Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tour Log #4: Songs In My Head

I couldn't sleep last night. Songs were in my head. Usually when songs are in my head it's because something really dramatic has happened, bad or good. I tend to deal with tragedy or comedy or irony by putting them into songs. 

I woke up on a bench in the van at three in the morning. We'd arrived at the hotel, Skip said, and  I had to check in. I knew I had been completely asleep because my eyes were dry and my voice was gone. After arguing with the kind folks at Hotwire and Super 8, we were told that if we wanted to upgrade our two rooms with king-sized beds to two rooms with two queens each we would have to pay $67. Per room. Because we're being frugal, Dutty had to sleep on couch pillows on the floor, and because Robbie was already asleep in the van the other four of us got to split the two available king-sized beds. It was already 3:30am, and we had to be showered and ready to leave by 10am to make the Lafayette show in time. 

Still, I lay awake, lyrics and melodies become rhythms, which become albums, which become shows and tours. My mind wanders. Occasionally I grab my iPhone and thumb lyrics into it. I can't rest. These lyrics are folk. They are story telling, and I like a good story. Songs that carry me through scenes and perspectives give me a sense of comfort. I think when you can capture a moment you can capture history, and when a song becomes a part of history it becomes timeless. Like John Lennon's Happy Christmas (War is Over), or Bloody Sunday by U2, or any number of Dylan songs. There are countless hit songs, timeless ones, that depict specific events. I generally like these.

There are a few reasons for these songs in my head, I think. Last week my granny (mom's mom) died. She was a pretty frequent visitor in my childhood, and although I hadn't seen her in over ten years death is always a rude awakening, an awful reminder that we all are mortal and soon will pass. I've had a handful of folks close to me die, and a song is usually always born in their memory. In this case there is nothing specific in any of these songs to indicate that they are about Granny. I didn't really know her throughout my adult life, and I can hardly say we were close when I was a child (I think I took to Grampa more). Nonetheless, tragedy has always seemed to inspire me. I create, I think it's how I tend to mourn. 

The second reason for my sleepless, song-ridden night is that last nights show in Plano gave all of our spirits a lift. We've been on this tour a few weeks, and the last week was especially tough. The shows were poorly promoted, small and disorganized. Our performances suffered as we struggled to find our rhythm and shake the rust off. We even had to cancel one show because a promoter went completely AWOL, so when we got to Plano we were all secretly praying, "Oh please God, let this show not completely suck." We needed redemption, and we got it. It was by far the hottest, most energetic show of the tour as over 250 bodies packed into The Door's cozy room and moved with us to the music. I remember looking around on stage at the other guys, on the verge of suffocating from lack of air and heat exhaustion, and thinking, "Man, this is why we do this. This is so fun." 

We all needed that shot in the arm. As musicians, we are innately insecure. A string of four bad shows can bring the even biggest band to its knees. We start asking, "Do people even care? Are we as good as we thought we were? As we once were?" We even go as far as to ask, "Have we reached our apex? Is this the twilight of our career? Should we all go home and get "real" jobs?" 

When 250+ people show up and shout your lyrics so loud you can't hear your monitor, all those questions disappear.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tour Log #3: The Grind

A few shows ago we spent the night in the van as we took turns driving the eleven hours from Phoenix to Artesia, NM. One way or another, everything you do on tour will eventually lead to a sore back. Sleeping in the van when its moving is no exception. Head-banging, playing guitar, and sitting for a liberal amount of time are other causes for the "sore-back" affliction. If we decide to hire a tour manager again, my vote is for a massage therapist tour manager who also does front of house sound and lights. All this to say that the daily Grind has set in, and we're back on the move like it's the only thing we know.

