I think I speak for everyone in this van when I say I’m feeling pretty exhausted. Not only are our bodies protesting at the punishing schedule we’ve endured over the past 6 weeks but so is our gear. My D.I. Box is missing switches, my fuzz pedal finally gave up after years of service and last night I may have blown a speaker. It has become commonplace to see Mr Sayer operating on his guitar between soundcheck and gig. It’s guts spilling out as he pokes around the electrical arteries with a soldering iron. We’ve seen amps come and go, snares break and it’s a wonder that Damon’s drum kit is still standing. Despite this, we battle on, entering venues, blowing the roof off them and leaving like, as Ian Graham succinctly put it the other day, “The navy seals of Rock’n’Roll” – I’m sure the actual navy seals might disagree.
After three hours of driving we emerged from our dark van like moles squinting into the bright sunlight and were led into a large space that looked like a large garage or storage space. In one corner was a van covered in radio station decals. In front of this stood three microphone stands and, on a tripod, pointing at the microphone stands was mounted a video camera. In the opposite corner stood a large wooden shipping crate which, as Paul observed, “Looks like there could be a gorilla inside”. In the centre of the room, arranged in two rows were chairs, the type you might tie a kidnap victim to before filming a ransom video. The rest of the room was filled with a bizarre collection of junk from stacks of old computers to a gameshow style spinning wheel. There was also, worryingly, a cage.
What was going on?
Had Karen bought us here after I called her a Kraken in my last tour diary? It looked a bit like a kill room.
We were actually here to record a radio session for WQBK called, appropriately, “the garage sessions”. A small audience of competition winners were bought in to sit in the kidnap chairs and listen to us perform a few songs and ask a few questions. Disappointingly, there was no Gorilla.
- wake up
- leave hotel room after 2 idiot checks
- drink amazing coffee and eat ham and gruyere brioche from our new favourite twattery
- drive to radio station and discover a print shop next door
- commute between radio station and print shop whilst simultaneously performing acoustic session and overseeing getting second run of posters done
- drive to Vietnamese restaurant for delicious Phô
- investigate curious Bric-a-brac shop across the road but upon finding myself in a basement reminiscent of that belonging to Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs”, get scared and leave.
- lovely scenery
- more driving
Like a Pantomime villain hiding in the wings, the snow crept out to make an unexpected appearance in Pennsylvania. Just as we were getting used to basking in the glorious rays of the spring sun and my testicles had tentatively emerged from hibernation, we were ambushed by a cold, whirling chaos of white. At the same time, our windscreen wipers decided they’d had enough and refused to co-operate. Perfect!
We didn’t go for burgers in Indianapolis after all. Opposite the venue was a craft pizza twattery. I must pause to explain what I mean by twattery as it has become an established word in our vernacular. It began as a way of describing a particular type of coffee shop. One that I’ve hinted at in previous diary entries. It will typically comprise of one or all of the following features : Exposed brickwork, men with large beards or carefully groomed moustaches, ladies (and men) with tattoos, distressed woodwork, a hand-drawn menu and industrial lighting. There will be one or two barista awards on display as well as works from local artists and possibly a fixed gear bicycle (neon wheels optional) chained up outside. Above all, they will be independent (Starbucks can never be a twattery) and take themselves and their coffee very seriously – btw, if it doesn’t serve a flat white, it doesn’t qualify as a twattery. It may seem like a derogatory term and that we’re taking the piss (we are a little bit) but we love them and seek them out wherever we go. The term has now began to apply to any independent shop, store or restaurant that offers niche or specialist products in a setting as described above. We’ve visited shoe twatteries, guitar twatteries, luggage twatteries (my personal favourite), burger twatteries and yesterday, the aforementioned pizza twattery called Pizzology in Indianapolis. Granted, there wasn’t the ubiquitous exposed brickwork anywhere in sight but the pizza was awesome and I could happily have sat there all afternoon stuffing my face with their lovingly made discs of dough covered in vine ripened tomato sauce and organic buffalo mozzarella but we had to set up our gear and do a soundcheck before doors opened. The venue was actually a restaurant or rather a “gastropub” called Union 50. It was a large stylishly designed space with an amazing menu, ultra friendly staff and a small stage in the corner. We were right at home. It is owned by a successful restauranteur who, it turned out, also owns the burger restaurant we had previously visited in Indianapolis along with most of the cool establishments in town.We were incredibly well looked after throughout our stay there and would like to express our gratitude. You guys were exemplary hosts.The show itself was fun. It was obvious that not everyone in the room was there to see us or even knew we would be there but I think a good time was had by all – helped by a reckless approach to alcohol, and we may have won a few new fans which is exactly why we’re here. Mission accomplished! All we need to do now is convert the other 318 million.
We feel like new men this morning. It’s amazing what a difference a night off can do to a weary bunch of touring musicians. Not only did we have a night off but we also had the luxury of our own rooms in our new favourite city, Chicago – home of the Chicago Music Exchange, Smoking Woody’s BBQ and friendly policemen who let you wear their hats! Chicago has had a powerful magnetic force over us the past few weeks. Whenever we’ve driven away from it, we are invariably drawn back as though attached by an unseen bungee cord. The reason for our return yesterday was to do a live performance for Radio WXRT Chicago – an important station for us to make friends with as they wield considerable power and influence. Hopefully, we achieved this. The performance was broadcast live on the internet from a room containing a low stage and chairs for a small audience. These kind of things can sometimes feel somewhat sterile and vibe-less. It can be hard for a band to whip up the necessary mojo needed to create the same atmosphere you’d find at a real gig but then not all bands have a Phil Campbell! We closed our 5 song set with “Ain’t No Telling” and Phil took the outro as an opportunity to jump off the stage for a lap of honour around the room, stopping to shake his tambourine at surprised members of the crowd like a frenzied witch doctor. Brilliant! Thanks Kelly and Norm for inviting us to perform at your station. We hope to see you again soon.
