The importance of being rested
How good sleep, exercise, and decent nutrition—when you can find it—leads to a healthier and more rewarding tour experience.
Health on tour is a rather new concern for a lot of musicians—after all, the saying isn’t “Sleep, vitamins, and rock ’n’ roll.” But if you want music to be your job, then you’ve gotta show up ready to work.
Sleep is the number-one priority for the Canadian soul singer Erin Costelo. And “if I’m playing gigs, I don’t drink at all, partly because I don’t think I sing as well and I feel like crap the next day,” she says on the line from Nashville. “And wherever I am, I do my best to eat healthy - more green food than brown food. Which was really hard in Memphis and New Orleans [recently]. If I’m able to do those three things, I’m able to get through it. I’m healthier on the road now than I am off, because it’s my job and I want to do it well.”
The R&B singer Tanika Charles, freshly nominated for a Juno for her second album The Gumption, has prioritized nutrition and exercise since her first tour. She also digs rest. “Sleep is essential,” she says from Toronto. “But the late nights meant for me missing the free continental breakfast, if we were staying in a hotel. There came a point on tour when everyone agreed, we haven’t been eating well or taking care of our bodies. So if we’re in an Airbnb, we make dinner. I’m blessed to have two bandmates who love cooking.”
“When you go to a new place, you want to try the food that everyone says is good, which is generally not good for you,” notes Costelo, laughing.
Beyond physical care there are also mental considerations—you’re spending all of your time with the same people and their personalities, in small vehicles and rooms, often driving long distances. It can be hard to carve out space for oneself.
“A big part of being on the road is who you surround yourself with,” says Duane “D.O.” Gibson, a rapper and educator who is on his 17th annual Black Canadian tour, teaching Black history to Ontario schools. He has a tour mate “who’s into crossfit, so he will make it a priority. Seeing him get up and do that inspires me. He’ll rent the car—he’ll have a few drinks but if he’s responsible for it, he won’t overdo it. Hanging out with people like that is important.”
Costelo often tours as a duo with her partner, Clive MacNutt, which generally works—“I have him as support”—but when she plays with a four-piece band, things are different. “I did 120 shows last year and over half of them were with the band. It was a lot of managing people,” she says. “I’d be very anxious by the time we got to the club that night, because I’m dealing with all their questions and concerns too. My next tour is in Europe and I’ve hired a tour manager for that.”
Powerhouse vocalists like Costelo and Charles need to be conscious of their voice health as well, and both are.
“I usually steam, and after a steam I will take this medicinal concoction called Nin Jiom, it’s herbs and honey, it coats your throat. That’s something I’ve been doing for a couple years now,” says Charles. “And there are certain things you eat that can dry you out, for me it’s cheese, sugar, and lemons.” She doesn’t eat at all before a show. “I’ll wait till after the gig.”
“I think it’s about pacing yourself. Going on tour is one of your biggest goals as a musician,” says Gibson. “You get to perform your music every day, people are showing you love, you’re up late. That might be the first couple of nights and you’re doing it for a week, two weeks? It’s easy to lose your voice.”
Gibson, who is 41, adds he realized early on that the constant exhaustion and propulsion of tour life is not for him, so he has a few key events in beautiful places he travels to instead. “I go to conferences around the world. I can go to Amsterdam for a week and I can be in one area. I go to France for a week,” he says. “I just came back from LA, where I was for Grammy week. That’s a big thing for my mental health.”
The key to living well on the road is the same as off—take care of yourself whenever possible— but the erratic schedule and weird pockets of time can make it harder. You have to make room for it.
“I have a goal to hit 10,000 steps every day,” says Costelo. “The majority of my life I spend sitting in a car, sitting on a plane, or sitting at the piano. Some days I would look at my phone and I had 230 steps that day—I’d walk to the car and walk to the club. So sometimes that time between sound check and the gig, I’ll walk around. I try to get out of the hotel and walk.”
Charles works out—“I do it all”—and is “okay to just read a book or watch Netflix or talk on the phone to family and friends.”
“I try to take a walk. I try to drink some tea,” says Gibson. “Even if there’s only a few moments of self-care, I take those moments.”
Written by Tara Thorne
Tara Thorne is a writer, editor, and pop culture critic in Halifax