Back on the Road With Peat Rains from You Bred Raptors?: Part 1
It’s been two years since we put miles to the road. Up until last week, it had been almost that same amount of time since I had performed in front of a live audience. That is the longest stretch of time for me, by a few country kilometers, in between shows since I was fifteen years old. I don’t know how much muscle memory would kick in or if I had to attend a recertification class in some dingy, municipal building basement for burned-out musicians. This shit was so hard before the pandemic went and changed everything. If we were starting to crack the ceilings above us in 2019, we were in for a rude awakening as the many stories above came crashing down. Now, I honestly have no idea how to proceed.
If you don’t know us, our band is called “You Bred Raptors?”. And yes, that’s with a question mark. We are a three-piece, instrumental, orchestral post-rock band made up of 8 string bass (me), cello, glockenspiel, and drums from New York City. We started as a permitted busking band here in 2010 with the Music Under New York program, have scored various films, and were the house band at the off-Broadway show Sleep No More. We have worked with Yoko Ono, Adult Swim, and TROMA Pictures. We don’t take ourselves as people too seriously but have a do-or-die attitude when it comes to our music. After six years of hard touring, we got hit by the pandemic and have been sidelined until now. Our ten-year anniversary show, festival headlining gigs, and our Spring and Summer tours were all canceled or postponed. Things had never been so uncertain.
Watching the months fall off the calendar and any plans to reschedule last year’s shows for Fall evaporated. A year and a half calcified in stasis and floated off into the ether. We had originally blocked off three calendar weeks for this great “comeback” tour for the Fall of 2021. I knew things would be messy out there but I was unprepared for the caliber of destruction the touring industry had endured. Individual GoFundMe’s, Save our Stages campaigns and calls for specific PPP loans for venues barely kept the lights on for so many. We had participated in a digital festival to benefit local artists hit hardest but that felt like such a tease to performing nightly again. Keeping perspective was important. The world had just gone through this collective trauma and artists and musicians were last in line for assistance. There were real factions of people that were hit hardest and that needed to be addressed first and foremost. Justifiable fear, unnecessary partisan politics, and mismanagement at every level left the horizon decimated. Over half of the venues we had used for the past six years on tour had shut down, forever. Bookers, managers, agents and the always elusive talent scouts hung up their spurs and moved on presumably. Admittedly, I felt jealous of the bands that absolutely killed it during the various lockdowns. Livestreams and outdoor shows took off while the rest of us were left struggling to find our equilibrium. I was happy music was still prevalent, albeit only digitally, but frustrated we didn’t have the equipment, means, and sometimes drive to compete with this new adaptation. We were very much a live band; road-dogs making a name for ourselves on the pavement and finally gaining traction in a lot of markets. We had fought tooth and nail for this industry to take us seriously as a professional entity that could sell tickets. It seems trivial and a bit selfish to complain about having to find a new venue to play in Philadelphia when the real-world ramifications of a deadly virus ravaging the land outweighs just about everything else. We will do what we have always done and just push through and wade through the bullshit along the way.
So, our three-week block of potential shows turned into a meager but exciting five shows. I had never had such a difficult time even putting together a simple but solid route. This zigzaggy and less than perfect string of performances would have to suffice as our reemergence.
Day 1: New York, NY – City Winery
I think one of the first times I was asked to write a tour diary for NoTreble, the band had just gone through an intense lineup change, on the heels of writing and recording a new album and barely keeping our head above financial waters. Well, (spoiler alert), we find ourselves at a similar crossroads. Suffice to say that we had a pretty abrupt and emotional change-up at the last minute. With a big “comeback” show and four tour dates booked, things were looking iffy at best. City Winery was a venue I had always wanted to play and the thought of bailing on the gig had crossed my mind multiple times. There will come a point in time that this will happen to any serious musician. Given a long enough timeline, canceling a gig will become an inevitability. You weigh your options and do what’s best for your band. But, being reliable is so important. Missing the show and THAT being the gig where some bigwig label executive with a terrible soul patch and tacky, flame shirt is handing out record deals between doing rails of coke in the bathroom is a recurring nightmare of mine. In our case, we would have to pay someone to jump in last minute on drums for five shows, a few rehearsals, and many, many hours in a car together. And all in less than a week to prepare. In the end, we decided to do what we do best: just fucking go for it.
