Part 3 – Fort Worth / Denton / Austin / Houston / New Orleans
Fort Worth / Denton, TX – Shipping & Receiving / Gatsby’s Mansion
We were zero for three after our last solid anchor date on this tour. As feared, the Midwest was predictably financially draining for us. While we made some solid fans and had a good time, the bottom line was hurting. Three shows in a row where we don’t meet our nightly minimum will most likely be the difference between red or black. Barring some sort of unexpected miracle, I was bracing for impact. It is possible to be completely surprised on tour: you show up and it’s packed and they are ready to treat your band as professionals. The promoter has worked their ass off making sure the night was worth your travel and you are compensated fairly. But that’s an outlier on the bell-curve; Don’t EVER expect that.
Just booking this leg of the tour was difficult because all dates in Texas were booked around February to March of this year. That is during SXSW and therefore, almost everyone failed to get back to me. Texas is a big, monster state so we wanted to adhere to all these license plate reminders to go big or go home. Coming from the north, I decided to hit the Dallas area, then south to Austin and East-southeast to Houston. We got an offer to play an early set in Fort Worth, Texas pretty early on. If you’re on a tour and in a new market, it’s best to try to hit as many people as possible. You don’t want to spend two days at a location with two different venues in close proximity. Promoters hate that. Other bands hate that. Your mom hates that. Don’t do it. BUT… if you get done early enough and you can hit an afterparty or DIY location that has a built in crowd where you can low-key promote it, then that’s probably okay. Being a Friday, we didn’t want to end our night around 9pm. I mean, our bodies might have wanted to but it’s a waste of a prime-time weekend slot to only do one show. I found a DIY house party venue in Denton, Texas about an hour or so East. The Fort Worth show had turned into a private party / baby shower for one of the bartenders so promoting wasn’t heavily expected of us. Each show offered us about half our guarantee so it actually made sense to double up.
We set up, played, slayed and confused the hell out of a crowd at first. There were two cover bands after us so we were definitely, once again, the odd men out. But the reception was warm and energetic. We struck our stage, packed up and were in the van in 17 minutes. This is a huge feat for a five-person outfit with this much gear. It is imperative to not make a habit out of this. It’s always best to stay for the other bands, network, hang out, be professional and supportive of the venue and to not seem unappreciative by showing up, getting paid and leaving. BUT, I have to admit, it was nice to just be efficient and quick and not have to hang out at a venue until closing time to get paid.
We had about an hour to get to Denton to set up and start and had hoped for zero traffic to make the tight window. A few wrong turns later dealing with Texas’ unending highway construction, we ended up in the seven rings of detour hell. Eventually, we made it to the house party in one piece.
Gatsby’s was an unassuming house that didn’t look like a DIY venue from its exterior. Inside was a healthy amount of people, all being polite and quiet. We’ve done house shows in the past with raucous and unruly crowds. While the energy might be tempting, that also means that drunk idiots will be stepping all over your shit, vomiting on your pedal board or bumping into you while you’re trying to play (all three of those happened on one night in the past). We were relieved and excited to be part of a very inclusive and LGBT-friendly crowd. Everyone was extra diligent about putting donations in for the touring band and providing a good party for us. The house owners lamented the difficulties keeping house venues up and operating in the area: noise complaints, underage drinking, internal drama and floating roommates made for keeping reliable personnel and locations near impossible. The show itself was energetic and loud. We played in a garage to a engaged crowd of small to manageable proportions. We were exhausted by the end of the short set but all felt it was the right call to pull an extra shift that night.
