Neurodivergent Crew is a collective of four musicians who each identify as neurodivergent. That is, their brain function differs in some way from what one might typically deem “normal” brain function. Its members include Matthew Bennett, also known as FMA; Callum Bennett, also known as 12 Gage, Matthew’s son and one-half of the father-son rap duo FMA + 12 Gage; Brandon Donohue, also known as Dreadnought, who met Callum toward the end of high school and has been working with the rap duo for seven years; and n0trixx, who joined the collective last year. They have been diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dissociative identity disorder (DID), respectively.
Though their diagnoses present a unique set of challenges, the Neurodivergent Crew is on an inspiring mission to improve the world’s understanding of neurodiversity, amplify the voices of neurodivergence, and share stories that assure others they are not alone. Check out each member’s insightful responses to our questions below.*
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PVM: Tell us a little about your story.
Matthew (FMA): I was really into music all the time. The first person I ever got into was Alice Cooper with “School’s Out.” By the age of 13, I started rapping lyrics. I soon started drinking because I didn’t know I was autistic. By the age of 21, I had nearly drunk myself to death. So, I ended up in rehab.
At the age of 19, I also got a girl pregnant, and she gave birth to Callum. Later, at the age of 24, I joined a heavy metal collective, For My Anger, that ended up getting destroyed by a record producer. So, I gave up on music totally and went to university to study scriptwriting and creative writing. But, during that time, Callum came to live with me. He was really into rap, and he kept pestering me, and he eventually took me back into music.
Callum (12 Gage): The second that I got into music was when I saw For My Anger perform live when I was 6, and I saw my dad on a stage screaming at people. Every year since that point, I wanted to be involved in music.
When I was a kid, I had an abusive stepparent, and I was bullied consistently. I experienced the very evil side of adults at a point in time where you should just trust adults and feel safe around them. That caused me to have severe confidence issues. By the time I was 15, I had a stutter. I didn’t think much of myself. I started going down a lot of paths similar to my dad’s addiction and obsession, subsequently leading my mom to say she couldn’t have me live with her anymore, I was becoming too much, and I came to live with my dad. My mom suggested that me and him perform together to help my confidence, and that started this massive snowball.
Brandon (Dreadnought): As long as I can really remember, I’ve always been into music. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I started on acoustic guitar. I was awful at it for years; I had a teacher in primary school, and he basically just taught me four chords, and that was it for three years. I was like, “Is this all there is to music?”
I kept trying to explore music in different ways. I eventually, weirdly enough, got Guitar Hero when I was 9 or 10, and that had all sorts of different music on it. To me, it was more than just a game; I fell in love with it. My uncle gave me his Xbox not too long after, and it had a few albums on it. Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory was the main one that I listened to.
It got to the point where I was able to create. I was like, “OK, guitar is not for me.” Drums were the ones that appealed to me. I was like, “I get to hit stuff! I get to jump around!” Then, in college, I took music tech. I spent most of my breaks just going down into the studio and playing on a really nice drum kit they had there.
Me and Callum ended up leading a band, Generation Defect. Unfortunately, we did lose our bassist a year or two into the band. That was quite a heavy moment in our lives, and it was quite traumatizing, really, for both of us. Alex. He was the most passionate person I have ever known, especially when it came to music. A part of me wanted to give up at that point. I started spiraling. But then, there was always that little tickle at the back of my head like, “Imagine if Alex was watching right now. He’d want you to carry on. He’d want you to keep going.”
n0trixx: Music came into my life when I was traumatized, and that trauma caused my mind to split in two. That was the day I lost my father. Funny that Brandon mentioned his inspirations because mine was Linkin Park as well. I was playing one song on repeat that whole day. I was alone in the room, and I was listening to music, and that was the only thing that helped me go through my emotions. That was when I felt the absolute connection with music, and that’s when I [the second personality] came into existence. That’s when I also realized that I want to be doing music.
But the other part of me [the first personality] was dominant for quite a while. How it works is that those parts of the mind — those personalities — are created in order to protect the whole system. The reason for me needing protection was because of relationships with my family, where I was not allowed to feel my emotions. I was not allowed to live through the things that I was experiencing, and there was a lot of abuse going on. As a result, there was one part of me that was convenient for my environment, and the other part was not convenient and something that needed to be hidden.
PVM: What barriers have you experienced as a neurodivergent person and as a neurodivergent musician?
Matthew (FMA): Because I started drinking at the age of 14, my social skills didn’t get a chance to develop; they were underdeveloped anyway because I’ve got autism, but we didn’t know about that. Even after coming out of rehab (I was there for one and a half years), I still couldn’t make friends, and I couldn’t understand why. I was always doing what other people were doing, but without understanding the details underneath what they were doing.
