Thursday September 25, 2014
En route to Le Havre, France
Approx 16:00 Local Time
I will do my best to try and recount what’s happened over the past nine days, but I must admit I’ve got a wicked case of tour brain.
We left Giessen and headed further into Germany to Nuremburg, home of Money Left to Burn. Last time we were out here they were kind enough to put us up in their jam room on our night off, and even book a last minute acoustic show to fill a date that fell through. This time around we are still playing in the jam room, but with enough notice to play plugged in. A few weeks ago I noticed some posts on Facebook about the room being flooded, but Marty from MLB assured me the room would be useable by the time we arrived. It seems they had been having some issues with their landlord, who was taking his sweet time getting everything repaired. The drywall and flooded/moldy parts have been removed or replaced but otherwise the room is pretty much as I remembered it. Oh, that is with the exception of the lack of gay porn plastered on the walls. There are still a few dicks hanging around here and there, but most of it has been removed.
Porn wallpaper aside, MLB’s friends start to roll in and we play an early-ish set to avoid pissing off the neighbours. Migre Le Tigre rips it up after us and we kill a few beers before crashing out in the rehearsal room. For the first time on tour, I don’t sleep a wink. Sometime around 4AM I give in to the insomnia and start watching movies until Lukas wakes up and we go for coffee.
The tension is a bit high as we leave the next morning nice we are now driving through Bavaria en route to the Czech Republic. For those that don’t know, Bavaria is the area covering most of southern Germany where the cops don’t have much of a sense of humor. That is to say, they can essentially piss test the driver of any vehicle and slap you with a hefty fine, if not some jail time. In the past we’ve done our best to avoid this area just to ensure we don’t get into any kind of trouble, but this time around we have two shows booked that require us driving through the region. Our last trip through got us pulled over twice, but no luckily we walked away without too much of a delay. My shoulders finally drop as we pass the Czech border.
Our GPS leads us to the correct street, but as is fairly common we can’t seem to find the venue. I use a bit of data on my phone to google the name of the venue we were told to arrive at, Big Bang Project!. After some searching around, Rufi and I find the place a few blocks away. Unfortunately, it appears to live up to it’s name as a project – we find a few people in the venue finishing the drywall for the stage. The place is unusable. The gentleman who seems to be in charge tells us the venue wasn’t completed in time, but that we’re expected at Planet Underground. Luckily Rufi has played that particular venue before, and after a bit more searching we wind up in an industrial area of town covered in graffiti. Rufi and I get out to walk and try and see what we can find, and eventually hear the familiar sound of a skateboard rolling around in a half-pipe. There are a few vans already parked in the entrance with plates from Sweden and Russia, so we assume we’ve come to the right place. Alex the promoter welcomes us and explains that the other venue was meant to be finished in time but they ran into some issues. As a result, they opted to host the show at Planet Underground, though the government had recently shut them down for not meeting the new standards of the European Union. This means we will have to play a bit earlier again, as the show is technically being put on illegally.
The skate ramp at Planet Underground that lead the way
Lukas and Rufi relaxing before the show
Randy ponders life
The other bands on the bill had shows fall through that day and were added on last minute, but are all solid guys. As it turns out, the drummer of the Russian band is a young guy named Dave, originally from British Columbia. Everyone is very friendly and down to earth, and we have a nice sit down vegan meal and a few gigantic Czech beers before people start rolling in. The room is long and cavernous, but the sound system is up to par and having Lukas doing sound pays off yet again. The reaction from the crowd is great, and in typical Czech fashion there’s one ultra-punk who doesn’t seem to like us (or really likes us, I can never tell) and ends up flipping us off a few times before finally stumbling out of the venue.
We end up shutting the place down, and since there’s a slight lack of mattresses available in the sleeping area next door, we opt to crash on the couches in the venue. Just before doing so, Rufi turns to me and asks “Want to see something Czech?” and motions to a show goer who is barely standing by the bar, teetering a few times before eventually stumbling over and nearly landing flat on his face. Sounds about right. It’s gorgeous outside so Lukas ends up crashing on a couch in the compound outside the venue. In the morning we roll out and make the short road to Prague.
For once we arrive a few hours early, but that was mostly the intention. We are slated to play with INVSN, a band from Sweden we’re told has a fairly large following. This can be attributed in part to the singer, who was the front man for post-punk legends Refused. Needless to say, we’re stoked to share the stage with them. To top if off, the venue is Klub 007 – a historic punk venue in Prague that has been open since the early 1970s. Since we’re early we park the van near the venue and head out to try and find some vegan friendly restaurants. We stumble on a Vietnamese place not far from the van, but trying to order Pho in English from a restaurant ends up being more challenging than we expected. We split and head into the centre of town and find a phenomenal vegan restaurant. Seeing as how traffic is a bit insane, we grab our food to go and head right back to the venue.
