On the Road (Again) with Peat Rains from You Bred Raptors?: Part 1
We are currently being slowly cordoned off onto another generic highway one lane at a time due to construction. Beat up dual-colored barrels and permanently stationed blinking signs corral us into a slow-moving python of vehicles along seams in the concrete. I don’t see any crews working, but that doesn’t stop the enclave of road closures and detours here in the Midwest. I’m situated in the back seat of this mom-mobile minivan. It has the latest features of technologies, both useful and gratuitous but looks unassuming and normal on the outside. That was by design this time. On a tour last year in Chicago, our very obvious band-van was broken into and robbed (more on that later). Since then, we have been more conspicuous about our chariots. As cool it would be to ramble down the road in the Shaggin Wagon or a Winnebago with wizard shooting lighting out of a staff on the woody side paneling, we have to be aware that bands’ vehicles are targets. So, until we can afford our own Iron Maiden private jet, Karen with the ‘Can I talk to your manager’ haircut’s soccer practice caravan will have to do.
If you’re just meeting us for the first time, my name is Peat Rains and I play eight-string bass in an instrumental orchestral rock band from New York City called You Bred Raptors?. I have a custom Conklin Bass and am navigating the world of boutique pedals and pedalboard building after some recent sponsorships and endorsements. The band has been around since 2010 and we have played over 1,100 shows. We got our start busking in the subway system of NYC with Music Under New York, a program that provides artists with legal permits to perform underground after an audition process. We have been the house band for a long-running off-Broadway show, the Edgar Allen Poe House in Baltimore, scored horror and independent films and been touring extensively the past four years.
I tend to color outside of the lines. And in the very traditionalist and sometimes stringent world of bass playing, having allies definitely helps. So, to the readers providing their own “Jaco only needed four strings” or “Why don’t you just play guitar?” or “how is he THAT good-looking?”, well, to you I say that I’ve heard it all before. I’m not your average bassist and I never proclaimed to be. I treat my instrument as a songwriting tool and will always choose to try to push boundaries while still maintaining a respect for the bass.
Pictured below are my bass and pedalboard specs so you can have some reference. My bass is a custom from Conklin Guitars from which I am endorsed with tuning from low to high: F# B E A D G C E. I have a custom string line at Curt Mangan Strings and my pedal sponsorships are from Temple Audio (pedalboards), Mojo Hand FX, Cusack Music, Rougarou Pedals and Noisekick FX. My signal chain is as follows:
Bass —-> Boss TU-3 Tuner –> TC Electronics Spectra Comp –> Ernie Ball JR Volume –> Mooer Black Secret (RAT Clone Dist) –> Boss PH-6 Harmonist –> Boss OC-3 Super Compressor (Guitar input) –> Mojo Hand El Guapo (Dist) –> Ibanez Sound Tank Slam Punk (Dist) –> Rougarou Bass Preamp (Driver) –> Mooer Mod Factory –> 3 Leaf Audio Proton (Envelope Filter) –> IdiotBox Effects Mad Doctor Stutter –> Line 6 FM4 –> Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter –> MXR Carbon Copy Delay –> Rougarou Boosthulu (Boost) –> Mooer Bass Sweeper –> CNZ Noise Gate –> Cusack Music Tap-A-Delay –> Rougarou Banshee Reverb –> Boss DD-7 Digital Delay (Looper) —-> Amp (Hartke 350w Head & 1×12 Bergantino cabinet)
The Temple Board is powered underneath by two sources with isolated inputs, LED lighting and built-in IEC power switch. I built it myself and while my beard might be manly and badass, I am no Bob Villa and I will definitely manage to fuck some things up along the way. Interested in any constructive feedback about the signal chain.
