VERA ELLEN + BAND — PHOTO BY ASHLEY BROWN
And now to reconcile the pain. Heal the body. Let the adrenaline disperse. Be silly like a child! Because after all, are we not here for play? Did we not come here to release something and connect to something else? Who could forget how we spent the last 3 years longing to be on stage again… thirsting for our bare feet on the sticky floor, our skin thick in our band mates sweat, our unbridled hearts pounding through our chest. So how do we radically accept the ugliness when it inevitably rears its head? To end the series on a high we ask Aotearoa's finest about the rituals, mindsets and external support that keep them level through the mercurial temperament of playing live.
NIAMH PRITCHARD (BIG SUR)
I play music and I’m also a mental health nurse working in youth mental health services.
Radical acceptance is quite a straightforward process. It was created by Marsha Lenihan, a behavioural psychologist who created these skills for people with emotional dysregulation and personality disorders. The skill itself is applicable to absolutely everyone and is really useful.
People feel negative emotions such as guilt or regret and shame, embarrassment, and they can wrestle with them or not process the event in a healthy way. Often people hide from the emotional event. You can see this in people that perform music, when they mess something up in front of an audience, they get this innate feeling to quickly pretend that it didn't happen or move on to the next song. That emotional response is ingrained in us.
Radical acceptance is about the understanding that in order to change something in the future, you have to accept it in the present. That sounds like a whole bunch of blah blah, spiritual hippie nonsense, but the idea behind it is that you can't actually create change for yourself in the future, until you're genuinely able to accept what has happened in the present.
It's not a sign of weakness to accept a failure that you've had when it happens. It's more of a sign of a weakness to refuse to let yourself admit you've done something. Making a mistake, possibly embarrassing yourself in front of people and getting to the point of being able to say to yourself and others, yeah, I performed badly last week, and yeah, I did embarrass myself, is actually really hard to do.
Opening and closing karakia pre and post show, minimal interactions before performing, not drinking too much and always checking in with the band post show before we disperse into the night. It takes me hours to come out of the space and can be overwhelming when you have loved ones wanting to embrace and praise you. When really I just want to sit alone in silence, in the dark, with a big glass of red, piecing myself back together again. It’s a dreadful, elating, liberating and rewarding experience, so looking after my mental health and the people around me is the single most important thing I can do for the craft.
MARLON WILLIAMS — PHOTO SUPPLIED
It’s mundane, but genuinely everything starts with looking after yourself physically and mentally: sleep, eat well, don’t abuse substances. The realities of tour budgets and schedules are such that this can be a very difficult thing to do, but have honest conversations with yourself and the people around you about what you need and what you’re capable of. Have good people around you. Build trusted relationships carefully and purposefully. There are plenty of unknowns and even well-intentioned people inadvertently can put you in harm's way. The performance environment is tapu: acknowledge that when you step on stage, you’re entering a spooky zone. Stay humble. You have an internal life that must take precedence over anything you put out: you cannot win the world by paying it off!
I think your "worst set" will always be genuinely appreciated by someone. To know someone enjoyed spending their time connecting to my performance lifts me out of any bad headspace. That's been my experience, and I've definitely had some trainwrecks. But some people love trainwrecks apparently. Then if all else fails, I remember one day we will all die and my silly little set doesn't really matter. Grim, but it works. Most of the time.
The more that I feel part of the music communities I’m involved with, the more my own self-criticism falls away. The focus then shifts to contributing to something that aligns with my values and that is ultimately bigger than myself as a singular artist.
I tend to take space for myself before and after shows – I will try to find somewhere to be quiet, alone, and just let my adrenaline settle a little bit for a few minutes. Then I force myself to go out and talk to people, to switch off from what just happened, to say thank you and accept positive feedback instead of batting it away, even if I’m fizzing with disquiet internally. I’ve learned to be a believer in mistakes; to believe in the possible failures of a live performance as being the most thrilling thing about them – in a world that is mediated to a highly controlled extent, the possibility for raw failure is something that should be cherished. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but that’s part of what makes it work, and in the right conditions, just the right amount of discomfort can make for a good performance. That said, no-one should walk offstage feeling so low they want to not be in the world anymore. Sometimes the sense of being deeply connected and that of being deeply disengaged can be confused.
