Austin teens in recovery record over 300 healing songs

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — On a plot of land near South Congress Avenue sits the Phoenix House. Teenagers go to school during the day and get treatment for drug addiction at night. The facility has been helping teens fight addiction for decades, but in recent years started incorporating music into the regimen.

“Every week we come in here, decide a subject, and then we write a song and everyone collaborates,” explains studio director, Matt Smith. “As a lifelong musician and producer, I’ve never heard a more powerful body of work than this collection of music.”

The program received a donation of two sound booths back in 2009, which sat vacant for two years because no one knew how to run them. Smith stepped up to help the program in 2011, and says it has given him new purpose. “It’s impossible to do this and not be moved by it,” said Smith.

Tyelur Watkins and John Bryan are graduates of the program, and say creating music was an important part of their recovery.

“Every day I’m grateful for when I wake up and don’t have that obsession in my mind of, ‘When am I going to get drugs? How my going to get high? Who am I going to steal from?'” said Watkins.

“Being able to actually hold a job, being able to recreate relationships with my family, and actually have the trust that I always wanted. Because they actually have something to believe in now,” said Bryan.

Over the years, teens have recorded more than 300 songs. They each get a CD when they graduate from the program, so the music can continue supporting them in their recovery. However, they’re not able to release full tracks to the public due to client privacy.

John O’Neill, Vice President and Clinical Director of the Phoenix House, says the teens are more open once they enter the sound booth.

“It’s very hard to listen to a song they’ve created and not get touched by it. And to feel emotional,” said O’Neill.

Watkins encourages anyone with addiction seeking recovery, to go for it. “If you’ve reached a point of despair, I would just tell people to really look for help because it’s out there.” For more information on the Phoenix House, visit their website here. 

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