Featured over the next six pages are tour stories penned by some of our favorite bands and artists. Touring is certainly not boring!
The Veils (U.K., by way of New Zealand)
Okay, so, touring is hilarious on a minute-to-minute basis, but that doesn’t always mean you have a worthwhile anecdote to share with the world. I mean, unexpectedly punching your drummer in the testicles will never, ever get boring, but telling people about it will.
What I will say is that a fairly well-known, female-fronted Swedish pop group (named after an item of clothing) once shared a dressing room with us. Generous souls that they are, one of them left us a present in our shower. It was a shit, curled out lovingly amongst our shampoo and toothbrushes.
Later on, Liam smashed the world’s most expensive Easter egg, Finn tried to use a billboard to operate a pedestrian crossing, Henning ate a bowl of wasabi, and I woke up covered in blood. But that stuff happens all the time—the shit was special.
Courtesy of guitarist Dan Raishbrook, The Veils
Bloc Party (U.K.)
Our first tour of the U.S., we spent two nights in San Francisco. It was late, and I was standing outside the hotel smoking. A guy came over and asked for a cigarette. I was getting a definite “drifter” vibe from him—there are a lot of drifters in San Francisco.
I wasn’t in the mood for a conversation, but you invariably get into one fairly quickly with an English accent in the States. We traded the usual platitudes, and it came out that I played drums in a band. (I have, in the past, briefly experimented with lying and telling
people I’m an accountant, but my scholarly appearance doesn’t fool anyone who meshes well with society; I am possessed of a certain kind of apathy that always gives the game away.)
My companion’s interest pricked. He revealed to me that he was very interested in films and was looking to get into the industry and that someone had also made a film about him.
I asked what it was about. A lengthy story ensued, running the misfortune gamut from “embezzlement” to “patricide” to “wrongful imprisonment.” Sure, sure, I thought. Ever remember the Billionaire Boys Club, my companion asked. Something in the recesses
of my memory resonated. He gave me his name. Look it up on the Internet, he said, then you’ll know. Attempting to maintain my carefully constructed facade of late-night insouciance, I simply said I believed him. He disappeared into the hotel with someone else. I made sure I was out of eyeshot and bolted for the computer in the lobby. I typed his name in. A younger version of his face appeared before me on the screen.
Funny how things work out.
Matthew Dear (New York)
It wouldn’t be fitting if I wasn’t writing this from the road, so I am. Touring is rough, but some of us are designed for it. Or more truthfully, some of us have adapted ourselves for it. It was harder in the beginning, when my body wasn’t adjusted to long flights, hotel-restaurant food and sleeping wherever I could, but now it’s become almost streamlined, almost comforting. It’s my safe place. [One time] there was a crazed child on a transatlantic flight screaming in a foreign language. Kicking the seats and probably foaming at the mouth. I swear I heard him repeating the name Beelzebub over and over. I think he was possessed, but the flight attendants don’t carry anything for exorcisms…
The better times are the ones with close friends. The long drives in the middle of the night, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. These times usually spawn talks of life, love and deeper things you normally don’t share. A droning dark road beneath you, and nothing but blackness off in the distance has a hypnotic effect, almost a truth serum of sorts. These are the good times. I’ve been thrown headfirst into a world I didn’t grow up expecting. I’m on my way to Munich, Bratislava, Stockholm and Barcelona on this “short” leg of my tour. I was just a suburban boy from south Texas, but now I’m a globetrotting musician. My flight is boarding now, and it’s time for me to go…
Caribou (Ontario, Canada)
It seems to be unfortunate about long periods on tour that one’s memory decomposes into a swampy mire of ecstatic (and not so ecstatic) shows, perfunctory sound checks, uncomfortable sleeping positions in the backs of vans and ending up back at people’s houses who are “having a few friends over” (which inevitably means either a couple hundred or three very eager guys who want to play you their record collection). However, casting back over this morass every once in a while, something vivid floats by in the swamp. There are shows in castles and in tombs, in rock-club dives with people hanging off the roof and shows in front of unfeasibly large audiences in football stadiums who seem intrigued by our appearance onstage wearing bear masks. Not all the memories are happy: a band member’s head booted in by a gang of skinheads, being served a court summons immediately before stepping onstage, a week of violent food poisoning following eating two raw sweet potatoes “for a laugh,” a tourmate hospitalized after an encounter with a particularly vindictive jellyfish, tour comrades left behind at an unfortunate border crossing, a sound engineer (I’m happy to name names here—Nick Holmes, you reading this?) disappearing in the night with several thousand dollars never to be retrieved. There are some which are simply surreal: flames shooting out of Communist-issue speakers which had simply had enough of the battering they were receiving during a show in the Peoples’ Republic of China; stealing a boat, driving it out into the Adriatic Sea at night and capsizing it, dumping our good friend and sound engineer into the soup on his birthday despite protestations that he couldn’t swim; a tour manager, known as Lord Leopard, who decided the best way to greet us was to dress up as a horse, complete with white picket fence penning him in and his wife feeding him apples, at the arrivals terminal of San Francisco Airport—which would have been a nice surprise… if I hadn’t told him the wrong arrival time by seven hours, resulting in a long, forlorn wait for horsey…
A strange but highly appealing collection of memories which leaves me dying to do it all again. No rest, no days off, no sleep.