It’s a beautiful, sunny morning in Kentucky. We’re up and out early to drive to Fort Wayne for another headline show but our first priority is to find coffee. This week is probably the most intense of the tour. Late nights, early mornings, radio promo and gigs all start to blur. The days off that at first, littered the itinerary, have now all vanished without trace like the snow now that Spring has arrived. Today, i am handing diary duty over to a man you all know and love. A rhythm ninja who uses drumsticks like nunchucks. The Thunder from Down Under, the one and only Mr Damon Wilson. Take it away Damon…
We continue our erratic exploration of the United States past thawing lakes, melting mounds of snow and sun-kissed cornfields. Spring has arrived! Yesterday, the temperature definitely qualified as warm. No longer are we shuffling about like frozen penguins and I’ve cast off the arctic survival parka that made me look like Kenny from SouthPark. Strolling around Green Bay after soundcheck yesterday and feeling the sun’s re-energising rays has filled me with vigour. Judging by Phil Campbell’s performance last night, spring has had the same effect on him. The Meyer is a beautiful old building that reminds me of the theatres I spent a lot of my childhood in when my Dad was musical director for summer variety shows and Pantomimes – a quaint old british theatre tradition probably not found in the U.S. Based on crazy fairy tales, Women generally play the lead character but dressed as a boy and men dress as matronly women with over-sized boobs. There’s usually a couple of people in a horse costume and always a villain lurking in the background. Kids seem to love it and are encouraged to scream “He’s behind you” whenever the villian enters the stage – Bonkers! Anyway, venues such as the Meyer are great for a bit of light hearted entertainment or a play where un-amplified voices need to be heard but when being built, the architects probably weren’t envisioning a future with Paul Sayer’s guitar amp throwing out face-melting volume or my bass amp shaking the buildings foundations. As a consequence, the sound on stage seemed odd as though, in protest, the room was acting as a big volume sponge. In some ways this was a good thing as hearing our own backing vocals suddenly became possible. In addition to this, for the first time on this tour, we experienced a seated venue. From where we stood at the side of the stage before going on, it looked as though the audience were making themselves nice and comfortable for a showing of “Driving Miss Daisy”. Phil Campbell was having none of this and as we tore into “Ain’t No Telling”, he became a demented blur of arms and legs bouncing around the stage like a Super Mario Bro™ collecting golden coins. My level of respect for Phil as a performer went up a level last night as I’ve never seen someone work a seated crowd quite like he did the Meyer theatre – needless to say, the majority of the audience didn’t remain seated for long. We were about to segue into our last tune when we noticed Iain at the back flashing his torch and waving his arms wildly. We’d run out of time, had to abort “Take it Back” and exit the stage. Sorry Green Bay, we’ll come back and play it another day.
We’re here, we’re there, we’re everywhere! Time has become elastic. It feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in this van already and yet landing in Chicago seems like only yesterday. Memories of home are beginning to fade into the mist…wait, hold on, let’s not get too melodramatic. We’ve been here three weeks. No time at all really. In total, we have almost 4 months out here. Yes, we’re having to cover a lot of miles but we’re getting used to the distances and a five hour journey now seems like a trip to the shops. This country is huge. There’s so much to see and we’ve only just scratched the surface. We’re having the experience of a lifetime and remind ourselves of this every day. It’s brilliant. This opportunity is not available to every band and we’re going to take full advantage of everything that comes our way. Being away from family and loved ones is the hardest part of all this but the wonders of technology allow us to maintain a level of contact denied to many bands before us. Imagine what it was like for bands before the internet made it possible to video chat. I suspect that once we’ve returned home, it’ll seem like we were hardly away. Time is an illusion, just ask Albert Einstein.
Sorry guys, i’m falling behind with this tour diary. Access to the internet is only partly to blame. I’m actually sat in The Rivoli in Toronto now. We’ve done our soundcheck and i’m grabbing a few moments to get this posted. So here is the diary from Milwaukee to Chicago. Detroit and Toronto will follow soon…
March 6, 2015
We’re driving back to Chicago again! We first landed in Chigaco almost three weeks ago and have come a full 3,500 mile circle back to it. The last few days we’ve been dancing around it like night-time moths fluttering around an outdoor light, but tonight we’ll do a show and stay there before continuing on our way to Detroit and then onto our first foray into Canada. If you look at the roadmap of our tour HERE it resembles the flight path of a drunken bumble bee.
We’re driving to Chicago. Sturgill Simpson is providing the soundtrack and there are two things on our minds. Ribs and vintage guitars. We have a day off today after our first headline show in Grand Rapids which I’ll come to in a moment. Our plan today is to drive to Milwaukee via Chicago’s many vintage guitar stores and eat some ribs along the way. Space in the bus is becoming scarce. We’ve already acquired miscellaneous paraphernalia on our travels and by the time we’ve left Chicago it wouldn’t surprise me if a guitar or two was added to the already tight pack. There’s even murmurings from Damon about looking for vintage drums. We’re going to need a bigger boat!