The lights of the carnival drank up the darkness and all the people’s pupils followed suit. Caught in a clash of captivated awe from the locals and magnetic disinterest from the carnies, I’m floating unknown and unnoticed. The local’s eyes remain fixated on each other, stuck in a loop of familiar sentiments and mannerisms, distorted and amplified by a non-stop barrage of overlapping 8-bit melodies coming from the rides. But one carnie’s eyes find mine, while circular screams pulsate from the smeared metal behind his back.
One particularly candid ride operator had a conversation with me, about six inches from my face as we all began strapping ourselves in on a ride called the “Ali Baba.” His red teeth pushed out words I didn’t want to hear, “Listen man, I don’t know what’s going on with this seat, but it’s acting a little funny this week. It should tighten just fine though.”
I feigned concern, knowing that his uneventful, lever-pulling life was punctuated only by these moments of striking fear into the hearts of children. I pulled the harness over my head and decided to take my chances. Right before we left the ground, he reminded us that he’s the one that tightens all of the bolts, and he’s “pretty sure” he did it right. It was a nice touch.
Clarence is a place I never knew existed. After spending about six hours here today, I think one day will be enough.
Our stage tonight is a permanent concrete structure directly in front of two sets of train tracks. The word “bandstand” seems more appropriate here. Shadowed by massive metal silos, it can be found directly across the street from “the bank” and “the restaurant.” Everything there is to do in Clarence outside of home is presented, like something out of a movie set, in one neatly condensed street.
It quickly becomes apparent to us that we are the only entertainment for the night. There are 841 people that live in this town and I’m pretty sure they’re planning on sticking around for both hour long sets.
“It’s ok, people will be walking around a lot, coming in and out”
The crowd was seated and attentive. They came armed with folding chairs and their attention was fixed on us.
Dry claps followed every song, as if the audience had been briefed on proper concert etiquette.
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
George Washington named this place. He surveyed this part of the country over 250 years ago and stood at the spot where the rivers meet and said, “This is a pleasant point.”
I step out of the bus and wonder what carnival we’re at now. I see a stand selling deep-fried Oreos and feel at home.
We’re greeted by two women, both named Darla. The younger of the two Darlas would like to know what we want for dinner so that she can start cooking. I’m praying for anything that’s not the pulled pork/mac & cheese/baked beans combination we’ve been getting served all summer.
“Have you ever had cabbage steak?”
We, of course, say no but that we’d like to try it and whatever else she’d like to make would be fine. Home-cooked meals are a rarity on the road and this woman about to feed us food from her kitchen is a godsend.
It’s hot and miserable like you would expect anywhere in the south to be in July. As I peruse the stands that seem to deep-fry anything remotely edible, I come upon downtown Point Pleasant.
I’m amazingly bored, thumbing through cheap t-shirts with terrible slogans for far too long. I just need to be anywhere that isn’t on the bus - our poor excuse of a converted U-Haul where we sleep every night. It’s 60 feet long with the trailer and has made Alex, Scott, Paul, and I real-life bus drivers, contrary to everyone’s best interest. It’s terrifying when it’s moving and cold and damp when it’s not; the AC units turning heat and humidity outside into dripping condensation inside.
When we drove past the “Welcome to Point Pleasant” sign earlier that day, we unknowingly found ourselves in a tightly compressed capsule of culture. We were thrust into a condensed, overly-colored Atlantis. It's like a level in a video game, an oversimplified, cartoonishly-vivid version of a one-of-a-kind reality.
There’s a story for everything here and a hundred people that want to tell you their version of it.
“You’ve never heard of The Mothman?!”
Most of these stories are relayed to us over burgers, homemade potato salad, and cabbage steak at the American Legion. Real people, telling real stories, transparent with an uncontainable pride in the small town they were born in, grew up in, fell in love in, and raised a family of their own in.
As soon as the show was over we loaded all of our equipment in the back of a pickup truck. We played in an amphitheater at the edge of the Ohio river and the only place we could park our bus was at the top of the hill, opposite the stage, so we needed a truck to get everything down (and then later back up) the hill.
Once the gear was in the trailer and the locks secure, I couldn’t get my damp clothes off quick enough. Remember, it’s West Virginia in late June, and after playing for 75 minutes outside, I felt like I had just come out of the shower with my clothes on.