Meanwhile, back in the minivan, I’m flanked by stabby musical equipment, snacks, errant trash and recycling bags, backpacks, and band merch fashioned to make a pillow fort here in the backseat. Up front driving is our drummer, KC, taking his usual coxswain position operating this gypsy minstrel parade. Riding shotgun is our cellist, Tara, as she rivals me with a better laptop and HotSpot WiFi updating her personal website and answering emails as I proverbially get to the end of my sentence and cock this archaic typewriter back to position. This is You Bred Raptors?’s um, I don’t know, 12th major tour? I don’t mean to sound flippant but I am starting to lose count. I can say this is our second time traversing this many dates in a row and our first time heading to Mexico. This will also be my second time providing a tour diary for NoTreble.com. The folks over there have been very supportive of this band and my personal bass journey for almost a decade now. On the last go-around, we had just lost our cellist and my songwriting partner of five years. It was a huge personal blow and a major kneecapping to the band’s momentum, but it’s also largely unavoidable in this profession. The aftermath of that tour was utter bankruptcy, exhaustion and a longer time than I’d like to admit of doubt and frustration trying to regroup. We performed in about 27 cities in 31 days with a new member, two new personnel (full-time driver and roadie) and 75% of the dates in unchartered waters. You can read it here:
Things have changed drastically since the last dipsy doodle around North America. Our band was robbed, our van died, great and terrible shows and a few forgetful ones. We have finally found an amazing full-time cellist (after going through about four or five others that just weren’t the right fit), provided support for bigger bands on tour such as Secret Chiefs 3, Too Many Zooz, Consider the Source, Ghost-Note (Snarky Puppy), and Thank You Scientist. The band is having to completely rebrand to compete in the current landscape of content over touring and social media prowess over honing your craft. So yeah, we are competing with prank videos and photoshopped models hawking beauty products for scarce advertising dollars.
It’s an odd time for the band as we loom closer to our 10 year anniversary in early 2020 while desperately trying to smash this ceiling above us. The fork in the road is becoming less of a mirage and more of a Titanic-sized iceberg. We can’t ignore it much longer and need to shit or get off the pot. We have had some difficult and disheartening setbacks the last year trying to upstream and be taken more seriously. None of the booking agencies, more notable record labels and management services have said “no” to us but instead dangled the carrot in front of us a little closer as we climb this Sisyphean avalanche. They want to monitor our progress and study ticket history to see if we make financial sense to take on as full-time clients. So, sink or swim, adapt or die, try to become a YouTube sensation or Instagram influencer or get the fuck out there and do what you do best and tour. We chose the latter and did it ALL on our own. This is the very true and sometimes brutally honest account of how that pans out, good, bad, or ugly. All the ups and down of a major transcontinental tour along with some tips and tricks for traveling bassists in the bunch. Read it and weep.
Day 1 – Tour Kickoff – Brooklyn, NY – El Cortez
We always try to kick off a tour in our hometown. It’s best to test new material, connect one time before hitting the road together and work out the kinks if you haven’t played together for a bit. While a tour homecoming sounds more fun, in the case of being a NYC-based band, the logistics of coming back to a city as unwelcoming and clusterfucky as the Big Apple is just the worst. The culture shock of coming home after staying in real houses, breathing actual air, paying fair prices for basic sustenance, and finding readily available parking more often than not is a huge damper for a final show in a city that boasts none of those attributes. Your music might be more tight at the tail-end, but your morale might be shot due to a bad run of shows, financial depletion or normal tour tension, and it will show to your hometown crowd. There are pros and cons to both. Our last tour ended with a homecoming show where we added support to an already sold-out show. That’s ideal as the onus is off of you to promote and bring people out remotely and you can just play a kick ass gig while showing off your West Virginia Farmer’s tan and new Godsmack tribal sun, tramp stamp you got in Florida.
This Brooklyn show came about from a friend’s band from California doing a small weekend tour on the east coast. Nico, from Super MadNES, hit me up looking for help. They are a five-piece video game music metal band, complete with dueling long-haired shredding guitarists, dual keytarists and a visuals show set to backing tracks that would give an epileptic a breakdancing fit. (Can confirm… Source: am epileptic). My band is looking to hit the west coast this Fall and I really respected Nico’s tenacity and professionalism, so I helped him search for a show. It was their first time playing in NYC and they were overly grateful for the opportunity. Show-swapping is a great way to network with other bands. It’s also HUGE to have allies in other cities, even if they can’t secure a show or have their band play your gig when you do book out there. It’s a place to crash, a familiar face, and perhaps the seedlings of a local following because you chose to pass along a couple of names or do some easy email introductions. The show was on a Sunday, a notoriously dead night in most major cities. We just go into a show like that assuming we are playing last, will provide most of the crowd, and that we will be giving the touring band any money from the door, and hope they do the same upon reciprocation.
