fucking perfect.

And I saw some quotes pulled from your guys conversation with each other for the audiobook about Tyler saying that you really connected with the “character” in the book, that’s really just Mike’s life. So can you speak a little bit to that?

Tyler: Yeah, dude. What drew me first to the project was just this letter I got. Mike and I were working with the same publicist. And these publicists, I’ve worked with them all the time. I love them. They’re these really sweet ladies. And so kind of anything they send me I’m like, “Alright, it’s got to be fucking good.” And so I got this book sent to me. And the inside the book, there was a note written by Mike, and it hit me at a really vulnerable time. And it just said everything that I needed to hear. And I really needed to hear something like this. And it just, it made me feel like I was connected to somebody. And then all the other weird connections that we had, like we’re both half-Mexican, we both grew up in a similar sort of vibe. We both have a similar story. And we both love the same music. Everything about it just felt so right. And it felt like something I really needed to take on for myself. And then, I loved putting the character into this “character,” like this voice and taking that on, and kind of turning it into sort of my own thing. But with Mike’s influence completely. So there was nothing about this book that didn’t connect me to it and didn’t make me want to be a part of it. It was just so me, completely. It was kind of bizarre. It still freaks me out.

Yeah, it’s great that you’re able to make that connection. And I listened to the audiobook, and it was really interesting to hear your vocal cadence and interpretation of the emotions brought forth in the memoir. But how would you describe the experience of recording this audio?

Tyler: Yeah, it was a trip. So, there’s a lot of different levels to it. For me, I was getting sober at the same exact time that I first started recording this book. And that’s why I was in such a vulnerable place when I first got the message from Mike. And so it was, in a sense, like super therapeutic for me to kind of relive what I was just going through, and then kind of put like a stamp on it like, “Okay, this is the life that I want to have. This is the sober life. And I don’t want to go back to what I’m reading right now.” And I just…connected to it so much. I just fell in love with this character, dude. And I wanted to make it my own. I am creative, and I love acting. And I love acting through my voice and I’ve been doing a lot of voiceovers and stuff last couple of years. And so I’ve really kind of gotten a handle on putting emotion into just a voice. You know, like with acting, I can say a word…and you kind of can’t if you’re just listening to it, like you don’t know what the emotion is. But because you have the face to kind of help you out. So, it’s kind of a trick to put everything, all the facial expressions into your voice. So it’s definitely a task. And I was super happy to take it on. I needed to be disciplined on something and for me to kind of take my mind off of what I was just coming out of. Even though the book is so similar to what I went through, it just it helped me to just commit to something, and I had really committed to anything in a long time. So everything about it was just a really special moment for me.

Mike: I hadn’t really thought about that, and now, that’s what makes your reading so much even more amazing than I already thought it was. Because like when I’ve directed music videos, that’s kind of the opposite. You don’t have the words, you don’t have dialogue to rely on. It’s all in facial expressions and finding actors who can do it without having the words to rely on. This is the opposite of that and I never even thought about that. You’re so good at being able to do that. Without having the screen, the visual, to fall back on.

Tyler: It’s weird because I grew up back to my entire life. So I’m like, “Okay, I kind of rely on my facial expressions, but for this you cannot at all.” I just wanted to make sure that you were getting every emotion, every moment that this person was going through. I wanted to really convey it through the voice. And it’s a skill that I’m happy that I’ve learned, and I’m still learning about it and figuring it out. But I really honed in on this for sure.

Tyler, how did your career path in film and TV better prepare you for bringing out the key words and points of emphasis for reading Mike’s memoir in this audiobook?