Coincidentally, another touring band that I had met through similar channels, was playing at another house venue in Denton that night. The pop-punk band Psuedo, from Toronto, had played a small venue in Queens a month prior. They were a basic three-piece formation but had some stellar grooves and very tasteful 5 string bass playing. The trio of 20 and 21 year old kids, (yes, kids) were currently about halfway through their 3+ month long tour in the U.S.. They had gone through the official visa process and booked their asses off. I admired their spirit and tenacity. They were an overly polite pair of brothers and a drummer that in typical drummer fashion didn’t know where the next day’s stop was going to be. We went out to a diner after the show and talked shop. They were doe-eyed about the whole process, taking the inevitable setbacks of dropped bills and empty shows in stride, almost as a red badge of courage. Their nightly deficit was $40. If they got enough money to cover a meal and gas, they were okay. I almost envied that model. I was slightly jealous of that simplicity and care-free attitude about the game. I tried to inquire without having too much of that ‘back in the day’ mentality that plagues most seasoned performers. But the truth is that if I was touring that young, it would have probably been similar. I hope they stick with it. They are young and hungry. This gauntlet knocks a lot of very talented people out through monotony, daily rejection and not being compensated for the insane amount of work required to keep things afloat.
We wished each other well on our separate travels and I waddled back to the van. Yes, waddled. Since I’m being overly-honest here, I should mention the Texas humidity had mixed with new jeans and caused my thighs to start chaffing. Gold Bond is your friend, kids.
Austin, TX – Kick Butt Coffee and Beer
Texas was always a goal for me to tour with YBR?. For five straight years we were rejected by official SXSW channels. Every year, we thought that the following year would finally be the time for us to showcase what we do. Things might have changed by now, but for years the only way to ‘submit’ your music to SXSW was through a bidding system called Sonic Bids. For up to $75 you could have your music ‘listened to’ by an official booker for the festival and put onto a sanctioned showcase. The only proof you received that your money wasn’t just pocketed was a form rejection email a few weeks later. I won’t debate the ethics of that model as I might end up punching through my laptop. We were a young band and just assumed it was on the up and up. In 2016, we didn’t submit, but were offered an independent showcase. The only hitch was that it wasn’t official and the venue was asking for $12k to rent out the night. Yeah… that’s a viable option. Go fuck yourself. SXSW is a clusterfuck. Maybe it wasn’t always like that, but when ten thousand touring bands swarm on a relatively small city, clogging up all touring routes to and fro, and saturating the already over-saturated market; it just isn’t enticing. Venues starting ‘showcases’ at 10am with twenty minute sets to ‘industry insiders’ and ‘label scouts’ is horseshit. I’m using a lot of quotation marks in this paragraph for a reason. My advice is to know what’s financially responsible for these big city-wide festivals. It might sound cool and look good on your resume for your band to be heading down to arguably the nation’s biggest musician meet-up. But realize that booking a route there and playing the actual festival is most likely not going to elicit much exposure. And you’ll be losing a lot of money because you sure as shit ain’t getting paid either.
With that said, Austin was a must. Its south central location in the Lone Star State made it our farthest geographical point from NYC. It was an important pivot point for the tour. It was also a lot of pressure playing in one of the biggest musical cities in the country on a Saturday night. We were north of the city and a bit off the beaten path and playing at another strip mall. We also had picked up a friend on tour in the form of a massive storm-system. It started while we left Denton and would follow us for six more days through Atlanta. White-out rain sheeted the windshield making a normal three hour tour into about five. It was supposed to be a three-hour tour, a three hour tour.
We arrived at our host’s location about a mile from the venue. His name was Ryan and we had only met once at a convention we had played last year. He had also helped us with some graphic design for free. What better way to pay him back then to take over his home, clog his toilet and drool on his couch for twelve hours? Don’t answer that: It’s rhetorical. He was more than gracious, and bought a keg for the night, and invited a bunch of his friends. We commiserated about the promotional experience when the fifty or so people he invited via Facebook had only netted about six actual RSVPs. I laughed maniacally and asked how he got such a good ratio response.
