Yesterday, YACHT‘s Claire Evans wrote 1700 very articulate words for Aeon Magazine, outlining her honest, personal experiences and thoughts on touring and travel as a member of a rock band. The glitz and glamour one would expect from a romanticized tour diary is stripped away, leaving behind a raw, unadulterated perspective provoking thoughts normally uncommon to this topic. Read an excerpt below and head over to Aeon Magazine’s website to read the full piece.
I’ve just returned home after a long tour. I’m in a band, one of those travelling circuses of night salesmen, and we ply our shows all over the world. When we’re offered a gig, we usually say yes, as much for the experience as for the money. One day, presumably, people will stop asking. In the meantime, the long months away make the cities and sensory impressions blurry.
Musicians on the road make up a kind of parallel world, criss-crossing each other all over the planet. We tend to eye one another warily in backstage rooms and festival catering tents, like co-workers meeting somewhere unsavoury. Our lives are familiar, and yet we hurry past, too close to our peers for real comfort. Outside this parallel world, I rarely meet people who travel as much as I do, or in quite the same manner: which is to say always and quickly, seeing very little. Who would choose to?
On this last tour, we passed through dozens of cities in Australia and Asia, cities with exotic names that many people can only dream of, and boring ones, too. Plenty of distant places are just as mundane as home, but still their diversity is flattened out by the brutal efficiency of our schedule. We have a single night to get to know a place, and only sometimes the morning, before we hit the road again. I skip through time zones, caught in an impossible pursuit — to be everywhere at once. It’s strange, but travel teaches me more about time than it does about place.
For instance: you can cover a lot of ground in a month’s time. The sheer density of minutes in a day is staggering. You can wake up in Kuala Lumpur and then rest your head 220 miles away in Singapore. You can begin a day travelling by taxi in Indonesia, with a driver who would take you to the moon for $3, and finish it waiting in the rain for yellow cab at JFK airport, where all the money you have left will hardly get you to Manhattan.
Touring isn’t an extravagance — live shows are how we get by. We’ve been a band for five years, and never, in the wobbly arc of our career, have record sales come even close to covering our food and rent. I can’t speak for everyone, but this seems about par for the course for those in the middling-celebrity strata of the indie music hierarchy. It’s much worse for the basement bands and the upstarts.
When you’re moving quickly, the only things that appear immobile are the ones moving with you
Occasionally, things come along that afford us some wiggle room: maybe a festival paycheck, or a spot on television or in a movie. But mostly it’s the workaday trudge of tour that sustains us. And in the vagaries of a creative life, it’s the tour that feels the most like a job. We clock in, load up, fulfil our contracts, sign paperwork backstage and, hopefully, some records at the merchandise table. We keep receipts, we book flights, we pay taxes. Our nights don’t end with groupies or lines of cocaine. My greatest indulgence is a beer sucked down in front of the TV in a hotel room as I struggle to catch up with the programmes that mark the passage of time in other people’s lives.
When I drift off, I have a recurring dream in which I gaze out the window of a passenger van at a landscape shifting too quickly to discern. All I see is mist, a space eaten by time. When you’re moving quickly, the only things that appear immobile are the ones moving with you: that’s basic relativity. It’s as though you’re standing still, or at best slowly tugging a suitcase, while the world spins around you. I focus with manic intensity on my personal effects: my phone, my jacket, the nylon sleeve that holds my passport.
Bands on tour will often refer to their van as their home. They’re not exaggerating. It’s one way to keep sane as time zones shift around your body, and languages, too. Any constant can become a kind of home, even the music itself. My technique is to buy things everywhere I go, not as souvenirs but because I’m trying to weigh myself down on to the world. My suitcase is an albatross of Scandinavian toothpastes and Japanese notebooks. Perhaps these purchases will help me to remember something other than a blurry view from a car window, even if it is just the memory of the moment I bought them.
It’s hard to look beyond my artificial bubbles of stillness, and even harder to imagine that, as I write this, chugging caffeine at home in California, the ferry still shuttles across Kowloon Bay, crossing wakes with the last remaining junk boats in Hong Kong harbour. Or that those temple macaques in Bali still sell each other out for a chance at some peanuts. That the curries still simmer, money still continues to change hands, and all the worshippers still pray to their gods. How can it all go on even when I’m not there looking at it? This thought has struck me, like a spasm, many times, especially in large cities. I find it paralysing and magnificent in equal measure.