OTB Nonprofit Supports Mental Health and Addiction Recovery
By Liam Klenk
Ace Piva has spent most of his life in the music industry. On stage as a musician, as well as in an organizing capacity backstage. At some point, he realized that there was a serious substance abuse problem. It was part of the myth of being a successful musician. But Ace saw lives destroyed and realized he wanted to step up and do something. In this interview, Ace tells us about his journey and how it led him to found OTB nonprofit. An organization that aims to help professionals in the music industry to reclaim their lives from mental illness and addiction.
I started off as a musician, a drummer. When I bought myself a van, I ended up driving all these small bands around. Everyone was always drunk. Because I was the designated driver, I didn’t drink. I brought them all home at the end of the night.
For a long time, I was a working musician to support myself. I’d do temp jobs from 6am to 5pm, get the posters on the way home, then go to my gigs.
But, after a while, I stopped doing temp jobs to be able to focus entirely on my music. To keep cost of living as low as possible, I’d sleep in the van for a few months during summer, or I’d crash on a friend’s couch.
As I got older, the other band members wanted to focus on family life. But I was not done with music just yet.
Left on my own, however, I put down the sticks and started looking for other opportunities in the music industry. I was at a crossroads. What was I gonna do? Start the dream over? Or move forward and find another way?
There is this little local magazine that comes out weekly. On one of the pages was a little nondescript ad, “Want to work in the music industry?”. I thought, oh well, my life is going down the drain, this looks weird, but I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll just call and see.
It was an artist management company. They had managed the Spice Girls and Pixies amongst others and they worked out of Hamilton, Ontario as well as out of the UK.
They wanted to add some fresh, enthusiastic tour managers to their team. So, I enrolled in the required 10-week course and got myself a dry-walling job. I worked from 6am to 8:30am, then went to school, then back to dry-walling from 3pm to 7pm.
I was the only student who had touring experience and ended up at the top of my class. Immediately after, I started working with the tour management company.
The company sent me on tour with this musician from the UK. We did South by Southwest in Austin, Texas and the Viper Room in LA. The artist was dealing with some substance abuse problems and ended up wanting to fight me for the tour money behind the Viper Room.
I said, “I used to be a bouncer. Alright, let’s go. I am not giving you money. It’s tour money, not yours to spend.”
It was the middle of the night in the UK, but he called up his manager to tell me to give him the money.
So the manager calls me and asks, “Did you give him the money?”
Manager, “Good. I’m going back to sleep.”
Another musician I worked with was a Hip Hop artist who had put out a couple of albums about his journey of recovery.
To stay clean on tour, he had asked us to load him up with interviews during the day to keep him busy.
But, in the 1st week of a 6-week tour he relapsed with some old buddies. From then on, he was either partying or sleeping. None of his interviews got done, and the tour went to shirt.
One day we got into a big row. Instead of giving a 15 min interview, he rather fought with me for 3 hours about not wanting to do it.
I walked out after and was so fed up with this guy and his antics. At the height of my anger, a fan walked up to me and asked if he can meet the artist.
I said, “I’m sorry, you can’t. He’s doing interviews right now.”
I felt so bad having to lie to this fan. “You can meet him at the official meet and greet later,” I added.
“It’s a bit more personal than that,” the fan said. “I want to thank him for saving my life.”
I was dumbfounded.
The fan went on to tell me that he had been in an active addiction for 12 years, he had overdosed three times, and died twice. And yeah, the artist had saved him.
The girlfriend was there, too. She was crying, “I was with him through it all. It’s true.”
The fan continued, “I went to rehab and detox. I did it all over the years, but the message they were trying to give me never resonated.”
I asked him, “So how did this musician save your life?” “With his albums about his recovery journey,” the fan said.
These albums finally told him the message he needed to hear in a way he understood.
I just thought, “Damn, the power of music.”
For me, music was always a major part of my life, but I never had to rely on a song for life guidance. This man did, and the music saved him.
I had to come up with a whole bunch of lies why he couldn’t meet the artist… and I felt horrible throughout.
Which led me to think, “I have to do something.”
This was just sort of the last trigger. There had been so much more piling up already. A number of close friends took their lives. Other friends in the music industry died of overdoses. One friend died by choking on his own puke on tour in England.
I came back home after this experience and immediately enrolled in an addiction counseling course. It took me two and a bit years to become a counselor. All while I was still touring.
Sometimes, I didn’t get the job for the next tour because I didn’t join in the partying and I wasn’t an enabler for the band’s substance abuse. It was nothing personal, rather a “We don’t want to face reality yet so let’s not call him back” kind of thing.
After I finished the course, I worked with a few different programs in my community.
One that I felt really helped was an after care peer support program.
A lot of addicts I worked with had been mandated by their lawyers. They had no intention to cooperate. I told them, you have to be mentally here, not just physically, otherwise I’ll mark you absent.
They didn’t want to listen, so I marked them absent. The 2nd day they were paying attention because they wanted to get their mark. The 3rd or 4th day, they were opening up in front of a group of guys they didn’t really know. They were crying. Because they were with a group of people who understood each other and they finally dared to open up.
This group changed their lives.
Watching grown men who just got out of jail make these massive changes was incredible to witness. It inspired me to start a music industry focused Facebook peer support group.
I remember brainstorming the name and a stranger said, “Why don’t you base it on a song?” I thought of Anthony Kiedi’s “Under the Bridge”. His incredibly honest song about the bridge he had to go under to score his drugs, his addiction, and recovery.