I pry off my jeans, pull at my cutoff Point Pleasant 2008 State Champs t-shirt as it resists, ardently sliding it’s damp cloth hand against my sticky back. My whole body is sticky and I think about nothing but crossing the finish line of sitting in our overly air-conditioned RV in a tank top and shorts and cracking open another Bud Light. I look in the fridge and all we have is Busch Light. I look at myself in a sleeveless t-shirt I made a couple hours prior and come to accept the fact that the drink matches my outfit.
On to Delaware..
I wake up and know where we are. My body doesn’t want to meet the light yet, so I do my best to ignore the erratic, side-to-side movements as we begin our exodus from Point Pleasant. Our clumsy mechanical dinosaur of a bus saunters and sways as objects from bunks and cabinets take turns making suicidal leaps to the ground. The small objects I ignore, only small blips in the linear cardiogram of my rest; something happening in a dimension separate from the focused calm of my cocoon – a universe at peace, planets and stars suspended in agreement with my two closed eyelids. Then the big bang – the front right tire hits a pothole as we pull into a McDonald’s parking lot and the extra large container of laundry detergent we stored in one of the top cabinets comes crashing down and explodes on the floor. Blue goo coats the steps and now we’re all awake. Everyone sticks their heads out of their bunks to witness the disaster. A cocktail of chaos and curiosity acts as a bus-wide alarm clock.
Today we’re heading to Dewey Beach, Delaware by way of Columbia, Maryland - a charted course that everyone seems to have an opinion about. I don’t think I’ve been to either place and I’ll end up wherever the bus ends up.
We park in a place that looks like a deserted lot and behind a building that clearly no one wants to go to. As it turns out, we accidentally landed ourselves in the backyard of one of the rowdiest beach front bars in Dewey Beach. Lit is an appropriate word to use here.
Dewey (as the locals call it) reminds me of the Jersey shore. It’s overpriced and cheap at the same time, making a valiant effort to coerce traveling land-locked families into paying top dollar for seafood from a state away. The city attempts to mask gaudiness with paper-thin sophistication, but is unable to conceal it’s blue-collar muffin top over the edge of a swimsuit two sizes too small.
Quaint, but surely expensive little wooden houses line every street. It’s not a fancy town, it’s casually worn in; comfortable with and aware of it’s dilapidations. It’s touristy and tacky, but everyone seems to embrace it.
As she turns on the TVs, the bartender informs us that we’ve arrived in the calm before the storm of “Sunday Funday.”
“Everyone goes to brunch and then comes over here to get trashed. Around 2 or 3 this place will be packed.”
We drink and watch a World Cup game over a couple beers. Once we find out that the bar is covering our tab, we let loose. It’s 1pm, Russia just knocked out Spain and I’m ordering my fourth drink, a margarita, because Meg the bartender is treating us with heavy pours and little splashes of orange juice. The Croatia/Denmark game starts and we continue our pattern of sipping and ordering more, but now with a heaping plate of fries sprinkled with Old Bay and a side of cheese sauce.
This is pretty good. I mention to a couple of the guys in the band that we get paid to do what other people do on vacation. Maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy vacations. I like getting paid while I drink and sit in the sun.
This bar was meant for Spring Break. There are giant inflatables being lubricated by unseen misters. I can see the appeal, it’s like a summertime birthday party from 5th grade. The nearly-naked girls that jump on it seem stoked, but I look at the pool of water forming on the giant swan and wonder if it’s ever been cleaned. I know the answer and steer clear, walking further to the water.
Shirtless guys in their 30’s play beer pong like they’ve spent the last ten years since college attempting to find a more captivating activity and with all odds in their favor, haven’t succeeded. It can’t be from a lack of trying. I’m sure they’ve been racking their brains.
We eventually decide that it’s time to go to the beach and start making a dent in the two twelve packs of Corona we picked up at a gas station on the way here. I carry the cheap Styrofoam cooler full of beer down to the beach as it falls apart in my hands, the water from the melting ice inside eroding one edge of the container.
We traverse the sand-layered asphalt like a trail of preschoolers whose teacher gave up and abandoned them. But we continue on and our visibly drunk train of toddlers slowly snakes it’s way to the beach. Once we get there, we're warned by a man throwing away two beer cans that we’re not allowed to have beer on the beach and to be discreet about it.
