Subtle backstage reminder in Paris
I packed light for this trip. I can wear the same pair of jeans for the whole trip. I try to milk two or three days out of a t-shirt. Socks and underwear require daily changing. So my luggage is basically just socks and underwear. I brought two button-up shirts, and today I rip open the back of one of them trying to do a Ray Cappo jump in a music store parking lot.
Tonight’s club is another one of those converted factory/warehouse spaces. Not sure if it’s a squat, necessarily, but it definitely feels like one. The promoter is a very outgoing, boisterous, jolly German guy named Uncle George. It winds up being my favorite show of tour thus far. Good sound, good crowd, good vibes. Even Deafheaven seems to have gotten over their whole choking-and-punching incident from Paris.
Uncle George arranged an afterparty, which basically amounts to a DJ spinning records in the venue bar after the show. We get everything loaded out and the vans head to the hotel, leaving Mike, Korey, Joey, Kerry, George, and I to hang out at the bar. Also in tow is Mike’s friend from St. Louis, Chris, who’s working abroad as a scientist. The DJ is actually spinning some good stuff, and as the show crowd peters out, we get more pushy with our requests, which veer more and more to our high school soundtracks. He spins lots of Pantera and Faith No More, until eventually we commandeer the sound system and start playing Gorgoroth, Can, and the Drive soundtrack. It’s basically just us, the DJ, and the bar staff. We keep getting told that we only have time for one more song, but they also keep feeding us drinks and seem content to hang out. Eventually they call us a cab and the seven of us hop into the little black minivan. Chris is nearest the door of the backseat, and no sooner does the door close than he starts frantically pawing at it and yelling “Ausfahrt.” Everyone’s confused. It’s dark, and no one can help him with the door because he’s blocking it. Suddenly he turns around and there’s puke all over his chin, jacket, and hands. Everyone recoils. We start yelling at George, who’s riding shotgun with the driver to open the door. We haven’t even left the venue at this point. There’s a solid minute of mayhem and everyone yelling at each other to do something while Chris continues to yell “Ausfahrt” and desperately scrambles to find a doorknob. The door finally opens and Chris hops out to puke more, and we try to clean up the interior of the cab. The driver is not happy and says we must pay a cleaning fee on top of the cab fare. We get back in and take off. The smell of puke is like the sourest Parmesan cheese. We’re all gagging and giggling about how uncomfortable the whole situation is until George turns around from the front seat. “Oh, you guys are uncomfortable? I’m sitting up here with the driver. How about that?”
We get to the hotel. Chris pukes again. I pay the cab driver fifty Euro for the mess and Chris pays the taxi fare. On the plus side, I somehow wind up with my own hotel room. Score.
We do $10 per diems in the states. That becomes your budget for the day. You can easily blow that entire amount at a Starbucks by ordering a coffee, breakfast sandwich, and juice (don’t front on the Starbucks, coffee snobs, you try finding a decent cup of joe in Fargo or Little Rock). Here in Europe, we do 10 Euro a day. But the continental breakfasts at hotels here in Europe are usually actually worth eating. And if we stay at the club, the promoter will stop by in the morning with a bunch of breakfast stuff. As a result, I don’t spend much money during the day, and by today I have almost 70 Euro saved up. Would’ve had more if it hadn’t been for all the puking last night.
Another thing I love about touring Europe is that it gives me a good excuse to throw away old socks and underwear. Now that I’ve saved up a few Euro, I can roll down to H&M and stock up on some basics. And a new shirt to replace the one I trashed yesterday.
It’s a far cry from the tours I’d do 10 years ago. On my first U.S. tour, I only brought a small backpack for all my clothes on the six-week trip, and I accidentally left it at a friend’s house in Virginia. That was also during a time in my life where I was vegan and used one of those weird salt-balls for deodorant. I got a lot of free clothes from people after about a week’s worth of stink. Fortunately, Deafheaven is here to serve as a reminder of what it’s like to slum it. Kerry keeps borrowing my floss so that he can sew up the huge hole in the crotch of his pants. George only owns five pairs of socks. They both own one pair of shoes each. They have to bunk together every night because no one else can stand the smell of their feet.
Switzerland has always been a pain in the ass to play. The border is pretty tough, and they tax the shit out of any merchandise you bring into the country. To make matters even more difficult, we’ve heard rumors they’ve started sending customs officials to clubs to see how much merch you have on you to make sure you didn’t smuggle anything in under the radar. And unfortunately, we got another shipment of merch in London, and we’re currently stocked pretty heavily. But when we get to the border they just wave us through. It’s a good day.