We ended up calling ourselves “Over the Bridge.” Within a couple of weeks, we had a few hundred members. This encouraged us to go even further. Thus we became a nonprofit.
I was as surprised as anyone else and had no idea how to run a nonprofit. There are all these organizational details you have to consider. We are three years old now and it’s been a bit of a growing challenge.
It’s wonderfully rewarding though. About once a week, I get a message from strangers saying, “Thank you, the conversations in this Facebook group saved my life.”
One community reach-out program we have is a Naloxone opiate overdose training.
In Canada, there are so many opiate overdoses due to Fentanyl that the government considers it an epidemic. We give 40 min trainings and give out kits with a substance called Naloxone. In Canada, this is given out for free. We teach how to administer the drug to neutralize the effect of opiates. Like this, when you find a person who has overdosed you can bring them back to life.
We’ve worked with a few artists, like Fleetwood Mac, and festivals like Canadian Music Week, for example.
We do live trainings for anyone who wants it, artists and crew. We go into clubs as well and have a very high turnout at our events.
Sometimes 100-150 people show up for these events. Many of them care but don’t have the time to go to other courses due to their work times. We come to them to make it happen.
The music industry operates at the weirdest times. Realistically, someone working in that industry is far more likely to come across someone in trouble in an alley on their way home after a show late at night, than someone who works during the day.
I’ve received word that 11 of our kits have already saved lives.
Even during Covid and social distancing we continue to try and normalize, break stigmas, and have open conversations about substance abuse.
We do the OTBChat, online interviews, where we have a host, a registered psychotherapist, and someone from the music industry.
Tonight, for example, our OTB chat features Doug Goldstein who managed Guns and Roses for many years.
Those are famous situations, but you only hear the press view. You don’t hear it directly from the source. What we communicate is legit, in depth, and doesn’t involve rumors.
We don’t want to just dive into the popular stories. We want to highlight what led to the substance abuse. What was happening emotionally, mentally?
We are a small organization on a shoe string budget. But I’ve learned that if you care enough, money doesn’t matter to help make a change. You can help a lot of people with no money.
However money does help as the needs for support within the community grow (please see the link below this article).
I don’t want to sit in my house and be disappointed I didn’t do anything. I too felt stagnant at times and as if I wasn’t progressing in life.
“Progress equals happiness,” somebody once said to me. And this really resonated with me. The more you work, the more you achieve and do, the more happy and proud of yourself you become.
This is also often something I bring up when I talk with people who feel down.
When you feel shitty, start with some positive self-talk. No one loves you more than you!
Then start with small achievements like making your bed, brushing your teeth, etc. Once that becomes a habit, change does happen. You’ve brushed your teeth and it’s early morning. You realize you still have lots of time. You’re bored. So you get on your bike for a bit. Now you’ve got the blood pumping and you think, “What will I do now?” Maybe you see an old lay crossing the street and you help her.
Listen to people who have a positive message online. Then start making your own influence.
When people come to me complaining about all that is bad I’ll take it for a couple minutes. But then I’ll say, “Let’s focus on what’s good. What was good for you today?”
A lot of people, especially musicians, artists, are hard on themselves and will most likely have negative self-talk before they will accept a compliment. Let’s say, you’ll walk up to them and say, “Your performance was brilliant tonight.” First response will be, “But I missed a cue, I could have done this and that better…”
One musician I met who is now on recovery, explained his tumble into addiction quite well:
“When you are a young artist, you are thriving on everyone’s approval. But you were struggling for 10 years before you became an “overnight success.” People said you were good. However, you weren’t able to pay your bills with it. Then your career takes off and you get lots of positive feedback and you don’t know how to take it.”
As he got to know more people, they kept offering him drinks. If he would decline, they’d say, “Oh, now you are too cool to have a drink with me?” And because he would still crave everyone’s approval, because he wouldn’t want to spoil their moment with him, he would keep saying yes, put everyone else’s needs before his own.
It took a while before he learned to protect himself.
There is a stigma attached to being a successful musician. You have to be the party person. You are the host on stage and everyone you meet expects you to have the same mentality off-stage 24/7. But we are all only human and our bodies can only take so much.
Fans go to a show maybe once or twice a year. That’s their night out to get wild. When it is your job to party every night, it takes a lot out of you. On a Tuesday night in Rochester New York you need to feel like on a Saturday night in LA. And you are expected to project that feeling.
You party, you eat junk food, you sleep on a bus or van. All of this is a lot of stress on your body and mind. Maybe you can’t sleep in a moving vehicle. Then you get no sleep.
How do you manage no sleep and being at 100%?
Where does life balance come into play?
A musician’s career starts out as a way to expressing themselves when they are young. Take me for example. I am dyslexic and can’t express myself well with writing. But put me behind a drum kit and I’ll tell you exactly how I feel.
Often music starts as enjoyment. Then it becomes a business. It’s no coincidence that the first album is often the best. Because the musicians were writing it without the pressure.
What I want to add before we go: I love the music industry but I know not everyone who is in trouble is in the music industry.
My personal motto is though: I want to influence the influencers. Influence the artists who are then able to influence their fans. People look up to musicians as heroes. Music creates culture and has the potential to change lives. So let’s change some lives together!
If you want to help Over the Bridge, please visit overthebridge.org to donate.
Facebook page: Over the Bridge