Sometimes people come up to me after a show and say, ”You look so happy up there on stage. Your joy is really contagious! What’s going on in your mind when you’re performing? What are you thinking about?”
I am usually quite the brooder. I think a lot about stuff, and some would say I think too much. But not when I am on stage. I don’t think I am ever more ’in the moment’ than I am while playing music in front of an audience, except maybe while fucking.
Yes, obviously I do think about stuff when I play, but it’s like the world outside the venue disappears, and none of the everyday issues matter. My entire focus is on the performance, and the music. The most important advice I can give anyone who wants to play music live is: pay attention! Really be there. I listen to what my bandmates are doing, and I watch their body language for cues and clues as to what they might be doing next. When you’ve played with the same people for a long time this process is almost a telepathic thing, you are not really consciously thinking about it, just reacting.
If The Coffa plays something cool on the bass (which he is very prone to do) I like to be supportive, play something that enhances what he’s playing, or complements it. And it’s the same way with all the guys in the band. You pay attention, you listen, you respond. I don’t think too far ahead, my mind is rarely on the next song, unless there is a segue of some sort that needs to be focused on. If my mind starts to wander too far down the setlist, I find it distracting, and I don’t enjoy it as much.
Sometimes even a ”mistake” can lead to a very wonderful musical interaction, and it’s not unusual that songs are altered because of some unique event that took place, everyone thinking ”That was really fucking sweet!” and so we incorporate it into the arrangement. Serendipities like that are what makes live performance so exciting and joyous.
I am also aware of the audience, and the way they respond to the show. Often when you are on stage with bright lights in your eyes, it can be difficult to pick out faces in the crowd, but you can usually see a few, and I try to pay attention to them, and if possible make eye contact every once in a while. To me, a live performance is about communicating with the audience in every possible way, and I really dislike it when artists act as if the people in front of them don’t exist. I want the people who paid for a ticket to the show to go home thinking they really experienced something cool on a personal level, and acknowledging their presence by looking them in the eye is a very effective way of achieving that.
Also, I try to be transparent in my reactions to what’s going on. A lot of time funny shit happens on stage that the audience might not even be aware of, but I’ll laugh out loud, and they will understand that something happened, even if they are not sure exactly what, and they will sense that they just witnessed something spontaneous and special. It’s little details like that that make their experience special and your performance memorable.
So, in essence, the question ”What are you thinking about onstage?” can be answered with: ”Nothing. And everything.”
Henry Rollins – gig mishaps
Rush – The Big Money (live)
Frank Zappa – Tinsel Town Rebellion
The Band – Ophelia
One thought on “What’s on your mind?”
It’s interesting to see how performers interact when they play live. We followed La Banda when we lived in Spain, and got to know the band members pretty well. While they had their standard songs, they would vary them quite a bit from gig to gig. That’s what made following them so much fun — we got to hear familiar songs, but always with a little different bent.
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