The Broadly Guide to Touring in a Band
Beyond "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll"—but not too far beyond it.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
You want to know why every touring musician you meet with a "XXX" tattoo on his leg drinks now? Because touring without alcohol is like washing your hair with no shampoo and conditioner (which also sucks on tour). Alcohol is part of touring, and anyone you meet who no longer drinks on tour has not done so because they do not want to, but rather because AA won't let them.
These should be kept in your purse at all times.
Complaining is unavoidable, but everyone hates a complainer. Everyone will complain about everyone else in the van at one point or another—usually behind one another's back, because you are now a family and this is the most fucked up vacation you've ever been on.
Drugs are part of the trifecta of rock that you see printed on so many stupid t-shirts, but they are essential for a reason. As Mick Jagger once said, "You start playing rock and roll to have sex and do drugs. Then you start doing drugs so you can have sex and play rock and roll". (Sex on drugs is easier without a penis, Mick.)
So try everything at least once (or a bunch). In Europe, stick with speed over coke. Pills are the easiest to find in small Midwestern towns and usually from white guys who have nicknames like "Bucket" or "Scooter". Don't smoke pot before you go on stage. Stay away from heroin. And, if anyone offers you a balloon of nitrous, you take it and kiss them "thank you".
It's easy to get a big head and think you are the only rock star in the world and that everyone else, including the teenage bar back, should be bowing to your greatness, but guess what? Nobody cares, and if you're shitty to the people at the venue, they are going to be shitty right back to you, regardless of your skirt or whatever musical genre you play. Make nice with the stage manager. Remember the sound guy's name (yeah, it's usually a guy), shake his hand when you meet him, be assertive in what you want, and kill him with kindness even when you think he's talking down to you. Most sound people are musicians themselves (or ones who didn't quite make it), so be nice to the asshole. He's crying inside.
Fighting on tour happens. When you spend 24 hours with not so much as a bathroom break apart from your band members, you start to go insane, and, though you love them, even the way they apply their lipstick will make you want to massacre their face with thousands of stinging paper cuts. Instead of punching your guitarist, take it out on your instrument. The drums can't hit back or force you into a taxing "friendship talk" the next day.
At some point in your career you will inevitably find yourself in Germany. The Germans give you endless beer and Club Matte and then, when the show is over, bluntly tell you exactly how they felt about your set, the guitar tones on your last album, your stage banter, your merchandise designs, everything. If you don't have a hotel, they will direct you to your "sleeping place" (that's German for a room foreigners can crash in). Germans like to fuck but they proposition you like a babysitter trying to get a child to drink his milk. "We fuck now or later?" It's a You want the red cup or green cup kind of thing. Either way, you are drinking that milk.
Anything that has to do with borders, immigration, or those random drug stops on the Arizona-Texas state line is going to suck. Stick a bible on your dashboard, comb your hair and be polite. And remember to smile when they stamp your passport and say, "Welcome home, ma'am."
You actually have to ask for it in Europe....I know.
Women are better at handling their masturbation needs on tour then men are. Men get greedy and rub one out before they go on stage, which messes up their whole performance and makes them play sluggishly, like they just gained 15 lbs. Women know how to find private time to do this while not disturbing the schedule of their bandmates. Be respectful. If you are going to take a 45-minute shower, make sure no one else needs to use the bathroom first.
There's always going to be one. Tease them mercifully until they break out of their no-fun shell and learn to take a joke.
Unless you have a road crew, you have to help load gear. It doesn't matter if you "made the wrong choice" at Chipotle earlier that day or you have your period. This is not gym class, and bleeding doesn't get you out of this annoying chore. Everyone hates loading gear. Only Mr. No Neck actually likes loading gear and even so, his ulterior motive is just to flex his muscles. Just think of lugging amps as the only exercise you are going to do that day.
The Motel 6 is not as bad as you think. They have clean towels, soap, vending machines, and the television is always guaranteed to be there because it's bolded to the dresser. If you are lucky, you may even see a pornography being filmed in the room next to yours when you load in your suitcase at 3 AM.
The person who rides shotgun is the navigator unless the driver has requested otherwise. If you are sitting shotgun on an overnight drive you have to do whatever it takes to stay up with the driver so she doesn't drive off the road. If this means eating amphetamines like Swedish berries with all the windows down while blasting Top 40, so be it.
As Thor once said, try to eat one a day to avoid constipation and prevent common colds.
Priceline was practically invented for touring musicians. This app allows you to buy 4-star hotel rooms, last minute, for the price of a Super 8. On the first tours of your career, when you are playing for gas money and crashing on the floors of strangers every night, it's important to keep morale high, so treat yourselves to a soft bed and functioning bathroom every once in a while. Shitting without a mound of toilet paper guarding your cheeks from the seat will make you feel like Liam Gallagher in a limousine.
When traveling overseas there is this important 45-minute window that happens between finishing your soundcheck and getting ready to play a show. It's called "Quiet Phone Time". For at least 45 minutes, everyone in the band gets to log onto the WIFI and answer all texts, emails, tweets and messages in uninterrupted silence without anyone else complaining about how lame and boring that is.
What you do in your own car is your own business, but when you are driving a passenger van full of human life, you can't drive like a dickhead. No one in the vehicle wants to make a game out of counting how many times the driver unnecessarily calls another driver a "shit head". It gets annoying. My husband's band invented the perfect game for preventing road rage: Whoever is driving the van is only allowed to yell insults in falsetto or in the voice of a "widdle baby". "Motherfucking piece of shit" does not really hold the same meaning when squeaked out like a Chipmunk.
South of the Border
South of the Border is a desolate theme park on the straight and boring drive from North to South Carolina. All the way down the I-95 you will see ancient, hand-painted signs depicting Mexican men in sombreros waving you into South of the Border; when you arrive, you'll find all the employees are referred to as Pedro, regardless of gender or race. This is the perfect place to buy long expired fireworks and sun-stained Americana merchandise from the 1980s. South of the Border was built in 1949 to sling Mexican trinkets and kitsch, and it feels like not much has changed since America saved Germany from the Nazis.
Travel Centers of America
Tour means you spend 40 percent of your day walking in and out of gas stations to buy garbage you don't need out of sheer boredom. You'll buy hats with fake hair sewn onto the brim, stupid mugs, glow n' the dark chewing gum, knives, ashtrays, and creepy dolls. You'll find yourself cruising the glowing rows of gas station cocktails and coolers thinking, "Jack and coke in a can? I wonder if it really tastes different?" You'll get cravings for Mountain Dew and tequila (otherwise known as a "Mountain Dew-A-Rita") at 11 AM and think nothing of it.
You need to pack twice as many pairs of underwear as you would bring for a regular vacation. Everything else, like t-shirts, skirts and assorted patterned tights, can be cut down to half the amount of items.
They fuck like they eat. Don't do it.
Sometimes you need to say, "Fuck it" and spend $25 on kale at the Whole Foods salad bar. Your digestive system will thank you later.
When everyone is arguing over what album to play next, Wild Gift always kills the bickering.
Tour is not just about you. It's about your bandmates, your tour manager, your job, and your audience. You have to leave the worst parts of your ego back home with your boyfriend and your bed, or else you will get left at a gas station in Florida to start a new band with the lot lizards.
On the first day of tour, everyone picks a seat in the van. Over the weeks, each person begins to litter their spot with their books, clothes, and garbage like a dog marking its territory. We call this "zoning," and there are strict yet invisible "No Trespassing" signs around each band member's zone.