We were booked by Scenic Presents; they’ve always been professional and good to us. They were hands-on and promoted hard. The band Cheap Dinosaurs was booked from Philly. They were a sonic fit for the evening and drew well for being an out of town band. Scenic booked a local band that ended up bailing on the gig a few hours before their set was supposed to begin. This shit happens from time to time. You don’t get mad; you just roll with it. It actually worked out because the turnout was great for a Sunday, and each band got to play a little longer and not rush to strike the stage. Cheap Dinosaurs is one of my favorite bands and full of some really good friends. They have made me rethink my utter contempt for backing tracks. They also have visuals during shows, albeit controlled and improvised by an unofficial 5th member of the band off stage. I used to feel that backing tracks were cheating. And for some bands, that seems true. If you have more laptops than members on stage, for instance. Every show is the same length, every song has the same arcs, builds, crescendos, and narratives. But bands like Cheap Dinosaurs uses them as icing and not flour. It’s subtle and adds to the music. Everyone is still helping move the song along instead of just playing along and looking bored. Our band uses looping this way. It’s a PART of a song and not the foundation. The positives of backing tracks are also that everyone stays on tempo, thus eliminating the inevitable 5-10 BPM shift of songs due to nerves or being unfamiliar with each room’s unique sound. I’m coming around to it.
Super MadNES took the stage after some technical difficulties setting up. I had been in a video game music band for 15 years so I recognized all of the games, even if their predetermined visuals weren’t a clear indication. They were on the other end of the spectrum, relying too heavily on backing tracks. Again, personal preference as the crowd loved it and it was an overall great performance. They were very tight and very fun to watch, but as a personal preference, just would rather watch someone fuck up in real-time than having overpowering tracks in the PA. Certain bands you can just tell have a good idea of what they want to be and have gone for it. Super MadNES was like that and I’m really excited to see where they go with it. They also totally owe us a show in Los Angeles and I will be hanging it over their head until they deliver like a birthing doctor.
We took the stage a bit later than anticipated to the surprise of no one in New York City. The band had not played together in a couple of weeks since our Canadian mini-tour at the beginning of July. We were a bit rusty and tragedy struck as my new pedalboard (more on that later) shit the bed and just died halfway through our fourth song. It was an issue that if I had three minutes of private inspection could have diagnosed and fixed. But in a very obvious part of the song and having to abandon ship and just go gorilla (direct into the amp) in an effects-heavy song was a lot to confront. I panicked a bit thinking of which songs we could do straight in. The crowd was understanding and seemed to like the shakeup as it was a unique show. Times like that make you listen to different parts of songs you’re overly familiar with and sometimes in a new light, can sound better. At a recent residency show, we were left without a drummer and my cellist and I were surprised to learn and listen to some of these parts interacting without percussion. The show must go on.
We received payment from the door and split it among the bands and they wished us well on our journey. Inside, I was getting nervous about the upcoming monster. Embarking was a few days away and there was still many T’s to cross and I’s to dot. We didn’t have local bands for two of the shows and still needed to find a place to crash in five cities. Maybe it’s not too late to go back to school for that new trendy computer science career.
Day 2 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Travel day)
We rarely take days off on tour. It only happened for the first time a few months back on a two week run into the Midwest. We had a show planned on Easter Sunday and through a calamity of errors (one being the largely conflicting Game of Thrones second episode), the promoters got nervous about low ticket sales and rescheduled the night. We reluctantly took the night off and ended up loving going to bed at a decent hour and recalibrating. Since then, we are more accepting. I’d rather play somewhere given the chance, even if it’s bumfuck nowhere. But if you’re going to make zero money that day, you might as well spend it relaxing and boosting morale than trying to extract blood from a stone with a lackluster, thrown-together DIY gig. Plus, as the only Game of Thrones fan in the band, I was stoked to get to watch it that night.
