Love is not a game. 

Singer-songwriter Catherine Harrison is on a mission to remind us that love isn’t the commercialized, narrowly defined construct that society peddles every February 14 (although you’d be hard-pressed not to find anything aimed at romantic love the other 364 days a year). 

Her latest single, “Love is Not a Game,” is the “anti-Valentine’s Day” anthem we need. However, its message is timeless and helps us reframe our definition of love. 

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Catherine about the inspiration for “Love is Not a Game,” what she hopes people take away from it, her work through Revelios, her mental health strategy company; how we can combat the loneliness epidemic and more. 

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This interview is condensed for length and clarity. 

Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. How did you get into music?

Catherine Harrison: Music was always part of my life. My parents were young when I was born, so I had a young, cool dad who played guitar. Growing up, we had many records, ranging from Muddy Waters, Buddy Holly and The Beatles to Miles Davis and Elton John. 

Interestingly, I never took lessons other than standard school classes. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was in my 20s. When I started playing, I got the Neil Young songbook. I learned a bunch of chords and found it easier to make up my own songs than to learn covers. So, I just started making songs. That’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years now. Although I haven’t made a full-time career out of music, I’ve always had a couple of things on the go. 

Singer-songwriter Catherine Harrison wears a pink floral top while sitting in front of a chess board with her hand on her chin. A pink, purple and yellow swirly wall is behind her.

MM: Let’s talk about “Love is Not a Game.” What was the inspiration for this song?

CH: I was going through the unraveling of a romantic relationship. One of the biggest issues was feeling I had lost my sense of self. I had done everything I could to be loving, give love and expect reciprocity in return. That was the beginning of it.

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As a songwriter, I will pick up the guitar or sit at the piano and just noodle — maybe write some lyrics. Sometimes, I finish a song in a day. Sometimes, it takes months or even years. With this one, I wrote the lyrics relatively quickly. Then, COVID happened, so we didn’t get into the studio.

It morphed when I played it live and thought about it more. The more I played and sang it, the more it became symbolic of a profound symbolism of love — a more holistic sense. A sense of love for your fellow people, pets, nature, your passion or favorite show. We have such a culturally narrow definition of love that is “romantic partnered love.”

It felt like an anthem of being empowered to own that you were going to be loving and compassionate, but you would expect that in return in any relationship. If you’ve lost your love or given it away, you must take it back and pay it forward.

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When we were finishing it, we were like, “Oh, we should do it around Valentine’s Day.” It’s a love song that’s anti-Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day is symbolic of the superficial, commercialized version of romantic love. It’s super over the top and causes a lot of stress. 

MM: What do you hope listeners take away from this song?

CH: I hope they dig the groove, and they’re like, “Yeah, this is a fun song.” With that energy and mindset, if they listen to the lyrics, [I hope] they feel a sense of empowerment; they feel a sense of getting curious about how they define love and thinking about how they might define love in narrow terms.

Maybe there’s an opportunity to expand that definition — notice where they might have lots of love and think about relationships, romantic or otherwise. Perhaps where they have given away a sense of themselves. 

MM: What can we do to reframe how we look at Valentine’s Day?

CH: The most important thing is to see it for what it is. When we see something, we name it. We move back or look down from a 30,000-foot view and can see it for what it is. It’s a construct. And I don’t know about you, but maybe you exchanged little Valentine’s Day cards in school.

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It’s good for the people who get the cards. What about the kids who don’t? We talk about stress, feeling excluded, not loved, not wanted and not included. So, when we think about Valentine’s Day, one thing we can do is recognize it is a commercialized cultural construct, and whether we are partnered or not has nothing to do with love.

I’m not disputing that partnered love can’t be amazing. It’s not an either-or situation. But just to be thoughtful about how much pressure we put on ourselves and each other, whether partnered or not, around one day out of 365. The more expectations we have, the more fear we have around being loved, having love, having the right symbols of love, or comparing our love to others.

But we [can] shift that narrative and go, “Where do I have love in my life?” You could say, “This Valentine’s Day, I’m going to celebrate love differently and not worry about the flowers, chocolates and traditional things.”

MM: 100 percent. How can people deal with the feelings of loneliness amplified by Valentine’s Day or any other holiday?

CH: We have an epidemic of loneliness. This is why I connected so deeply to my work in mental health because loneliness is at the root of mental health issues. We’re very disconnected. If we think of love as compassion, connection, community and communication, those missing things also negatively impact our mental health. 