We got here by way of navigating around the south side of the island of Manhattan and shooting back up directly north towards upstate New York. I didn’t realize until yesterday how big Long Island is. I realized it when it was 5am and Alex, who had been giving me directions from the passenger seat, told me after we passed Manhattan that we only had 49 more miles to go.
Now we’re at a Courtyard Marriott, another one. It’s the 4th of July. It feels heavy for me like it always does.
There are bird calls and nature sounds coming out of the speakers in this lobby and it’s distracting me.
My favorite part of yesterday was opening the window to the RV and watching NYC through the window as we passed. Feeling the warm air from the city blow on my face as we screamed past. At times I could see people below, lining the streets just like the row houses we passed. The cramped, makeshift suburbia of Brooklyn looking uncharacteristically docile.
12 hours prior I was driving us into this mess. My eyes and my brain were focused on keeping our bus and trailer away from guardrails and other trucks shooting down the narrow lanes, with not enough excess brain power to look at the city as well. Luckily, Alex took a picture for me.
It was a nice drive leading up to that – exactly what I wanted. I drove alone for the first two and a half hours out of Delaware and into New Jersey, mostly in silence. No voices, just the noises from the road and ample time for thoughts to evaporate from my mind.
It was 6am when I finally put my head against my pillow and shut the curtain to my bunk. I was hoping no one would wake me up for load in at nine; that the boys would grant me immunity for my service performed in the cabin of the truck.
They did, and I slept until 11:30 when I had to go to the stage and set up my drums for sound check. The finest union stagehands in New York flawlessly offered their services like they always do, letting cymbal stands fall when moving the drum riser on stage and plugging half of the cables into the wrong drum mics.
We walk into Goose Island Brewery looking like a bachelor party going trick-or-treating.
Scott is wearing his granddaddy’s ten-gallon hat, Alex is wearing a grey Kangol and sunburst aviators that fade from yellow to pink, and I’m wearing a NASCAR shirt with the sleeves cut off that I bought/made in Point Pleasant.
After the three of us walk away from the bar, one of the bartenders asks Paul,
“So what’s the deal with you guys?”
Well we’re in a country band currently living at a truck stop near O’Hare and we rented a minivan this morning so we can soak up Chicago for these next three empty days.
After mandatory deep dish from Lou Malnati’s, we head north to the beach where one of Alex’s friends is. I never think of the beach when I think of Chicago, but Lake Michigan is beautiful during the summer time. I wanted to take off my Doc Martens and get in the water with all the other splashing humans, but got a beer from the bar instead.
We walk along a stretch of the lake with a city view. It’s a city I’ve seen before, but not from this angle. Not from the north side, reflected pink on skyscrapers stealing clouds from the horizon.
We take the minivan to Lincoln Park and find the kind of bar where the bartenders wear leather aprons like a character who is about to put a blowtorch to your face in Hostel.
We walk across the street to meet Alex coming out of a head shop and are drawn, like moths to a trap music flame, to a bar next door with a herd of people standing outside.
It was loud as fuck. That was the first indication we were in the right place. Although, due to our county fair attire, I’m sure other people in the bar felt the exact opposite sentiment.
I went to order two Modelos at the bar and the bartender told me it was a $20 minimum. Never heard that one before, but ok beers for everyone.
I felt at home with the bass hitting me deep in my chest. The familiarity of the music washed over me like a cleansing water sweeping away weeks of ingrown sounds from country festivals and fairs. For me, days in the city are like coming up for air.
A row of young men stood directly in front of the DJ booth facing out, nodding their heads and observing the crowd. They all dressed like interchangeable versions of the same Hypebeast Ken doll. Each with a fanny pack wrapped around his shoulder and one article of clothing with a Supreme logo.
We dance for the rest of the night, or just until that point when the group realizes if we don’t go back now, we’re either going to be stuck in the city, crashing on someone’s floor or having to pay for a long uber ride.
I safely park the minivan in front of the truck stop and we walk to the back parking lot where all the trucks are parked.
I fish around in the fridge for leftover pizza while Paul starts vacuuming the carpet. I remind him that it’s almost three in the morning and he doesn’t have to do that now.
