Photo Credit: Kris Herrmann
For better or worse, a band is a family. In addition to sharing the common bond of music, bandmates are physically around each other more often than not. Sitting knee to knee in a van, laying on the floor of their friend’s house, sharing a bed in a hotel room, searching for snacks at truck stops, or—for a surprisingly small percentage of the time—rocking out on stage together. There isn’t a lot of alone time which can lead to tension. Untreated tension, like damage to any cohesive unit, can lead to a break.
I’ve dealt with more than a handful of bandmate departures in my life and very rarely do they go swimmingly. Like any imperfect human, our brains go to a very negative place to justify the decision. At first, you feel anger, and then you think betrayal, then you start to question yourself. It’s also very rarely at your convenience (why would it be?) with looming recording time, tour or record deal. When it happens, things will get ugly for a bit too. For some reason, you only remember every negative situation involving both you and your now ex-bandmate. You blow it up in your head: They’re the worst person in the whole world! Screw that; they never deserved to be in your band (or you didn’t deserve to have them in yours) to begin with!
Take some time to walk it off and start remembering the good things. Remember when you were still on speaking terms? Things were great. You were friends. You had more than just music in common. You traveled together, hung out together and made plans together. It’s just like a romantic relationship (or in some cases it very literally is). You meet, get excited, get close, get very close, then sometimes you drift apart. The other person doesn’t have to be bad. They just might not fit in your life the way you both once thought. As you get older, it’s important to let time work its magic and hopefully heal enough of the wounds to allow you to reconnect and talk things over, even after potential nasty legal or personal matters.
Now it seems like I’m telling you to wait and things will work themselves out. That’s not the case. It takes a level of emotional maturity and understanding of communication to be able to reach out in the first place. The same way it’s difficult to tell your band you’re quitting, or ask someone to leave. It sucks. It really, really sucks. Sometimes things may not get better, but it’s always worth a shot. So how do you prevent a separation?
Personal time is so damn important. I don’t mean putting in headphones while you’re in a crowded van with your friends, but leaving a venue to go for a walk and collect yourself. Solo nature therapy because not everything has to be in a group. You may not realize it, but having zero alone time can stress you the hell out.
It’s also very possible to vent and decompress without talking shit on your friends. If something or someone annoys you on a daily basis, it’s okay to tell someone else as long as you realize how inconsequential it is to the bigger picture of your band. Is it worth a fight to call out someone who sniffles instead of blows their nose? Do you want to tell a person to drink less every night or conversely, for someone who doesn’t drink to lighten up and have a good time once in a while? You have to pick your battles.
Reading the room is something I’m trying to master. If someone is on a phone call and things don’t seem like they’re in a good place, I try to give them space to work it out. However, it’s important to ask people how they’re doing. Not just in a generic passerby way, but actually as a friend. There are times I would be annoyed by dumb, little things then when talking to the person I’d have a significant moment of clarity once I learn about their situation. They may be acting a certain way because of something going on in their life. It may be a cry for help, but they’re too afraid to open up to a group of people at a time. Maybe they’re eager and excited to tour, and you’re just their jaded, soulless elder? People can feel trapped, and it leads to strange behavior. Keep tabs on your friends, loved ones and even strangers if it’s not a weird scenario. Sometimes people need someone to listen, and it could change their lives.
I’ve been playing music with other people since I was nine years old and touring in close proximity with them since I was seventeen. All of my lessons were based on trial and error and never from a magical scroll handed down to me from the gods of music. You’ll experience a lot of what I’ve explained above, but at least try to get out of your head for a second to not burn a bridge or end a friendship. I’ve done that enough in my life, and I’m doing my best to prevent it in the future. Sometimes things don’t work out, but if you want them to, you’ll fight for it.