Tyler: I’ve been acting since I was a little kid, since I was like six years old. So I know how to emote and kind of bring a character to words, and it’s one thing to read the words and understand what’s going on. But then it’s another thing to kind of give it life. And as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. And then the last, probably five or six years, I’ve been doing a lot of voiceovers. And that’s when I realized that I need to emote through just my voice and not use my…I’ve got really expressive eyebrows when I’m acting. So I’m like, “Okay, I got to tone that down.” I got to bring it all here <points to mouth area>. And it was just perfect timing. If this if this offer came to me, like five or six years ago, before I was kind of like a seasoned vet in the voiceover world…I probably wouldn’t have been as good, you know? So every moment of my life literally led up to this book happening at that same moment, and all the depression that I went through, to the drug abuse that I went through, and just me learning how to control my voice and emote through my voice. It was just perfect timing, dude. 

Mike: I mean, even with all his training and stuff, there’s an authenticity to Tyler’s and I always use air quotes when I say his “performance,” because after getting to know him, like he just said, the stuff that he had gone through that was similar to the stuff I’ve gone through. I know, he’s only “partially” performing. When we first had our first or second phone call, he told me of a specific experience, to one that I had in the book, that like three other people have told me that they’ve had too. Which is good, because I needed to hear that, because it’s hard for me to put a lot of that stuff out into the world. But even aside from his training and how long he’s done voice stuff, there’s an authenticity that comes out in his in his reading, because he’s been through this stuff. And because he knows the music, and some of that music hits him the same way that it hit me. And so there really isn’t a better person who could have done this, and not just based on his talent, but on top of that, his experience. What you hear in this book, I would say comes mostly from his experience and knowing the music and like Tyler said, if I had gotten another actor who didn’t know the bands, and even if I gave them a “crash course” through the bands, they’re still not going to know how that music hits them.

Tyler: You’ve got to spend years in the dirt of Warped Tour before you can really know.

Mike: It’s funny, though. I do keep in touch with Charlie Sexton, and he was in the episode of Workaholics that you that you did. He was the guy who like ran all the betting in the high school. He’s really into pop-punk, and he’s friends with The Wonder Years. But he also does a lot of cartoon like voiceover stuff, too. And we’re friends on Facebook. 

Tyler: He would have been the better option than me then. (Laughter)

Can’t go back now! (Laughter) So Tyler, what specifically did you identify with in Mike’s memoir? Were there certain chapters of the book that meant more to you than others? 

Tyler: I mean there’s definitely specifics of Mike’s life that like are hard for me to really connect with, but in a broad vagueness kind of way, I relate to the entire book. But, I didn’t go to the army. I didn’t live in New York. I spent months at a time in New York, but it wasn’t home base for me. And our family’s lives were a little bit different. So there’s obviously those small little things that aren’t similar, but as a whole, it’s just too similar. We’re both half Mexicans, we both grew up in this weird, like limbo of, “Who the fuck am I? Where do I belong?” Just with our ethnicity, the music, depression, drug abuse, and women and wanting to be this better person all the time, but then getting knocked down all the time. There was also his work ethic. His work ethic is fucking incredible, and always has been. And the amount of abuse and drugs or whatever, depression never really got in the way of that. And that was something that I really connected with, because I’ve been in and out of drugs and alcohol my entire life. But it never got in the way of my career. So that’s something that I really connected with on and just being open about depression, anxieties and, and kind of wanting to not let it rule your life. Feeling that darkness pool at you and being like this could end up killing me, but then coming out of it. There’s an endless amount of shit that we connect on.

And it seems like there’s always that stigma of talking about mental health. But it seems like that seems to be breaking down barriers, more people are starting to talk about it. 

Tyler: Thank God.

Mike, I really enjoyed how you interspersed the clips of music during the key sections of the audiobook to bring out certain emotions in the material. Can you describe what went on during the final editing of the audiobook?