We had decided as a band that we would only play Pittsburgh again so soon after our last headlining gig (back in April) if we could provide support at one of the larger venues. A new crowd was imperative for growth in that city. There’s no sense playing to the same 75-100 people in such quick succession as an out of town band. Development markets are important, but it’s easy to over-saturate yourselves and get too comfortable playing for those crowds. The support slot didn’t work out so we opted for a travel day since it was going to easily be 8 hours in the car the first day of driving (two of which is usually just leaving Manhattan and godforsaken New Jersey). I had a friend from college living in Pittsburgh that I had not seen for a good 12 years put the entire band up, hang out till late, and make us breakfast. He’s a fellow musician and understands the grind. My drummer remarked that we should just forgo doing shows in lieu of crashing at people’s houses and collecting breakfast as our reward. It’s hard to disagree knowing the bullshit you have to traverse tour planning. Setting up one show is difficult, compound that making it happen out of town where you don’t have boots on the ground or knowledge of the local scene, then multiply that by fucking infinity by making each show on a different, specific day, then square-root that bitch by finding and researching bands in that area that actually draw and convincing local promoters you don’t suck butt. It’s an equation that usually equals headaches and stress. We had three shows confirmed early on in the planning and then magically unconfirmed for reasons X, Y, and Z. You just roll with it and take it in stride. Try to make something happen with what you got. Without a booking agency to take us on as full- or part-time clients, it’s just us using our networking connections, cold-calling and emailing venues to garner interest, or praying REALLY hard for the Lord to immaculately conceive us a show in the manger of our dreams. These setbacks happen while working with an agency, but it happens less and someone’s job is putting out those fires.
Our hosts wished us luck on our tour and loaded us up with some sticky buns for the road, inevitably starting us on our diet of sugar and dopamine for the rest of the trip.
Day 3 – Detroit, Michigan – Barter
The closest we have gotten to Detroit outside of syndicated Home Improvement episodes and the Kid Rock sex tape was playing Windsor, Ontario on a number of equations in the past. Windsor offered us a show when Motor City came up empty. It’s literally a couple of miles from the border and was always good to us. But a few friends of mine that made the grand exodus out of NYC to more affordable and emerging creative scenes like Detroit decided to open a venue there. They could open a bar in a nice neighborhood and pay less than if they were renting a studio apartment in Manhattan. It’s so backwards and doesn’t make sense why we choose to live in such an expensive city that caters only to the wealthy and tourists. But that’s a whole other essay to read. I had never visited Detroit outside of passing through from Canada. It has a slew of diverse neighborhoods and a rich history I wanted to soak in. Rarely do we get a lot of time to explore so you take in all you can.
Barter had only been open for less than four months, so we knew they would still be workshopping operations. We were only their third show and the first ‘loud’ band. The room was not fully treated and the sound system was still a work in progress. Our cellist, Tara, had her mom and neighbor, both named Mary for easy recall, out for the festivities. The last time her mom saw us play was at an ABYSMAL show in Lansing, Michigan last year. It was Tara’s third show with us and we had played at a video game convention boasting a 12k attendee cap. We played in a three thousand capacity room, complete with monster stage, fog machines, light show, and security to quite literally four people. Apparently, something had gone wrong with the guidebooks and we weren’t listed. It sucks playing to an empty crowd. It especially sucks playing in a room that cavernous to your mom while they try to hide their ‘Should have stayed in school, kid’ look on their face. I’m probably speaking from personal experience only here. Anyway, we didn’t want that to happen again.
Our old tour driver, Kyle, came out to our gig. He had done seven tours with us and felt like the unofficial fourth member of the band. We miss him every tour now that he’s traded his Nokia for a real smartphone, got married, lost a bunch of weight and cleaned up his act. I mean, how DARE he evolve and grow as a person without thinking of us first. He slipped right back into old habits as he sat at our merch booth and tidied things up and taking photos like a proud dad during the set. The first band was a local called Night Hvnt (pronounced Hunt) that was a fun emo, prog band. They had great energy and brought a good slew of people, filling up the venue quite nicely. Of course, my fear of everyone leaving was sort of founded as they all dwindled away and continued their nights elsewhere. The venue had a separate room for music that required payment to get into. I understand that reason, but also feel like it’s inviting people to not check out the music or to only stay for their familiar bands.
