Matt

I will tell you right now that I was never particularly a fan of Matt Ryd’s music.

But that music meant a lot of things to a lot of other people. It got through to them and gave them the things they need out of art and entertainment and expression. He gave of himself, and in turn made an impact on people’s lives. So in that regard, I am a fan of Matt Ryd’s music.

I was never particularly a close friend of Matt Ryd’s, either.

But those several times we interacted over the years he was always a source of positive energy, humor, and support. And judging by the various testimonies pouring out of the internet today, that was true of just about everyone’s experience with him – even if the extent of their interaction was just a brief bit of online correspondence. His persona and character, expressed through his actions, made a great impact on people’s lives. So in that regard, I am a friend of Matt Ryd’s.

Musicians of all calibers and statures die every day, of course. Even today, people all over the web have been paying tribute to legendary keyboardist George Duke, who left this realm on Monday. Duke was indeed a monster player whose impact is written into history and will influence generations to come. But personally and spiritually speaking, Matt’s exit hits me a lot harder.

That he was so young, so tied into my scenes, so recently in communication about collaborating together someday soon, and then so suddenly gone by his own hand – or more accurately, by the invisible hand of the illnesses that escaped his control – has been a stunning blow, and it’s brought some overlooked truths to light.

The world is now short one more voice, one more viewpoint, one more vessel to express an imagination that had decades of service left in it. That imagination could have just been getting started exploring new territories. That viewpoint could have shown the world something it didn’t even know existed, let alone needed. That voice could have spoken to one kid looking for guidance to face a tough decision or encouragement to chase after a lofty goal or just a laugh to get through a terrible day. The whole package contained within that vessel very well could have one day made a record that changed your life or mine forever.

But now that vessel is totaled, its potential has sublimated into the ether, and it’s never coming back.

Nowadays some people like to say, especially since technology has made creating and sharing art so accessible, that there’s too much of it out there crowding the playing field, the quality of the work being shared is too low, and many just shouldn’t be making it at all.

Those people can fuck right off.

We each have our very own voice, viewpoint, and imagination, and we have no say in how long we own this precious vessel with which we can donate them to the universe. No matter the medium, no matter the audience – even if that audience is only oneself – our art is in there, desperate to be made and primed to make a difference. And as long as our hearts are beating and our neurons are firing we can do this. It is of absolute, utmost urgency that we cherish this capability at every single moment. This is not a drill.

Cheers and safe travels to you, Matt.

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Makin’ A Wreckid

Okay. My caption-less studio pics and vague Facebook updates over the past week haven’t told enough of the story, so here’s the deal.

 

I’m recording an EP’s worth of my songs (some recent, some many years old) at Butcher Boy, which if you’ve been paying attention you know has become one of my favorite studios ever, and I’m working with producer Jim Tullio, who if you’ve been paying attention you know has become one of my favorite dudes ever. Seriously, look him up.

I’ve never really brought my own material to a legit (let alone BADASS) studio/producer before, never really sang lead vocals in the booth before, and never taken such a critical look at my own songs before. This is scary and humbling and exciting and educational and super rad and I’m so incredibly lucky to be able to do this. The opportunities I luck into sometimes…it’s all so overwhelming.

My dad always wanted to get me into a real studio to make my own record some day. I like to imagine he’s been posted up Rick Rubin style on some couch in the ether listening to every take…

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Density, Disappearing, Smokes

11 shows in 11 days in 11 states in 2 countries.

Doesn’t necessarily read like much, but it was a motherfucker.

In those 11 days were various amounts of 9-hour drives, 2-4 hours of sleep, heat exhaustion, screwjob set times, weak merch sales (directly related to the set times), wireless interference, cramped split stages, the works.

Then came the downpour.

Density

Toronto’s forecast yesterday featured a 30% chance of thunderstorms. That 30% hit. Hard. Right at the beginning of our set.

The clouds weren’t black and ominous, but deep blue and dense. It started as hail, lightened up a bit, then came down in sheets.

The forces of nature work wonders to support the forces of rock and roll. There was a density to the energy out there, a fight response that really brought us all together that much more. There were some out there that looked like they were engaging in an honest-to-god rain dance. So much joy in battling adversity. Like you have to enjoy yourself even more just to prove that you can. What I’m saying is, it rocked.

Kinda reminds me of the time on MC Chris tour that the staff at Subterranean was constantly dicking with everybody and it just ended up fueling more solidarity and teamwork vibes among us on the receiving end of it. But that’s a different story.

