Coping With The Grim Anxieties of Tour Life: I'm Afraid of Everyone with Cœur de Pirate
Béatrice Martin tackles the difficulty of touring with social anxieties and how it almost destroyed her.
I got into music like someone gets into a bike accident: it was startlingly unexpected. I saw my whole life flip upside down in slow motion. It was terrifying but thrilling at the same time; somehow, it came at the perfect moment. I'm not going to go into the details of how it all started. It's a long, boring tale to me—and to you, probably. It's something I've said it over and over again in interviews, so enough of that. The better question is: how did I manage to do this with my crippling fear of people? Trust me: there was no easy way to go about it.
One of the first things asked of you after you become a solo artist with an album is to give interviews. I don't know about you, but if you've never given an interview in your life—and you're not a narcissistic psycho—giving interviews, generally just speaking about yourself, is really hard. Journalists ask you questions about your life; they have an opinion about your music and who you are, which is often so much worse when you first start out. I remember getting on the defensive; reading every critic that I would find about my work, replying personally to journalists and random people. That is not smart. And this was all before everyone was on Twitter or Instagram.
As far as being on tour goes, being a musician is a great job. I'm not going to lie: it is as fun as you'd imagine it. But, usually, that lasts for about an hour-and-a-half during your day—the performance is an incredible feeling. The reality is when you are part of a band, right at the beginning of doing this as a career, it's a lot of traveling and waiting around; you're cramped in a van with six or seven other people; you eat what's given or what you can afford with your per diem which is, for some, about $20 a day. The general ennui produced by all that waiting around can lead to booze or drugs and other such vices, because, well, sometimes there's nothing else to do. Again, I'm not speaking for everyone here, but when you first start off and you're in a band, you try to enjoy as much as you can of it, and that is unfortunately part of it.
When I started playing music in my first band before Coeur de Pirate, I was 18. Those are the weird, you know, formative years. There were six of us and all the other guys were seasoned musicians who had toured a lot, mostly in terrible conditions. We had to sleep in the same hotel room. The fee for our gig only covered the rental of the van, and we usually ate at Tim Hortons—if I could afford it. I was miserable. I started to gain unhealthy weight. I remember clearly at this one show in Tring-Jonction, which is in Beauce, QC, I had to sleep with my coat on in the room above the venue. My band mates were cool and they let me sleep on the bed while they slept on the floor. I got a little turned off by music as a profession at that point. I was amazed with how much they would put up with, and I thought to myself, "I don't know if I can do this."
Somehow, I learned how to. Eventually, when I started my solo project, things kicked off pretty fast. My first year of touring was pretty surreal. I remember driving in between festivals in France; there were four people in a tiny car, driving from Normandy to Belgium, hurrying up to get to the gig on time. I would constantly hear my song play on the radio. That's when I realized something was going on. My popularity was growing but we were still touring like nothing was happening. I'm glad I got to do it, it's really humbling, and it's important to go through that process: the vans, sleeping in motels, being in close quarters with a ton of people. All of that wasn't helping my anxiety but, at the very least, I was keeping busy.
I got really lucky and was able to be on a tour bus relatively quickly in my career. This mostly happened in Europe, not for Quebec or Canada. That's another situation to deal with and process because your team usually gets bigger at this point. So you're on a tour bus with 12 to 15 people; you scavenge what's given at venues and you stack it in the bus. When it comes to personal hygiene, you sometimes "shower" with wet wipes because some venues don't have showers. You sometimes can't go for number two on the bus. Sleeping in a bunk requires practice and many sleepless nights before you start getting used to it all, so really, it makes for one cranky team sometimes. If you're a people person, and you just have no problem getting used to strangers, then touring is no problem. But when you're someone like me, who has trouble just calling a restaurant to make a reservation, then sometimes touring can seem like hell and it was.
I think it's frowned upon to talk about your issues when you're somewhat successful. I mean, first off, it sounds like complaining, which I agree in some cases. But in concealing my weaknesses and my troubles, I made things much worse for myself. There is real life—and hygiene!—and care that you need to keep on tour in order to make it out in one piece. It isn't normal, for anyone, to experience such drastic changes in emotions during one day. You wait all day for that hour of live music. It's full on adrenaline; a magical rush once you're there. Then, once it's done, it's back to that bus bunk or that empty hotel room.
I played around 200 shows this past year, and I guarantee that at times I did not know what was happening to me. I remember in February 2016 that I had been dropped from my US label and I had this whole North American tour lined up over the span of a month. I didn't know if the venues would be full because I had no support. I was scared every day that we would lose money; that we were doing this for nothing. I was in Seattle one day and I was walking, looking around me, just crying and crying as I walked alone trying to make sense of what was happening to me. I guess the highs and the lows of the tour had caught up to me. We had just spent two weeks touring the Midwest and Prairies and then we were finally on the west coast—I had experienced drastic changes in weather and I was feeling run down. I couldn't sleep at all at night in the tour bus and my lungs were working harder than usual since I'm also asthmatic. It sucked. I couldn't even enjoy the city or my situation.
It is hard to talk about personal failures in life, but I do believe that as human beings we adapt to complicated situations. You'd probably think that, in my line of work, things go well most of the time, but it's the tough parts that make you evolve. I figured out, that day in Seattle, that I needed to change my way of doing things on tour and I did, but it took me years to realize that things weren't always going to be like they were when I first started off. I became more conscious of my surroundings, and I started my own routine that focused on my well-being. I quit drinking for long periods of time just to make sure I was all there; I practiced yoga four times a day sometimes just to do something and let go of any stupid tension. It isn't easy to have people around you 24/7, so on tour it's important to find a place that you can call your own. It is also easy to fall into a dark, lonely place so you have to make sure to reach out whenever you feel that the need is there so knowing that you can find help nearby is important—that can be very hard when you have trouble asking for help in the first place.
I am not on tour at the moment. I had got to a point in my life where being on tour wasn't magical to me anymore. The rush that I had those first few weeks, the will to discover and conquer new audiences, is completely gone. I remember hearing the sound of planes, or having to pack my bags for any kind of venture and panicking. The thought of leaving and travelling again would scare me to death. But a few weeks back I played my last show in Toronto. It was quite the surreal experience because, since I was so fed up of touring, I thought nothing would make me miss it. And yet that last concert—a beautiful one in front of the most spectacular audience—summed up everything that I had been until now: a performer, despite having trouble accepting it, after all.
Béatrice Martin is a singer and songwriter from Montreal. Follow her on Twitter.
Illustrations by juniorskeptic