Mike: Yeah, I actually have to give major props to Kevin Dye, who is a music producer, and he’s in a band called Gates, who are amazing. I met him when I went out on the road with them, and Have Mercy and Pentimento. But he mixed it and he did get to hear that work for himself too because I had originally mixed this with the two Jimmy Eat World songs, “23” and “Kill” from Futures. But I wasn’t going to be able to use those. Once Universal told me how much I needed to pay for it, which was reasonable, but if I ended up paying for those songs, then I’d have to end up paying all the other bands who were nice enough to let me use their music for free. The deal was that as long as nobody else is getting paid, then you can use this music for free. So if I would have paid one record label, I would have had to pay publishers, labels, bands, and it would have been over ten grand, which I don’t have. And once I explained the subject matter of the book, and that 50% of the royalties are going to mental health charities, artists and tour crew relief funds…that’s why the bands were generous enough to let me use their music. So the audiobook originally had the <Jimmy Eat World> album versions and then I had to take those out, but the band let me use their Phoenix Sessions recordings, so we put those in. I used the full band version of Dashboard’’s “Hands Down,” but that was also on Universal Music. Chris Carrabba let me use the first version, the acoustic version of the So Impossible EP, so we had to go replace that. The music side of this audiobook is so technical, and it’s crazy that I made it through it, because it was so much work. There were times I cried because I thought I wasn’t going to get to get to finish it. I had a little trouble getting the Death Cab for Cutie song cleared, but eventually did. Like when I couldn’t use the Jimmy Eat World songs, I knew that there were alternative recordings. So, there was a chance that the Death Cab song might have <an alternate recording>. I got a “no” from their manager originally, but I eventually convinced them. And man, I got pretty beat down with that process. It was very difficult because I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know how to do it. I had to learn. But yeah, there were times where I cried because I thought it wasn’t going to come together. But it did. It came together and it’s out there and it was worth every fucking second of work.

Sounds like a labor of love. So what did you guys learn about your relationship with each other as you worked on this project? Did your friendship strengthen? Or, did it have some fisticuffs from time to time?

Tyler: I mean, we hadn’t yet met each other until on this project. So it was only strengthened.

Mike: I was going to say that even through the Workaholics thing, I was in New York working on their digital side. And I didn’t really deal with like the actual production in LA. We never met there. I went to one of his shows in New York at the Knitting Factory, but we didn’t meet there either. So, we didn’t actually meet till we started working on this thing together.

Tyler: It’s all only strengthened, dude. Honestly, we have project ideas coming up, and specifically around Rock Bottom at the Renaissance. But man, I’ve grown a lot of respect for you, Mike. And I’ve had an immense amount of respect for you. When we first started working with each other, the respect has only grown with just more and more similarities. And now our lives are both expanding and getting bigger. He’s got a family now, and I’m working on myself. And, you know, I look up to Mike a lot, and so it’s been strong. I think maybe when you’re giving me notes and stuff because it’s a super drawn out process and at that point there was a timeline where we had to get the book done in a certain timeframe. And I was kind of lagging behind because I was just getting sober. I get really overwhelmed really easily when I have a lot of work to do. And so, I wasn’t the best at hitting the deadlines. And I needed some sort of accountability, some sort of push, and Mike was able to give that to me. I really, thank you for that, dude. 

Mike: Sure, man! Yeah, I was going to say I didn’t know that my notes got to you, man. Because I tell people all the time that you didn’t even need direction. I told people, “Yeah, he just did it at home by himself.” I actually bought the audiobook that you did before, to listen to it to see if I was going to need to go out there to direct you, or whatever. But then you sent me an email saying, “Let me just record a chapter two, and I’ll send it to you.” And when you did that, I was like, “Fuck, I don’t even need to be there!” So I tell everybody that I didn’t even have to direct you or anything.

Tyler: I just fucked up and then I would be like, “God dammit, I can’t do this whole thing again!” But I knew we’re going to get this done in the deadline. And so, I was just putting pressure on myself.