I’m grateful that I live with people that obsessively clean on a level I can relate to and I’m grateful that my bed is just a few short stumbles away. I’m grateful we’re all home safe.
El Paso 2:03pm
Today is a day off. I’m sitting at the desk in our hotel room while Alex, our tour manager, shaves and showers. We won’t be staying here tonight; we’re just using it as our “shower room” since we’ve leveled-up to a Prevost bus this time around. For the next six weeks, I’ll be spending every night in one of twelve human-sized cubbies.
The eight of us inhabiting the bus have each been waiting for our turn to get clean and slowly begun to develop a plan for what we’ll do to fill this day. We move as an amoeba; indecisive angles of membrane taking turns pulling at the edges with:
“we should go work out” … “we should go to the mall” … “where’s everyone else?”
Setting plans for three hours from now seems like a reasonable amount of time to get everyone on the same page.
El Paso is a transitory town – perpetually existing between two places. Between Austin and Phoenix. Between the United States and Mexico. The thin, penciled line of I-10 divides, unzipping the earth with asphalt. The highway lunges between the two countries like a bystander stepping in to break up a fight between two school kids face-to-face in a hallway brawl.
El Paso is not a place that I would ever stop except to take a momentary break, but I have to admit the scenery reminds me of the time I spent growing up in New Mexico and makes me oddly nostalgic.
Earlier, Scott and I went for a run, leaving the bus and hotel behind while the landscape reduced itself to two colors - dirt and concrete. Dry brown swallowed us; from the hotel, to the Walmart, to the back of a strip mall where we climbed a fence and jumped down the side of a wall to get back to the bus.
Everything rocks and sways and you feel it when you stand up. You feel it when it’s 9am and it’s dark in the narrow corridor where everyone sleeps and you’re the first one awake.
The outside is the first thing - just sitting and looking and enjoying the nothingness of the desert, paired with the lack of activity in the front lounge. We stop at a truck stop as I’m making my already-infamous microwave scrambled eggs. I open the door to the bus and there’s a man walking and looking at the ground, scanning for misplaced or discarded pieces of Styrofoam and cardboard. He looks at me with my paper bowl of eggs and I say, “mornin.”
I love the openness and the nothingness, the lack of color and lack of shape. The endless dirt and horizontal landscape is clean and lacks clutter - it’s minimal in design. If drawn, most of the page would be unused.
I turn the corner of the bus to go inside the truck stop, with no particular intention. There’s a man with one arm smoking a cigarette outside of his camper and I nod to him.
I’m greeted by the same vaguely local knick knacks and second rate electronic equipment seen in all truck stops. The same bin of shitty DVDs.
I get coffee for fun and also because our driver likes to combine heaps of Folgers and hot water before he starts driving at night that ends up being burnt by the time we wake up. Truck stop coffee tastes like a treat. I decide to pull from the nozzle labeled “intense,” not out of necessity, just curiosity.
Back on the bus, we drive. We drive through more of the same scenery, but nobody looks. Everybody takes turns talking, exchanging words in declarative statements or funny quips, followed by searching looks for approval or lazy answers of approval from over the tops of iPhone screens. Something about pedals. Something about some guy that played in some band. It ends as soon as it began and then starts again at the same rate. Sentences started as a method to pass the time, of little interest to anyone. Small talk that’s fine and friendly and necessary.
I sit with my coffee and listen and offer sympathetic smiles because I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the expected response is and I can’t think of anything funny. I blame myself at the time, but now I’m realizing that most of it really just isn’t that interesting. I’d rather sit here and write about how brown it is outside.
Los Angeles 1:51pm
Yesterday we were passing around bottles of tequila for Alex’s birthday.
Today we’re passing around bottles of Vitamin C and Echinacea pills because Dwight has the flu.
He’s been quarantined in the back lounge while the rest of us are sanitizing every surface of the bus and trying to sweat out any possibility of sickness inside hotel gyms.
The night outside the Casbah in San Diego was cold; cold for the four of us unaccustomed to the breeze coming off of the ocean. We’re all huddled in black, swaying, dancing at different tempos to keep warm. A man opens the back door to the venue to take my beer and tells me we can’t have beer outside. “Fine,” I’m warm enough from the shot we just took on the bus.
