"SLOW DOWN AND STARE OUT THE WINDOW," A Conversation with Vivian McConnell (V.V. Lightbody, Valebol, and more)
What things do you do to care for yourself at home while not touring, to ensure you fill your creative well?
The YMCA pool & my kitchen are two of my sacred spaces. Swimming, hearing the sound of my own breathing & the water around me helps me reach a meditative state. The pool helps me release a lot of negative energy, parse through creative ideas, feel strong, and start my day fresh if I need to. When I'm not feeling musically creative or have a bummer day, I can turn it around in the kitchen, especially when I pull something out of nowhere. The chopping, smells, sound... also very meditative and you gotta be nourished. I have to be careful because I'll sometimes spend too much time in the kitchen and not making music... but always working on that balance!
How do you cope with “post tour blues” as we like to call it? Is it even a thing you experience?
After touring for 10+ years... I've found a few things work for me as I usually always get these so called blues.
1. Be incredibly kind and gentle on yourself - if the only thing you do the day after you get home is walk 5 minutes to your coffee shop, sit and stare at the sky/wall, binge watch a show, fine. Stretching and light exercise is good. Tour is a lot of work and incredibly exhausting.
2. Planning a *few* concrete tasks can be helpful - I like to go to the grocery store and run any mindless errands on my own time.
3. Embrace how good it feels to be alone and how much you miss everyone at the same time. Listen to sad songs and go and see a friend if it feels right. I've also gone to shows after I get home from tour because it's the only thing that makes sense. Lean into the feelings!
What does daily life look like for you currently? Do you have a day job - or some sort of side hustle to supplement money for being a musician? What do you do for work?
I dabble in a lot of things to make it work. I'm excited to say that on top of working on V.V. & Valebol things, I've been diving in the production world. This came from a desire to help my talented friends finish up some songs that they had been sitting on for a bit (soft announce as V.V. Lightbody - "Album Doula"). I've been picking up a few grocery store deliveries here and there and also helping my older brother with his NA Aperitif company (Vers'eau, it's really good and very tasty zero proof option!). Thinking about selling my sauerkraut. It doesn't feel super easy right now, but I know it will come back around.
What’s something you have done to make being a musician work for you? Some friends have donated plasma, lived on boats, or signed up for dog walking apps.
My old band played 4 high school proms to fund a few records and tours (one year the girls' water polo team won state and they came running into prom at the end of the night as we were playing Tom Petty "American Girl"). I also worked at a pretty intense customer service call center because they were really flexible about taking months off for touring. A bit soul-sucking, but it worked for me at the time.
What existential thoughts or moments have you had on the road? What insights has it produced for you?
Recently, tour has been feeling really special and I am grateful for every opportunity to be on the road. Being home (especially as a freelance musician) can make me feel stagnant, lost, etc. On tour, I sometimes feel the most whole and like I'm "fulfilling" my "purpose". Having somewhere to be, people depending on you each night, all helps with that. You also often run into people you haven't seen in years, which gives a whole new layer of reflection. Tour can feel like time traveling and time standing still all at once. It forces me to slow down and stare out the window, and I appreciate that aspect of being a musician.
Have you thought about quitting music? What prompted it and what ultimately caused you to want to continue?
Winter of 2022 felt pretty rough for me -- I felt really stagnant and like the grind was just not working for me. Even though I had been (slowly) working on new music, I felt so behind with writing, recording, and touring. I couldn't help but compare myself to my community & peers. I got asked to work on a youth music festival for the non-profit I used to work for, and while that was rewarding on so many levels, at some points I felt like I was failing for returning to a job I had left to become a full-time musician. As cheesy as this sounds, getting the call to play with Harry Styles' band really flipped my world around. It came at a really important time for me and gave me a ton of confidence to keep going. It really did feel like a sign and I felt so capable moving forward, especially because it was a result of 10+ years trying to make it all work.
What’s the weirdest place you have slept on tour?
Upside-down dog mat in Brooklyn. Walk-in closet in Chattanooga. An office of a factory outside of St. Louis with decorative plates. Too many to count!
What are some touring “road hacks” you have developed that help you get through tour?
Going on walks alone when you can, prioritize sleep, find bodies of water to jump in, shower even when you don't feel like it, reflection activities on late night drives (sorry not sorry to everyone who has roses & thorns with me) and keeping a tin of sardines for when you're in a pinch for protein (never open in the van!).
What do you want the audience to take away from your live show?
Not that my midwestern-self has a choice, but being genuine on stage feels like it's working for me. I feel like I've got no time to be mysterious anymore! I want the shows to be experiential and I want active listening. It makes me so happy when audience members quote a specific lyric back to me, or can relate an experience of their own to a song. I just want to connect.
What is your recording process like?
I'm having some growing pains with recording right now! :( Ever since I started recording a lot more at home, I feel a little too deep in the process sometimes. I'm a perfectionist and get decision fatigue. So maybe this is a tender question. I will say that when I'm writing parts or demoing, I go all in. I work really fast and sloppy when I'm trying to capture an idea, but that works for me.