Shannon Marks is undoubtedly one of the most wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, not just through working in the world of music but in general. Having worked on numerous tours with the likes of bands such as Psycroptic, Cattle Decapitation, Revocation, Aborted and more, she has seen and experienced so much of the music industry in a short amount of time. With touring on hold as we wait to watch the world turn, she currently lives on a beautiful, quiet island in Canada enjoying a simple life. It was great to be able to have a chat with her after quite some time as we talked about life on tours, following your passion, the bliss of solitude and more.
Touring is a big part of who Shannon Marks is and what she does. It is also how I met her and we have the Tasmaniacs Psycroptic to thank for that. Having always wanted to work in the industry, when she finally did get the opportunity, there was no looking back.
“I’ve always wanted to tour. It was a dream job that I thought I would never have. I’ve always been really passionate about music; I’ve played music but never in a band. So touring was just one way to follow that passion. I would never have thought I’d get that chance. So when it happened, I was so excited, even though I had never toured before. I remember Todd Stern (Psycroptic Bass player) even asking me if I was sure because it wasn’t just a huge responsibility for me but also him putting his ass on the line, considering we had never met before. “
“At first, I said yes, I was super stoked. As it got closer, I got really nervous. It then hit me! I’ve driven a truck but never an RV before. I’ve never toured. I’ve never driven across America for a month straight. When Todd Stern, Dave Haley and Peppo picked me up from a train station in New York and we went to get the RV together, I hadn’t even met these guys before, that was the first time. I only knew their bands. It was pretty intimidating at first but once we got together, a few days in, it just felt right. Everyone was so nice and we all got along really well. I was so happy because I never had an inkling in my mind that I was going to be able to do this.”
It can be tremendously intimidating, doing something for the first time yet as the saying goes, there is indeed a first time for everything and Shannon’s first tour couldn’t have been a more incredible experience to begin her journey into becoming a music industry professional.
“My first tour ever was the ‘Devastation on the Nation’ Tour in 2018 with Aborted, Psycroptic and Ingested. It was kind of crazy and amazing; I met so many people on that tour and I just kept getting introduced to new people. It was exactly how I thought a massive tour like that was going to be. It’s just that feeling of we’re all doing the same thing, we’re all going to the same place. We’re all living in the same type of way; I have to say though on that first tour we were living like kings! I got to live in an RV which was awesome. I pretty much really lucked out, I had a toilet, my own bedroom, and wasn't squished into a little van.”
Touring had opened up a portal to a different world and it was one that she definitely wanted to be in. As with everything in the world, it does tend to have it’s dark side but when you are surrounded by the right people and attitudes, that darkness fades. For Shannon Marks, she had a lot of support from those who believed in her. And so, she kept going!
“The Psycroptic guys are so encouraging, motivating and just always want you to do well. They want you to succeed. After the first couple of weeks, I knew for a fact I couldn’t go back to my nine to five job and I mentioned that to the guys. I still remember Dave saying, ‘Well, we’ll do whatever we gotta do to keep you on the road’. Then it just snowballed from there; with their help, with the reputation the guys had, knowing all these other people and meeting people through them, it was the most amazing thing and I’m super grateful to them.”
The career change and shift in her life took place after her first few tours; when she decided to leave the security of a regular job for a dream she had always had. While it was quite a big decision to make, Shannon took the risk, leaving behind the comfort of what was known to step into more unknown territory. She followed her heart to the Southern Hemisphere to honour her dream of building up a career in music and touring.
“After the first couple of tours, I decided to quit the regular ass job I had had for about 12 years, It was for a cellphone company and I was going to move up eventually but then touring happened and I was like ‘I’d be a dummy if I went back to this job that I hate’. I’d wake up, be good at my job, make decent money and have good work benefits but I was hating it. I had the idea that if I quit my job, stayed in Toronto and tried to make touring happen it was going to be really challenging even though I did run a not-for-profit group for progressive metal musicians and local artists. I knew I would struggle and that Australia would have more opportunities for me. That’s when I decided to move, figure things out as I go because I just wanted to find my place in this industry. I had a chat with Dave Haley and he just said, ‘If you’re willing to work, we’ll find something for you.’ So I moved.”
As it does, things started falling into place and Shannon found herself with a number of opportunities presented to her that allowed her to view different sides of the industry while simultaneously making long-lasting friendships.
“I didn’t know where I was going to live, what I was going to do but I knew I’d figure it out. The Psycroptic guys helped me find a place to live, Dave introduced me to one of his drum students Andrea who I moved in with and who is also one of my closest friends now. I got a job at Max Watts, then at the Bendi and there was just so much work, things were working out. Having the opportunity to work in different parts of the industry helped me understand what I liked, what I was good at and what I would like to continue doing. But I also just met so many people that were just in the same group, same scene and I became good friends with so many people. Australia really started to feel like home.”
As we were talking about her experiences, the sense of joy in her voice came through over the phone regardless of her being oceans away. On telling her this, she then had something to share which I think is of absolute importance and something every individual must ponder on.
“One of the biggest changes that I saw in myself was how happy I was. You’ve just gotta do what makes you happy. Being in a career that I hated for so long, I forgot what that felt like. It was just a job. But going to Australia, leaving that job and doing something I love doing, something you’re excited to wake up for, I realised that’s the kind of life I wanted. I wanted to be happy and touring makes me happy. Even if you’re not having the best day and shit goes wrong, or you’re working with someone who you just don’t get along with, which I have now experienced also, it’s all a big learning experience. It's easy now to not sweat the small stuff. Just fucking keep going. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learnt about myself these last couple of years; I know what's important to me, I know what I’m capable of and just do what makes you happy.”
