Nerves and all you can eat Social Delicacies: Chunder Buffet talk anxiety and new EP

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Nerves. We’ve all got em. Even if we don’t want em.

And public speaking. We’ve all had to do it at some point in our life.

But stage fright? That is something that most of us, if not all of us, suffer from. There are countless websites and self-help blogs that give their own suggestions on how to conquer fears. But telling someone to picture the audience naked is probably a lot more traumatizing, I am sure.

“I’m gonna be way more scared if everyone is naked and I’m gonna wonder how I got to a nudist convention.”

Meet Cassandra Lavoie, the bass playing brains (and beauty) behind Saskatoon’s grungy weirdo band Chunder Buffet. The group are releasing their debut EP Social Delicacies this Wednesday April 27 at Amigos. The album is rumoured to be named after a verbal mess up that was coined while discussing what it is called when people fail to abide to social etiquettes and grace.

So what to tell you about Chunder Buffet? Chunder are great. Chunder are super great to see live. They are entertaining and borderline sexy with swirling immaculate guitar riffs by Dave Kitter and intricate precision drumming by Aron Zacharias. But, the best part about watching Chunder perform live is that you would never have guessed that there existed crazy anxiety hurdles that Lavoie had to conquer before stepping foot onto a stage. (That, and the bass lines slay)

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Nerves, we all got em. Some of us got em worse than others.

We all get nervous, we all have to work up the courage to cross the line between standing in the audience and putting ourselves up on the stage to face that audience. Some of us can make that choice with such admirable ease but for a lot of us it is one of the hardest things we ever have to endure.

I could go into the tale about the first time I ever performed live and how I made it through 2.5 songs before I threw my guitar across the stage and ran off into the night. I could go into the tale about the legend that surpassed the actual facts of the events that took place that night. I could explain how I didn’t get back onto a stage for seven years or how the drummer had to pack up my gear for me because I never did return. I could, but I’m sure you get it and maybe sympathize.

I met Cassandra about two years ago through a mutual friend. And after several social interactions of us kinda just sauntering around each other at shows, I quickly recognized her to be a fellow anxious ally. However, it was only after countless bottles of wine that I really got to know Cassandra for who she is. She is highly functioning, organized and a proficient go-getter that doesn’t let a damn thing (besides maybe anxiety) stand in her way. I’ve seen her work a full-time adult job as a kickass scientist while subsequently studying for a genetics final, all the while still taking the time to talk about her upcoming album release.

I could write a quick article plug about how or why you should go to the album release show, but you’ve probably already decided already whether or not you are going by clicking interested. And I’ve been wanting to write more articles that mean things. Articles that people will talk about long after the album has been released and long after the buzz around a show has settled. I want to talk about how stoked I was when Cassandra told me she had bought a bass and was planning on starting a band and overcoming one of her biggest fears.

I also want to talk about how one tenth of the Canadian population is on some form of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication and about how Canada is considered the third most prescribed country for SSRI medications. I want to talk about how we all are probably secretly struggling with something that we aren’t initially forthcoming with, or talking about.

“Being anxious kept me from playing music,” Cassandra chuckles nervously. “If I wouldn’t have had people push and prod me along the way, I wouldn’t have bought a bass and started a band in the first place. The whole process was terrifying because I currently play with people who are really, really talented and experienced. Every time I write a new song, it’s intimidating to put it on the table just to see if they think it is any good.”

I want her to feel comfortable talking to me about these things, so I share with her my story about running off of stage into the night and my own anxieties.

“I don’t even know how we ended up even playing a show,” says Cassandra. “We got asked and agreed and then it was ‘okay, well now I have to do this thing I said I was going to do’. I kept telling myself ‘You can’t back out’. There was a lot of mental preparation and sleepless nights. Nightmares even. It never really seemed like it was ever going to really happen. Before we even started playing I had to practice playing the songs silently before plugging in my bass because I was so afraid I’d forget the songs. What if I just stop? What if my hands just stop moving? What if I forget the lyrics? None of these things are real but that is anxiety, these spiraling loops of catastrophic thinking.”