The show was an eclectic mix of music. There was a DJ, a jam band, and another instrumental band with a video game music angle, of which I am no stranger. My band in college had toured the country playing video game and anime conventions. The headlining band was very proactive in their promotion, even busking and barking (handing out flyers and selling tickets) outside of Comic-Con. As the date drew closer, I started to feel guilty that we weren’t pulling our weight like we usually do. Inside, I was freaking out that we wouldn’t be able to pull it all off. I did not meet our new drummer until two days before the gig. He came highly recommended and had a previous ancillary history with my cellist, Tara. Their foundation together was a huge relief. Ability is one thing but the vibe is so subjective and important. Being able to adapt is crucial because shit is gonna go wrong at some point or another.
We were playing the Loft, the smaller stage upstairs, but no less intimidating. It was our first show in two years, basically on the Hudson River, west of Manhattan, and in a climate of people still hesitant to attend live music. I had no idea how we would begin to build back up our drawing numbers. Our rehearsals had gone well but I was still nervous. This was a relatively new feeling for me, or at least recently unfamiliar. I was hoping there was some kind of Netflix Recap I could watch to remember how to be a live musician. But, we always skip those things anyway. I had also recently rewired and cleaned my pedalboard for the first time since 2019. I was going into battle with an untested rifle. This show was quickly becoming a testing ground for the tour to come.
All in all, the show turned out okay. The turnout was not amazing but it was as expected. The bands played really well, the green room was fun and the staff enjoyed the music. That’s as much as you can hope for sometimes. We, understandably, did not get paid but were also not expecting to. I normally would be fussy about this but just making this show happen was a miracle for us. We had some technical issues during the live show though: A couple of the songs incorporate a loop that I manufacture and perform live. It’s not a sample or a backing track. It is only as on-time as I am in the moment. The new drummer was sure that he had enough of the bass and loop in his monitor for this function. Soundcheck sounded great but live execution is always a little faster and a lot louder. Call it jitters or some phantom Ouija force that fucks with your saved settings during the changeover. Either way, we totally fell off the loop. I found us unable to recover in a way that wasn’t obvious. We had no choice but to abandon ship. I killed the loop on the one and we played without it. Just two awesome harmonies and drums for a few measures, and it didn’t sound half bad. I mean, WE could tell something was off but I think most of the crowd was mostly oblivious. As our own worst critics, I was bummed it ended on such a technical snafu. But these aren’t things you can “teach” or rehearse. It’s just a testament to the strength of the band to adapt on the fly and roll with it. Even if it sounded awful, we’ll just call it jazz and claim you don’t really “get it,” ya know?
Day 2: Baltimore – The 8×10
We were lucky to be able to borrow a car for this pilgrimage. My cellist stayed with me for a few days. I have a recently vacant room in my apartment after my previous roommates moved out. I have never lived alone and had someone there again felt good again. We stayed up most of the night rolling new t-shirts and organizing merch to pack. The next morning we packed up the car, consolidated what we could, and still found the car overflowing. Our Tetris skills had diminished greatly. We would leave from Queens to Brooklyn to pick up our drummer, Danny. The car was full and we did our last check to see if we left anything. Speak now or forever hold your pee. I put the key in the ignition and a horrifying clicking sound followed. The dashboard lights flickered. I took a breath and reset to try again. Same sound, now echoing loudly in my racing brain. The flashing hazards were still on. That must be it, right? I felt a bead of sweat form and drip on my forehead. The flashing lights continued but started to dim. The window now wouldn’t go down. We consulted YouTube clips, the owner’s manual and contacted the vehicle’s owner. All of this amounted to a proverbial shrug of the shoulders from all parties. The car had been driven earlier that morning and even left idle and running, therefore charging any battery issue, correct? I don’t have a pompadour and a bowling shirt, always ready for a knife fight, okay? I don’t know, I’m not, like, a car guy. Do we rent another whip? Do we use our brand new member’s soccer mom van even if we didn’t know if it would make it? Do we show some leg and hitchhike? Luckily, we were able to borrow another car that was thankfully not in use for the next week. I Uber’d over to that car while Tara unloaded Patient Zero. During this process, the owner of the building that we were currently blocking came back and demanded we move ‘at once’ like some incredulous parliamentary royalty. Tara apologized and explained the situation as the owner went inside, probably to put on his powdered wig and complain to 311 in an Olde English accent, no doubt. Our drummer cabbed up to us as we were finishing packing the new car. I left a haiku on the windshield of the dead car and bid it farewell as we now raced to make our load-in and soundcheck in Bodymore, Murderland.
