Earlier this year, As Cities Burn elated fans with the announcement of a 10-year tour for their seminal debut album, Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest. It was supposed to be a celebration; a commemoration of a record that matured like a fine wine over the course of the past decade.
And it was. But for drummer Aaron Lunsford, there are a few details he would rather not reminisce.
During the band’s show at the House Of Blues in San Diego, California, Lunsford experienced an extreme anxiety attack during the middle of their headlining set. For some musicians, this can be something that never crosses their mind, and for others, it’s their worst nightmare.
“I had full intentions to write more frequently about this tour. We all know that the drummer's “tour diary” is the most interesting thing about any given tour. This has been true since the days of Xanga (that's an old blog website in case you like, weren't alive in 2003). For years bands have been annoying you with tour journals and studio updates and a multitude of other uninteresting and mundane pieces of “content” or “media”. It's pretty much always awful. Not funny. Painfully awkward at times. I suppose I am mostly referring to videos, but written content can be rough too, seeing as how band dudes can be dumb and the skill of writing is something that escapes them. Totally ok if you include me in this…I have been told my blogs and book excerpts sound like a “12 year old wrote them”.
You have been saved from the run of the mill tour journal bullshit…at my own expense. To be blunt, I have been experiencing somewhat of a mental breakdown on this tour. In San Diego, on August 5th, I had two panic attacks in the middle of our set. I don't really know how to go about writing about anxiety and how it has affected my life. It seems like everyone has anxiety or some kind of disorder related to anxiety. I can tell you that when I was 10 years old, I had frequent panic attacks that I had been bitten by a black widow spider and was in fact dying. I didn't know what anxiety was then. I didn't even realize until a few years ago that the arachnophobia I was experiencing had anything to do with anxiety. I dealt with that throughout my teen years and then it just went away.
Skip ahead about 15 years and I find myself in a very bad spot that has been building up for awhile I presume. My bouts with panic and anxiety over the past few years have increased exponentially. It's so stupid, but at least part of it has to do with fear of vomiting. I think I got food poisoning or flu a few years ago and now, multiple times a week, I am worried that I am sick and will at any moment vomit all over myself.
A lot of self diagnosis here, but the pressures of this tour have gotten to me. I've basically been As Cities Burn's manager for all this, and it's a lot of fucking work to put even a short tour like this together. Especially when you aren't a functioning band, with certain infrastructures already in place. We were starting from scratch. There are relationships that can be strained at times in this band. Not for a lack of love or anything. On these matters I don't feel comfortable going into detail since they involve more than just myself…let's just say that things between band members have been difficult at times leading up to this tour.
This all came to a head in San Diego last week. My wife and two kids were at the show. We had spent the day at the beach with some of the dudes. I was exhausted. Mentally and emotionally. My daughter stood on the drum riser right next to me while I was playing. I didn't realize at the time how fucking intense that was. Two worlds colliding type of thing. I know people on this tour that do not even speak to their family when they are on the road. It's really difficult being away from your kids, and for some it's just better to almost pretend they don't exist so you can go out and effectively do your job. Effectively doing my job is precisely the opposite of what happened next.
After we played “84' Sheepdog”, about to go into the “Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest” portion of our set, I ran off stage and to the bathroom. I thought I was sick to my stomach. And then the panic started to set in. At first it was like, “Hey shit happens” (no pun intended). Figured I would just get back out there with ease. But as I was off stage I started to realize what was happening. My chest started to feel heavy and my mind was taking over. I tried to walk back towards the stage, through the hallways of San Diego House of Blues. I stopped just before the stage and veered into a dressing room, hanging my head over a trash can. Matt Carter from Emery came in to try and talk to me. He prayed for me and calmed me down. Not enough though I guess.
When I walked back out the guys called me to the front of the stage. They were just bantering and talking with the crowd. They didn't understand or know what was actually happening. They thought it was just a bathroom emergency. I awkwardly informed the crowd that I was in the middle of a panic attack. Cody looked at me with great concern and surprise. What the fuck do you do in that moment? On stage in front of everyone, your drummer is having a mental breakdown and you just gotta keep going?