It’s not easy putting yourself up there, especially if you have any form of social phobia. Avoidance only makes the nerves become more permanent and deep-seated.

And we all remember our first show. That giant lump in our throats, it’s collective.

“The first show I ever played I was absolutely terrified,” she says. “Leading up to it was awful, I didn’t know what I was going to do so I wore a wig just so that I felt safe and comfortable.”

I remember the wig, but at the time it didn’t really occur to me that there was any reasoning behind it. It was brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

“People showed up to the venue and didn’t recognize me right away,” she continues. “Which I was okay with in case it was a total train wreck. It ended up being fine and it was unnecessary but it was really intimidating. I’ve done plays and public speaking, I’ve done presentations but to play music in front of people is a totally different frightening.”

Most people start out playing music in front of an audience at a young age thanks to the wonder of school band. Those awkward moments of hitting the wrong note or forgetting to tune your instrument beforehand come early enough that we might forget about them. Who hasn’t had that awful moment where you hit the kid in front of you with your trombone slide. Some of us get those mishaps out of the way so we can move onto playing it cool in our first prepubescent attempt at a garage band.

“I didn’t play in band. Band was for rich kids.”

We both chuckle. It’s true.

“I had an old guitar of my dad’s and lame high school boyfriends would always offer to teach me how to play. But then they would try and they’d say discouraging things like ‘why aren’t you figuring this out?’ or ‘you’re dumb’. So I would think ‘I guess I’ll never figure out how to play music and I’m just too stupid to do this’. My confidence was pretty beat down and I never actually thought about picking up an instrument again just because there was so much discomfort associated with my initial attempts. Afterwards I would just tell myself ‘You are good at reading books not playing instruments. You are just not musically intelligent.”

Like most new musicians, Cassandra has a great air of mystery and unclothed innocence that comes with the songwriting style. You can’t fake that kind of creativity or try recreate that kind of natural couth. It is genius and genuine and, of course, she down plays it and sells herself short.

“I really enjoy performing but I’m not a very strong musician. So I try and make the show as entertaining to watch as I can and be as enthusiastic and involved in that moment as I can be. Different people have different ways of performing, and I feel I should probably make it worth your time to come and see what is going on.”

Chunder Buffet’s show is nothing short of great and it’s hard to pick out that Cassandra is potentially having a hard time with anxiety. Stage fright is real, and a real term that gets thrown around. It carries such negative sounding connotations but I assure you it is very much real and something that over half of the population suffers from.

“I feel the term ‘stage fright’ sounds very juvenile. It sounds like something you shouldn’t have as an adult which certainly isn’t true, because I think it honestly gets worse the older you get”

No one really talks about it, no one really talks about our fears and our phobias and yet we still tell children that they need to get up in front of everyone to give presentations to get over their ‘stage fright.’

“Performing helped to make it more manageable just because I didn’t have a panic attack on stage. I know that I am perfectly capable of it now. Forcing myself to be comfortable has definitely made my anxiety less severe.”

It gets easier, it really does. The more you do it and the more you face your avoidance head on, the more self-help blogs make less and less sense. You have to find what works for you. Maybe it is naked people, which is entirely up to you and your perverted eyes. But seriously, just go and see Chunder play live, okay? And if you are ever having any doubts about being able to pull off something like being in a band or being a slam poet or just putting yourself out there, don’t worry about it. You’ll do great.

“I can get anxious about something simple like being at the grocery store, but now I can tell myself ‘you played a show at a venue in front of people, you’ve got this, you’ll be fine, you can make it to the check out and to your car and home, it’ll be okay’. It would be absolutely silly to think you can’t do it because of anxiety or whatever other personal affliction or discomfort you have.”

– Massive thanks to Ominocity contributor Victoria Allbright for this post