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Loneliness can come with a sense of despair, apathy or worry. It may not manifest into frank anxiety or depression, but we’ve all had those days where we feel bummed out. The number one thing to do is self-reflection. 

The second thing would be, “Who or what do I have in my life that I can connect with? What person, people or activities consistently bring me joy?” It comes down to finding connection, compassion and love.

What’s one thing you like to do for others? It’s not rocket science, but sometimes we miss these simple basics. And be careful about social media — get off the phone. We are more connected than ever, and we are more disconnected than ever. We are more connected in superficial ways.

But when we are constantly scrolling, we are not serving our brain’s biochemistry. All we are doing is consciously or subconsciously comparing ourselves to everyone else. Everything online is curated and makes us feel FOMO. So, be thoughtful about your consumption of social media. 

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Even Netflix, it’s all going to be rom-coms. I like a good rom-com as much as anybody else, but it makes you feel [like] that is the way things should be. That something is wrong with you, or something is missing from your life. And that is simply not true.

MM: Piggybacking off that, I want to talk about the company you founded, Revelios. What was the impetus for bringing that to life, and what do you do as a company?

CH: I worked in the corporate world for several years and had a consultancy for 10 years focused primarily on human leadership development. Of course, the pandemic happened. Like everybody else, there was a lot of shifting, changing and pausing. I wrote a book during that time and have always been interested in psychology, mindfulness and mindset.

The pandemic unveiled the mental health crisis we were already having. So when we were starting to work again, I thought, “I think we need to lean into the mental health part of the workplace and the mental health aspect of how to be a good leader and drive organizational culture.” To do that, I need to know more and have more street cred. I just finished my Master’s in Psychology this past summer. We launched Revelios in late September.

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Our mission is to democratize mental health literacy and that sense of agency in the workplace to shift the narrative around mental health. When you think about mental health at work, often it is narrowly defined. We have an EAP program, so if you have a mental health issue, call the EAP, get a counselor, take time off, get on some drugs and come back when you’re better.

However, that doesn’t change anything about the daily experience — how we have daily optimal mental health or manage stress burnout, suboptimal mental health, anxiety, feelings of being down, bullying and environments of psychological safety.

The company’s all about helping leaders and teammates improve mental health literacy. What is mental health? If you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 different answers. Usually, the narrative is you’re either perfectly fine or mentally ill. We teach mental health first aid, similar to physical first aid. How do you recognize the signs and symptoms of suboptimal mental health? We teach mental health literacy; we teach psychological safety. We can come in and do a whole bunch of different work. 

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We want to work with organizations to learn how to integrate mental, physical and social health into the workplace. Until we do that, we’re just moving shells around the board.

I’ve been active in the Canadian music industry and sit on some global nonprofits, talking specifically about the unique mental health challenges that music industry professionals have. It’s a topsy-turvy world, and it’s even harder to maintain mental health in the live music or entertainment industry.

Singer-songwriter Catherine Harrison smiles while wearing a pink leopard-print coat and holding a red electric guitar on a pink, purple and yellow swirly background.

MM: Do you have any musical or songwriting inspirations?

CH: My inspiration for writing and performing is my fascination with the human condition. Writing and performing are ways to process my experiences or observations of others’ experiences that I connect to. I like lots of different types of music, other than screamo. It’s a little too intense for me. If it’s a good tune, I dig it. 

I constantly return to some of my favorites but love exploring new stuff. I love hearing new bands live, or somebody sends me a link and goes, “Oh, you should check this out.” 

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MM: Where can folks listen to “Love is Not a Game”?

CH: YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music — it’s on all streaming platforms. They can follow me @thecatherineharrison on everything. X (Twitter) is “@thecatherinehar,” though.

All the proceeds for the song, whether through Bandcamp or streaming, will be donated to The Unison Fund, a Canadian nonprofit organization that helps support professionals in the Canadian music industry financially and from a mental health perspective.

MM: What else is on the horizon for you?

CH: We’ve got a couple more tunes in the hopper. We’re just mastering and mixing a few more. This (“Love is Not a Game”) will likely be part of an EP in the summer. All of the songs are different from a vibe perspective.

Then, just doing the advocacy work and changing the conversation around mental health. And participating in a lot of conferences about mental health. 

The number one thing for mental health is to let people know they’re not alone. Whatever you’re feeling, other people are out there feeling exactly the same. We need to connect, find community, talk to each other, share and be vulnerable because you’re not alone.

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MM: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Catherine! 

CH: Thank you, Melody!

Check out the music video for “Love is Not a Game” here: 

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Melody McCune
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