Rock-and-Roll Survival Guide
Get (By) in the Van
How to Tour Without Killing Yourself and/or a Member of Your Band
Rock-and-Roll Survival Guide
- Stuff You Probably Didn't Know (and Some Things You Didn't Want to Know) About the Music Industry
- Looking Back with Horror at 20 Years of Crummy Side Jobs
- How to Tour Without Killing Yourself and/or a Member of Your Band
- Erik Blood's Level-Best Recording Advice
- How to Get Your Music Played on the Radio
- Talent Buyers and Promoters Are the Professional Gamblers of the Music Industry
- Barging in on Three Musicians in Their Practice Spaces: Grand Archives, Hey Marseilles, and Blood Hot Beat
- Drunk of the Week's Guide to Getting Drunk at Shows
- How to Be a Superstar Without Losing Your Heading
Touring is really the most exhilarating part of having a band, but sometimes it's also the most difficult part to pull off. Depending on your day job, your employer might not be overjoyed to hear that you need a month off for what is literally one of the most nonemergency reasons ever. Also, it sucks to pay rent while you're gone, almost as much as it sucks to sublet your room to so-and-so's cousin from Florida who ends up wearing all your clothes and steals your VHS copy of The Craft. But fuck it—you want to do it anyway. Here are some things to consider.
Do you have a van?
Is it a Honda or a Toyota? If you answered no, it's going to break down in Arizona, and there's nothing you can do about it. We had to say good-bye to a copper Astro van in an Arizona parking lot, and we've also been stranded in an Arizona Dairy Queen in the tiniest dust town in the world waiting to see if the one local tow-truck driver felt like towing our van to a bigger city. He didn't feel like it until 7 a.m. the next day, when all four of us had to pile into the two-person tow-truck cab and drive 35 miles an hour to the next city while he pointed out every town along the way in which a murder had taken place. Every town had had a murder along the way. Moral: Invest in a van that will take you across the country more than once—treat it well, give it a name.
If you're like my bandmates and me, you may find yourself with a backpack full of 15 vests and no underwear. Or maybe you went heavy on the "crafting bag" and forgot your birth control. Some things can be sorted out with a day off at a strip-mall Dollarville, but for the most part, pack only what you'll really need. Consider the weather and that you'll be tight on cash and that buying a phone charger in every town adds up. And let's face it—you'll find one comfortable dress in some free pile at a stranger's house and wear it the whole tour anyway. A little first-aid kit will almost always be put to use. It obviously pays to pack light, but don't go too light. One band member, we'll call him "Eric," thinks he can pack lighter than anyone, with a single Snuggie and bunched-up shirt instead of the "bourgeois" sleeping bag and pillow.
You booked a solid tour!
You packed smart and got into that well-maintained van, and you're ready to... rock sit in that van for eight hours! Driving to the East Coast can be lengthy. Make sure you wrap your snare drum in a towel or something before you drum-roll all the way to Los Angeles. If you can stand reading in the van, bring a book. If you have an iPhone, play Pocket Potions. If you like your bandmates, talk to them! You would be surprised at how much you would rather listen to Miley Cyrus than Black Flag in the van after essentially going to shows for a month straight.
Oh, the people you'll meet!
Get your brain prepared. There is going to be a lot of crazy going down. The people you'll hang out with and play shows with will blow your mind apart if you don't take them with 10 pounds of salt. "So you just keep buying new litter boxes instead of cleaning out the old ones? And now you have eight completely full cat boxes? In your house? Plus you chain-smoke inside with the windows closed?" (True story, friends. Also, litter-box guy made us wait three hours before we could come over so he could "clean up.") Get used to spending quality time with endless strangers every night, but don't feel like you have to talk to some sleazeball for an hour. Peeps might like your music, or they might like the way you look, or they might have a few hundred lines of cocaine inside their face—whatever the case, be friendly but be assertive and aware of your surroundings. You will also often find yourself in a dreaded time-pirate situation. If a bandmate looks like they are in such a situation, go get them out of that conversation about the first 27 Fall records immediately! DEFINITELY don't let your buds down in a sleeping situation at some ding-a-ling's house—if someone is being a creep, stick together and don't let the creep win. Occasionally you'll hang with a wonderful person all evening only to find out, 15 beers later and at their house at 5 a.m., they are not what they advertised. We once met a young feminist schoolteacher who seemed right up our alley until we slept at her house and things took a turn for the racist. Ugh. At that point, hit the sack and get out of there ASAMFP the next morning. The best thing about tour is every day is completely different!
Bring your own mics to shows!
This only dawned on us recently, but just thinking about the mouths that have Frenched those bar microphones gave me the chills. And a cold sore. Help the drummer set up and take down, they have the gnarliest instrument to get in and out. If you are the drummer, you still have to be on top of your kit—no one but you knows about those little felt things, and those cute boys you keep talking to aren't going to find your kick pedal when it goes missing.
A word on the South.
Let's face it, there are parts of the United States where it still sucks to be a lady, or even someone just trying to wear a tie-dyed shirt and get gas. At the same time, the South is home to some of our best tour friends and also to Cheerwine, but there are just more scary people round those parts. The scariest, of course, are the cops. We like to slap a Jesus fish on the van when we go to the South. Or an American flag or something to really throw them off. But that's in between the "Boy Chaser" and Oakland Raiders stickers, so who knows what they think.
No drugs in the van, guys.
For realsies. Buying weed off some teens in a mall parking lot in Pennsylvania is MUCH better than spending a second of your time dealing with cops in other states. Even if the teens keep driving away from you because they think YOU are cops. Even if the teens make you call their girlfriend's phone and then their other friend's phone just so they can tell you how late they will be. Even then, you keep your nose clean out there. Jail is dumb and expensive.
Emily nokes is the singer for Tacocat.