Throughout the set, stage guys were tarping up the speakers, monitors, even Bill’s control center. He had to spend most of the set with his head under the tarp and one hand holding it up just to watch the screen. Our pedal boards and ego risers got all wet, and when the winds would shift we’d get rain and stage roof runoff right in our faces. It was rad as hell.

The bummer was, due to lightning in the distance and reports of oncoming 60 MPH winds, our set got cut off – right as we were entering the bridge of Geeks and the energy was really about to explode. We sloppily cut off the ending and had to tell kids to evacuate to their cars or to the pavilion. By this point the rainfall was INSANE. Flash flood style.

That flood was rushing straight down into the area behind our stage – where every band’s gear and cases are stowed and set up. There was a good 6-inch river of muddy, filthy water covering the ground backstage. In a way we were lucky that the rain hit when we were onstage, as the stage roof generally kept our gear relatively dry, but the problem was our cases were for the most part strewn about on the ground. Presumably getting hit with a rush of rainwater (which, as stage manager Johnny had pointed out, was surely rich with washed up cigarette butts, half-eaten pizza slices, and the loogies of 10,000 teenagers).

Disappearing

As we shuffled off stage (or rather, ran offstage, realized there was nowhere to go, and then hid behind the scrim banners while kids were evacuated), Hari did his typical disappearing act. You see, Hari just kinda disappears sometimes (all the time). We don’t really ask “Where’s Hari?” anymore. There’s no point in trying to figure it out. He’s just gone. That’s why he has the daily task of taping up the posters with our show time all around the grounds. It’s now his job to disappear.

But I digress. As we were all trying to figure out what the hell to do (and not asking where Hari was), he apparently ditched off backstage and got back to our gear tent, setting loose cases up on our hand truck and therefore saving them from guaranteed destruction.

I ran over to stage right so I could peer back at the gear tent, fearing the worst, and there was Hari, shoes off and cuffs rolled up, arranging our cases on the cart.

“YOU’RE A FUCKIN’ HERO!” I shouted from above. The disappearing act pulled through huge.

Smokes

My favorite moment of the tour, so far:

During the evacuation I grabbed my guitar and ran down the ramp, thinking I could get it in the case before it got too wet. But our pop-up was on the opposite end of a whole line of gear tents, all of which were packed with scattered cases and techs scrambling to get their stuff covered or packed up. There was really no way I could get there efficiently, and I was better off just staying dry on stage than standing out there, so I headed back up.

I couldn’t have been off stage for more than 20 seconds, but by the time I came back on the other 4 guys were standing around the back of the drum riser, each of them puffing on a cigarette.

Nobody in this band but Hari smokes. And nobody even questioned why we were all doing it.

Bill handed me his, which was already half-done, and I took a mouthy puff. There we stood facing the Toronto skyline, watching the heavens pour down on merch people scrambling to lower their tents, stage techs panicking to turn off generators, and 100 or so soggy girls who refused to give up their spot close to the T. Mills show that wasn’t happening. There we stood, pretending to smoke Parliaments in numbly hilarious awe of the fact that this show, the eleventh in a row of the toughest run of the tour, should end this way.

It was a perfect moment.

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Energy, Carnies, Faces

It’s been too long since I’ve posted. My brain’s more or less been scrambled for the past week. Apparently I’m still working through the tour phase where my body fully accepts and even embraces sleep deprivation and constant motion, not to mention noise.

Energy

Every tour has this shape in energy, where the first 10 or so days are super excited and jacked up, then there’s a crash where you hit a wall, can’t function, and hate everyone, and then you break through that and suddenly your reality adjusts to tour life and it all makes sense again. From there on out, it’s smooth sailing…generally.

This shape seems to be taking a little longer to play out than it has in previous tours, which may be due to our daily schedule being so different than your average club tour.

Carnies

Last week or so, Brian said “We’re basically carnies.”

The noise, the dust, the lifting, the smell of funnel cakes and lemonade, kicking through piles of garbage rolling through the wind in the afternoon – we’re basically living on carnival grounds all day, every day. Makes me want to find a creek to bathe in and a girl’s mountain bike to steal. I’m speaking from my own eye-witness account, of course.

Faces

Something great happened today in Minneapolis.

The crowd there wasn’t giant (though it was definitely nicely filled – we’re seriously spoiled), but there was an especially high percentage of devoted, excited kids in there.