The promoter, Robert, is nothing but professional. Typically, opening slots on bigger shows mean we have to be on our best behaviour to make sure we leave a good impression (read: don’t piss off the promoter or stage managers). In this case, he is more than hospitable and we arrange to share some back line with the second band to save on time. We even get a quick sound check before the venue opens and people start to pour in. I wasn’t able to get Migre Le Tigre on the bill since it was a bit of a last minute favour from our pal Kejmy, but he’s stoked to rip on drums and not have to worry about being exhausted for his set afterwards. We’re told we get 25 minutes to play (specifically 25- NOT 30), so we err on the side of safety and blaze through a 23 minute set with as much energy as we can cram into the time slot. The crowd isn’t really there to see our type of music, but I feel we turned a few people around, or at the very least proved our worth. After our set I spend some time catching up with Lenka and Kejmy, friends that go back nearly 7 years now. INVSN get up on stage and the venue is so packed you can barely get a sight line. They’re a mix of electro and pop, but the vibe of the songs and the live sound comes off huge. After the set I wander backstage and was lucky enough to chat with their singer, Dennis. His former band, International Noise Conspiracy, was on a label from Winnipeg called G7 Welcoming Committee. We spend a bit of time swapping stories about mutual friends, all the while I’m trying not to make a drunken ass of myself.
We don’t really sell any merch, so Rufi and Stevo make a mission of trying to lure people in and convince them to buy a shirt or a record. The merch guy for INVSN is a bit confused by the exuberant taunts Rufi launches at him each time they sell something (“Take that!”).
Our friend Max (originally from Winnipeg) lives in Prague and was generous enough to offer us his vacant apartment to stay in. He shows up after we’ve played but we get the chance to catch up and have a few beers with him before finally crashing out around 3:30 AM. Having an entire place to ourselves is a luxury, but we’ve been lucky on this tour and it looks like our luck continues to hold out.
We leave early to make the relatively long drive to Graz, Austria. Austria has always been one of my favourite countries to tour in, but that may be due to the shows we played there with Rentokill nearly 5-6 years ago. Scenes and promoters can change a lot in that amount of time, but luckily most of our friends are still active. Having Rufi book most of these dates gives me confidence we’ll be properly taken care of as well.
The show in Graz is a bit of an experiment, as Jack Holmes booked it about the vegan cafe where he works, Cafe Erde. The room is very loud and not quite built for this type of music, but we try to do our best to keep the noise down and use the PA as surgically as possible. Rufi has opted not to play as he has a large following in Graz and is hoping to save his draw for his CD release tour in the next few months. In any case a decent amount of people show up, but don’t seem to be particularly impressed with us. We even bust out a NOFX cover having never played it together, and did a pretty decent job. After the set, the room clears out entirely and we meander around a bit before finally packing up.
Tom from Ants! is kind enough to put us up for the night, and it becomes apparent he and Rufi go way back. We have a few beers and hang out for a few hours before engaging in the age old tour tradition of all sleeping on the floor of the same small room, barely a few inches apart. The challenges are many and daunting : the amount of floor space not occupied by a person or luggage is small making walking around in the dark all the more difficult. To make matters worse, Randy and I split an air mattress, which has the wonderful quality of catapulting you a few inches in the air when someone stumbles onto it in the middle of the night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than appreciative for a mattress to sleep on, it’s just that learning to sleep in those quarters is an art that takes some experience to refine.
Most of this tour has been just us and Migre playing shows, leaving us with fewer opportunities to discover new music. Tom is kind enough to gift me one of Ants!’s 7 inch records, as well as a bitchin’ Chewbacca sticker for his other band, Dead Ends.
A quick but scenic drive through the mountains and we’re back in what Stevo and I consider our second home. Tonight we play Triebwerk in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. I have many fond memories of shows here, playing with High Five Drive through the years, and on one occasion opening up for A Wilhelm Scream (one of my favourite bands). The place is run like a co-op, with vegan cuisine being cooked by the members and provided for the bands at every show (vegan schnitzel for this show, mmmm). The stage and sound system are great, and the green room backstage is top notch for punk rock bands. It so happens this is the first time we’ll see Harry, who runs our Austrian label Laserlife Records. He’s the first person I see when I walk through the door, and he immediately scolds me for showing up an hour late, then promptly fireman lifts me over his head as punishment.
The vegan feast that awaited us. (Left to Right: Stevo, Randy, Lukas, Julia, Rufi, Steffi)
Lukas helping out with the drum kit before the set. Not pictured is the bulb of garlic between the high hats.