Not to sound blunt, but, booking this tour SUCKED. It made me feel like we had started all over again. I felt like I was begging people to give us a shot, in cities that we had consistently brought many people out to. Baltimore has always been kind to us. It’s a city rich with art and small but viable niches able to find their footing with proper support. And this venue in particular has gone to bat for us multiple times. We were able to book the show with our favorite touring buddies, Deaf Scene. It would be their first indoor show in two years as well. They are a three-piece, instrumental, nerd-bomber, prog band. Very similar to us, minus the cello and dinosaur angle. My impostor syndrome kicks in something fierce when I see them play. The technicality, as well as the nonchalance they display while executing it, is intimidating. They’re seasoned like us and have seen their fair of shitty gigs. We were both glad our first shows back would be at a place of support like the 8×10. The band can hang before and after and will always offer up some floor space or couch for us to crash. These bands are rare. Hold on to them for dear life and continue to support each other until you give up on your rock and roll dream and become a SoundCloud DJ instead.
We have good fans and personally, really good friends and family in the area. Showing the people in my life that care about me that I’m still doing this crazy venture was important. I didn’t want to be another casualty. It happens to so many better musicians than myself in their 30s. It’s really a shit-or-get-off-the-pot crossroads. The choice to get married, have a littler of children, sell most of your gear and relegate music to weekends, or to being a hobby can only be kept at bay for so long. That engulfing quicksand gets heavier trying to coordinate schedules and keeping up with the evolving beast of social media. It’s exhausting and not very fulfilling if you don’t love the struggle. I’m not slagging either. I get why people dip out of all this. With that said, every year that I ask friends to come out to shows that I’m traveling to becomes more difficult. I’m not sure how many Friendship Points I’m cashing in if and when they show up. I get paranoid and am sure they feel sorry for me and don’t actually enjoy the music we write. The pandemic has amplified this. Hopefully, I’m not alone in that feeling and time will prove me wrong.
The 8×10 is a gorgeous venue with an amazing staff. But the parking in the area is decidedly the worst, and that’s coming from three New Yorkers. The area is lively but competition is fierce for nightlife patronage. We would be sharing two nights with Deaf Scene on this small run, and with that, their drumset and bass amp. A lot can be said for trusting your gear. It’s a treat when you play with a band that has gear that is both an upgrade and also road-tested. The smart thing to do is ALWAYS use your own. But guess what, Chicken Butt? Sometimes, that isn’t feasible. We had literally no room in the car for drums. We did have two bags of Oreos, but one was Halloween-themed so legally you’re obligated to bring that one in the month of October. Renting a bigger car would add at least $600 to the overall cost. We aren’t a band of means. We have hustled and scraped together all the money for these tours on our own. The first and last show on this run would be taken care of equipment-wise. The other places have assured me they will have a house kit or shared kit to use. But, those are famous last words.
After some inevitable bail-out texts from friends last minute, I was worried it wouldn’t be well attended. I was pleasantly surprised the room was semi-full after returning from dinner. Our sound on stage was better than City Winery and the energy was palpable. You could feel the crowd was happy to both see us back, but more importantly that THEY were back. I heard a lot of people say it was their first show since Covid-19 broke out. That’s a long time for us, on both sides of the aisle. Deaf Scene killed it, as per usual. We got paid, loaded up, and went to an after-party where I am happy to report I represented Team YBR? in a Mario Kart tournament and was victorious. It was Tara’s birthday so she got the spare bed while Danny, our drummer, and I crashed on the couches and welcomed dreamless sleep.
Day 3: Morgantown, WV – 123 Pleasant Street
West Virginia was always this odd outlier in our touring. Along with New Hampshire, Alabama, Mississippi, and Maine, we could just never book anything in that state. 123 Pleasant was iconic and well recommended. Tucked away in Morgantown, a liberal college town in an otherwise very red state. Once we found a home there, and it took a while to make that connection, we have stayed constant and appreciate their loyalty. My routing was all wonky during this run. Backtracking and hitting the same state twice in three days is not normal for us. But, you take what you can get at times. The last time we stayed in Morgantown, the hotel was less than stellar. The bathrooms smelled like piss and I was kept up most of the night by a guy outside that was working on his tire-less truck in the parking lot, talking to himself loudly and slamming Mountain Dew until the sun rose. I had promised Tara we would get something, anything, better. We got in a few hours before soundcheck and we took the time to crash-nap hard. We noticed a pool on the way inside to this upgraded hotel but all collectively sighed realizing we had all forgotten any kind of bathing suits. We always miss out on the pool because of soundcheck and load-out. If we want to swim in a hotel pool that’s full of bladder-busting children and old ladies in swim caps doing laps, then by Golly, that should be our right. Perhaps a coup was in order for later in the night.
