Musings on nausea, sobriety, control, and twerking.
My life on tour is not a drug-fuelled, over-sexed series of misadventures (as you probably never assumed it would be). I have essentially been celibate since devoting all my time to music in late 2012, and as of early July, I have stopped drinking alcohol and taking drugs, as well as eating dairy. Since I was already mostly vegetarian, this decision has made me vegan. Most of these lifestyle choices (especially giving up alcohol and dairy) come from attempting to solve major digestion problems, primarily but not limited to chronic constipation, which I had for over two years before defeating it through diet changes. Being healthy during non-touring life is now possible, but when on tour I am still completely at the mercy of health problems relating to my digestion. I bring it up because it will probably be a running theme, and because I believe that a person's physiology and state of health can explain a lot about their perceptions, their personality and their lifestyle.
In my mind, there are five sections to the tour: Midwest/Prairies, West Coast, Southwest/Deep South, Southeast, and Northeast/New England. This week, we did the Midwest/Prairies segment: Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Calgary. From the beginning, I had approached the tour with the assumption that this segment would be the most difficult and least rewarding; the drives are long and boring, the territory is flat and unpopulated, and the shows are smaller. I love Canada, but nobody can deny that it's easier to tour the U.S. Accuse me of a lack of patriotism if you dare, but my credentials are rock solid: I have sung "O Canada" at two shows now, once as our encore.
This segment of the tour has presented five major themes.
Outbursts of Improvised Interpretive Dancing by Audience Members, Often Taking Place Onstage
As far as I can recall, onstage manic interpretive dance had not occurred during any of our performances until this tour. Since the tour began, there have been three notable occurrences of this phenomenon.
1) In Detroit, a man who had been dancing fairly wildly during Moon King's set did the same for ours, and then at the beginning of our song "Turns Turns Turns," he and his girlfriend gestured toward the stage, so I invited them to come up. I left the stage and sang while standing to the side as they moved around strangely onstage. They danced slowly for a little while, then kissed for a little while, spun around, and then fell to the floor. At the end of our set, the same man came onstage again, picked me up, and spun me around and around until we fell down.
2) In Winnipeg, a same-sex male couple was very enthusiastic and loud for the majority of the show. When I started to sing an acapella version of "What That Was," I saw one of them doing this spastic interpretive dance, so right after the song began, I asked him to dance on the stage. I never could have predicted it, but he danced successfully to a song that consisted of an unaccompanied single voice. At one point near the end of the song, it seemed like he was attempting to dance with me while I was singing, but even if I had known how to keep up with him, it probably wouldn't have been a good performance decision. I'm not exactly sure what this word means, but it seems like he could have been doing what I have come to understand as "twerking."
3) In Saskatoon, we had 15 to 20 people onstage with us by the second song. When we played "I Do Sing For You" a few songs later, I dedicated it to this one guy who was standing behind me to my left and singing along to every song whenever I looked at him. I started singing and looking at him, and he started mirroring my movements while singing along and overall seeming to go into a sort of manic state. I felt like I started mirroring his movements as well, to the point where it was unclear who was initiating both our movements or the vocals to the song. It felt like a spontaneous "interpretive dance" that involved a hypnotic mutual mirroring of movement (including speaking the same words, which were the vocals).
This is fairly self-explanatory. Driving long distances and staying in different places every night completely disrupts my body's natural clock and sense of "home," and when a road diet and an excessive amount of time sitting in a car are also factors, it means I'm usually sick to one degree or another while touring. Most people do not seem to experience this while on tour. I'm sure it's some unknown combination of physiology and psychology, but in any case, there is no easy answer (yes, I've tried everything).
In order to avoid nausea, breakfast generally consists of three to four glasses of water, a cup of coffee, and an apple or some other tiny amount of food. Early on in the tour, when I was still healthy, I hubristically ate many large meals, and then I suffered for it as we drove seven to nine hours a day over the next two days. I have now reduced my diet even further to the point where it is manageable, but I am guaranteed to have at least half a dozen other days on the tour where I am very sick. So stay tuned!