I feel like we're living with a bit of a scarcity mindset. Since our lights and scrims were stolen we've stripped our live show down to bare bones, and I think sometimes it might look and feel a little weaker than usual. Maybe we're tired of playing old songs, maybe the crowds seem less enthused, not sure. Maybe I'm less enthused. One thing I do know is we haven't yet hit our stride with our live show this year. When you have to pick 10 songs from a list of 45 released it becomes hard to iron out transitions, picking where the new songs will go and which songs they will replace. In the last six shows we've chipped away, swapped, added and done away with songs in attempt to assemble our most current and fluid set list, so hopefully it's all uphill from here. We're cautiously optimistic that Texas will be our redemption, even in the aftermath of SXSW and the over-saturation of insinscenester garbage it brings. We like Texas, so we hope to put on a few good shows for them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tour Log #2: Adrenaline Junkie

We spent the last two nights at our friends Jason and Krystal's house in Turlock, CA (ie Basshead Studios). We love staying there because we always seem to have good old-fashioned-wholesome fun, the kind we had when we were kids. Yesterday we woke up, drank coffee and went to a church. The people there were nice and the sermon was applicable. The pastor is a commercial pilot, clean cut and charismatic, and I appreciated how blunt he was about living differently, humbly, set apart as a servant instead of selfishly. 

When we got back we organized a basketball tournament. As you can guess musicians aren't usually the greatest ballers, but we all share around the same level of ball handling/shooting skills so it's still a lot of fun. Afterwards we played catch, sprinting across the acre of short grass behind the studio after a frisbee, climbing the fence when it went into the orchard next door. This is what happens when you bring 11 grown men together and give them space to run, stuff to throw and time to do it. We revert to our boyhood as it becomes game upon game. Exhausted and sweaty, we showered up we went to Chipotle for lunch. 

After lunch Jason picked up Skip and I and took us to an air strip in Modesto. We watched with anticipation as he wheeled his Cessna prop plane out of the hanger. This is probably my favorite thing about staying with Jason. There is nothing to compare to flying a small plane. It's so many good things wrapped in one; It's flying (ie bird travel), traveling, sight seeing and roller coasteering all in one. I've been dreaming about it since the last time Jason took me up. It was Skips first time in a small plane, so Jason suggested he ride up front. Once we reached ample speed on the runway Jason coached Skip to pull back slightly on the steering column, and just like that we were airborne. My favorite thing about flying is going weightless. It's when we fly in an arc, gaining velocity while gaining altitude, and then pushing the steering column in, dipping the nose of the plane down suddenly and allowing our bodies to float up in the seats. Anything loose in the plane will float, including your stomach inside of you. It's a controlled roller coaster, you can do it as much and as dramatic as you want, and you know when it's coming. I love that feeling. As I drop the nose of the plane down it feels like our fate is in my hands, I see the ground below and I shake from excitement. We all laugh uncontrollably, partially because we're terrified and partially because for that instant our bodies become airborne and we are free from gravity. We actually fly. 

We text the boys back at Jason's house to prepare them for a fly by. They gather on the tennis court out back, looking like ants below us. Of course we don't just fly over and wave, remember we're men who are busy acting like children. We bomb them. We've got a lunch box full of water balloons and three rolls of toilet paper. The unravelled toilet paper looks hilarious flying through the air from hundreds of feet up. We can see them running after it. We fly by again, unloading water balloons from above. One of Skips balloons hits near the pool, one of mine hits the tennis court. We shriek with excitement. 

On our way back we stop at an air strip where people live. Their giant houses have giant hangers where they can fly in, taxiing off the landing strip and straight up their driveways. It is kind of mind boggling; these real life jet setters living the lifestyle of migrant birds. On our way back to the other airport we fly low above the ground, banking left and right following a creek that cuts between rolling, green turf. The sun is setting and we watch the orange, yellow, and pink as we fly into it. It's surreal; the green blow us, the colors in front of us. It all seems fake. Just before we land we watch the sun sink behind the hills.

On our way home we pick up supplies for a barbeque. At home we cook up a feast, and then it's out to the back yard for a whiffle ball tournament. It's us versus Write This Down (brand new Tooth and Nail band). Yelling and clapping we play under the lights, whipping the ball at bass runners to throw them out, regurgitating all of the baseball slang we haven't used in years. We win and the celebration ensues. I take my shirt of, running around the bases and yelling, I look over and Robbie has his pants down trying to run in a celebratory fashion. Skip follows suit. It's hilarious. Then suddenly I'm tired, and sore, and I think this was probably one of the best day-offs I've ever had.