The venue was pleasantly awesome for being in a small strip mall. It was spacious and super stylish. It was relatively new but had a great built-in audience. The night was being curated as a video game show, complete with consuls to play and a headlining local video game cover band and two nerd-core rappers. Playing to the backs of people’s heads as they play Street Fighter isn’t ideal, but I’ve been in that world for over a decade so you make do. Sometimes they turn out to be some of your lifelong fans and you had no idea they were actually enjoying your set. The hip hop group started the show and while they did a great job engaging the crowd, they played for over an hour. I’ve noticed in the video game music world that there is very little sense of purpose or front of house managing at these events. From a curator standpoint, it’s too long for an opening act and from a performer standpoint, it’s overkill as well. Genres vary and two bills are never the same but watching an hour set from a band you’ve never seen rarely feels like a treat. Keep the set to a tight 30-40 minutes and leave them wanting more. If you’re touring in new territory, don’t fall prey to the idea that a new audience needs to hear ALL of your catalog. If you’re booked to play two sets that’s one thing but help keeping the flow of the evening is a priority. If you can kill it during the first 40 minutes, just STOP. All you are doing during the last 20 minutes is convincing someone they shouldn’t buy your album. Fatigue sets in, especially at shows with other things to do. You’ll see your audience shift on their feet, take extended smoke breaks or just plain leave because you just HAD to play that Dream Theater cover.
We performed our asses off to an engaged crowd. The venue staff loved us and that’s sometimes the best compliment. I chatted with the owner for a long time. He’s a DC native and I asked him for his best Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins story and he delivered like a champ. Venue staff might seem jaded and bored but it’s the nature of the beast. They have seen it all and heard every excuse to why a show sucked. If they dig what you’re doing then you might be on to something. Descendants of Erdrick ended the night with video game medleys along with original pieces. The front-lady, Amanda Lepre, is also a longtime veteran of the video game music scene. She’s a good comrade to have, making huge strides in the repetitive boy’s club of the music world. She’s been one of the traveling members of Andrew WK’s live band, shredding her signature Flying V guitar and spreading the Gospel of Party anthems across the states. We both gave a collective sigh about how difficult it is to break out of the mold and showcase your actual original music. Both our bands get offers to play big conventions for decent money but only if we stick to certain material. It’s frustrating but necessary. She’s fighting the good fight to give herself a platform for original music she’s passionate about. The struggle is all too real.
We invited people at the show to the afterparty and much to Ryan’s surprise he wasn’t left with a whole barrel of alcohol to sadly drink himself for the next week. We did leave our double kick pedal at the venue though. We’re notorious for that, even with idiot-checks. That’s our goal: to leave one piece of equipment in every city so eventually, we can leave on tour again and have a full backline at every place.
Houston, TX – Phresh.Wav Video Shoot & Notsuoh
When you’re touring, it’s probably smart to make the best of your time at any given place. Each new market we hit has something different to offer. Your job of booking a tour is endless because once you get to a new city, it’s now imperative to promote yourself as best as you can in your short tenure there. We’ll be faced with a dilemma inevitably in new areas: We COULD find a museum or tourist trap if we have a few hours to spare OR we could do something band related. Morale is important and resting is mandatory but if you CAN squeeze in something that benefits the band, you should do it. I did just that for our Houston stop.
I found a small production company and asked if they would want to come cover the show and maybe shoot a live video. Their response was more than enthusiastic so the wheels in my head started turning. Since we had a short drive, I proposed doing an entire video shoot before the show and to my surprise, they were into it and started immediately brainstorming. My band was hungover from the party the night before and getting ANYWHERE before noon was going to be difficult. The rain had also gotten worse and I still wasn’t entirely sure what we had planned for the day. We arrived at a spacious, old-school barber shop called East End Barbers as per the production team’s instructions. It was not only raining but a monsooning downpour. We couldn’t get out of the van. We sat in the parking lot for about ten minutes waiting for any signs that it would subside. If you’ve ever worked in video, you know that ten minutes is really like an hour and time is money. We backed up to the loading door and got drenched walking five feet. Our driver found strips of plywood and put them over the van to create a bridge into the doorway. The rain wasn’t letting up and we’re here to work. We were stoked to see a full production team of people ready, willing and able to help us. I had fully expected a timid duo or trio of people with small cameras. What we got was a full team with high-end equipment and professionalism all the way.