I was able to make it through 5 more songs before I jumped off the drum riser again to vomit. Except I didn't vomit. I was just dry heaving. I wasn't fucking sick. Not physically anyways. As I crouch on my hands and knees just behind our back line gear and video screens, our tour manager is trying to convince me to go back and keep playing. My mind is too far gone at this point though. I leave and don't come back. Locking myself in a bathroom for the duration of the show.
I was certain in that moment, that I would never play a show again. Things got worse in the bathroom as I heard the band try to figure out what the fuck to do. They had a kid come up on stage from the crowd to play a song we had already played. Cody and Toby (from Emery) did a Tom Petty Cover. I think Cody played a few more songs solo. I could hear people talking out in the backstage hall. “What's wrong with Aaron?? Is he just sick??”. Eventually our TM learned “Bloodsucker Pt. 2” in the dressing room and they ended the show playing the song IN THE CROWD.
How embarrassing. To be clear, this has never happened during a show to me. I couldn't believe that this was now my reality. Abandoning my band in the middle of a show that was our biggest paying show of the whole tour. The money, family, the tour, relationships, and 32 years of being fucked up in the head and not doing anything about it all came crashing down on me at once. This was the bottom.
After a long talk with Matt and Toby from Emery, I was certain that I would not be playing another show on this tour. Our tour manager booked me and the wife a hotel in downtown San Diego and our friend CoCo took the kids for the night. I didn't say goodbye to anyone in the band. I felt broken, embarrassed and ashamed. No chance I was coming back.
I've seen some people on the internet complain about how the San Diego show “wasn't what they paid for”. You can be pissed or feel like you got “screwed” if you want. I would like to say I'm sorry. Obviously didn't want to ruin a show. But at least you got to see something real. It wasn't a fucking show, I can promise you that. If anything, it was unique. I bet you never forget it. If you still maintain your sense of entitlement and frustration because the show didn't turn out like you hoped? Eh, fuck you. Come find me and I'll personally give you your money back.
The next day, I went back. I played another show. An amazing show in Anaheim at House of Blues. Everyone on the tour stood side stage, almost like waiting for a train wreck to happen. Our TM and Dave from Emery had learned a bunch of As Cities Burn songs that day, so that if it happened again they could jump in. Everything was fine though. I played the whole show without incident.
It's so scary to know that you can be totally fucked one day and then totally ok the next. Anaheim, I was great. The next night in Sacramento, it almost happened again and when we got to San Francisco the next morning, I tried to leave tour…again. I was talked out of it by our TM (his name is Nick). I told him that if he keeps talking me into staying, and I have another freak out, that I will fucking hate him. A risk he was willing to take I guess.
This tour is almost over. 3 more shows. Honesty only permits me to say that I am so happy for it to be ending. Honesty only permits me to say that a large part of me wishes we had never done this tour. All the good things about tour, have been good. Free beer. Good food. Nice bus. Good shows. But the toll it has taken on me mentally leaves me in state of regret. Maybe I pushed to hard. Maybe I should have just let things be with As Cities Burn. I hate feeling like a crazy person. I hate the idea of anyone feeling sorry for me.
I'm going to be really blunt here. Just because you read this, doesn't give you a pass to bring it up to me in person if you meet me at a show. I'm writing as a way to relieve pressure here. Maybe a lot of you have had similar experiences and it helps to know that other people deal with the same shit. But I don't want to talk to you about it in person. We don't know each other. At any given moment, talking about that night in San Diego makes me feel like it's happening all over again. A handshake and a “thanks for writing” will suffice. No desire to relive this every time I talk to someone outside of a show, or sign a book. Leave a comment. Write an email. Let's just keep this shit on the internet for now.
Oh hey! Go pre order my book please. $$$ from book sales cures my anxiety. Makes me feel validated. Validate me. LIKE ME. aaronlunsford.com/backstage”