We maybe had ten to fifteen people in the crowd total. Tara’s cello was acting up, but we persevered by trying some new material so we could hone it for the duration of the next few weeks. It was a letdown to start a tour with a low turnout. This is the chance you take in new markets and is largely unavoidable. The opening band stayed for all of our set and we chatted about the grind. They bought our merch and gave us some of theirs for free along with an unfinished pizza pie. That’s some motherfucking Midwestern hospitality right there. We shoved off back to Lansing to crash at Tara’s childhood home. We were surrounded by school pictures of her and doting artifacts from her youth. It’s an intimate glimpse into someone’s life seeing where they come from and how they came to be. We shoved off at a lazy pace in the morning knowing we were coming upon familiar territory in Lafayette, Indiana. Oh and we had breakfast burritos and each had our own bed. Don’t get used to that shit. It’s gonna be couches, air mattresses, and floors for half of this pilgrimage here on out.
Day 4 – Lafayette, Indiana – Carnahan Hall
While routing for the tour, it’s imperative to have other options and flex dates. When contacting a venue by cold-emailing, give them some options if your route is still up in the air. Taking into account how long you want to be driving between stops and allotted days off, it might not be possible to hit a perfect tour circle on a map. We had originally planned for Chicago since we had just hit Lafayette a couple of months ago and our shows there were treading water the last couple times at best. Even with about five months of lead-time for booking (Chicago is notoriously difficult to book, especially three months or less), we were told that it was Lollapalooza weekend. While most locals said that the gargantuan, historic festival shouldn’t affect draw, venues and promoters were hesitant to book against it. We had found a show option finally that was a six-band bill with minimal pay (probably $50 in gas or less) and no parking guaranteed for our van. That last request might seem diva-like, but I assure you that it’s founded. The last time we were in Chicago in March of 2018, our van was broken into and we were robbed. We were fortunately on stage when it occurred and only some random personal items were taken. The band was still kinda shook and violated after the incident. Understandably hesitant to come back through was not helped by having so many iffy variables.
It was time to make an executive decision on whether to chance it or play it safe by booking Lafayette again or chance it in Chi-town. One on hand, we could hit a familiar market with a dedicated fan-base with a guarantee on a weekend instead of a normal mid-week slump day. On the other, we could compete against one of Chicago’s biggest music festivals on a stacked bill at a small place where we wouldn’t make any door money and would be tethered to our van if it happened to be in a not-great area. Sometimes being an adult and TRYING to be fiscally and financially responsible just sucks donkey balls. The band opted to play it safe since we are hitting a lot of new unfamiliar markets on tour without a guarantee. This should have been the diary entry where we ventured into the path less traveled and came out ahead. It is not. The safe-bet show was kind of a bomb. The other bands were awesome and weird and all of the elements should have lined up, but they just didn’t. We don’t want to throw any shade on the booker or venue. They are always top-notch. It was just a heavy stroke of bad luck, competing with a lot of random other events and perhaps fatigue of us making hunting scarce in this area because that’s the only fun thing to do while playing the Oregon Trail. Leave the crowd wanting more next time, ya doofuses.
With that said, we absolutely played a great set, was comped free bowling, pinball, and drinks and partied till around 4 am with the booker and host. They were overly-apologetic. Though they honestly didn’t need to be. I’ve never seen a promoter hustle as hard as them over the years. These shows are just a part of the grind. Unless you’re Rod Fucking Stewart, you’ll always run the risk of having a show go bust. All bands on all levels experience it to a certain degree. And they don’t get easier, as someone once told me, they just get fewer as you climb.