We get a proper soundcheck and say hi to some familiar faces before the show gets started. Our friend Bertl the Turtle, who we haven’t seen in nearly 5 years, makes it to the show no more than 2 minutes before we play. As per usual, a good sound system and a good crowd make for a good set. After the show we catch up and knock back our fair share of beers before heading out to the Chilla Villa. This is one of the places on tour that earns a reputation, and we’d heard of this one mostly through Greg Rekus and Rufi. Tony and Steffi are as hospitable as can get, and go as far as cooking a vegan breakfast in the morning. We truly are getting spoiled on this tour.
Again the goodbyes come too soon, but we have nearly 500 KM to cover before the show tonight in Innsbruck. To make matters worse we want to avoid driving through Bavaria, forcing into the beautiful but winding roads through the mountains. This drags the drive out by a few hours, and we roll into Spieraum Fur Alle late.
This is to be the first of two acoustic sets on this tour, for which we have not rehearsed at all. We did play one set acoustic in Winnipeg several months ago, so I figure we can wing it. I wasn’t able to bring an acoustic guitar (nor would it have fit in the van), so I borrow Rufi’s for the set. Randy and Steve DI their guitars and bass into the board, and Lukas works his magic to make it all fit together. The venue is a former kindergarten, which is being turned into another style of co-op, with the venue being one of many components including design shops with 3D printers. A tiny toilet in the mens bathroom makes us each giggle once we discover it – keeping the spirit of the kindergarten alive.
A hot vegan curry and rice await us, and our tardiness forces us to eat and play with very little time to recover in between. This is never a terribly good idea, but becomes standard when you are running late (and really only have yourselves to blame). A combination of not having played acoustic together in a long time, pure nervousness on my part and the curry still sitting high in my stomach causes me to perform less than ideally. All in all we salvage the set, and Migre steps in to steal the show.
The promoter Eric is kind enough to put us up after the show, and the following day as we have our first day off. He even lets us into one of the larger venues in town, Backerei, where he is bartending later that night. The room is cavernous but sounds fantastic. We’re here to film a special episode of Steves podcast. Rufi and Lukas both have a lot of interesting things to talk about in the realm of music touring and production. We once again capitalize on Randy’s talent using a camera, and for the 100th time on this tour Lukas’ audio tech expertise comes in handy. He outputs the board feed for the interview into my laptop using an ⅛” auxiliary cable, and we record the tracks in stereo to simulate having two channels. After conducting the interviews, we film two takes of Rufi performing two different songs.
The view from Eric’s rooftop terrace.
Having not much else to do and wanting to mostly stay in for a night after 9 shows in a row, I get straight to editing. I spend the night at Eric’s learning how to mix the audio from Lukas, who teaches me what a multiband compressor is and how to EQ the guitar and vocals. I love learning things this way, I could sit and watch people who know what they’re doing work for hours.
On top of his hospitality, Eric has agreed to drive us through Bavaria to our show in Munich and even take us just outside Bavaria where he could take a train home. We hit the road a little late but only have 180 KM to drive. We’ve never been to Munich, and it just so happens we’re visiting during Oktoberfest. The locals advise us against going, as it’s just a giant pissfest with foreigners vomiting, fornicating and urinating in the streets.
The show is at a vegan cafe, Sudstadt (starting to see a pattern on this tour – great food, lots of vegan cafes). The place is quite full, and tonight is our second swing at an acoustic set. We only have one working mic cable, which really only works thanks to Lukas using 4-6 converters to make it compatible and long enough to work. Somehow the sound turns out, and I feel 100% better about my performance this time around. The show involves passing the hat around, which in this case is actually a hollowed out mannequin head that has been turned into a purse. Why not.
Dropping off Eric at the train station in Bavaria.
While the next day is a day off, we have 1100 KM to cover between Munich and our final date of the tour in Le Havre, France. It seems suicidal to drive that far in a day considering the likely traffic and unavoidable rest stops. Realizing that we’re inevitably going to have rest for the night sometime during that journey, I put a phone call in to Aurélien to see if he can save our asses one last time on this tour. He once again tells me I’m crazy for thinking he wouldn’t help us, and yet again pulls us out of the fire.
The details of the next 13 or so hours aren’t important, but can be easily summarized as highway, rain and gas stations. I relieve Lukas near the end of the trip and drive for the last 5 or so hours. Towards the end of the journey we’ve all been up and locked in the van long enough to start getting a little loopy. The GPS combined with my fatigue takes us for a few loops around Estampuis, but eventually we arrive at our destination.
Yet again our french friends go above and beyond and throw together a hot meal for us at this unreasonable hour. A few beers later and the road fatigue kicks in, we all start to hit the sack.
