One of the craziest stories that Against Me! drummer Atom Willard told us on our podcast this week was about when he was touring with one of the many bands he was in via a cube van. Two seats, 4 or 5 guys, all the gear, no windows in the back, in the friggin’ desert. The mighty Professor over at theguardian.com in the UK has a well-worded list of recommendations, that I could agree with more, for the next time you and your bar band decide to hit the road. You like your bandmates, but you might not after spending 3 weeks in a van together. If you’re lucky, you might even get a seat. – FATS
My band is about to go on tour. Do you have any advice for us?
Anonymous, via email
Here are 10 pieces of advice. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will undoubtedly be useful.
1) Pack light, but bring entertainment, as boredom is the true bane of touring. Have two books ready: one to impress journalists when they ask what you’re reading (perhaps Proust or the winner of some recent prize for fiction), another that you really want to read, like Harry Potter or a band biography.
2) Use your phone wisely. Phones don’t have breathalysers, so think before you dial. For you, 4am might be fine, but your loved ones who are about to go to work will not be amused. Never make a phone call on a hotel phone (unless you’re in someone else’s room): it’ll cost more than most bands’ collective monthly wage.
3) Speaking of wage, you’ll be living on your per diem (which is Latin for “per day”). Usually it’s just enough for a round of drinks or a meal. Choose wisely.
4) Tour bus etiquette. One: greet the driver politely and then minimise all contact with him. By now, he thinks of you and your ilk as zoo animals, and you want to keep it that way. He sees his job as making sure you follow his few rules and, if you do, your tour bus might just become that happy den of debauchery you’ve always dreamed of. The most important commandment of the tour bus is: “Thou shalt not shit on the tour bus.” I’ve been told the rationale of this, which is really not that relevant, but this prohibition is
sacrosanct. Never do this, even if it is an emergency. Better to go on the side of the road than deal with the wrath of someone who has descended into madness due to bad smells. Your other responsibility is to make it back to your bunk. Falling asleep or passing out in public space is taken as provocation to prank you, so if you don’t want photos of you dressed as an alien circulating on the internet, get back to your own berth.
5) Don’t get left behind. I know you think you’re essential, but as you start to look the same as everyone else to certain professionals, you need to make sure you’re not left at a hotel, a venue, a truckstop or at the side of a highway as you’re adhering to the aforementioned sacred rule. If you do leave the bus, place something on the driver’s seat so he knows someone has moved. An explicit note would be best – something like: “One of your charges has temporarily left the enclosure but will return shortly.” This has the added benefit of being polite and irritating simultaneously – a coup!
6) Dressing rooms are never secure, so hide anything you don’t want stolen. Opportunists and drug dealers tend to take anything shiny. Fans want relatively valueless items. And everyone wants your booze.
7) Hotels. Choose up front how you are going to do this. Are you planning to have this be the most expensive hotel bill of all time, or are you not paying for anything? If you choose the latter, don’t have the afterparty in your room. This is a rookie mistake. In the party room, guess who’s paying for the drinks and the holes in the wall? If you’ve chosen the expensive route, try and do it when the press are around. This is like blowing up a car in a film: the expense of the destruction is made up for by the entertainment value it provides for the greatest number of people.
8) What happens on the road never stays on the road. Touring is not Las Vegas. Everything you do will, without fail, eventually get back home. A girlfriend might look at a blog where someone mentions that you were seen leaving the bar with a blonde in a tartan skirt and black boots. Also, if you cheat, your friends will know – and if one of them likes your missus he will take this as an invitation to sleep with her. You’ve read your rock books – now you know why all those musicians stole each other’s girls.
9) Always be nice to the crew. Bands come and go, but the crew go on forever. They’ll be there on your way up and there on your way down. Also, you’re at their mercy on stage. You don’t want to end up with bodily secretions in your beer, profanity in your monitor mix or a private part rubbed on your melodica.
10) Don’t complain. Everyone will eventually drive everyone crazy, but you’ll be the first if you start moaning about the size of the seats on the aeroplane, how cramped you are from sleeping on a guitar case, or how bad the food is. The only things you can complain about are fellow musicians or the fact that
there wasn’t enough alcohol. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. Touring is like being in a marriage with people you don’t (usually) have sex with. Sex will make you put up with a lot of things that would otherwise make you kill someone. The way to cope with this tension is to creatively express your hostility through pranks – such as, when your singer expresses his antipathy to Rodrigo y Gabriela, getting the soundman to play their record before the start of every show. If you see the humour in this, you’re ready for your tour to start.