Anthony, the man behind the fast-rising, chart-topping hit “Rich Men North of Richmond,” shot to the forefront of media fodder when his song became an anthem for conservatives quick to claim ownership of the new star. Last Wednesday, when eight Republican presidential hopefuls faced off at the first GOP primary debate, the question that kicked off the night was, “Why is [‘Rich Men North of Richmond’] striking such a nerve in this country right now?”
But Anthony, who has described himself as down the center politically, was quick to disavow the way his song has been co-opted by conservatives and weaponized politically.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen anything get such a positive response from such a diverse group of people," he said in a YouTube address last week. "And I think that terrifies the people that I sing about in that song.”
Anthony, whose real name is Chris Anthony Lunsford, joined Rogan for Wednesday's episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience," where the two mused on everything from the Farmville, Va., native's instant rise to fame to the state of U.S. politics to mental health to pornography.
Here are the major takeaways from the nearly three-hour episode.
Read more: Oliver Anthony - Rich Men North Of Richmond
"I used to just not really understand when people talk about mental health and anxiety, because everyone gets stressed out over stuff," Anthony told Rogan. "And so you think of anxiety as being this normal phenomenon everyone deals with, but your mind can really put you in a dark place to where that thing just holds on to, and it makes it very difficult for you to do anything. I spent at least two years of my life almost constantly having what felt like a knot [in my chest.]"
Anthony said he thinks much of his anxiety stemmed from him feeling like he was running out of time to pursue music. "I knew that I had an ability to pursue this and take this adventure on," he said, but for 10 or more years he couldn't seem to follow through because of self-doubt.
Outside of work, Anthony said, he spent much of his time drinking and getting "absolutely stoned" as a way to distract himself from what he needed to be doing.
"Being complacent is the worst thing for you," the singer said, adding that he imagines spending his time working toward a purpose could have helped him get out of his rut. "I think that's really what was killing me the last few years. From a mental standpoint, not spending your day working towards whatever purpose it is that you really need to accomplish deep down inside — I think that will really kill you over a period of time."
Hitting rock bottom
When Rogan asked the singer what hitting rock bottom looked like for him, Anthony said that debilitating anxiety led him toward thoughts of suicide. "I don't even think I'd call it panic attacks. I was getting chest pains and shooting pains, having cardiovascular symptoms that — I guess now I realized they're stress- and anxiety-related — but I really thought I was gonna die."
The singer joked that excessive marijuana use may have contributed to the symptoms. "We can grow it in Virginia now. So I grew a lot of pounds of weed last year. I don't even know what I'm gonna do with it all now."
He was "disassociated" from his reality, he said. "I can remember being around really close friends having dinner one night. You get warm and fuzzy feelings being around people you care about. And everything was just ice cold.
"It wasn't that I ever wanted to kill myself," he continued. "I knew I wanted to keep trying to fight and get out of whatever it was that I was in, but it was almost like at some point I thought I was gonna do it almost as a fight-or-flight response. Like ... that was gonna eventually be my only way out."
Anthony said the idea that he could die compelled him to upload his music, even if it was just a video here and there that he shot on his phone. "I was just trying to leave them out for the world in case I died."
He said that both the spiritual and peaceful quality of living in the woods, surrounded by nature and songwriting, played a huge role in helping him. "It helped emphasize that more creative part of my brain, and get me out of that head space."
'Rich Men North of Richmond' was thrown together
When Rogan and Anthony discussed a few of the controversial lines from the song that shot the Virginia songwriter into the spotlight, including the bit about the Fudge Rounds, Anthony told the podcast host he'd quickly thrown the song together in an afternoon and that "Rich Men North of Richmond" wasn't really his favorite.
"I didn't even want to record that song when Draven [Riffe] from Radio WV came down. He called me on a Thursday. He wanted to come that Saturday and record, and I only had the first half of 'Rich Men North Richmond' even written," he said. "Draven was insistent that we needed to do that song. So I just threw the rest of the song together. We recorded it at around 6:30 on the Saturday, and I had the song finished at 3 o'clock on Saturday.
"So it was very thrown together. I had no idea that was going to be the one, and I was a little reluctant to even record it because I'm not really an anthem-song kind of guy. A lot of my other songs are different than that."
The song topped Billboard's Hot 100 chart and has more than 50 million views on YouTube.
Giving up pornography
Anthony and Rogan also mused over the dangerous power of pornography. "That is one thing I had to give up," the singer said. "It does disconnect you from reality in many ways, and I think a lot of the weird perversion we see coming out, if you read about a lot of the weird things that people are doing that maybe wouldn't have been accepted 100 years ago, I think people go down these rabbit holes with porn."
He said porn is "almost like a drug, people have to keep chasing that thrill, and it takes them down a very destructive rabbit hole."
Anthony added that he has no issues with anybody watching it. "But I do hate to read about some of the things that it does to people, ruins marriages and that kind of thing."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.