Drugs, alcohol and music have been tied into each other since the dawn of time. I’m sure that neolithic composers were outcast from their families for drinking too much beer and ended up discovering music while out on a bender one night. Everyone can point to their favorite classical composers who also had substance abuse issues, and obviously the rock star lifestyle is one strongly associated with drugs and alcohol. The question then becomes – how should drugs and alcohol be impacting your independent band? Obviously most people like to get a drink at a show, but how much is too much, and how do you balance the hard drinking lifestyle of the road with daily life? It’s the sort of thing that no one really wants to talk about but which will leave you much better off if you are willing to have an open and honest conversation about it. Figuring out your bands relationship with these vices will almost certainly be a boon for your careers.
On a local level the only advice I really have for you is don’t get drunk before you play. Getting high beforehand might be okay – it depends on what kind of stoner you are, but I would recommend against that too. I think that the best way to show your music and your fans respect is to go on stage with only a beer or two in your belly. After all, you spent hundreds I not thousands of hours honing your craft, writing good songs and jamming with your band. Do you really want to throw it all away in the name of chugging a few beers? I didn’t think so. Those things can wait until after the show, and ideally after someone has been paid. You don’t want to go down as the band who party too hard to get through their set. Breaking through in the local scene is always very difficult and you want to make sure that people respect you and see what you are doing before you go out and get completely hammered in front of them.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t get, as Parker from Starkill calls it, “poo-wasted” while on tour, or even at a local show. Still, you need to know how to handle your liquor. I’ve negotiated quite a few thousand dollar deals while not entirely able to stand up straight and with some drunk and horny girl holding me a bit too closely. However you always need to be able to maintain some degree of professionalism. If it gets to the point where you’re slurring, and you didn’t get drunk with the promoter, then it might make sense to take some time, step back and have someone else handle the settlement for that particular evening. Independent music is a hard thing to do and when you get stressed out on tour, you are going to want to drink. Some people are natural born negotiators and can handle checks and large amounts of money while drunk, good for the. If you aren’t one of those people then you are going to want to be a little more careful.
One of the issues that I have had come up time and time again over my life in the industry is getting off the sauce while off tour. When you’re on the road it’s pretty normal to have anywhere between five to ten drinks a day. I mean – that’s how I cope with stress and I don’t judge anyone else who does the same. However when you get home – it’s really easy to stay on that same five to ten drink routine. After all, you’ve been on tour! You’re a rockstar! You can handle your liquor! Right? Not actually. In the words of my friend Devin Holt of Pallbearer, “Try to leave that shit on the road” It’s as good as advice as any that I can give and a reminder of what really matters. It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy – but the road is a totally different animal, and one that needs to be respected. Sure you can do it for a month or two, but personally, when I get off I go sober for a week – and your liver might thank you for doing the same.
As for within your band – everyone has their own level of comfort with drugs and alcohol. I’ve worked with heroin addicts and had a perfectly fine time of it, other times I’ve dealt with people who became useless after smoking a joint every a day for a week. For me it’s always question of how much shit the other person can get done in whatever state they prefer to be in and how easy they are to get along with when they are on their favorite products. Then of course – if you’re traveling from state to state you probably want to be careful with how much stuff you’re carrying. I try to travel with as little weed as possible and literally nothing else. You don’t want to mess with rural cops who are freaked out by dudes with long hair and beards who are five hundred miles from home. That’s not a fun experience and will probably screw up your entire band (And personal life) for years to come. So yeah – before going on tour, have a frank discussion about everyone’s vices – it will save you a lot of stress at the expense of a little embarrassment.
Drugs and alcohol are a tricky thing – something that everyone needs to deal with these days, not just dudes in bands. But just as you probably should get your life together if your drinking stops you from working and is killing your health, you need to do the same for drinking when on the rude. And furthermore, just as you would probably discuss drug habits with potential roommates, you should probably do the same with people you are going to cross the country with. Remember – music is a job, and just as with any job, you need to keep your own personal predilections in check and make sure that your work environment is going to be cohesive with whatever habits you choose to form.