I focused a lot on these kids during the set. Really watched their faces. So many of them were singing along with every word, jumping, just kicking ass. I would make eye contact with them occasionally and we would sing at each other.

There’s almost always a handful of people singing along at our shows, but for whatever reason seeing it today really felt overwhelming. It really kicked my ass on stage. Another intense rush of cosmic energy.

Too often I go on stage and see a crowd and I see them as a number, a challenge, an objective accomplishment. But these are people! Humans and characters who have entire lives and problems and joys and things to do outside of the half hour I spend trying to impress them and convince them to buy shit!

Who the hell are these strangers? How have these songs brought us all together, in a field in Minneapolis, to share in this weird, public yet extremely intimate interaction? Brian’s words are being recited back to him every day, by people who really believe in them, and are seriously energized by them. Wow. How?

I guess we’re well enough into the tour that the logistics and kinks are no longer pressing concerns and I can finally focus on what’s happening on a deeper level, let it really sink in.

This is heavy, heavy stuff, man.

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Welcome To The (Almost) Breakdown

We had an oil change/service stop scheduled in Niagara, but Brian pushed it ahead to today because we were clearly putting the Sprinter through more than your average driving conditions.

Good thinking.

The check engine light had been going on and off over the past couple of weeks, causing vague concern.

Turns out the swirl valve* is on the fritz big time, and it was due to fully die at any minute, rendering the van completely immobile.

Jeepers creepers.

To fix it requires about 8.5 hours of labor, meaning it’ll be in the shop until tomorrow night.

Brian, having dealt with epic breakdowns in tight situations (Dragon Wagon 1.0 just about exploding outside of Nashville on our way to DragonCon 2009 comes to mind), pulled some serious magic securing a rental van so we can get ourselves and some of our merch/gear to the show tomorrow.

I won’t get into all the details, but it was only by bypassing the normal outlets and skirting the hemming and hawwing that was about to go into the rental process that Brian made it all happen.

We didn’t find out about this problem until 5:40. There was a 20-minute window in which the rental could have been secured, and now we can play the show tomorrow.

No one else I know would’ve pulled it off. Dude’s a leader.

Anyway, please keep the Sprinter in your prayers, and hope for a speedy recovery. For if it doesn’t get fixed by tomorrow night, things get a whole lot more complicated. (Bear in mind Wednesday being the 4th, having a 12-hour drive to St. Louis for Thursday’s show, and so on, and so on…)

We haven’t found a suitable name for the van yet, but I think Dallas just might be it.

*By the way, yes a “swirl valve” is a real thing, a diesel engine thing. For a second there I thought it was like the Johnson rod in Seinfeld, some made up shit.

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Vagaries and Variations

The success of a given show depends heavily on several factors, most of which are out of our control:

-Set Time
Every day we play at a different time, which we only know about an hour before the gates open. There seems to be a sweet spot early in the afternoon where kids are warmed up, into it, and still full of energy. Weather/temperature also come into play significantly here. Early set times are great for us, but generally* we don’t want to play the very first slot, as often the place hasn’t even filled up yet. On the other hand, you don’t want to play too late in the day, due to:

-Bigger Bands We May Be Competing With On Other Stages
For example, today we’re playing at 6:50, the same time as Streetlight Manifesto and New Found Glory, so we may have a pretty thin crowd tonight.

-Lineup On Our Own Stage
There are a few bands on our stage whose styles don’t *exaaaaactly* match ours, so if we end up playing immediately before or after them we can end up with a pretty significant crowd loss. From a crowd-maintenance billing standpoint we’re much better off playing before Bayside or We Are The In Crowd than Vanna or Senses Fail.

-Stage location
Sometimes our stage is tucked away from much of the action, and you almost have to know where it is to get to it. Other days we’re playing out to a bunch of foot traffic between the main stages and other activity, so we get seen and heard by a lot more people.

*In New Mexico our first-slot show was actually a great set – our stage happened to be right by the entrance so we got to pull in just about everyone who was entering the grounds. It seems like we converted a lot of new fans that day. If only they were all like that!

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Fenix

I’m sitting in the van, AC vents blasting my face. It’s FUCKING HOT in Phoenix.

Of course, now that I write that everyone will be all like “oh, wait till you get to Florida!” “dry heat dude, whatever,” or “my entire state is literally on fire right now,” but that attitude doesn’t really help me, or you.

The festival is at Camelback Ranch, where the White Sox and Dodgers do their spring training. Chad’s just walking around all day saying “FUCK THE WHITE SOX,” like anyone cares.

