Music of Optimism: Kay Clancy and Adam Thompson of Chocolate Starfish

Adam Thompson, lead singer and songwriter of ARIA-winning band Chocolate Starfish has long understood the power of music through his career that spans over 30 years in the music industry. Kay Clancy is The Centre for Optimism's Music Queen of Optimism. 


Victor Perton: Adam, the first question we always ask at The Centre for Optimism is: what makes you optimistic? So Adam, what makes you optimistic? 


Adam Thompson: "Great question, Victor, because I think it's probably only in the last 10 to 20 years that I would bonafide describe myself as optimistic. And before that, I believe I was, like all of us, a work in progress, with the occasional optimistic adventure or the occasional optimistic outcome.

"I do now see myself as optimistic, most of the time. And by that, I mean that's my view of the world. And it's the way that I choose to wake up. It's the way I choose to approach any given meeting.

"It's the way I choose to react to a negative situation, to neutralize the scenario. But that's taken 30 years to build up the personal efficacy to be able to do that.

"And I look at it as I'm a gatherer of tools. And bit by bit, I've gathered enough tools to, I guess, make myself optimistic and make my persona one that people would see as optimistic, but more importantly, that I would feel as optimistic. Because I think they're two different things. Some people can believe or see you are. And I've had my challenges with mental health. So inside, the optimism was not as strong as, perhaps, what the external is showing. But in the last decade, I've definitely married the inner-self and the outer-self to be a more holistic version of optimist.

"So, what makes me that way, apart from the experience and the tools that I've gathered, it's just the opposite isn't appealing. When you are on a path of self-development, some gurus will call it "enlightenment," whatever it might be. When you're on a path, going back the other way doesn't ever feel natural anymore, when you've made that decision to be on the path of optimism. There are more things I could mention, but generally speaking, that's what makes me optimistic."

Kay Clancy: Putting aside your incredible success with Chocolate Starfish and the big arena stuff, where there's so much positivity because everyone is riding the wave of the emotion you're giving out; when did the penny drop for you that there's a connection beyond that? I suppose I'm thinking, I love your talk about, from the silence it grows, but when did you recognize that that can spread as big a ripple as the big arena stuff?

Adam Thompson: "I think that's listening to the silence. In fact, when I've worked with the Aboriginal communities, a good friend of mine, Sammy Butcher, who is in the Warumpi Band, and they're best known for writing My Island Home. And there's a word that he uses which translates "to listen in silence for the answer." 

"And I get that a lot when I work with Aboriginal people. Because often, in white man's world, we feel like we've got to respond straight away, but there's quite a pregnant pause when an Aboriginal person of culture is answering a question. And there's this gap of silence while they consider the response. Okay? So it's working with cultures, it's working with, I guess, my own desire and definitely need to be more. I remember when Starfish took a long hiatus from about '99 to about 2010. That mainly was by me because I just felt like there was more to me, and there was more in me than just the frontman of a band.

"And that was hard to articulate to the other guys in the band who only want success on that level. And it is that these different levels, outside arenas, work with Aboriginal people in a community and discuss a really sensitive topic. 

"I went out with a group of men recently where we discussed sexual health, which is something that Aboriginal men don't really talk about. And they certainly don't write songs about it. All right? But guess what? They did with me because they trusted me enough. 

"And these were hours of talking to their "bush" Parliament if you like. And we talked about STDs, and we talked about condom use and the way to articulate these songs and videos for the young men in a way that would resonate but also wouldn't be shameful.

"And to me, that is, I was going to say "as," but probably more important than getting a crowd in a big auditorium to sing one of your hits. Because that lasts for the three minutes that that song does, and they might hum it when they go home, and "Wasn't that a great thing?" But when you're creating things with people that can become part of culture can change mindsets and can change ways of doing things, that, to me, is a gift that I just unconsciously knew I had to follow, around the year 2000. And that's when it all happened.

Kay Clancy: So how does it happen? How does it happen, and where does the power lie?

Adam Thompson: Well, that is the question of the day. That's the best question. What is it? Where does the power lie? The first aspect of the power lies in, and Bene Brown says it really well, in vulnerability. I come in as egoless as I can to any situation. In fact, I never trumpet that I'm from a band, or I never use that as my calling card. When I'm in these situations, I try and come in with a, "Okay, will you teach me something today?" 

"Even though I'm the facilitator, I want to learn as much from them, whoever them is; it could be the Aboriginal community; it could be a corporate company; it could be a group of disabled kids in a workshop that want to their voice, that have autism and Down syndrome. I want to learn from it through humility and through vulnerability.

"I think vulnerability is the key. If you come into anything with openness and... it's like kids and dogs: they can pick it up straight away, right? Now, adults can pick it up too, but you've often got to break down their barrier, their wall of ego. And it's harder with adults, but it's not impossible. 

"And the quicker I show vulnerability and show... and I mean authenticity, not in the corporate jargon, but in the true authenticity of sitting in the space with them and understanding.

"It's all about; they feel that if they say something, sing, dance, or give a lyric, they're going to be judged on it. And I come in with an absolutely judgment-free space that I have to show by my actions, not just by my words, because a lot of great corporate speakers, they'll give the speak, but you don't feel it. And you don't feel the truth. You don't feel the, ah, I can be vulnerable; I can actually do it. So I have kids when I do workshops that, at the end of it, they go away going, "I don't know what I want to be now, but I want to feel like I've felt in the last two days always."

"And that is powerful to me. And I get emails from kids ten years on, that are in their mid-twenties or late twenties now, who have maybe even got kids, talking about those two days and how powerful it was for them, as a shift of consciousness.

Kay Clancy: Oh. I love that so much. Love, love, love that. 


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