Editor’s Note: This is the second of three interviews with musicians who are rocking the stage… and sobriety. Read yesterday’s interview with Marisa Rhodes, and check back tomorrow to hear from Nate Lawler, front-man for the band Death on Wednesday.
Wes Geer has been around the block in the music industry, and in the drug and alcohol scene. A founding member of (hed) P.E and the touring guitarist for KoRn from 2010 to 2013, he knew from the first time he picked up that his alcohol and drug use was different than other people’s. He put down the drugs and alcohol in 2004, and today runs Chanl records, plays with The Damages, and works closely with and manages the band Death on Wednesday and the female artist, Divina, respectively. He's also committed to paying it forward in recovery, running the non-profit, “Rock to Recovery,” which brings music into treatment centers.
Renew:When did you know that your partying was different from what's typical in the music scene?
Geer:I knew from an early age that I was way out there from where the other people were. That personified my whole career: I was always taking it a little further than everyone else. I was always a bit more wasted, and a bit more off it. People would be passed out and I’d still be going by myself in the bus. Like they say, it’s a progressive disease, and I just kept getting worse. I went into rehab in 2004.
Renew:How did using affect your creativity?
Geer: I discovered drugs and all of a sudden I started writing like a mo-fo. I thought that stuff was the gift from gods. It helped me, I felt, tap into this creative part. Really, what it was doing was just making me have so much energy that I could spend a lot of time on projects. The creative part was always there, but what I was doing could make me go for 24 hours in a row on the same song.
Renew:Were you able to replace that creative energy when you stopped using?
Geer:In the beginning, it was hard to learn to write that way without being on drugs. When you look at (hed) P.E.’s first record, me and the guys were on meth and the record is just crazy. The second record is undeniably a way better record.
Whatever you do that you think you’re good at on drugs or booze, you’re going to do way better off. It’s just giving yourself a bit to adjust. That’s where I am now, I’m way better at writing songs. I am stronger in general. When you clean up your life, the universe kind of responds by things going better. It’s like saying, ‘See, it is better this way.’ You just need to hang on through the rough patches.
Renew:Why do you think drug and alcohol use is so prevalent in the music industry?
Geer:People just want to get out of themselves. For artists, I think it is two things. I think we want to get really loaded to get creative, and I think that a lot of artists are scared people, too. People like Kurt Cobain (Nirvana’s front-man who committed suicide in 1994) are addicts because of an emotional disorder that makes them want to use all the time.
It’s the partying, it’s the lifestyle, but for some of us, we have a deeper ailment where we can’t live life without drugs and alcohol. And that emotion is why we can make music, but then we get loaded and it all just goes together.
Renew:How do you handle your emotions now that you're sober?
Geer:Life was difficult to live without substances until this other way was shown to me, through the 12 steps, spirituality and knowing myself. I realized that there was a reason that I wanted to be wasted all the time, because I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Now I do, and it’s because I’ve found another way.
I did a timeline in rehab and it was so amazing. Anytime anything traumatic happened, like if I moved, or something happened that I didn’t like, that is when my drug addiction would kick up. I dealt with emotions by getting more and more loaded. I had no clue I was even doing that until rehab.
I’m an emotional guy. I’m overly sensitive and it is very easy for me to get melancholy. Now that I’m sober, the way that I deal with it has changed.
Renew: How do you deal with it?
Geer:I was taught that to have self-esteem or feel good about yourself, you have to do esteem-able acts. I have to get out of my head, where I just think about myself and how much better I could be. I have to start putting my thoughts to other people: Who can I help today? Who can I call and just say, ‘How are you doing?’
I do the 12-step program and I like to live an active, healthy lifestyle. I do yoga and meditation out of pain, almost. My brain wants to take me to all these dark places. If we shut off our brains, we can get connected to God, the universe, or whatever you want to call it. When my brain gets too active, it just pulls me out of that connection into a living hell of worry and fear. Yoga, meditation and prayer are huge for me to stay centered. Just playing the guitar is a form of meditation for me.
Renew:So meditation and healthy living get you through?
Geer: Also, just getting out and having a good time and realizing that you can have a lot of fun without being loaded. It takes a minute to rewrite that in your head, but then you realize that there is a whole life out there. The other night I went to an art show in L.A., went out, drove here and there: It was the best night ever. And I didn’t need to worry about being drunk, or getting a DUI.
Renew:Is the music industry supportive of your recovery?
Geer:My experience is that it’s amazing what happens when you turn over to that other side and you want to get sober. The support there is incredible. We’ve been through a few generations now. We’ve seen shit. People have been dying. If I want my band to have a long career, I’m either going to die, or I’m going to clean myself up. That’s how I got the KoRn gig, because those guys didn’t want a partier. When I look at the bands that are truly successful, they didn’t have out-of-control partying. They made you think they did, because that’s the mystique. But really, bands like Linkin Park used to go start writing songs while we were getting hammered, and look where they are now .
There is such a social consciousness about using now. There are so many kids getting sober because people are learning about it. Rock stars were new, and now we’re at the part where we know the deal. Now it’s time to clean up. We don’t have the ‘ignorance is bliss’ any more.
Renew:What advice do you have for young musicians?
Geer:I know that the bands that are super successful and stick around a long time are the ones who keep that stuff way under control. The people who die and wash out are the people who let sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll rule their careers. If you’re loaded all the time and hung over, if you’re not constantly writing and working on your craft and creating content, there is someone that is going to be someone bigger, better, faster and stronger than you. You better be on top of your game, or someone is going to beat you.
The business is all about networking. You’re going to have a lot more credible, memorable interactions with people when you’re not all wasted. If you’re all hammered and you run into Bono, you’re going to blow your opportunity to make a positive impact. I know it happened to me.