Monthly Archives: June 2012

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 PM – 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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Hi, and Yes

Chapter I – Hi

Oh, hi gentle reader!

I’m riding shotgun, just beginning our trip from Pomona to San Francisco. Bill’s driving first shift, and the radio’s off. With all the superhardcore music blasting in our faces for 10 hours a day, sometimes it’s nice to just listen to the wind through the windows. But not for too long.

California weather, man. Damn. The extra bit of humidity is definitely helping me get my voice back, but there’s still a ways to go.

Despite my continued hoarseness (and its accompanying emergency-falsetto singing style), today’s show really felt like it was happening. We’ve figured out solutions to the monitor drop-outs that severely plagued yesterday’s show, and everything on stage just felt super solid to me. Interestingly, Brian didn’t feel quite as good about it. But yesterday he felt great about the show that I thought was a bit of a mess. And that dude stands 8 feet to my right. Perception is everything.

Unfortunately the turnout for us wasn’t super huge, and quite a few kids in attendance left during our set, but that didn’t get me down today. We’ve been spoiled on other tours by playing for audiences that already know us, or at least are already tuned into the geeky side of us so we have extra leeway and holding power. When you play for so many new people like this tour you’re not gonna win ’em all, but I’d like to think with the show we put on today we’re sure to win the right ones.

Chapter II – Yes

Several years ago my friend John Geary emailed me this rant Dave Eggers wrote in 2000 on the concept of “selling out:”

http://students.ou.edu/M/Eric.C.Mai-1/DE.htm

I read it, and it floored me, then I read it again, and then I copy/pasted it into a Word document and now it resides on every computer I’ve owned ever since (all 2.5 of them!) so I can re-read it from time to time.

It’s kinda long, and gets into a bunch of different territory, and one or two people I’ve showed it to were actually angered by it, but there are some key passages that really made this rant so important for me:

“The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon[…]you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.

No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.”

And later:

“I say yes, and Wayne Coyne says yes, and if that makes us the enemy, then good, good, good. We are evil people because we want to live and do things. We are on the wrong side because we should be home, calculating which move would be the least damaging to our downtown reputations. But I say yes because I am curious. I want to see things. I say yes when my high school friend tells me to come out because he’s hanging with Puffy. A real story, that. I say yes when Hollywood says they’ll give me enough money to publish a hundred different books, or send twenty kids through college. Saying no is so fucking boring.”

Yes got me where I am today. Literally. When some dude in Glenview named Brian Mazzaferri cold-called me in October 2007 looking for a drummer for his acoustic singer-songwriter project, I said yes, sight unseen (or rather, Myspace unheard).

I owe everything to Yes.

And I know so many brilliant people who wallow in the No pond, lazily spinning cop-outs that make them feel superior for wasting their potential. It bums me out.

At various times, including somewhat recently, I’ve gotten out of touch with Yes. Those times left me just shut in and watching time pass, aimless and angry, pale and pudgy.

But the night before we left for tour, sitting by the creek down the street from my to-be-demolished childhood home, I submitted a spiritual request to my Dad for advice, a message, just something that would get my head in the right place to handle all this upcoming intensity.

And a couple minutes later, through the leaves and the water and the last bit of relative silence I’ll experience all summer, the answer passed through my head in a phrase.

“Give More.”

And, by extension, Say Yes.

Electricity surged up my spine. It all turned around right there. Now every moment feels new again. Now every minor happenstance feels like a launching pad.

Yes just makes a lot of sense. Especially when it doesn’t.

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But I’m Running Behind

Jackson Browne is starting to make a lot more sense as I get older and log more and more touring miles.

It may be cliche and obvious to state this, but the Running On Empty album, top to bottom, might as well be every touring musician’s diary.

The thrills, the boredom, the cameraderie, the backstabbing, the lonely longing for that one more drink or that one more night with someone – it’s all there.

You know what, writing a tour blog is damn near redundant as long as this record exists. Just go listen to it (again) if you want to know how I’m feeling at any given time.

In many ways, touring these days is a lot less lonely (and boring!) now than it was in the ’70s. It’s so much easier to keep in touch with our lives back home, the people we meet in our travels, and the world in general. When we hit the road we don’t quite fall off the face of the earth like Browne et al did back then.

But even so, the absence is still very real, and Running On Empty will always matter.