We arrived at soundcheck and found that the band backlining their kit for the night wasn’t there yet so we couldn’t soundcheck. I set up merch in the back of the room. We have hit such a wall with our merchandise. Physical music media is becoming a relic of the past. CDs are obsolete and vinyl is still niche and prohibitively expensive to manufacture. Bands record entire albums, or more commonly small EPs or even just singles, and put them out into cyberspace for free hoping for that coveted ad revenue down the line. We can’t even give these Download Cards away anymore. Streaming quality is garbage compared to a nice FLAC or WAV file. But, no one has the time or the energy to store their music anymore. We’ve had to adapt by pushing for different kinds of merch: koozies, jump drives, shot glasses, custom masks, and even balloons have entered our arsenal. T-shirts are the stand-by. Prior to departure, I did a deep inventory dive after two years of neglect. We have about seven shirt designs and not enough of any of them to make a proper showing. An abundance of smalls and double XX shirts haunt my existence. Those medium and large shirts sell out so quickly. This is also the first time in about ten years we would be adding girl-cuts to our T-shirt collection. The problem is that in the dark, at a venue, under a time crunch, trying to find the right size was crucial. But they are all black and look the same. We’ve used painter’s tape, the rubber band method, and most recently, the anti-fold method of slinging them over the merch box, sorted by size. It all ends up a mess the second someone wants to try on multiple sizes or decides against the purchase. Our new design is a Scooby-Doo-inspired haunted dinosaur theme. It would really only work for this tour so we were pushing hard. We reluctantly brought an older design shirt on tour, hoping people wouldn’t want it still. But options were good to keep people engaged at your merch booth. We ended up bringing way too much, as usual. And in an M. Night Shyamalan twist, the older design sold four times as many as the new design. Blerg.
There were three bands and we were billed as the headliner. After some consideration though, I decided to ask if we could go second. There’s no shame in not being the headliner. Being sandwiched between two locals is the sweet spot anyway. Even if you are confident in your music, people will always leave. Sometimes, you have no say in the matter but in this case, I was glad they were accommodating. We had some technical issues during the live set. Our cellist was testing out a new in-ear monitor system. And while she could now hear herself better than ever, her mix was pretty low in our monitors. Trying to diagnose this on the fly is tough. We didn’t get a proper soundcheck and that’s on us for not being more adamant about it, especially given new gear and a new member. When this happens on stage, I try to find something else to help keep time and focus if someone else is inaudible in the mix. You hope for the best and trust that it sounds good to the crowd. We also brought a plethora of extra audience masks this time, a tradition born of happenstance at a show in Houston years ago where audience members assumed our masks were THEIR masks in true communist fashion. It became an expense to buy some cheap ones and decorate them for people to wear during our set. Little did we know the whole world would cop our style and start wearing masks full time. To boot, 123 Pleasant was the only venue in the state requiring vaccination status or a negative Covid-19 test to enter. So, some people had on their cloth mask, their Halloween mask, and our audience mask in a Cerberus-style diorama.
The rain had started and would follow us for the rest of the tour. We loaded up and hit a late hours bar to take in the local flavor. We were reminded that it’s a Thursday with shitty weather so we only stayed for a couple of drinks when a saloon fight with someone swinging from a chandelier failed to manifest. We headed back to the hotel and while walking to our room we again passed the now-closed pool. Out of curiosity, I swiped my card on the lock and it opened. We collectively took this as a sign from above that we should partake in some harmless anarchy.
We gathered whatever clothes we had that could pass as swim trunks and scurried back down. Getting our stories straight was crucial if and when we got caught. The classic playing-dumb angle would probably be our best bet. Asking for forgiveness as opposed to permission was a tested method. This band isn’t raucous or big parties. In our downtime, I juggle, Tara Facetimes with her husband or make lesson plans for her students and Danny reads depressing nonfiction history books. We aren’t gluing furniture to the ceiling or throwing the toilet out the window. If this was some victimless mayhem we could cause, then so be it. We snuck in and swam at 3 am for over an hour and only had to hide in the whirlpool once when a maintenance man walked by. I felt like a teenager again, jumping fences and pool hopping late at night. I had truly not had this much fun on tour in years. We felt like a cohesive unit, coming back from the dead, on an adventure together. We listened to the rain patter against the window as we fell asleep that night. I felt sudden despair that this tour would be so short, and a mild panic about how hard it would be to set up something bigger for 2022. This band needs to level up. It is finally feeling how it’s supposed to feel and I don’t want to let that fire die again.