Mike: Well, another thing I was going to say too, is I’ve told you this over and over, that if I text you something, and you don’t respond, I know you’re busy. And because we are the same in that sense. Like, I get overwhelmed very easily too. And we’re both kind of the masters of our own careers right now. You’re working so hard on your music, and you’re working so hard on your music. I mean, for the most part you’re the one reaching out to your connections to make music videos happen and to make songs happen, and you’re collaborating with other people. And so we’re very similar in that sense too where we’re going to make our dreams come true. We’re going to work hard to do that. So if I text you and don’t hear from you, I get it. If something’s urgent, I’ll call you like five times in a row. But that’s never happened, because nothing’s ever been that urgent. But we’re very similar in that sense that I never would have known until after we did this, and had to work together.

Tyler: I mean, I even strive to be like you still dude. There’s still areas where I slacked on where I’m like, “Fuck man, Mike is killing it…”

Mike: That contradicts all the work you’re doing on your mental health. 

Tyler: That’s true. 

Mike: That’s first. That’s first. 

That brings me to my last question. This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. What advice would you give for people who are struggling with their own mental health challenges, especially during this tumultuous last year with the pandemic that brought out so many issues that people sometimes didn’t even know they had with themselves?

Tyler: Talking it out, man. For me, whether it’s going to a therapist, or talking out in a group setting of people who have been through the same scenarios that you’ve been through the same situations. The same sort of depression, drug abuse, sexual abuse, whatever it is, talking to people who you can connect with, and who you can listen to their story and find an element of yourself in there. That’s life saving. Like it really, really is. And that’s what’s great about this book, because when I was reading it and doing the audiobook, it was so nice to hear that somebody else was going through the same shit that I went through and came out of it. The book ends with, you don’t really know what happens to Mike, but since I saw him reading the book, I know that he’s good. And it just really made me feel safe and connected. It helped for a long time, but you’ve got to stay on the discipline, you’ve got to find a routine and you’ve got to put shit out there into the universe. Gratitude. You got to be grateful, you got to take in love and push out gratitude. And it’s a practice. Meditating will help you get there. But all these things…talking to a friend, reaching out to somebody, meditating. It’s all it’s all part of this umbrella that is mental health. And it all works. We <Mike and I> are examples of it. We both have thought about suicide and have both been in some really dark places. And we’re pretty fucking happy now. 

Mike: Yeah, and to add to that…it takes work. Don’t let it overwhelm you, because it can be overwhelming. This book sat on the shelf for five years because I wasn’t ready for people to know that I was struggling with that. And it took me that long to get to a point where I was feeling better and I could say, “that’s who I was, it’s not who I am.” So, my book doesn’t have a happy ending. The happy ending didn’t come right away. It didn’t come in two months. It didn’t come in two years. It took a long time. But the steps to get to that are good. They’re enough to keep you going to get to the next one. But it takes the work, it’s not just going to happen. Like Tyler was saying, I meditate too, and I try to exercise when I can. I mean that’s something I struggle with incorporating into my routine, because I’m a workaholic and I don’t prioritize it like I should, which I’m doing better at now. But yeah, exercising, eating right, sleeping right…I suck at that. I’m not telling people that I’ve got it all figured out now, because I suck at going to the gym as much as I should, and sleeping well, but I know that those things are important. And I’m working on them. So that’s all that matters, if you’re working on it and know that it’s going to take some time, but we’re willing to do it.

Yeah, the big things I’ve noticed from both of your statements about mental health is it’s not a one and done. It’s one of those things you continually work at with somebody who you trust.

Tyler: Yeah, because I know if I was like, “I feel good, I’m going to stop doing all of that.” I would fucking just shoot straight down, man, and go right back to the guy in the book.

Mike: Yeah, it’s true. It’s true, man. We strive for progress, not perfection, because perfection is not realistic. So always, always pushing ourselves to keep going. 

I just want to thank Mike again for everything he’s done with this book. I’ve been as courteous as I could with all the promotion and everything, and I’m truly in love with this book. I still have it up on my shelf right over there. It has a nice handwritten inscription in it from Mike. He’s a very authentic and kind person.

Mike: Thanks, man. That means a lot.