A long account of why I’ve been silent PART ONE
August 7, 2011 § 4 Comments
I’ve been meaning to write this text for a very long time, but always delayed it because I thought that nothing would beat a new record as a way of saying “hello again”. But it turns out that the new album I’m working on is having a prolonged gestation and yet, I did feel like getting in touch again, so here I am…
I don’t really know where to start as I feel there is so much to say. Ideally I would have liked to keep this short, and I could have, by merely saying that shortly after my last album I lost the desire to make music: I would have said the essential – or perhaps not. It takes some subtle evolution to turn somebody’s passion into something they actually don’t want (or feel unable) to do anymore, and I think the whole point of me writing this is to tell you about what went on for things to turn out that way (and may I hasten to add: and back again to me wanting and being able to make music again!). It’s happened to so many artists, and yet I feel it’s a subject that’s rarely talked about – possibly because it’s not a pleasant one, and even feels a little shameful?
IN THE BEGINNING…
But first I need to take you back a little bit to the beginning of my music-making as Colleen. When The Leaf Label released my first album, I was working full-time as an English teacher in a high school in the suburbs of Paris. Although I’d been making music since age 15 (I was 27 when the album was released), I would never have imagined I would one day release a record, let alone make music for a living. Yes, I’d had some vague dreams of being on stage (and I did play live a little bit with my first band in high school), but until the advent of computer-recorded music, I guess it really did look like you had to have some sort of career plan to even have a record out. Words fail to describe the happiness and excitement I felt when I learnt that I was going to have an album out, and be able to travel, play my music, and meet people…
As the first album took off, I went part-time, and shortly after the release of my second album, in 2006, I took the plunge and asked for a sabbatical, which I was granted at the last minute, just in time to dedicate myself to my last album, “Les ondes silencieuses”.
For me, the sabbatical was a test: would I still enjoy being a musician if it became my “job”? I had previously thought that having a day job catering for my financial needs was a perfect way of being completely independent from an artistic point of view, but it had started to make no sense at all, and the frustration of not being able to accept great gig offers had just become too strong.
To this day I still don’t know how I managed to deal with everything when I was still working part-time as a teacher: on top of making my records and playing live, I dealt with organizing my touring schedule and with almost all of the administrative side of things, since I’ve chosen to have no manager or agent. It was exhausting, but I was passionate and knew that my music was understood and appreciated – the greatest energy-giver of all.
And yes, during that sabbatical I did feel that music was something I could dedicate myself to full-time, and that it would be criminal not to do so: you never know for how long you’re going to be inspired, nor how long there is going to be an interest in what you do. So I asked for a renewal of the sabbatical (I was theoretically entitled to a total of 6 years), but it was refused , so I resigned from my teaching job, thereby losing the civil servant status attached to it and the possibility of re-entering the job later on. I still think this was one of the best decisions of my life, and yet, at that very moment, the not-so-exciting side aspects of being a “professional” musician coincided with my feeling of having reached the end of a creative cycle with my last album.
HIGHS AND LOWS
Without going into extremely boring details, let’s say that France has lots of red tape in general, and that for a musician who works mostly abroad this is even worse. With hindsight, and once everything is solved, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of stress generated by this type of problems, as well as the sheer amount of hours wasted on trying to solve them… But on a more or less subconscious level, I think I came to associate those problems with being a musician.
Many other things that a musician has to deal with have nothing to do with music, and I found out that the more successful you are, even at a relatively small level, the more these tend to pile up. Replying to emails became a huge issue, for instance.
I also started to feel very divided about playing live. On the one hand, some of my best experiences in life have been linked to playing live: the strong emotions that come with sharing music with an appreciative audience (and I’ve been so very lucky in that respect), meeting wonderfully welcoming people, getting to travel to beautiful places I’d never have had an opportunity to see otherwise …
On the other hand, travelling by myself, with my huge viola da gamba on my back and my 25-kilo suitcase full of gear, began to feel more and more often like an insane enterprise. I often thought “What ??? For one hour on stage, I have to spend 48 hours or more doing almost nothing but sitting in some kind of transport, sitting in a venue, soundchecking, packing again, not sleeping enough, and doing more sitting on more transport?”
This may read like I’m whining a lot, and sure enough there are many worse fates than being a touring musician, and I consider myself lucky to ever have had that amount of interest in my music and my live playing, but if you’ve ever accompanied a musician on tour or even on the one gig, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It is more of an accumulation thing in the end: if you do 30 gigs in a year and you think that the best way of doing it for your health and for your enthusiasm on stage is to spread them out throughout the year (which was my “tactics”), then you easily end up spending 80 or 90 days away from home, with perhaps 50 plane trips… The first couple of years it felt awesome due to the novelty, but afterwards being away from home so much meant an endless race to catch up with the admin and email stuff that had accumulated during my absence, and once all that is dealt with you’re still supposed to be creating more music (and I’m not even mentioning the other “activities” that make up the rest of a normal person’s life).
There was also the added stress of playing partly on borrowed instruments (unfortunately you never know what kind of instrument you’re going to end up with, and at what moment – sometimes the instrument arrives at the last minute).
Lastly, I’d always had to create new pieces for my live shows, since I was never able to reproduce my albums live, apart from a couple of tracks. Not being able to play my albums never disturbed me as such (I’m still not convinced that the “aim” of a concert is to play songs as they are on a record, or songs that are on records at all), but after completing my last album, when inspiration started to fail me in general, I also began to feel “stuck” with what I could play live.
Finally one morning in Italy, while on a small tour, in front of the ticket machine at a train station where I was supposed to type the name of the town I was departing from, I found myself completely unable to remember where I was… It was one of those moments when suddenly you realize that something has to change.