The two main stages are in the outfield, and all the other stages are tucked into little spots on the rest of the grounds. It’ll make every side stage area a little more cramped, but they’ll also feel more full than some of the more wide-open spaces we’ve played..

But the heat, good lord. No Walkabots today, for fear of passing out in the motorcycle helmets. Unloading the truck was a high-sweat endeavor – though now that I’ve got a pair of moving gloves it’s a whole lot easier, and I actually enjoy the workout. But I don’t even feel like standing in line for lunch or anything. We all agree an In-N-Out dinner is in order.

I’m just hoping I don’t get tons of sweat in my eyes on stage. Don’t want to be up there singing and crying, this isn’t THAT kind of show.

Oh, and Protomen are on the front page of TMZ right now. What a world.

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Mitch

Mitch had this stripper friend in L.A. and she had a friend in a band. The band was going on tour and needed a little help.

The band was Sublime, and the tour was Vans Warped Tour 1995 – the very first one.

Mitch did Sublime’s tech, security, and rock star babysitting. Big-time babysitting. The tour was the stuff of drunken and drugged-up legend, with the band (yes, including Lou Dog) acting way out of control and even getting kicked off for a week. They paid Mitch $100 a night, until someone else came along to offer to do the job for free, at which point Mitch got asked to either work for free or split.

Just as Mitch was getting booted, Kevin Lyman (Warped Tour founder and mogul) asked Mitch to be on the lookout for stage divers, and said if he saw one to knock him out. Kevin has a big problem with stage divers.

One guy was dumb enough to jump out of the crowd and onto the stage, and dive back in. Mitch pulled him back out.

*POW*

…and there were no more stage divers that day.

Kevin, seeing this go down, offered Mitch a job with Warped that day, and since that first one he’s worked on the production side for every single Warped Tour. He also works for some of the other tours and events Kevin has developed since starting Warped.

Now Mitch is stage manager for the Tilly’s Stage (our stage). He makes sure everything’s running on time, sorts out the logistics for switching out gear, makes sure all-access guests stay in their designated areas, and just generally keeps everything backstage in line. He’s a BIG dude. You wouldn’t wanna cross him. Just ask that stage diver.

Since he’s worked the entire 18 years of the tour (making him one of only 3 people, including Kevin Lyman, to do so), Mitch has earned the seniority to work any stage he wants – and he’s dedicated himself to this side stage. He used to work the two main stages, but he “demoted” himself in recent years because he was “sick of all the [band members’] fuckin’ entitlement, too much stupid equipment, no one helping out, shitty attitudes. Too much tight pants. Fuck ’em.”

Anyway, I know this whole story now because last week, while laying down a plywood road between the truck and the stage, I asked Mitch how he ended up hooking up with this tour in its first year. He was more than happy to tell me all of that, and more.

The guy has literally seen it all. And he’s developed a great (if curse-laden) philosophy along the way:

“It’s all the memories you make, man. All this gear, money, cars, fuckin’ pants, you’re not gonna take any of that shit with you.” He tapped his temple. “It’s up here man, that’s all you’ve got when you’re sitting on your fuckin’ deathbed, thinking about your life. Remember that shit. Feed it.”

I should ask Mitch if he’s an Eggers fan.

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Itinerary

Note: This is only *my* typical itinerary. Other band members’ may vary, as they have different tasks.

(based on a 5:00 set time)

6:45 AM – Wake up

7:15 AM – Meet at van to re-pack luggage into our obnoxiously cramped cargo bay (Tetris Job #1)

7:45 AM – Arrive at Venue

7:46 AM – Chad and I hop out of the van upon getting stuck in the giant line of buses trying to get into the parking lot

8:00 AM – Meet up with Mitch (Stage Manager), Rich (Front of House), Johnny (Production/Truck Loading Manager), and Travis (Monitor Bro) at the stage and equipment truck. Travis says it’ll still be about 15 minutes before the stage is built and the crowd barriers are fork-lifted out of the truck, so we can go get breakfast.

8:10 AM – Breakfast. Cereal, yogurt, fruit, bagels, make-your-own-eggs station (I load the hell up to sustain the upcoming workout and potentially delayed lunch)

8:40 AM – Unload the truck. This includes the stage’s entire sound system – 12 line array speakers, 8 subwoofers, amp racks, FOH/Monitor mixers, splitters, etc., as well as the gear for every band on our stage, all in huge road cases. Many boxes require up to 4 people to un-stack and roll down the ramps.

