CHECK THE SPREADSHEET: Attitude is Everything

Hello! Thank you for checking the monthly DIY tour guide. I play on tour with three Brooklyn-based bands and have been on the road for at least a week each month this year (aside from one). Going on tour is a goal of many bands and in today’s super connected world it is easier than ever to attain. While being relatively easier to logistically set up, it is still a challenging undertaking on your wallet and  personal and emotional health.

Touring can teach you who your friends are, how strong your relationship is and most importantly who you are. At best, it’s an incredibly fun and hilarious adventure, and at worst, a dehumanizing experience that shoots you straight into an existential crisis the moment you return home. In this monthly column, I will share my experiences and attempt to break down specific aspects of DIY touring so you can more easily hit the road yourself!

I was first introduced to Giantology, a two-piece garage band from Chicago at a show in Long Beach, CA. They’re an inspiring example of a band that just wanted to go on tour and did it. You don’t have to wait until you’re huge in your hometown, have a record on some label or even a booking agent. They were booking their first 3-month tour at the same time as they were writing their first songs. It was their bassist’s first tour ever. If you want to do it, the first step is having the attitude that it is not only possible, but with enough determination and organization it is something you can actually make happen in a matter of a few months.

Giantology basically jumped straight into touring like a bunch of bosses.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be setbacks; the trick is to not let ’em get you down. In Mobile, Alabama I played in two bands to an audience of exactly one person. The co-singer/guitarist in Ex-Girlfriends got onto the floor and screamed her lungs out to the single middle-aged podcast host from Florida like he was the A&R rep of Universal Music or the editor of the Rolling Stone or something. Personally, I get very discouraged and slightly humiliated when no one shows up after you’ve driven half way across the country and you’ve already played at this exact bar twice before, but she did not give a fuck.

I also felt similarly bummed when I played for the first time in front of a sold out room with Kino Kimino in San Francisco at The Independent. There was one moment when all I had to do was play the riff from “So Fresh and So Clean” as a transition between songs. I messed up and felt like a biggest idiot. Whether you’re playing to one person or 1,000 people, it’s always going to be something.

photo by Jose Berrio (joseberrio.com)

Here are some tips to keep your anxiety low, morale high, and generally give zero fucks when things get tough…

  1. Take care of yourself. It’s easy to drink cheaply and/or free every night on tour, but that’s the fastest way to get depressed or sick. You’re probably going to do it anyway, so always keep gummy vitamins on hand in the front of the van. Wellness Formula works in a few days for bad colds, but gives you really smelly burps. Oregano Oil also works, but might make your mouth numb for a few minutes.

Drummers: Bring sandals & hemorrhoid cream (to avoid blood-ass from eating too much gas station food). Take shoes off right after the show and put sandals on – your band mates will thank you.

Beauty Rest: Melatonin /Advil PM and ear plugs can regulate your sleep schedule when you’re trying to crash in bizarre places surrounded by kind (but likely drunk and loud) strangers who let you have their floor, futon, or doggie bed to rest on.

  1. Remember that you’re on the same team. No matter how close you are as friends, being in the same smelly van with the same few people to talk to for 24 hours a day will make you want to murder each other.

Your gear is going to malfunction, you’re probably going to get a cold or an engine mount in your 20 year old mini-van will break, and there’s a chance you’ll end up in the middle of the U.K. somewhere after calling 47 hotels and still end up sleeping in the van. All these things will make you even more on edge with only a few people in your immediate vicinity to take your frustrations out on. Be kind to each other…none of this shit matters. No matter what goes wrong, you’re basically married to the same dream and that is what will inevitably hold you together.

Pro tip: When a bandmate is having a temper tantrum, imagine them as an adorable five-year-old.

  1. Gratitude. Be thankful for everyone who plays, promotes, does sound, feeds you, buys merch, and puts you up. Even if only one person shows up to your show, be thankful that they did. The first time we played in Wilmington, NC only one person came to our show and then the next time we came through town, that one person (Travis of Deadly Lo-Fi) threw us the best show of that whole tour.

I appreciate the bassist in Sharkmuffin so much, because she always appreciates every person involved, and makes it a point to shout out each person in her social media posts after the show. This not only makes a difference the next time we come through town – it really helps you feel more honored to be there and that what you came to share in the first place was worth it when you take the time to feel thankful for everyone individually.

Check back the third Monday of every month for more tips from Tara’s touring life.