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Denver, Forced Insomnia, Orders of Magnitude

Right now we’re heading down I-15 towards Vegas. I just swapped driver roles with Chad. Today’s a drive day, tomorrow’s a party day, Wednesday’s show day.

About half of the Denver>Vegas drive is the same as the Denver>SLC drive, which is quite beautiful. And much of the second half is just as great. I insisted we pull off to a viewing area to take in these amazing canyons and mesas. It turned into a bit of a photo op. Brian’s not wearing sleeves today, in an attempt to even out his farmer’s tan…by sitting inside a van sleeveless all day? Sure.

J.J. is on board for the next 5ish days. Having J.J. around just makes everything rule way harder.

Anyway, we played Denver Rock City yesterday.

The overnight drive back from SLC was a bitch. I didn’t get any sleep until the last couple hours of the drive when I got to steal the back bench. So all day I was totally hazed out. We all were.

But Denver is our best/favorite place to play outside of Chicago, so we were still juiced up. But when we get in front of a Denver crowd, there’s no choice but to get juiced.

The crowd was fantastic, and quite large. There seemed to be a real appreciation for the song choices and musical arrangement details we worked into the set beyond just “Geeks,” which is our radio hit out there. Very exciting to see kids into everything, not just “the single.”

We were all just destroyed by the end of the fest last night. Didn’t stop us from having a bit of a pool party at the hotel, though. Showering definitely provided a crucial eighth wind.

Oh, and Superfan Audrey dropped off a rockin’ tour care package, which contains all kinds of supplies for partying, recovering, and surviving. Way, way rad. Will come quite in handy over this Vegas stint. Thanks, Audrey!

ALERT: THIS IS THE OFFICIAL END OF THIS BLOG POST. WARNING, THE FOLLOWING IS A LONG WINDED TECH RAMBLING, SO WHATEVER, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED, MAN.

Despite how well the set went over, it was still pretty stressful on stage at times.

In the morning Travis suggested that we change our in-ear-monitoring setup for this tour.

Our current setup uses a 24-channel splitter snake, a Mackie 1604 VLZ board, and a few cheap compressors. That’s great for club tours, where the system is different every day and we can maintain a consistent mix despite all the vagaries of playing different venues. It requires a little extra work during setup just to get the lines patched into our spliter (and our splitter outputs into theirs), but once everything’s patched correctly it eliminates any work on the venue’s end to run our monitors.

ANYWAY, this being a tightly-run festival tour, that extra patching work eats into precious setup time in the middle of the day. And while we use with a mixer we got for $250 on Craigslist, Travis is mixing every other band’s monitors on his fully-loaded Avid Venue digital console that costs about $25,000.

So, by skipping our splitter and patching directly into Travis’s rig we save a ton of time setting up. Rather than patching 16 channels into a few different boxes (with a high chance of screwing something up every time) we just hook 5 of the Venue’s outputs directly into our in-ear transmitters. And being a digital board, our individual mixes are saved and can be recalled every day. Plus we get the much higher sound quality of a system that’s literally 100 times more expensive (and that means it’s 100 times better, right? Actually, yeah it does).

SO ANYWAY THE STRESS PART. The only problem with this beautiful setup is, we didn’t have much time to set up all-new mixes with Travis before our set. That means we weren’t quite hearing everything in the same way we’re all used to. And as various adjustments were being made throughout the set sometimes we’d lose certain channels, or in Chad’s case the entire mix…

But now that we’ve got basic mixes set up, the worst of it is behind us. Now our ears will be sounding consistently great, and our already-efficient setup process will be even faster.

*sigh*

Oh, one more thing. Our friend Suge, who on the 2010 tour did guitar tech for 3OH3/Cobra and crucially helped us out in several pinches, is teching for The Used on this tour. He showed up at our stage yesterday right before our set, I thought just to check us out, but he ended up being a MASSIVE help getting through those rough patches. He was communicating Chad’s needs over to Travis, holding up our scrims (on-stage banners) when the wind was threatening to knock them over, and even taping Bill’s power pad down when it started to slide around. All without any obligation or anything from us. The guy just rules the school.

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Show 1: Salt Lake City

It has been a week. (like in that tone of voice where you say “It has been a week.”)