Communication with people is incredibly complicated. If you’re autistic and you don’t know you’re autistic, it just leads to so much confusion. It wasn’t until the age of 36 — when I was diagnosed with autism — that everything clicked into place.
When you put music, autism, and recovering alcoholic together, it becomes impossible because you get gigs through the people you meet at events where you’re drunk and you’re drinking. I avoid those things, so it’s been very hard work for me and Callum to get gigs or just to make any advances in music.
Callum (12 Gage): How I see it, I had a late diagnosis of dyslexia for the period of time it would really affect me. I found out I was dyslexic in, like, the first year of college. For a very long time, I had a very slow reading gauge. There were tons of other things I would struggle with. It all just ended up in this accumulation of self-confidence issues to the point where, when I moved to Preston [England] with my dad, the only thing I knew I was slightly good at was rap.
With dyslexia around music and lyrics in general, I see rhyming as patterns in my head. It’s almost cathartic for me to sit and rhyme a word for ages. There have been periods of time when me and FMA have been writing songs, and he’s asked me for a bar (four lines), and I’ve come back to him with two pages. It was a massive benefit in that sense. But, due to my previous experiences with confidence, I’m not a very social person. That leads to us being separate from a lot of music scenes.
Brandon (Dreadnought): It [ADHD] was beneficial in some ways because it made me very social. I only started paying attention to it after [university], when I got to the third year and had to drop out, unfortunately. I couldn’t keep up with deadlines, even though I would have weeks to do stuff. I’d be doing it last minute, it’d cause me so much stress, and I’d have a meltdown. I always thought, “Why am I so lazy?” I’d have a million half-open projects. That led to a lot of procrastination in pushing my music forward as a solo artist, specifically. All my friends had talked about it [ADHD], and I just assumed, “Well, you’re not doctors. I don’t know if I am [have ADHD] or not. It doesn’t really affect anything.” But these negative traits that came with it started leaking into my life a lot more.
I waited a good year before I finally got through to a doctor. It was only a couple of hours, asking all kinds of questions. By the end of it, he was like, “Yeah, you’ve got ADHD.” I was relieved, but at that same time, I was like, “I felt like I knew this a while ago.” It is a bit of a roller coaster, but when it comes to music, it works really advantageously because all that energy comes out and explodes.
n0trixx: I always failed to get a sense of belonging anywhere. My other self would be trying to fit in. She would always fail because I was there; people could feel something was wrong about her. With me, I also failed to find common ground with people.
Because there are two of us in this body, that feeling that there is someone you have to share it with makes us both pretty anxious about making the most of our time. It literally feels like every day is the last day. I’ve always been rushing to do things as if I wouldn’t be able to finish them.
I cannot do the things that she [the first personality] can. She worked in an industry extremely different from mine; she was a very prominent investment banker. There’s a lot of technical stuff that I couldn’t do after we swapped. I was finding it almost impossible to go on with her job because people started feeling that somehow I cannot do the things that she did. This is where my boss came to me and said, “Is something wrong with you?”
PVM: What words of advice or wisdom do you have for someone who may be struggling with their neurodivergent identity?
Matthew (FMA): If you feel like you may be different, then maybe do some research into it. Find out what you may or may not have, what your difference might be. But to deal with the loneliness and stuff that may come with neurodiversity, you’ve just got to try. You’ve just got to do the scary thing and put yourself out there. If you’re really, really struggling, there’s always charities out there that you can talk to, like Anna Kennedy Online, which is how me and Callum met a lot of friends.
Callum (12 Gage): If you feel like you need a diagnosis, even someone to turn around and say you don’t have something, seek it out. Talk to doctors, talk to people. Don’t just bottle things up.
Everyone is an individual, and you should not hold yourself to any standard but your own. Do not judge yourself [against] people who have more resources than you. At the end of the day, you’re the only person who has your back, so learn to love yourself.
Brandon (Dreadnought): Don’t overcompensate for your insecurities. You see people do things and think, “Oh, I need to be that person.” I’ve done that myself in the past, and you end up making yourself someone you’re not, and then you’re miserable. You’re like, “Why am I miserable when I’m supposed to be like this person who is this, this, and this?” Well, that’s not who you actually are. I think the two key things I can say are [practice] honesty with yourself and be with people that you can be honest with.
n0trixx: Be creative. Try to find what you are capable of; research your way into finding what your brain is capable of. What this project [Neurodivergent Crew] is trying to show the world is that being different is fine. Everyone is dramatically different. Your job is to find out exactly what makes you different. We would definitely want to encourage people to try to find the form of creativity that makes them happy and feel connected to the world.
*Some responses have been condensed for readability.