Rotefabrik in Zurich is tied with De Kreun in Kortrijk as my favorite club in Europe. Rotefabrik used to be an old rope factory. Then the factory closed down and squatters moved in. Are you seeing a familiar thread with clubs here in Europe? But Rotefabrik is awesome. The venue is really nice, and there’s a really nice restaurant in the same complex. It’s situated on a beautiful lake. Oh, and there’s an Occupy camp set up in the neighboring park. The only downside is that Switzerland is really strict with decibel limits in rock clubs, but our soundguy, Che, is able to make it work out okay.
The show is great.
We’ve never played Geneva before. We always wind up playing Lausanne, which is just across the lake from Geneva. But we have an album named after this city so we figured we should actually play here at least once. We’ve monitored Last.fm for the last several weeks just to see how many people are talking about attending the show. We generally average about 100 per show. Tonight Last.fm has three folks saying they're attending. And it’s a new market on a Monday night. Yikes.
Deafheaven starts playing to an empty room. There’s always going to be at least one stinker of a show every tour. I was just really hoping Estonia was going to be the low point. Mike, Dave, Che, and I go stand out front to help fill out the room. But after their second song the room is actually pretty full. We eventually have to leave because some girl rolls up to the front of the stage eating ice cream. It’s right at the peak of one of their heaviest, darkest moments, and here’s this girl going to town on a big dish of ice cream. Dave starts laughing, and George from Deafheaven sees it and has to hide his face because he starts laughing too.
There was a decibel limit again tonight. Che just unplugged the decibel meter. Problem solved. I remember asking Randall Dunn how he dealt with decibel limits when he toured Europe doing sound for SunnO))). He said sometimes you just have to be the ugly American and forcefully keep staff out of the soundbooth.
The first time we played Milan, we played a club that didn’t have a PA. There was a stage, but there were no monitors, no speakers, no mic stands, no microphones. The local opening band didn’t have any of their own gear and wanted to borrow all of ours. It's not unusual to share some of the backline with the opening band in Europe. But all the gear? We told them no. So the show was just us, playing to 250 people on a stage with no PA. It was actually kind of awesome.
Our last time in Milan, we played an outdoor fest with a decibel limit of 90db. That’s about how loud an unmic’d snare drum is. Also on the bill were Boris and Eyehategod. That was a tricky one. This time we’re playing a room the size of the Funhouse. But the promoter claims he can fit up to 500 people in the building. By the same line of reasoning, you could probably fit 500 people in the Funhouse if you filled up the outside patio. But he says he expects about 150 people. Three hundred show up. It’s a tight show.
There’s a hotel next to the club, but the promoter says it’s full because of a convention, so he had to book us in a “shitty” hotel. Shitty means no parking for the vans, shared toilets with other guests, and a see-through shower in the middle of our room. Oh, and towels cost extra. Tomas and Ozak drive 45 minutes to get out of the city center and sleep in the vans. I’m beginning to understand while all the drivers for Nomads refer to Italy as “Shitaly.”
Remember how we don’t care much for France? We’ve been dreading Lyon. The last few times we’ve played Lyon, we played a club called Ground Zero. The club was the ground floor of an old office building. Yup, another squat. But whereas clubs like Rotefabrik and Arena manage to transform those spaces into awesome venues, Ground Zero really lived up to it’s name. It felt post-apocalyptic. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was rundown. There was no heat (and it was always bitterly cold when we were there). We always blew the power multiple times during the set. We always wound up staying in the band apartments upstairs, which were old offices. There was no hot water and no toilet paper.
I get the impression that the locals really loved the place, so I feel a little bad speaking poorly of it. I will just say that it wasn’t the most comfortable place to stay, nor was it the most accommodating stage to play on. Also, people chain-smoked in the club. Ugh.
But this time we roll into Lyon and the sun is out. It’s warm. The staff at the club are super friendly and helpful. The club itself is really nice. Really, it’s night and day from Ground Zero. The only setback is that the show is brutally hot. My shirt and jeans are soaked through by the end of the set, and I barely move the whole time. In fact, I can’t move because there’s so much sweat pooling at my feet that I slip every time I move.
We have awesome views of the Pyrenees Mountains on the drive today. We stop and swim at the beach and eat at a Texas Roadhouse for dinner. After yesterday and today, I think I'm beginning to like France. This is the last day off of tour.