I’ve been coming to this venue since my early twenties – since the Air Dubai days. I’ve been here so many times since that I know the exact spot to find an Air Dubai sticker near the bar that was placed there probably seven years ago.
I’ve tried to push it out of my head, but there’s an element of magic missing on this tour that I can’t shake. Does that fade anytime you get to know something so well? Is it normal for the mystique and wonder to dissipate when you look at something under a microscope? It feels like coming to a mirage and finding my preserved oasis fade into familiarity.
This isn’t an emotion I enjoy conveying. I’d much rather write words of elation and gratitude, descriptions of childhood dreams coming true, but the reality of the situation is that those fade in and out for me, and at this particular moment, they’re out. It’s an interesting, callused place to be writing from, but here I am.
Park City 10:14am
I wake up with the same dry mouth and sore throat that I’ve had for the last three days. I look at my phone, become aware of my mouth stank from not brushing my teeth the night before, and strain my eyes half-blind to see what time it is in the blackness.
It’s later than I wanted to get up, it usually is. But that’s because I went to bed later than I wanted to. It’s always later than I want it to be. The fun part is, I don’t even remember what we did last night - like an embarrassingly contrived, dorm-room-anthem-type lyric in a Chainsmokers song.
I always need a minute to wake up. I imagine it doesn’t help that in the hours before going to bed lately I’ve been poisoning myself with alcohol. I should probably check that habit. And today was going to be that actually. Today we have off after five shows in a row. My plan was to sleep, relax, read, write, and work on music. My plan was to take a break from drinking. My plan was to take medicine and heal up and be ready for the next batch of shows.
By noon we’re pouring Jack Daniels and ginger ale in the back of the bus. These are my boys and I can’t say no. Just Alex, Scott, and I sipping whiskey from coffee cups and listening to Erykah Badu. We pour another, regrettably mixing in Jameson when the Jack Daniels ran out, and call an Uber to go to a snow tubing hill nearby. We talked about tubing yesterday and I’m halfway surprised that we’re actually doing it.
We have too many people to fit in the little Volkswagen that comes to pick us up, but we convince the guy to take us anyway and I hop in the trunk.
I’m looking at the sky, I’m looking at my phone. My head is cocked at an unnatural angle. I’m thinking I can’t get comfortable no matter where I put my head or my hands and then remember that I’m in the back of a fucking Jetta and I’m not supposed to be comfortable. Everyone takes turns reaching their phones over the back seat, thumbs depressing a virtual circle near the bottom of the screen, so they can capture this moment of pure hilarity for their Instagram stories.
We’re still carrying our coffee cups full of whiskey when our boots hit the snow. Haley, one of the opening acts on this tour, just went for it and is openly brandishing a bottle of Coors Light as children of all ages and their patient parents pass us by.
We’re over it after about an hour like we knew we would be and head back to the bus to submit to our own individual sun and snow induced comas. I wake up when it’s dark. I grab my suitcase from under the bus and head into the hotel with only the mildest intention to shower.
I sit in the sauna by myself while a few humans maybe fifteen years younger than myself wriggle their arms and legs in and out of the pool. A few times they cautiously meander past the translucent window to see me probably talking to myself and most definitely sweating obscenely. This is my life. I’ve finally become that weird guy sitting alone in the hotel sauna.
While struggling for air in the sweat lodge I’ve commandeered, I think about the pervasive benign feeling of this tour that has proven to be unshakeable and surprisingly debilitating. It’s not the music and it’s not the people. It’s the “been there, done that” familiarity that feels like treading water. I feel like a magician performing the same tricks every day, on and off stage; like a comedian having to repeatedly laugh at the jokes that have already left his mouth a few hundred times to sell them to a new crowd every night.
I do believe music is magic, without question. But magic requires imagination and mystery. It requires certain parts of the story to be left blank – left to be filled in at extravagant extremes by the audience. It requires a voluntary letting go of the obvious secret that everyone in the audience is in on – that it’s just a trick.
I’ve seen and performed the trick many times. At these moments of weariness, I envy the performers that fool-heartedly drink their own Kool-Aid and get trapped in the funhouse of smoke and mirrors they themselves have created. It’s a curated dream and (understandably) one that most people would never want to wake up from.
