If you combined every date Andrew Bird has ever played, the indie singer/songwriter could have easily spent several entire years living on the road. The concert sensei took a quick break from — you guessed it — his run of shows supporting new album Inside Problems, to share the extremely practical ways he beats the grueling and not-so-glamorous aspects of touring, passion intact.
"My favorite part of the whole music business is to play live," he says. "It's an extraordinary way to make a living, you just have to do a few things to keep sane."
1. Pace Yourself
Touring is, "more demanding on your body and mind than you think it might be. It might seem like there's a lot of downtime and hanging out, but it's a job. You can burn out really quick if you party too hard, basically. Try to get as much sleep as possible."
"I still do up to five shows in a row without a day off... There's wear and tear on your voice, on your fingers from playing," he says. "It's like you're an athlete and you're depleting [your] adrenaline glands." But, it's important not to "beat yourself up about it. It's just physiology," he adds. "I do everything I can to get rest and exercise."
2. Find Your Rituals
"It's good to have routines. Personally, I like to get dressed [specifically] for the show. That's a ceremonial kind of moment where I change out of my street clothes into the show clothes," he says, explaining that it helps him get in the right mindset for the show rather than it being primarily "about how you're presenting yourself or your image."
3. Band Together
"I went through several conversion vans in my twenties, booked my own regional tours and clubs. It's kind of like hosting a party that never seems to end, and not always in the best way," Bird says. "If you have a camaraderie with your band, it helps a lot to feel like you're not in charge of everything, wearing all the hats, because that can get really tough."
4. Get Help... or Else
"When I was transitioning from that conversion van booking [my] own tours to suddenly people starting to really come and buy tickets, I was slow to accept help so I ran myself into the ground still trying to have this DIY approach and cut corners and save money... That couple of years that it took me to catch up, I almost ended up in the hospital trying to do it all."
5. Clock What You Consume
"You don't think of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle as being that of an athlete, but if you're going to make it through a two or three month tour, everything that you put into your body --- sugar, caffeine, and alcohol or whatever --- you've got to think about the timing of it."
"It's hard to think about that when you're 19 or 20, it's just not your inclination," he says, but being careful of when you eat or drink something pays off at any age. "You don't want to drink like three cups of coffee at 9am when you're going to be onstage at 10pm because you're going to crash several times before the show.... There's some real science behind it."
6. Get Out
"I bring a bike on tour," Bird explains, but not just for exercise. It's also, "so you're not just always looking a foot or two in front of you, which can happen on tour with tunnel vision. When you're out for several months on end doing the same thing every day, it can have a psychological effect that's not good. Things that give you perspective, I really recommend, like getting out on a bike and taking long walks."
If it's, "just one greenroom after another" beware because you'll feel like, "you're living in a cave."