Bilbao, Basque Country
Bilbao is a beautiful city, but I feel like it’s always overcast when we’re here. This is confirmed by the promoter, who describes Bilbao as a “tropical Mordor.” The club tonight is situated by an embassy. The automatic locks on our van doors don’t work. We’re informed that any sort of remote device won’t work on this block in order to prevent bombings at the embassy. Those Basque separatists mean business.
The club is very rock n’ roll. There are album covers for Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, Metallica, and a bunch of other bands on display. There are also a bunch of autographed guitars hung up around the club. The club’s soundguy, however, does not apparently like rock music. He hassles Che throughout our entire soundcheck because he thinks it’s too loud. Once it’s been established that there is no decibel limit and that the PA system isn’t actually being pushed too hard, we realize that the soundguy just doesn’t like volume. Now, we’re a loud band, but we’re not that loud. We’re not My Bloody Valentine or SunnO))). But this dude gets all huffy about it and the normally reserved and mellow Che gets pretty irritated. We cut the soundcheck short. The promoter apologizes for the soundguy’s behavior. Che asks us to turn up just to spite him. I have a great time during the set. I can hear everything really well and it sounds great. But the short soundcheck meant Dave and Mike didn’t get everything dialed in on their end and they’re miserable throughout the entire set.
At the end of the night, in a juvenile display of defiance, the soundguy cranks the house music at top volume while we break down our gear. Asshole.
Today’s show is in the center of town in an old train station that’s been converted into this really modern, almost museum-like venue. The promoter here is super-awesome as well, and he brought a cake to celebrate our fourth show together. Good vibes all around tonight. The only drawback is that I don’t play very well. We’re so far along on this tour that I’ve started mixing things up, playing things a little differently, just trying to keep things interesting on my end. Tonight, those little changes don’t work so well. But Dave and Mike have a great set, so it winds up being a nice trade off after last night.
I love Portugal and Spain. They’re not our biggest or most profitable markets, but the cities are beautiful, the shows are fun, and the people are laidback and friendly. So I feel a little bad for snapping at the house soundguy tonight.
Here’s the thing. The club has a tiny stage. There’s no need to have four guys from the venue running cables on stage while we prep for soundcheck. I finally give up on trying to set up my stuff until all the mics are up and Dave starts checking his drums. Then I start setting up my pedal board and keyboard at the front of the stage, only to be interrupted by the four dudes shuttling back and forth right where I’m trying to set up. Then one of them tells me I can’t leave the pedals and keyboard at the front of the stage during Deafheaven’s set. No shit, Sherlock.
Sorry I snapped at you, soundguy. This is the kind of petty shit that gets under your skin after 6 weeks of touring. Otherwise, the show was great. These Arms Are Snakes drummer Chris Common is back in town from his recording gig in Dublin and we crash with him at his parent’s house out in the village of Cascais.
After tomorrow’s show, I’m staying in Europe for another eight days for vacation. My husband, Reno, flew out to Barcelona and took the train up to Madrid to meet up with us today. He’s waiting outside the club when we roll up.
The club’s AC isn’t working. It’s hot and muggy. The backstage smells like hot hummus due to the tasty array of Mediterranean dishes provided by the club. Despite the heat, I can’t quite bring myself to try the two liter plastic bottle of gazpacho they provided us. Deafheaven comes off stage soaking wet, proclaiming this as the hottest show of tour. But most of the heat stems from the house lighting system. In the words of Jello Biafra, “illuminate the band; don’t bake the band.” Fortunately, we have our own low-budget lights we tote around on tour, so it’s not too sweaty of a show. The only real moisture problem comes from the plastic cups of beer thrown at us.
You have a weird way of displaying your affection, Madrid.
Last show of tour! And there’s no better place to wrap things up in than Barcelona. I love this city, but I feel like there’s never enough time to enjoy it. So Mike and I are hanging out here for a few more days with our significant others to explore and savor this town.
The end really crept up on us. The first week went at as snail’s pace—worrying about Mike’s thumb, worrying about what to expect in the Baltic states, worrying about flying in to Russia. But everything sped up after Stockholm and it feels like the momentum just kept going. There was no winding down. Even tonight’s show is a blur. It’s over in a flash and the end of the night finds me foraging through the van to collect all my belongings. Tomas and Ozak head back to Prague first thing in the morning. Deafheaven, Che, and Dave are getting dropped off at the airport at 8 am. Goodbye hugs are exchanged and we all part ways, angling off to different parts of the globe.
‘Til next time.