After sweating and showering I find myself in the breakfast area of a Holiday Inn Express. I just made myself a green tea and swallowed a Nyquil pill. It would have been two pills, but the packaging was pretty serious and by the time I finally ripped the seal open I had enough inertia built up to fling one of the pills over the side of the table. I looked for it on the ground with the flashlight on my phone while a sleepless business man looked at me funny. I pulled chairs away from tables, in hasty patterns, second-handedly adjusting the feng shui of the room. I think I would’ve found it had it not been for the kitschy, vaguely Celtic, design of the carpet that contained virtually every color of the rainbow as if by mandate. It looked like a gypsy’s wet dream.
At 4:30am I wake up thinking we must be close.
At 7:30am I’m up again and discover the bus is parked in a garage, light puncturing thin ovals in a metal door directly in front of us.
I come to discover that we’re outside of the city getting repairs, but I’m too awake and restless to wait around, so I Uber into the city (this blog post is starting to sound like an Uber ad).
The line at breakfast was long and I was content. It’s early and I’m out in a city that used to be my home. I’m also highly caffeinated and am anxious to keep fueling my high.
It’s nice out and I decide to walk a mile to the venue. My mind wanders and lands on memories sparked by landmarks I pass. My time here feels like a past life and I miss certain chunks of it. I owe a lot to Nashville for leading me to the things I want by introducing me to things I don’t want.
I beat the bus to the venue and decide to get more coffee. My phone is dead, so I pick up a book there; it’s some Chinese communist literature called On Practice that I normally wouldn’t have glanced twice at, but find some of it surprisingly relatable and pertinent to my current mind-state. One quote in particular stands out to me:
“If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself.”
I feel that way about my experiences, that I’m chiseling away at unknown things - time, air, pre-memories. I’m traveling the country being thrown into voids of what is yet to be experienced.
They don’t have words for some of these things. You wouldn’t be able to tell there’s a clearing in the field by standing on the outside of it. Perception (or lack thereof) is a nasty, misleading thing, but also the easiest road to maintaining enjoyment through illusion. Experience is a terrifying and revealing thing. It’s also painful, but honest; a mirror of faults.
I can use the pear analogy in relation to my career as a musician. I have tasted the pear many, many times and know it’s taste and texture well. What a funny thing it is that to truly know something, the mystery must leave. The fact that it was something unknown and unconquered is what made it so appealing. Your own make believe version littered your life path like a trail of breadcrumbs on your way to the witch’s house.
There is no longer a question of what the pear tastes like and you yourself have altered the thing that you were so drawn to in the first place. You damage it and impress yourself upon it to understand it and by doing so, it loses the glean it had from a distance – the thing that drew you to it in the first place.
I’ve become so fixated on casting a negative light on my recent experiences just because I know the routine so well. As if, once you've eaten one pear or ten, you convince yourself you’ve experienced all pears. Yes, it’s a raw familiarity, but it’s not negative. Just because this touring thing temporarily loses it’s magic, the glitter dulls, and the paint peels; that doesn’t negate the affection I feel for it.
Like when two people are married for a long time, I imagine each person’s love for the other morphs into many different versions. A normalized love isn’t bad, in fact, it may be the most intimate form. When lust evaporates, when the curtain is pulled back, and the mystery ceases to exist, but you still love a thing, with all of it’s faults, you’ve truly found the depths of that love. An intense intimacy with a person or thing in which the faults make it even more beautiful than originally perceived. At this current moment, I am exploring one dark, uncharted corner of the cave that is my relationship with music, with an understanding that there are surely hundreds more. The faults give it depth and the flaws give the beauty context; a platform with a podium to be presented on.
An Aussie, two Brits, two Norwegians, and four Americans walk onto a bus in New York City; each at separate times, climbing the steps eagerly in anticipation of being “home” for the night.
No one goes out tonight because we have an early bus call and we’ve already been in this city for four days. We played three sold out shows at Irving Plaza and we’re dispersing the contents of a box of socks the venue gave us to commemorate the occasion.
One by one, we find reprieve in beers. Beers and conversation. Beers and iPhone screens. Maybe tonight will be one where Dagny is successful in convincing me to play cards. Probably not.
