Around the time I started writing these posts I also started writing a collection of personal essays about various periods in my life down through the years, in a way these posts were kind of the bi-product of that process, but also a way of confronting a general anxiety I have about publishing anything. When I envisage myself attempting a drift from music into the written word, I can’t help but think of Russell Crowe’s ‘40000 Grunts’, or a Sauvage-soaked Johnny Depp stepping up to deliver a few licks with the Rolling Stones; is there anything more tragic, more exposing of the attention fixated inflammation of the ego than the artist who, in one foul swoop, fails entirely to grasp the limits of their abilities and wanders in false confidence from one medium to another, only to defile a practice he has practically no understanding of? I’ve always maintained that the job of writing lyrics carries with it a far greater risk of humiliation than that of arranging the music it sits on top of; you can’t make a prick of yourself with a bass line quite like you can with a couplet. Attempting to pen a sort of autobiographical fiction leaves all that in the shadows. The fact that you can pour thousands upon thousands of words out onto the page and without even thinking about it be constantly maintaining the same crummy architecture of protective delusion you started out with is horrifying to say the least, but then that’s exactly why I feel like doing it. Unless what you’re doing fills you with a certain quota of existential dread, it’s probably not worth doing at all.
I just finished a month-long stay in Norway with the group, a third and final ‘harvest’ session before we start recording a fourth LP later in the year. Our former pub landlord moved fjord side around five years ago, and the place has since become a refuge that, quite frankly, I doubt we could survive without. We spent around 1.3% of the time making music, the rest we committed to deep procrastination, an art form unbeknownst to those outside the musical class. It requires an iron clad commitment to absolute laziness that only those exposed to the touring life could possibly understand, a life where all hours of the day bar the one you spend performing and having your arse kissed are rendered unfit for human consumption; a wandering stasis of service stations, murderous hangovers and in-jokes, a veritable assault on any facile notion of personal ‘growth’. We booked ourselves two tiny, socially distanced shows on the same night in Oslo around halfway through our stay; it was a peculiar experience to say the least. It’s been perhaps a decade since I spent this much time away from performing. The minute I set foot in the backstage room, the hieroglyphics of other musical non-entities plastered all over the walls, the stale stench of ten years’ worth of spilt lager heavy in the air, the externalised plumbing and the inevitable assortment of carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes that mock you upon arrival, it all comes flooding back to me. Like airports, back stage rooms are pretty much the same wherever you go in the world, constituting a complete break-down of any kind of historical continuum, time itself dissolves within those walls, boiled down to nothing more than anxiety and barely suppressed rage, the twin emotional pillars that define our tepid era. I find it disgusting, the way certain punters fetishise the backstage room at shows. You bury yourself alive, exhaust your body, mind and spirit for a pittance, sink into psychosis, paranoia, loathing and remorse just to keep your show on the road, and without fail you’re forced into baring a shit eating grin for some gaggle of complete strangers after the gig, too burnt out to tell anybody to fuck off.
Stepping back into the characters portrayed in our songs, especially the ones written nearly ten years ago now, proves difficult. We’re without any of the elaborate electronic equipment required to tackle the latest album, so it’s mainly the original filth on display. It always fills me with a certain amount of terror stepping onstage, whether it’s a crowd of thousands or just 72 confined to their seats like this evening, and it takes me half a set to really loosen up enough to stop thinking about what it is I’m doing. In fact the first set, although concise, lacks any real abandon for me. I feel like a caricature, like I’m haunting a former self. Even the acid ingested prior doesn’t quite lead me to ‘the zone’. I return to the backstage room feeling knackered and confused; it wasn’t really the kick I’d hoped for. The rest of the boys are all bouncing around, the drugs have made my little brother especially giddy, you can tell getting to play again has really fired him up, he’s brimming with excitement. It’s always like this after a show, I usually spend around an hour feeling utterly morose, like I’ve exposed myself in some hideous way and physically obliterated myself for nothing, while everybody else seems sort of energised by the whole thing; it’s embittering. So, I’m sat there panting away covered in sweat and call across to Nathan to pass me a glass of water from over by the fridge. Bright eyed and manic he fills a glass, but just before passing it to me, decides he’d rather fling its contents into my face. Normally this wouldn’t really bother me, he’s obviously buzzed and taking the piss, but during the post-gig comedown it sets me off. I tell him to go fuck himself then storm out into the streets of Oslo: a pure diva manoeuvre. I find myself a bench in a park overlooking the city and suddenly realise how high I am, the sky is throbbing, iridescent, the longer I stare at it the harder it is to maintain the shittiness of my mood. People say you shouldn’t take hallucinogenic drugs if you’re out of sorts, in a bad place in your head, but sometimes they work a charm, they give you a shot of much needed context.
In the second set I find myself finally letting go, basically indulging in an hour of public primal scream therapy. The only problem I encounter is switching between that mode of performance to the more tuneful parts of the set. It’s hard to reign it back in for the ballads after all that violent howling. There are moments here when I feel truly at peace though. That’s the best thing about performance for me; there’s a world of tedium, dysfunction, fear and chaos you have to endure to get there, but right at the centre of the whole thing there are these little pockets of absolute calm, where it all just flows through you, thoughtlessness abounds and you forget yourself. The psychic quagmire of the backstage room inverted completely, for a heartbeat life regains its fluidity and every movement becomes loaded with potential, you find yourself at play once more. I’m glad my life on the road is at an end for the time being, it was killing me, but finding myself locked out of that space on stage feels something akin to losing a limb. The next day i spend sprawled across a pier jutting out into the fjord, basking in Nordic sunshine, a wooded valley marching into the bluest of skies on either side of me, i’m reeling from the previous nights speed intake, swearing to the lord above and to the sax player that i’m never doing that again, no way.