Day 5 – Appleton, Wisconsin – Gibson Music Hall – Mile of Music Festival
There are certain pockets of this country that we stumble into that surprise the hell out of us. Away from major cities and jaded urbanites lies vibrant scenes that just absolutely kick ass, only restrained by their geography or lack of exposure. Appleton is one of these places. After a serendipitous chance show in Asheville, North Carolina where a venue neighbor heard our music from his living room, we connected with a guy named Kurt. He wandered out of his rented AirBnb and proceeded to catch our set to a whole twelve people on a Tuesday (including MY parents… awesome). Turns out Kurt owns a huge music venue in northern Wisconsin and invites us to play. Our last show in Appleton was the day before we were robbed in Chicago, thus making it easily the best night on tour before all hell broke loose. There was a great crowd, good food, and he took us all over town and proceeded to overwhelm us with hospitality and generosity of the likes we had rarely seen. He said “Come back for the Mile of Music. It’ll blow your mind.” We made a mental note and was stoked that the event lined up with our routing for this current tour.
Full disclosure here… we weren’t TECHNICALLY a part of the event. It was just too late in the booking process to add any more official acts to the bill. So, we got creative and just set up on the other side of the venue on a side stage by the exit while the last band was playing. Gibson Music Hall is big and on the last day of the festival was 150 people overcapacity. I rushed to set up merch and added a sign of our set time. The idea was that the sound guy would silently check our lines so we could start immediately after the encore before the mass exodus of people. Unfortunately for us, the sound guy was good and thorough and the last band was ridiculously good but also full of brass instruments so there weren’t enough mics, DI boxes or XLR cables to properly get us ready. We definitely don’t wanna cheese on someone’s time or be rude and play during their set so we bit the bullet and just waited for a proper soundcheck. Half the crowd left, but the other half stayed at the sight of us in masks or odd instrumentation. A good amount of people had shown up specifically for us playing this unofficial ‘after-party’.
The set commenced and one of the organizers offered to run our merch for a free t-shirt during our set. Champion status right there, yo. The band was tight and played all of our new material to the first great crowd of this tour. Every show of the Mile of Music festival is free. The layout of literally one street and one long mile means anyone can dip in and out. The organizers are also adamant that every band is original. We got that shit on LOCKDOWN. Swarms of confused pedestrians stopped in after gazing at us through the window like a manatee exhibit at the aquarium. Merch sales were finally putting us in the black and the response was very warm and welcoming. Along with their accents being cute and adorable, Wisconsinites are very congenial and huggy. You’d almost forget this is the serial killer capital of America.
The set was on the early side and most bars ended up closing early so their staff could go enjoy the closing ceremonies for the festival. We packed seven of us into a small SUV and cruised down the infamous mile to a really big stage. What we witnessed was none other than how Kurt had described: mind-blowing. The final jam of the night would be a couple of hours with headlining bands from the whole weekend playing one song at a time, exchanging members and all using the same equipment. Master of ceremonies and a dedicated house band, made up of event organizers, filled in the gaps. We must have seen over 60 competent players performing a variety of covers (the only time that it’s encouraged) and just astonishing an already mesmerized crowd with stunning musicianship and positive vibes. I’ve been in this game a long time and it was really something amazing to witness. One part jam, one part singalong, and two parts a well-deserved, self-congratulatory stress relief after navigating hundreds of bands over a four day period. The culmination reached a fever pitch with over 40 musicians on stage performing Joe Cocker’s “A Little Help from my Friends”. It was hard to pick an MVP for the night, whether it was the sound guy traversing that audio spider web, the musicians expertly segueing into different styles of music so effortlessly or the audience members that had danced for twelve hours straight of music. I’ve always been jealous of those bassists that can sit in and adapt to different genres. This is our expected role. My impostor syndrome maxes out while witnessing this firsthand. It’s a humbling lesson to take notes from every style and to never stop learning.
This set a high bar for the tour and I’m hoping the rest of the shows are of similar ilk. Tara’s cello is still acting up during shows while my pedalboard sound is staying mostly consistent. I’m anxious about the former and cautiously optimistic about the latter. Tomorrow, we hit Minneapolis for the first time ever as a band. It’s on a Monday, which is notoriously bad for shows, and right in the center of a college campus during the off-season. If the Mighty Ducks can persevere in this town against the odds, then we can too. Gonna need your thoughts and prayers for this one, just to be safe.