"EMBRACING THE EBBS AND FLOWS," A Conversation With Squirrel Flower
What are the things you do to maintain your mental and physical well being while on the road?
Recently I’ve been off caffeine and alcohol while touring. I’ve never been much of a partier anyways while touring – I tour manage myself and feel like there’s always something that needs to be done – but rolling back on the caffeine has been amazing for me. Touring can fry your nervous system – so much stimulation, so much driving, so much loudness, so many people– and letting my body chill out a bit has really helped with getting overstimulated/getting anxiety on the road.
Aside from that, taking walks and exploring alone is something I've been doing more and more. It’s easy to want to just sit on the couch in the green room for the hours before you play, but if you push yourself to just go out and move ur body, get fresh air, explore and daydream without anyone else, without your phone, it can let the magic back in when you’re feeling burnt out.
Aside from that, prioritizing sleep. Nothing is worse than chronic sleep deprivation on tour. So instead of staying up or partying after a show, I loooove to drench myself in lavender essential oil, have some chamomile tea, and go to bed.
What things do you do to care for yourself at home while not touring, to ensure you fill your creative well?
Whenever i’m home (currently home for me is chicago), i care for myself creatively by playing guitar, painting, reading, biking around the city, making art/jamming with my friends, and generally trying to engage with the world in creative and curious ways and leaning into the lack of structure (for work i cater weddings, which is about as irregular as touring). I also go to a ton of shows. But also sometimes you need to give the creative well a break!! For me it’s really all about embracing the ebbs and flows.
Some musicians experience a double bind, where they are touring too much to have a reliable day job yet don’t make enough money solely through their music to get by. Have you been in this position? What did you have to do to make touring feasible for you?
I’ve 100% experienced this challenge. My first solution was to live at my parents’ house for 2 years after leaving iowa. I worked various cafe jobs because I wasn't touring enough for it to be a problem. Got a concussion at work and got some workers comp cash, and toured with that pillow for a bit. Then I moved to Chicago, I got a restaurant job that became unsustainable with the amount I was touring, and then I started catering weddings. Which is perfect– i pick up shifts whenever I'm home, easy as that. I also do bar stuff at events from time to time.
But it is challenging, and I constantly feel financial stress, especially in the dryer months. And craigslist isn’t as rich as it used to be, it’s all fucking lyft and uber eats listings.
Do you feel like there is financial, and emotional sustainability and stability in being a touring musician? Or do you have an alternative plan down the road?
Yes and no. I grew up around full time working musicians and my extended family is full of working musicians and artists. You just find a way to make it work. It might mean you play as a side man for bar gigs 7 nights a week, teach during the day, and do session work on the weekends, or it might mean never settling down and constantly touring and not quite making a living, but I’ve never had or expected financial stability from being an artist. It’s the sacrifice I've always known I've had to make. So yes, because I have seen it attempted all around me, but also no, because I've never expected it to be stable or financially fruitful.
Why do you choose this life? What do you get out of it?
Music, being a musician, traveling to make music with people and for people, is the most fulfilling way for me to live my life. It’s constant inquiry, curiosity, community, a path forward. My path as a musician also is a way of connecting with my ancestors, many of whom were musicians and artists, general alternative lifestyle livers. Music is my way of engaging with the world and moving through it. It’s the contribution I've got. Never been able to stick with anything else.
How can we as a society make the music industry better?
It’s bad. I honestly don’t think it’s very possible to make the music industry better in our current world. I think it’s more important to focus on a smaller scale to try and make our music communities better. I would love to see people start to outwardly care about covid again. If we say we care about each other, we need to show it. Shows and art spaces need to be accessible for immunocompromised people even if it’s not ‘cool’. It’s the bare minimum for creating spaces where art and community can flourish and truly involve not just the privileged.
What’s the most “extra” thing you have brought on the road? Alex’s bass player once brought a body pillow.
I brought a baby blue body pillow on a 2 week long diy tour in 2017. I was 20. I couldn’t legally drive the rental car and i just sat in the back seat hugging my body pillow, sleeping, and texting my crush on my flip phone the whole fuckin time.
How do you deal with writer's block or creative slumps?
U gotta just ride the waves. Flow with it. Creative practice isn’t supposed to be treated like a 9 to 5. It’ll happen, even if it takes weeks, months or years.