JAZMINE MARY — PHOTO BY
A healthy relationship with myself and my music that allows me to have failings and to still be okay with that, a supportive band that lifts me up but in an honest way. Mindfulness around drugs and alcohol as the desire to escape those feelings are strong, but it's a slippery slope and it will not make the show or the feeling better. What I can control is that relationship and connection to myself, so trying to have that as solid as I can before giving anyone anything helps me be able to swallow the hard shit and let in the magic when it's there.
BEN LEMI (DAWN DIVER)
Thinking about something awesome that your band mate did, giving them mad mad mad props for it, appreciating that brilliance, and manifesting that energy for the future. Reflecting on the knowledge that I've put in the work and that no-one can change that. Remembering that I'm lucky to be alive and that whatever it is, it doesn't matter at all.
Experience is my greatest teacher, and I really try to avoid a lotta socializing before, I really remove myself, I'm a bit like that anyway. I have a few very close loving friends allowed in that space, but not many. I love sitting quietly or practicing my trickiest chords, I get in touch with my boo, he was on the road with me for years, he knows. I eat bloody good food, I drink hot water, I really try to connect with everyone on the team, I can't do it without them. I get out there after the show and talk to people but sometimes I make a getaway, sometimes I'm the last to leave, it depends what's needed. Performing has become a massive joy, it's an act of service to the work and to the crowd who took the time to attend. I don't know what else to say, but it does get pretty serious when it doesn't go well. I don't think anyone should make any rash decisions about themselves over a bad show, but self reflection and figuring out your needs will greatly improve every show and how your mind feels. Pain can be a motivator to change, but I will happily never ever write about my worst show again.
PICKLE DARLING — PHOTO BY NICK ROBINSON
Just remembering that some of my favourite shows I’ve attended have been ones where the band has made a bunch of mistakes or seemed nervous or whatever. The vulnerability is what made it special for me. I’m definitely a lot more chill about shows now, I’m playing solo a lot now and I think the total agency I have in a solo show is very comforting. After my last tour when I felt like quitting, I didn’t play shows for a while and then secretly did a few open mic nights to warm myself up to it again and have it feel fun. I don’t put any pressure on myself now, my only goal is to enjoy myself on stage.
A bad show doesn't have to bear the weight of the world if I remember my inherent worth regardless of how the show goes. Good shows are so important to hold onto, but they are not promised, so enjoying this work and the lessons along the way is vital. Music is not sustainable without the joy feeding the drive to do it as well as the ability to source the many necessary resources that make it possible. A lot of us struggle to separate a good or bad show from our inherent worth. Music is a feedback practice. It’s entirely valid to make it in a vacuum with no intention for others to hear. So the real challenge is finding the fun that’s just for you. The reasons that are yours. In balance with the vulnerabilities of sharing and performing your work. Always a developing and evolving thing. Always imperfect. But it is important to try to get better at every go-round. There's so much care around shows that’s missed thanks to the focus of a show being the audience and the artist ‘proving their worth’ of their time, attention and money.
I’m so glad to have developed relationships with incredible professionals who care about their role as sound engineers, venues owners and culture ambassadors and about a great show regardless of whether they know you or personally like your music. Who don’t approach you steeped in negative presumptions of how good you’ll be or if your show is worth their time but take pride in themselves, the shows and care about music and people regardless. Unless you’re born into a culture of care around post show rituals it’s hella disorienting to create them. Building one requires so much sense of self and trial and error. Living off the conviction that my art matters and I matter and deserve what I need to repair from a show is a frighteningly new thought considering the 16+ years I’ve worked professionally in music. The notion that it’s not frivolous to have show after-care is not traditional. There’s a built in expectation of exploitation when you do what you love. Because that love might feed your soul but not necessarily your stomach.
When you do a show you’ve put your body through something that needs repair. Sleep and then yummy food to nourish. I say brunch coz I always like to sleep in after a show if I can. Doing a bunch of things that have nothing to do with music or performing. Like a walk in nature or just a kitchen mozy. It’s extra special if you get the chance to reflect on the work with the band you’ve worked on it with. The best feeling for me is surrounding myself with loved ones and just being humans together, whatever that looks like, with the freedom to follow the day. It’s nice to turn the aspects you wish were better into ambitions for the future rather than evidence undervaluing the work you put into the show before.
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