Only one show left – Le Havre, France. This place has historically been our last stop on tour whenever we came over with High Five Drive and we’re massively excited to be back. Bertrand from Pink Flamingos has always treated us well, and both he and his brother Romain had gone as far as to drive to Rouen and come see us on our last tour. The show is at McDaid’s, an Irish style pub with the basement dedicated to live music.
We absolutely cannot be late for this show, so we hit the road with more than enough time to deal with any potential traffic issues and it lands us there about an hour early. Bertrand rolls in shortly thereafter and we have lots of time to sound check, eat supper and relax before the show time. It’s very comforting to be among more familiar faces and in a place we’ve been to so many times.
Romain’s band, Without Skin, opens up the night. Their drummer, Marco, has been coming to see us play since we started coming to Le Havre, and it’s super cool to see both him and Romain making music and killing it in their own band. People slowly start to flow in before Rufi finally gets to take the stage. It appears only 2 of the club’s XLR cables are actually working, so Lukas yet again works his magic to get the DI and mic working in the nick of time. The last night on tour is always bittersweet, and I have a bit of a hard time keeping it together watching Rufi’s set. Part of it is knowing I won’t have the opportunity to watch him play again for minimum a few months, best case a year or so. Making things worse is the fact that we have to play afterwards, so I can’t really sing along the way I’d like to without risking my voice.
The show has to wrap up by 11 and we’re already running behind, so we changeover so fast we start playing to Lukas, the club’s sound guy and Bertrand since everyone is still outside smoking. Bertrand was cool enough to lend us backline so we could drop ours off early and save Lukas and Rufi a trip on the way home. It just so happens the gear he has lent us is an Orange Rockerverb 100 and a JCM 900, which are much closer to what we are used to playing on at home. We’re flying pretty high and the set goes off very well. We get called on for an encore, but having already played our entire repertoire, we opt to try and cover May 16th by Lagwagon. It’s a bit of a trainwreck but we all had a ton of fun doing it, nothing could wipe the smile from my face at that point.
We pack up fairly quickly and drive off to Bertrand’s place. Last time we were here he was living in a small apartment, which was tight for two bands and some party people to crash in. This time around he’s purchased a house with his girlfriend Marie, and the place is much larger than we would ever have expected. It’s also his birthday, so obviously we set up the beer pong table in his garage and get right to work.
Being the last night we get really party together, we waste no time in getting wasted. Randy and I win and lose several games of beer pong throughout the night. At one point an acoustic guitar makes its rounds and sing a longs are sung. Rufi apparently had some fake blood capsules, and stages a few different incidents throughout the night, one involving crutches and Randy pretending to beat the crap out of him. At some point Bertrand shows us a collection of homemade alcohols, one of which being slovenian Jagermeister. We embrace the spirit of the last night and knock it back. Lukas tells me at one point that he wants to party, but won’t be rocking it until 6 AM or anything. I agree, telling him we’ll need sleep for the drive tomorrow. 5:15 AM Rufi and I head to bed. We get into the room to find Stevo snoring as loud as possible, he is out cold. I’m surprised that the room isn’t spinning when I lay down, and I hear Rufi rummaging around for a few minutes before I pass out.
Probably the best way to sum up what happened in Le Havre in one photo right here
If this were some kind of movie, there would be a cut scene to later that morning, waking up in an absolute haze. I stumble over to the bathroom to find Rufi’s pink tutu at the base of the toilet. He would later go on to explain that he used “the last of his power” to dress Stevo in the tutu before going to bed. Stevo confirmed he woke wondering what the actual hell had happened. Bertrand is kind enough to have pastries and coffee ready for us, and we all spend some time stretching and sunning out on the patio, marvelling at the fact we’re not more hungover. Aurélien and Péroline were cool enough to drive all this way to see the show, and they ended up crashing with us at the party. We all pack up and make our way back to Estampuis. The drive takes longer than expected, and the missing hangover from earlier that day starts to make an appearance.
Lukas and Rufi are going to be hitting the road later that night, so they try and get some rest while I start wrapping up our financials and packing away the merchandise. I realize that an extra day just to get ready to leave would be a good idea on the next tour. It’s a bit disappointing not to be able to enjoy the last few hours you will have with your friends. Once again our hosts are too kind and make us one last delicious hot meal, luckily Lukas and Rufi stick around for it and we get to hang out for a little bit before parting. Greg swings by to grab the gear and sticks around to swap some tour stories and share a few beers. All in all not a bad way to end the tour, but unfortunately the end does come and we try not to get too sappy with our goodbyes. They’ve got a long road ahead of them and we still have to get up early to catch a train. We should probably get to bed, but we end up staying up and chatting until 2-3 in the morning.
The next day we get a ride from Aurélien and Péro to the train station in Lille, and say our goodbyes there. 3 flights and 23 hours of travel later, we’re back home safe and sound.