Chelsea Ursin just got a message on her Instagram from a 50-year-old man, a complete stranger, telling her he felt a connection. This is not uncommon for the 31-year-old, who has attracted a lot of attention for “Dear Young Rocker,” her iHeartMedia podcast where Ursin candidly connects to her anxious and angry teen self.
“I get a lot of messages from older men who say, ‘I’m so surprised that girl teenagers have the same feelings as I had and also deal with anger and anxiety,' ” Ursin says from her Cambridge home.
Messages from strangers of all ages regularly arrive, including, of course, from teenagers.
“When I get the teenager who says they like the same music and they don’t have any friends, and that they at least have this podcast, that is what makes all the hard work worth it,” Ursin says.
“Dear Young Rocker” began airing in January and a second season is currently being recorded. Ursin hints at a third and mentions there’s major studio interest in developing a “Dear Young Rocker” TV show. She can’t talk about that yet, she says.
Ursin, who grew up in Holden, near Worcester, admits she still suffers from anxiety, and the last few months added even more: Her parents are frontline health-care workers.
During lockdown she found relief in a familiar place: singing and playing bass with Banana, a grunge-y power trio, which she formed five years ago and includes guitarist Ryan Higgins and drummer Justin Cole.
“I have played in bands since I was 14, but lacked the confidence to write my own stuff,” she says. That changed while Ursin was volunteering as a bass instructor for Girls Rock Campaign Boston. “I saw these teenagers writing their own songs and thought, I could do that!”
Another step in finding her voice, one that led to creating “Dear Young Rocker,” came while studying creative writing at Emerson College. Her MFA thesis was a memoir titled “Bass Player,” which included a section where Ursin talked directly to her younger self.
“My teacher said, ‘That’s the most moving part, you should write more of this.’ I never really did, but when I was writing it for the podcast it made sense to lean into that. Reading the story straight would have been much more like an audiobook.”
Initially, Ursin self-produced “Dear Young Rocker” and began networking to gain it wider attention. At Sonic Soirée, a podcast meet-up in Boston, she met Brady Sadler, who co-founded Double Elvis Productions with local musician and “Disgraceland” podcaster Jake Brennan. Sadler was immediately impressed by “Dear Young Rocker.”
“I felt Chelsea had captured the universal emotions of being a teenager — feeling anxious and wanting to be seen, heard, understood, and accepted,” Sadler says. “That’s easy to intellectualize, but she communicates it with a mix of honesty, vulnerability, and humor that is rare, especially in podcasting. I literally had goosebumps.”
“I was a little nervous allowing anyone else in this,” says Ursin. “Particularly men, because this is a feminist podcast. But I really saw they got it and had no interest in changing anything.”
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“I don’t have the desire for that,” Ursin says. “Just the scorn and criticism, I don’t want to have to deal with it. I do get the occasional Twitter comment where someone I’ve never heard of says something negative. That is very difficult because ‘Dear Young Rocker’ is so personal.
“If there is a ‘Dear Young Rocker’ TV show I will not be starring in it,” she adds. “I will not be walking any red carpet. I still am a shy person who has a lot of social anxiety to deal with.”
The greatest gift “Dear Young Rocker” has given Ursin is not fame, or acclaim; it is the glorious grace of self-acceptance.
“People think [their teenage past] doesn’t matter any more,” she says, “but it’s amazing how much you have in common with that young person who seems like an alien. They were the beginning of you becoming you.”