Mirah (Portland, OR)
My dear and brilliant friend Katy Davidson (aka Dear Nora) chanced to have a show in Seattle the same week as my Share This Place debut at the Seattle International Children’s Festival. It was a pretty mellow scene. So mellow, in fact, that even after the first band finished their sound check and the show was to begin, there were still no audience members in sight. The lack of attendees was a bit perplexing. Some shows go that way. Plenty of great art, music and performance gets made without a soul around to appreciate it except the creator. Katy went on a walk, and I sat in her car and talked to my mom on the phone for a while, kind of pretending that I was on tour myself—even though in reality I was just in Seattle for a week staying in a fancy hotel and performing songs about bugs for kids every morning at 11 a.m.
The show finally started. The first band, a very sweet crew from Canada, began with their earnest pop tunes, harmonizing about love and life with accordions and guitars. All of a sudden, the garage door, which was the rear wall of the space, opened up and in came two “parents” pushing one “grandmother” in a wheelchair, all three with the most delighted faces I have ever seen on an adult person. Absolute glee. They parked right in the middle of the empty room, and each promptly took out their respective digital cameras and started recording the spectacle. There were no other audience members to get in the way of their zooms and pans, and they enjoyed that set as fully and proudly as any parent or grandparent I have ever seen. They sashayed to the right. They listened from the left. They took still pictures and movies with sound. They smiled at each other, they smiled at their son and his bandmates, they held hands. It was almost too much, how happy everyone was. It suddenly didn’t matter that no one else had shown up for the show. There they were, the greatest audience on earth, absolutely attentive, absolutely enjoying themselves.
Katy and I were sad that they had to leave before she played. Maybe it got too late? Some more folks did show up to hear Katy’s amazing set, but I kept thinking about how I would trade the biggest crowd of onlookers in the world for just a little group of utterly delighted grandmothers.
Architecture in Helsinki (Australia)
On one ridiculous occasion, a flat tire forced us to cancel our entire Canadian tour. We were driving across the U.S. in a fifteen-seater Ford van, following a ridiculous schedule that had us driving eight or ten hours a day, every day. Having already driven from Seattle to Chicago, we found ourselves putting our tour manager on a plane back home the night before—let’s just say we had ”creative differences.” So we were now one driver down and faced with the following schedule: play the show with Head of Femur and the incredible Dr. Dog, load the van, depart from Chicago. Estimated time of departure: 3 a.m. Drive straight to Toronto for a show the next day…just thinking about it makes me tired!
But our van had other plans. Maybe it was fed up with the ridiculous amount of miles we were clocking up; maybe its feelings were hurt by our complaints about its comfort. Whatever the cause, our attempt after the show to replace a flat tire, an operation usually requiring only a few minutes, ended up keeping us in Chicago until the next day. The van was missing a built-in tool, without which it is impossible to release the spare tire. We tried to get the van rental company on the phone, but no dice. It was 3 a.m., and we were going nowhere. And so, paranoid that our trailer would be looted by the Chicago guitar bandits we imagined to be all around us, nine of us curled up in the stranded van and tried to get some sleep.
The next day, two of us took a cab to the nearest Ford dealership and purchased the requisite tool, and soon we were back on the road. However, our schedule was such that the delay had made it impossible to make not only our Toronto show, but also the Montreal gig that was immediately after. Okay, so our “entire tour” consisted of only two shows, but both were to be our first shows in those towns, and both were sold out, so it was a big bummer for us to not make it. Remember, kids: always check that your tour van isn’t missing any vital bits. Once you’re on the road, you’re on your own.