Some of the other guys still have energy for tennis, so they play and I crash out.

We are all extremely sore, but we plan on bringing the adrenaline to Anaheim at the Chain Reaction tomorrow. Hope to see some of you there.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tour Log #1

We left Seattle this morning heading South on I-5. It was the usual feeling, a lot of laughter, old inside jokes being brought up, reaffirmed. I can see us settling in quicker than before, usually it takes a few more hours before the laptops come out, but over the years we've become so familiar with the monotony that we keep our distractions on deck for the instant that conversation dies down. I'm sitting sideways on the front bench, my back against the window, legs crossed in front of me, music in my ears. Five years ago this position would have made me sick, but now it's home. I can't remember the last time I felt motion sickness of any kind. We're always moving.

I'm a little nervous to see what the shows are like. These next few weeks will be like no other tour we've done, a lot of churches and venues we've never played. It could go terribly wrong or incredibly right. I hope for the latter. Lately we've been walking through whatever doors open as we try not to force our opinion on this touring thing. We've been around the block enough to know that the who-what-when of tours will rarely effect much of the outcome of the success of our band. We've come to expect less while giving the same, maybe more. We'll have fun wherever the venue, whomever the crowd, whatever the circumstance. When it comes to touring, for me it's not about the quantity of the people, its the quality of their hearts and how in tune they are with the music. Some small crowds deserve better shows.

We're making good time and we'll be to Eugene in an hour. We'll probably stop and get a hotel in Northern, CA, Redding maybe, and then it's to San Jose in the morning. My eyes just got heavy, and since a great rule of the road is "NAP WHEN YOU CAN"........


Monday, March 8, 2010

Tapering #2

A Journal Update:

I'm in limbo again (see blog post "Tapering" if you love redundancy). We leave for tour in four days and it's becoming exhausting to even think of doing anything that might cut into my sittin'-around-time. I spend most of my days in a vegetative state on the couch, the symptoms much the same as explained during my last "Tapering" session. It's the calm before the storm. Any pending projects seem daunting and unnecessary. I am not prepared in any way to leave for tour because let's face it, that's days away and I live one day at a time. Either way I've done it a million times (packing) and I've got it down to an art. I could live out of my backpack for weeks. Even though I'm unprepared to leave, I'm not productively staying either. I'm stuck between where I was and where I will be. "Here, where the future meets the past," to quote lyrics from a song written by a much more naive version of me (did I just quote myself?). Of course, the connotations now are much less positive. When you live for the moment and the moment is overwhelmingly boring, life can tend to suck a little. The good part of my day starts when Kristie gets off work. She's pretty fun. I know, I know, life isn't always fun, but I've been conditioned to believe that every good day should be filled with laughter, creative expression and intoxicating conversation. Every bad day lacks at least one of these.

At least I've been reading some. I spent the last few weeks wishing I was a fiction author. I even wrote two lines of a story before I deleted without saving, glancing over my shoulder to make sure nobody had spotted my feeble attempt at doing something else with my life. This music business is all consuming. How do those renaissance people do it? Those cursed prolific creators who seem to have the time to be productive in multiple fields at once?

The road I look forward to. I thrive there. It's not for everyone; its difficult, taxing, and often redundant, but I seem to get better at it the older I get. We've been around this country a hundred times and still I look forward to exploring more, to meeting more people, to playing music for a living. How spoiled am I! We are truly living the dream (See "Living The Dream" for more redundancy).

I need to work out. Although it's not very creative, its a way to express angst and tension through perspiration. But then I'd have to shower... and well, that just seems like a hassle right now. However, I will commit to a walk with a book in my hand and music in my ears. That sounds delightfully inspiring. 

See you on the road!