We loaded in our gear and set up for a live video shoot. There’s a lot of cooks in that kitchen but we had clear direction with lots of flexibility for our input as well. We were rushed for time so we had to make the best of it. If you’ve done a multi-camera shoot you know it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. About twelve cameras needed to be on, charged and dumped at the same time. Luckily, everyone had their shit together; we got everything done with about four minutes to spare to strike-time. We did three live songs, B-roll, a photo shoot and an in-depth interview for their channel. As producers, it’s our job to provide content. Those tasked with supplying our content have just as difficult of a job maintaining quality. During album releases you’ll be inundated with lots of interviews and generic questions. While it’s tempting to give stock copy and paste answers, it does neither entity (producer or consumers) any service. Keep things honest but optimistic, realistic but light, and serious but humorous and entertaining. There’s nothing worse when you read the same tired and diplomatic story from someone in separate interviews. It’s lazy and inauthentic. It may be tedious to liven things up but the end result is worth it.
Driving through downtown Houston to the gig we were reminded that this is the #1 city for band-van theft in the United States. A year ago, there was a major bust of a theft ring that targeted touring bands. We were adamant about keeping an eye on our vehicle. Major advice is that if you can travel without a trailer, do it. Hitched trailers are a glaring target for thieves. They will take either the trailer or the whole van while it’s left unattended. You’ve probably seen GoFundMe’s for bands that have been ransacked mid-tour and need help continuing on or just getting home. We are constantly on the lookout for shady CraigsList ads advertising loads of band equipment in bulk for cheap without proper documentation. It’s not IF this happens to your band, but WHEN. Be prepared, always! Keep a GPS tracker in your vehicle, a secondary alarm system, and take as much gear as you can with you wherever you sleep for the night in high-risk cities. None of that will help you for smash and grabs but anything helps. If you stay at a hotel, park your van with the doors facing you in front of your door. Ask where the cameras are located and ask for a room in that spot, preferably by halogen streetlamps. It’s extra work for the front desk so they might be hesitant but be pushy about it. Ask to speak to their corporate office if you’re given any flack. Most times a hotel won’t be completely sold out on a band’s budget. If you aren’t in a hotel, draw straws and have someone sleep in the van. They get out of loading duty the next day for taking one for the team.
The venue was rustic, quirky, macabre and weird as all hell. It was perfect for us. Hauling gear across a city block sucked but we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of people out for a Sunday show. The torrential downpour had stopped for a few hours and people stricken with cabin fever came out with a frenzy. The first band did a spectacular job warming up the crowd and were extremely supportive and excited to be playing with us. The lead singer told me that she had been looking forward to playing with us for awhile. I’m always taken off guard when I hear that. Amid the amount of bullshit I put up with behind the scenes, it’s easy to forget that we have been putting out consistent music for almost a decade and that it may inspire other musicians to keep going. I’m a big dork and whenever someone says they admire my band, I immediately feel confused. I’m barely holding things together but SOMETHING I’m doing is right so I’ll take any validation I can get.
By the time we took the stage, the energy was bursting. The area was very small and we had to put our masks in front of us near the edge. During the second song, an older lady that had been dancing up a storm grabbed one of our Day-of-the-Dead masks and put it on. This has happened in the subway a few times and we’ve shut it down right away. While busking things can get out of control very quickly if you don’t take control. But for some reason on this night, we let it go. Then a duo of young girls picked up some other masks and put them on to dance. Soon, a handful of other people followed suit. The fog machines were going on a random timer and seeing our crowd in our masks, in a hazy mist, against a backdrop of broken pianos and headless mannequins in a totally organic moment, made me remember why I do this. Some assclown broke one of our nicer masks but it was still worth it. It gave us an idea to leave out some cheap masks at the front of the stage for this to hopefully happen again. The crowd felt safer dancing behind a mask and interacting with us that way. The experience helped close out our first trip to Texas in one of the most memorable shows we’ve ever done.