The drive to SLC involved a stop in Omaha, a stop in Denver (to pick up Maddie the Merch Master), and then a pre-show check-in day in SLC. But enough about driving. So much driving.

We met and organized stuff with the stage managers today. I tell ya, working with seasoned festival pros is the best. Guys who really, really know what they’re doing, take real pride in their work, and who really care about running a smooth and kink-free operation. Plus they’re just cool and easygoing guys. Sure beats club tours where sometimes the sound guy just doesn’t even show up.

AND it turns out our friend Travis, who did monitors/tech/etc for Flobots (among tons of other big tours), is working on our stage all tour. So not only are these dudes great at their jobs, I’ve got someone working the stage that I already have a rapport with that I can talk to honestly without fear of Sound Guy Rage. Considering that because I run our in-ear monitor rig and splitter snake I have to work daily with sound guys and their rage, this is a huge relief.

The show itself was pretty damn good for a first day. Our set times will be different every day – today we had a great set time, right in the middle of the day (2:30) so kids weren’t yet burned out and were still up to get nutty. Nice mass jumping during Money, and a fair number of kids knew the songs and were into our new cover (Spokesman by Goldfinger), especially the modern updates Brian made to the dated lines in the lyrics.

We also sold an impressive amount of merch. SLC isn’t even a big market for us, so if that’s any indication of things to come then financially we’ll be in really good shape. Which is a huge load of concern off our shoulders. Touring is expensive.

Speaking of merchandise, we have a MASSIVE-ASS SHIT LOAD of it. 37 boxes of it at, picked up at the SLC UPS station. As of this morning there wasn’t even room in the Sprinter’s cargo bay for the luggage. We had to stack it all on the back bench and  (our backline gear travels in Warped’s semi trucks, so we drove out with the gear, loaded that onto the truck, and replaced it with the merch). Luckily we sold enough today that we could consolidate some boxes. But every day we’ll have to re-stock our daily merch bins and shuffle all the shipping boxes around. Literally, every day we’re shufflin’.

Gonna be sore as hell tomorrow. And for the next 50-some days.

Now we’re on the road BACK to Denver to play the next show. No hotel stop tonight, we’ll drive overnight and park near the venue to continue our van nap. But we have a niiiiice hotel tomorrow night, and 2 days to get to Vegas. Rather, 1 day to get to Vegas, and 1 day to party in Vegas…

All this rambling I feel like I haven’t ‘even scratched the surface of this whole experience so far.

Oh yeah, beautiful beautiful mountainous drive from Denver to SLC. Sadly most of our drives will be at night from now on so we’ll miss a lot of scenery. Oh well.

Oh I met some chickens!

Oh the catering is fantastic, I’ll eat better on tour than I have, like, ever!

Oh you’re still reading this? I’m sorry.

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I Can’t Say That I’ll Try…But I’ll Try To Try

Now that Warped Tour is upon us and I’ll actually be doing traveling and playing and fighting off lot lizards and not just sitting in front of my shitbox computer all day, I’m gonna try to try to get this blog going again.

I make no promises of continuity and thoroughness, and for all I know ShitBox 5000 will finally catch on fire at some point, but I’ll do my best to at least share the good stuff.

Posts might be more sporadic looking than my typically prosed-out, TL;DR style. If I can bear to not write that way.

Anyway, here’s the Sprinter’s cargo bay, MAXXXED OUT

There are so many more layers to this packing job than the outer one you see here. It’s like a half-ton Jenga of boxes and awkward cases and motorcycle helmets.

After packing I rolled over to my family’s old house, which is now surrounded by a chain-link fence and a demolition notice. Looks like by the time I come back from tour it will all be torn down. That’s not a surprise in the least, as that house is totally ShitBox 1956, but still. To actually inventory all the history in those walls, and to imagine those walls gone, is overwhelming.

But walking around the neighborhood and sitting by the creek at the end of the street, I finally had some time in relative silence to think. It’s been so long since suburban silence! Plus I figured this would be the last time I could truly be alone before I become a human sardine all summer.

I cleared my mind of all the city’s sirens, fireworks, screaming, honking, bangin’ club bass, and laughter. Focused on the sound of water, the frogs, the wind overhead. Had some conversations, worked out some things, and made a couple of very important realizations that I hope will guide me in the right direction for this tour and beyond.

Now I’m ready.

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