Home Rock music ‘Party bands are the outliers now’: how rock ‘n’ roll broke with alcohol and drugs | The music

‘Party bands are the outliers now’: how rock ‘n’ roll broke with alcohol and drugs | The music


RAndy Blythe, leader of the American metal band lamb of god, remembers the first time he performed live sober. It was October 18, 2010 and the band were opening for Metallica in Brisbane, Australia. “I was thrown into the lion’s den,” he says. “On stage in front of 14,000 people, crying uncontrollably – thank goodness I had long hair, so it covered my face. I got sober on tour, surrounded by gratuitous drugs and alcohol. I felt like if I could do it there, I would be able to maintain it anywhere.

Addiction and addiction can affect anyone. But with its tendency toward hedonism, the music industry can be dangerous for those struggling with alcohol and drugs. We’ve seen many stars succumb to addiction, not to mention those working behind the scenes. My own drinking problem started before I became a music journalist, but I took full advantage of the late nights and binge drinking culture that came with the territory before I finally quit. Now that Covid-19 has forced a pause, changes are afoot to help those in need.

‘I was nervous at first that I couldn’t write’…Randy Blythe of Lamb of God in Birmingham, 2010, the year he quit drinking.
Photography: Steve Thorne/Redferns

Musical assistance, a UK charity specializing in mental health and addiction in the music industry, runs a regular Mental Health First Aid training course. Part of the course focuses on substance abuse. During the pandemic, the Tour production group (TPG), an association of live music touring professionals, asked Music Support if they could develop a course dedicated to this issue.

The result was a four-hour addiction and recovery training workshop designed to help people working in music understand addiction and feel confident in helping others. Since the start of the workshops in 2021, Music Support has trained more than 100 people and the increased interest has led to the number of sessions doubling, from once a month to around fifteen.

“It’s something the industry is demanding now,” says Matt Thomas, co-founder of Music Support and a music industry veteran who has struggled with addiction himself. “If we’re going to continue to be this creative and wonderful industry, we’re going to have to start improving at [supporting mental health]or we will lose more people.

“So much is misunderstood and unsaid about addiction in the music industry, says Norman Beecher, Senior Learning and Development Specialist at Music Support, who leads the workshop. “There’s almost this unwritten rule that drugs and alcohol are a necessity if you’re a musician or in the music industry. It’s a narrative that needs to change.

“I thought you couldn’t be confident without drinking or drugs” … Addi Tryggvason from Solstafirsober since 2013.
Photography: Per Ole Hagen/Redferns

Part of this shift involves challenging clichés, such as the romanticized image of the inebriated musician. “It’s the glorification of rock’n’roll,” says Icelandic metal band frontman Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason Solstafir, who got sober in 2013. “You think you’re supposed to drink a bottle of bourbon a night. I thought you couldn’t have self-confidence, or be in it, without being drunk or on drugs.

“There’s this cultural myth of the artist as an alcoholic, a drug addict,” says Blythe. “I was nervous at first [when sober] that I couldn’t write. It actually kicked off a kind of creative switch in my brain.

Mike Kerr of Royal Blood agrees: “I had a strong belief that being hungover or drunk was great for creativity.” But once sober, he penned the rock duo’s third album, Typhoons, an extension of the band’s sound which continued their run of No. 1 albums in the UK. “People could hear that I was using all my brains,” he says.

Sign up for Sleeve Notes to receive music news, bold reviews and unexpected extras emailed directly to you from The Guardian’s music desk.

The music industry is full of high-risk situations when it comes to addiction and dependency. For many, touring is the hardest part of what they do. “I didn’t start drinking until I started playing music,” says country singer Morgan Wade. “The tour is lonely: you go out and kind of open up to all these people. It’s loud and fun, and then you go back to your bus, you’re excited and alone. It can be difficult.

“It’s been six and a half years now, and I’m still not used to it,” says Nita Strauss, the guitarist in Alice Cooper’s band, to be sober on the road. “On my solo tours, we instituted a ‘no alcohol on the bus’ policy. I don’t mind if my band and crew are drinking. But if I open the fridge and it’s full , It’s very difficult.

While the artist must deal with the ups and downs of attention, it is important to remember those who are not in the spotlight. “There are a lot of people in the teams, in the management companies and the record labels, who died, says Thomas. “You wouldn’t even know that’s what they died of because there’s so much shame and stigma around it. It’s covered.

Duff Battye runs a public relations company, Duff Press, representing bands such as Def Leppard, Kiss and Slash. “I felt like I had to quit the music industry when I got sober,” he says. “My perception was that partying was part of the job. I wasn’t sure people would understand.

“I remember going to an awards show and they came with 10 glasses of champagne and a glass of juice,” says Beecher. “That has to change. It must be 50:50. So people start thinking, OK, I have a choice here.

Beecher says he shaped the workshop to promote the understanding that not everyone who drinks to excess is a drug addict. “We’re not saying people shouldn’t drink,” he says. “What we’re saying is have a balance and not glorify that.”

“We are not anti-alcohol, anti-hedonism, anti-nothing,” adds Thomas. “What we are is pro-education – and choice.”

The music industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. But, for many, one of the positive aspects of the global crisis has been the connections made online.

“The ability to be in a meeting with people from five different parts of the planet is powerful,” says Electric Six keyboardist Christopher Tait. Christopher runs his own organization, Passenger, which supports sober musicians touring the American Midwest. “I think people are connected in a way that they’ve never been.”

“The way I have a good time has changed”… Mike Kerr of Royal Blood, Portsmouth, 2021. Photography: Harry Herd/Redferns

Another online support group created during the pandemic is the Rear lounge, created by Suzi Green, a tour manager who has worked with artists such as PJ Harvey, Placebo and Katie Melua. Green is also part of the TPG and helped launch the Addiction and Recovery Workshop.

“The back lounge of the tour bus is where all the interesting conversations happen,” says Green. “It’s mostly people who work in tours and events, around the world. Sometimes it can get deep and dark, but it always ends in laughs. it’s supposed to be uplifting. Addiction was often discussed and the stigma of being in recovery.

As Thomas says, it’s also crucial to eliminate the stigma of addiction as a “moral failure” within the music industry. “The idea that a recovering person is a disability is probably the biggest misconception. Someone in good health will be the most reliable employee of the lot.

Opening up communication, fighting stigma and making people aware that help is available bodes well for the future. Meanwhile, attitudes are changing. “When I was a kid, I remember hearing about Aerosmith being sober and laughing – ‘What a bunch of suckers!’ says Tryggvason. “No one laughs about it today.”

“I’m glad I got sober in 2010 and not 1990,” Battye says. “When I came to the industry, it was like the Wild West. I was criticized for not going out enough; part of my job was to get reporters drunk at lunchtime. Now I don’t can’t remember the last time someone had a drink at a work lunch.

“I think young people today are more aware that it’s not cool to be a drunk brothel,” says Blythe. “It’s rare that I see a really partying young band in our scene. These are the outliers, whereas before it was rather the norm.

“I used to get applauded for having a drink on stage and I fooled myself into thinking that was part of what people came for,” Kerr explains. “But eventually people come to watch us play and have a good time – and the way I have fun has changed.

“The circle is complete: if I started playing, it’s because I love it. Now I’m back where I started – where people can come and watch me, just lose myself in the music.