Highest-Ever Levels of Audience Members Singing Along to Lyrics
More people have known and sung along to the lyrics in our songs so far on this tour than ever before. This is easily explained: A) we have not done a proper tour since we released our record at the end of May and B) this is the first time we have headlined a tour. Nonetheless, it's been an interesting and mysterious experience.
The day after the Minneapolis show I wrote this about the experience:
"Normally the 'meaning' of the song is located in the words and the gestures of the singer, but when the audience sings along the "meaning" of the song shifts from the subjective experience of the singer to the exchange between singer and audience (or fellow singers). When a large group chants sentences that were originally conceived as subjective and personal, the meaning of singing them is no longer about conveying the meaning that those words represent. Instead the meaning of singing them is to express and appreciation and/or understanding of the song. The main reason I find it to be a strange experience is because in that situation I too am no longer speaking as the subject of the song; I am now also 'celebrating' the song along with the audience. I am effectively forced to stand back and hear my own music rather than be the sole performer of it."
That being said, it can be a very positive experience, and as the tour goes on and I am exposed to it, I am becoming more used to it and embracing it. I no longer feel that my right to the subjectivity in the song is being taken away; increasingly, I feel that there are layers to the meaning that a song can have for a performer. One layer will always be the impressions I was having when I wrote the song. Another layer is my subjective experience performing the song while growing and changing as a band. I can now add another layer to this experience, which is that of sharing the words and emotions of the song with audience members who also know the words and have their own associations with the song.
Exploration of the Newfound Freedoms That Come with Headlining
As a support act, my general attitude was: you fit yourself into the tour. This time around, if we don't make a specific decision about an aspect of the show, the venue staff will make their own decision about it. We can reasonably make choices about most aspects of the show environment, and the more control we take, the more that environment becomes an extension of our music. The less choices we make, the more our music becomes an extension of the atmosphere provided by the venue.
Sometimes these choices are insignificant things, but being able to have the final decision on all the variables within the venue is an enjoyable extension of our agency as a band. For example, in Calgary at the Hifi Club, there were all kinds of different images being projected on the walls around the room of the venue. We turned all of those off completely so the room was very dark, and the stage was lit with only a minimum of white light. In Minneapolis, the lighting controls were on the side of the stage, so we used the stage lighting as a creative tool for our performance. We spent most of the show playing in complete darkness, and then turned them on to full brightness for the last couple of songs. This, combined with having a high percentage of the audience on or by the side of the stage, allowed us to make the environment an extension of our music.
In other cases, taking control in this way was not completely possible. In Edmonton at Brixx, we were unable to alter the aspects of the venue that should have been altered, which were TVs playing in the back of the room, and a certain amount of light that was impossible to turn off. In Winnipeg, the venue also had a baseline amount of house lighting that was not what we would have chosen. In these situations it is possible to achieve that control over the environment by other means. For example, in Edmonton, I performed in my underwear in order to reset the expectations that had been set for the audience by the venue environment.
Discovery of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Mixing Sobriety and Touring
This is the first tour we have done since I have been 100 percent sober. The basic difference is that alcohol provides you with quick energy, increased confidence, and a decreased inhibition, all without any effort. In the past, I would almost never be "drunk" when I performed, but I would usually have some amount of alcohol in my system. That allowed me to not have to consider my emotional state or energy level before I performed, because that would be taken care of for me by alcohol (the same is true of why alcohol is useful in social contexts).
Being sober makes me all too aware of how I'm feeling and how much or little I feel like playing a show that night. This is a slightly frightening proposition, because I never have anything but myself to defeat the negative impulses in my own mind. If I'm afraid, alcohol can't make me less afraid. If I'm tired, alcohol can't make me less tired. I am inescapably "lucid." After being in this state for an extended period of time, I have actually become more aware of the self-deceptions and confusions that go on even in a sober mind. It is perplexing and, at times, disturbing. Sobriety seems a lot more "rational" when it is contrasted with intoxication.
The best part of touring sober is that I feel like I'm actually learning a lot more about performing than I otherwise would. I'm thinking more consciously about what I'm doing and why it does or does not work. I am assessing myself rather than simply not thinking about it. It's more daunting because I'm constantly faced with myself—while performing, while lying in bed, while doing everything—but it makes me more aware of a lot of subtleties, both in our shows and elsewhere.