However, as has been the case for many of us, life changed post pandemic and change was on the cards once again for her. Change is the only constant is it not?
“It was really hard to leave Australia. I was planning on leaving around April last year because I had a few tours booked in the US. I was going to do those tours and figure out what life looked like after that. So I was travelling around Tasmania when things started to change. No one really knew what was going on; all we knew was that there was no toilet paper. I remember being on the plane and this lady had a six pack of toilet paper as her carry-on! But around this time was when I had to consider going back home because I just didn’t know what was happening.”
“I had my cat to think about, I wasn’t sure if my health insurance would cover me if I did catch the virus and I was stuck in Australia. There were just so many factors to think about. Then it came down to me leaving and I just had to be ok with it. It freaked me out but the smartest thing was to come home. And to be honest, I’m really glad that I did because I got Hooligan back, I left my apartment, and got the RV and now, here I am, on this island.”
Shannon has been living quite off-grid for the most part of the last year and a half in her van along with her cat Hooligan on a quiet, beautiful island, where she spends her time hiking, playing music, working and just doing the things she loves; a pleasant and welcome change from the rush that an urban life brings.
“I’m so grateful to be where I am on this small island. It’s so pretty, the mountains are absolutely beautiful and I’m just happy that I’m not living in a small apartment anymore. I’m able to go outside or for a hike whenever I want. That’s really nice. For right now, it really works; it’s just me in this space with Hooligan and we love it.It does have its own challenges; you honestly don’t see a lot of people so it’s hard sometimes to stay positive. I’m pretty lucky that I have an RV, it has it’s pros and cons of course but I really do like it now because I don’t know where I’m going to live or what I’m doing in the near future. So it’s really easy to feel like you don’t have the stress that comes with living in an apartment.”
Truly amazed at her courage to not only give up the comforts and security that come with living in a traditional setting and moving to a quiet island with her cat, I wondered aloud as to whether this was a difficult feat for both of them.
“When I got the RV, the plan was to travel around and see different places, meet all my friends but at the moment, that isn’t possible. Hooligan does need to go outside and he can’t be in so many different places because I don’t want to lose him if he gets out, which has happened before. It’s just all these small things that I never really thought about, moving into a van with my animal. But to be honest, since I can’t really travel or do anything, I’m just trying to get him settled which he kind of has because I just want him to be happy. My biggest challenge at the moment is making sure he is safe and happy.”
This isn’t the only hurdle that she’s had to face. While such a lifestyle can be both liberating and exciting, it does bring challenges of various kinds, ones that Shannon has had to take in her stride.
“At the moment, the most difficult part is just staying positive and motivated. Right now, in Canada, you can’t travel around much, which sucks because I have this vehicle that I really want to go exploring with but I can’t. When you’re not moving, you sometimes tend to feel stuck, like I should be doing something; I should be on the road seeing all these really awesome places because I have the means to. But that being said, I really do feel lucky to be able to live like this, especially where I’m living. Everyone supports me and has welcomed me into this small community. I don’t think I could live like this forever though, especially when touring starts up again. You’re already living in a van on tour, I don’t know if I want to come home to living in a van.”
Having grown up in a small town myself, where your community is a large part of your life, it is indeed something to be grateful for and definitely brings with it a sense of belonging.
“Out here, everyone knows who you are. There’s only about a thousand people on this island and it’s so tight-knit, you don’t even need to lock your doors. I even leave the van open at times, that’s how safe it is. Sometimes, I’m driving and you just wave to people; you would never do that in Toronto! If you ever need anything, you can just go to your neighbour and they’ll help you out. It’s a really, really close community and I grew up in a small town so it feels good to me. But it’s weird. It’s weird because you don’t think people like that still exist but they do. It feels good especially in these weird times, it feels good to come home to this sort of environment and community.”
Yet it can also be quite overwhelming when you are one that really enjoys the peace that such a lifestyle and solitude has to offer. Shannon, much like myself, is one that enjoys being alone but is not anti-social as can be a common misconception. I truly believe that being alone and being lonely are two very different things and on sharing this, we talked about how much she has grown as a person and learnt about herself in the process.
“That’s actually a really good way to look at it because it’s true. I’m not lonely, I talk to my friends all the time on the phone etc but technically, I’m alone. It’s just been me and my buddy Hooligan. I’m sure one day I won’t be alone anymore but it is important to embrace it. It’s been good though because I’ve spent a lot of time learning about myself, meditating more, doing my best to not waste my time.”
“Sometimes it is a little bit much though because people always want to talk to you; you can’t really go down the street without saying hello to people. It’s nice but I do keep to myself a lot so that’s also been a challenge. I try to balance it because I am alone so much so I’m like ‘ok if I go out I should say hello, no matter what type of mood I’m in. It’s just what you do here.”
That’s what you do; make the most of every situation. Shannon shared that despite the difficulties, the challenges that her choice of lifestyle bring, have undoubtedly taught her a lot about herself, how to cope and learning to deal with difficult situations.
“Whenever shit hits the fan and it’s just me in the RV, I have to deal with it; I don’t have a choice. When I’m travelling and I come across a road block I tell myself not to freak out and think ‘what do you have to do to make the problem go away?’. That’s a very big lesson that I’ve learnt. I’ve also learnt that I can handle a lot of shit. Even if it’s hard at the time, when I look back I always think that it could have been worse in some way. So for the most part, it’s realising that you can do a lot more than you think you can.”