I watch Brad, our bus driver, expertly navigate through the densely packed streets; a grid of horizontal and vertical lines that were never meant to bear the girth of a 12 passenger bus and trailer. Right when we hit the tunnel, moments from the deep breath of the highway, we find ourselves stopped behind an eighteen-wheeler that got stuck in the tunnel. Brad is yelling obscenities at the man who neglected the height warnings before the mouth of the tunnel.
Maybe he’s as anxious to get out of the city as we are.
It’s an off day. I wake up on my own accord, no timeline to abide by. Although on the bus I always feel pressured to get up whenever I hear someone else up. It’s like being at a sleepover – you don’t want to be the lame kid who’s still passed out with his mouth open while everyone else is eating pancakes.
I probably make coffee. I probably make a PB&J. I’ve lived on sandwiches this tour.
This part of the morning we all dazedly stare at our phones or just straight ahead, all of us in various stages of the morning routine; like watching yourself wake up nine separate times.
Look outside the window to see where we are.
It’s beginning to dawn on me that I’ll be leaving this tour tomorrow; the full weight of that thought finally sinking in. But that’s tomorrow, today we have infinite possibilities in the great city of Pittsburgh.
I was teaching a lesson when I got a text about the audition. It was for an artist that shared the same name as the main character in my favorite book. Over the course of the next week, I recorded the audition, waited, and got an email back saying they’d like to have me out. I was ecstatic. I immediately started cramming for the rehearsals that were about to start in six days in LA.
Then three days before rehearsals, “do you know any keyboard/guitar players?”
I called Scott and asked him if he wanted to go on a two-month tour with a Norwegian singer. He said he had to think about it and call me back. A few minutes later I got a text:
“Dude yeah. Music is real fun. Who do I talk to”
I walk to the hotel. Pittsburgh is actually an amazing city. Rivers layered and cut perpendicularly with yellow bridges, all surrounded by densely wooded, steep hills with houses and trams built into the side of them.
By the time I make it out of the shower, Thomas and Lewis are there, and both of them are staring out the window. There’s a man with a drone, surrounded by a slowly developing crowd of people. He sends the drone fifty feet into the air at a cautious pace and then returns it to the ground. That’s it. We make fun of him.
An Uber takes us to a diner across the river where the rest of the group is.
Everything is doused in pink and family photos. A photographic history lesson of the town of Pittsburgh set on a backdrop of fluorescent tackiness. The portions are huge and disgusting, the coffee is weak and cheap. I love it.
We take a family photo of our own.
There are too many characters in this story to introduce individually. I’d rather refer to them as one functional, thriving organism because that’s what they are. They all have their specific tasks and collectively work towards the same goal: Put on a great fucking show. But even on a day off like this, a day spent entertaining ourselves and each other, each personality makes up one essential piece of the group’s kinetic communion. Like how the Power Rangers are dope on their own, but they’re way doper when they form Megazord.
It’s hard to describe the magnitude of camaraderie I feel with these people, especially since we’ve only known each other for a few weeks. But maybe the time aspect plays a large part in the significance of it. Not the beginning, but the inevitable ending. The very specific date of November 12. Like a summer fling that you know won’t last beyond the sunny months, you squeeze every drop from every moment. The expiration date puts an added pressure and appreciation for the whole situation. When you know time is limited, you fall hard and fast.
Driving across the wide open nothingness of Utah and Nevada in my red hatchback towards LA, I knew that my timeline would be more condensed than anyone else’s. I was filling in for Dagny’s drummer, Harry, while he waited for his visa.
At the time, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the people I was going to be living and working with. It was my first time playing and meeting any of them besides Scott. I prepared myself for the worst possible scenario and told Scott that we would at least have each other. Regardless of what the situation ended up being, we would rock out and go for walks in random directions after sound check per usual.
After the diner, we set out to explore the streets like any 9-person family of various citizenship would. We don’t make it twenty feet before we stop at a rack of bikes for rent. After toying with the idea of how fun it would be to ride bikes around the city, we quickly give up after a half-hearted effort to get the machine to work. We keep walking and browse cheap sunglasses and souvenirs from open storefronts; floating in and out, looking more for things to make each other laugh rather than to actually purchase.
Someone spots a candy shop across the street and we begin to fill our agenda-less day by perusing rows and rows of sweets. Dagny buys me some German chocolate as a going away present.
We continue walking in a way that reminds me of my friends in high school. