"If there's any way to soothe people's hearts and minds, it's with music."
Jessica Pratt has spent almost all of 2015 on tour. She began the year in Australia in January, mere weeks before the release of her second album, On Your Own Love Again, and, in an act of coming "full circle", will finish the year touring the LP in Australia. In the months between the once reticent singer-songwriter — prior to the release of her self-titled 2012 debut Pratt had never played shows, even among her friends — has performed more gigs than in the rest of her life. But amid the "autopilot" feelings of showing up in a new place every day — "I've been touring for so long this year that, at a certain point, your brain sort of maxes out, and there's only so many things you can process" — Pratt was recently shocked back to reality.
The 28-year-old Californian was just on tour in Europe, and her last leg was a run of shows supporting José González. Her final show was scheduled to be in Paris, at Le Trianon, on 16 Nov. On Friday 13 Nov, they were performing together in Luzerne, Switzerland, and after González had just come off stage, they learnt about the terrorist attacks at Le Bataclan.
"Can you imagine going to a rock show with some friends and then a massacre taking place?"
"Obviously it was very alarming, but it was also very surreal," says Pratt, 48 hours after arriving back home in Los Angeles. "We were in Switzerland at the time, not very far from France, but far enough that you felt like you were at an emotional distance... There's so much brutal stuff that happens in the world, and you hear about it every day. So, I think it really took a second to sink in, for all of us. Not just the extremity and the magnitude of the situation, but how close to home it was. Like, it involved a rock venue of the same capacity as the ones that we'd been playing, and it was only a few days before we were supposed to be [in Paris]. It was very strange. No one knew how to react. We were all very quiet for the rest of the night.
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
"We felt so fortunate that we didn't know anyone, personally, that was involved in this. When something of that magnitude occurs, anyone anywhere can imagine themselves in that situation. Can you imagine going to a rock show with some friends and then a massacre taking place? Everyone was just kind of shell-shocked. It's mentally and emotionally isolating. We all felt a little bit numb. And it was sad.
"Obviously, I feel very fortunate that fate had it that we weren't the people that played that show, that had to be there for that. But it really freaked me out. It felt very legitimately frightening and dark. Everybody felt really vulnerable. It still seems, somehow, unimaginable, even though it's been days at this point."
Their show in Paris — with the city "shut down literally, figuratively, and emotionally" — was quickly cancelled, but then González, his management, and Pratt had to decide whether they'd still go ahead with their next scheduled show, in Lausanne on the Sunday night, just on the Swiss border of France. The initial wavering about playing in the wake of a tragedy soon evaporated.
"We felt obligated to play the shows that we could, that made sense to play. If there's any way to soothe people's hearts and minds, it's with music," Pratt says. "[The show] was a little tense, because it was so recently after this thing had happened, and not that far away. Collectively, you feel a little uneasy, even unsafe. It was great to be able to just be at a show, but, at the same time, it felt really sad and dark. When you are faced with something that massive and that horrifying, everything seems very petty and trivial. It makes it hard to laugh."
With the Paris show cancelled, González and band stayed on in Switzerland, preparing to go ahead with the rest of their tour, with Cristobal & The Sea coming on as openers. But for Pratt and her band, suddenly their tour came to an abrupt end. After playing in Lausanne, they still travelled into Paris, by train, where they had a hotel booked by the airport and a flight booked to go back home. "It was weird for us, really weird," Pratt says. But being in Paris mere days after the city was rocked by tragedy meant that she got to think about not her own proximity to tragedy, but her gratefulness for all 2015 has given her; all those shows all over the world.
"It gives you a lot of perspective," Pratt offers. "It takes a little while for these [feelings] to sink in, but eventually it reminds you that you should appreciate all the opportunities you're given, your health and well-being."