8:55 AM – Mitch makes a crack about some shitty kids that were dicking around back stage last night. Dude is full of love for his stage’s crew and bands, and hilarious rage for shitty-ass kids.

9:30 AM – Johnny asks who farted in his fucking hot-ass truck. “Smells like someone cut a baby open in here.”

10:00 AM – Arrange each band’s gear under EZ-Up tents backstage. Each band has a canopy where we can stage drums/guitars/etc before putting them on stage.

11:00 AM – (Optional, depending on rotating assignments) Walkabots. Along with a second person, dress up in robot costume (white medical coveralls, white motorcycle helmet, IFD shield) and walk down the line of kids waiting to get in, holding our IFD shields and hoisting up an IFD banner with a whiteboard attached that announces our set time. Maddie or Chuck follows behind, putting wristbands on kids that are stamped with the time and stage. (We only find out our set time maybe 90 minutes before doors, and they can only be announced once doors are open.)

11:30 AM – Remove helmet, wring sweat from face

12:00 PM – Lunch. Most days have some pretty excellent stuff; we’ve had bacon avocado burgers, seared tilapia, various Greek things. Getting fed sometimes involves standing in line for 30-45 minutes, which really just makes it all the more satisfying. Today, load the hell up here as well, because with our set time being right in the middle of dinner we’ll probably miss it.

1:30 PMĀ – Meet back up with Chad backstage to set gear up. Put guitars on stands, take pedal boards out of cases, build the drum kit. Bill comes by at some point to take the control center out of its case and put it on its stand.

2:15 PM – Change into show clothes

3:00 PM – Check in with Bethany at the press area. She brings us to various people who are looking for bands to interview, or who in some cases specifically want to interview us. We do anywhere from 0-4 interviews. Often these “press” folks are hacks, weirdos, or creepy hack weirdos, but sometimes that’s entertaining too.

4:00 PM – Meet backstage to backline our gear. We typically bring the drums and guitars up on stage while the band before us is setting up. This makes for a quicker changeover.

4:40 PM – Swap our gear to the front, toss a loom of cables from our in-ear transmitters to Travis’s board, plug in and check all lines. Meanwhile Chuck builds/places our scrims (on-stage banners with our name on them) and our “ego-riser” platforms.

5:00 PM – SHOWTIME, BITCH

5:31 PM – Run back on stage to take gear down, pack up road cases and re-load onto the truck, leave any gear that we take in the van with us under the EZ-Up.

6:15 PM – Signing at merch tent. Sign shirts/CDs/wristbands/tickets/autograph books/bodies, take pictures, joke around. Depending on the size of the line this takes up to an hour.

7:00 PM – Band splits up to take down merch tent and cart the backstage gear to the van. Once merch is down, cart that to the parking lot and begin loading everything back into the van. Tetris Job #2 commences, and results vary. Wildly.

8:00 PM – Drive to next city, maybe stopping for some degree of food on the way. Driving times vary. Wildly.

2:00 AM – Arrive at hotel. Check in, unload van (hoping motorcycle helmets don’t come tumbling down on our heads), complain about the smell/swelling/pain of our feet.

3:00 AM – Sleep?

::REPEAT UNTIL RICH ROCK STARS AND/OR HEART FAILURE::

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America’s Best Value Inn

Maybe it’ll be a country song, I don’t know.

If you’re rolling to Ventura
And you need a place to crash
There’s a Value Inn Motel
What don’t cost too much cash
It’s next door to a Denny’s
With a pool in open air
And the most you’ll have to climb
Is a single set of stairs

But if it’s comfort that you want, son, I think you’re out of luck
This hotel’s the most dismal goddamn shithole I ever fuck

The bathroom’s more than lacking
In your familiar accoutrements
And the melted slimy soap bars
Are looking a little gaunt
The sink is kicking back
What you didn’t put in
And the grimy toilet overflows
Before you even begin

Now you don’t wanna know where your washcloth’s been stuck
This hotel’s the most dismal goddamn shithole I ever fuck

The roaches steal your luggage
And housekeeping steals your rings
The AC is blowing hot
Hell, I can barely sing
The pool’s under investigation
They subpoenaed all the staff
But hey, there could be a crack rock
Left in your carafe

So unless you love bangin’ lizards in the back of your truck
This hotel’s the most dismal goddamn shithole I ever fuck

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