New Orleans, LA – The Howling Wolf (The Den)
There’s not a city that we hear more about than NOLA. With our busking experience and touch of the strange, we’ve been instructed in not-so-subtle ways that it is mandatory for us to get our asses down to the bayou. Its rich history of live music, tough as nails mentality and overcoming extreme hardships, New Orleans seems like the perfect sister city to NYC. Because every other band in the USA has had the same sort of Pilgrimage to Mecca epiphany in one way or another, it makes booking that swampland extremely difficult. This was the hardest show to pin down. So many dead-ends and lack of responses almost made me give up. The alternative was to play Baton Rouge, Lafayette, or somewhere in Alabama. Yikes… Anyway, once I finally found a place that would give us a hold on a venue (you get holds before you get confirmations, provided you find all the locals, get a promoter, ensure draw and get tasked with doing 100% of the promotion most times), I had a bitch of a time finding local support. I emailed a punk band well known in the area that shall remain nameless. I gave them my pitch and was met with a response of “LOL nah”. I tried my best not to respond but after weeks of this nonsense, I had to bite. “Thanks for the quick response, albeit concise and unnecessarily snide.” I shouldn’t have engaged but I did. They responded with “welcome to the music biz bitch.” Yeah… southern hospitality… gotta love it.
Two years ago, we did a tour diary for a NY magazine. To make a long story short, we got in a heap of PR trouble after being TOO honest about a show we did in South Carolina. It was blown WAY out of proportion and a lot of nasty stuff was said about us after we gave an accurate assessment of a terrible bill we were a part of. Stuff was taken out of context and we started receiving threatening messages and we ended up taking the post entry down. The point is that we named names when we shouldn’t have and forgot our place on this totem pole. There IS such a thing as bad press. So… I’ll tread lightly on this one.
After finding a promoter with Diviner Productions (they were great), gaining a headliner, losing a headliner and booking two local bands (one from two hours north), the show looked to be a complete disaster before it started. The day of the show, I got a text from the opening band asking if they could use our drums. Whether you’ve toured or not, it’s not only amateur to ask this question, it’s pretty dumb. The touring band has equipment they NEED to keep solid for the duration. It gets beat up every night and they don’t know the local bands. Just bring your own shit, right? You live there! We normally share gear when we are in town but it’s just not something we are comfortable with on the road after numerous broken drum heads, cracked cymbals and blown speakers. Well, because of that response, the opening band turned out to be 2 hours late because they had to bring their own gear. That’s a terrible excuse, by the way. They showed up when they were supposed to be starting. Late starts with an early curfew means short sets and the last band usually gets screwed with crowd and time. Coupled with that, we are in the back room of the Howling Wolf called “The Den” where there is no sound guy and no monitors. The outlook looked grim. It was also still raining outside because the universe is just a dick sometimes.
SOMEHOW, the night came together. The first band played longer than they were supposed to (typical for a late band) and almost all of them left right after they played (also painfully typical). But we and the other two bands fucking made it a show. Our sound guy ran sound for free the whole night. We brought in a busking amp to act as a monitor and totally blew our own speaker in the process. Fuck it… WE’RE allowed to do that. No one else. I was still noticing something wrong with my pedalboard. When I had the Electro Harmonix Chorus pedal (the Nano Clone) on in conjunction with another pedal, I could hear some bad feedback. It was the internal circuit tracking. It was a clicking and a wavelength sound. So, some pedal was STILL drawing too much power. It was becoming clear that I would need some open heart surgery on this ASAP. With the blown speaker producing a muddy sound, the last half of our set sounded like constant distortion. The crowd didn’t care. God bless ‘em.
The promoter was there and super professional and hands on about everything despite the bullshit. It was a good crowd for a Monday and he was able to pay some of our nightly guarantee. You can guess which band didn’t get paid. Sam of Diviner Productions was one of the rare promoters that cared about the quality of their shows. He took on a wildly shaky bill, ran with it and promoted the shit out of it to make it a decent night. By all accounts, that show should have bombed and it didn’t.
Our host was kind enough to let us drop off gear at his place and then roll back into town to do the touristy shit we’ve always wanted to do. We were supposed to busk that day to hype the show but couldn’t because of the rain. The band and crew were also in dire need of some unwinding time. We ended up partying in the French Quarter until about 430am. I ate a gator sausage just to solidify my place in the food chain and watched my drivers get goofy drunk off sugary daiquiris and absinthe. We had a long drive to Tallahassee tomorrow and if we were to believe anything we’ve seen in the news over the last decade, some weird and crazy shit was about to go down in that backwards state of Florida.
Stay tuned to see if we get our faces eaten off by Florida-Man…Photography by Mike Peloquin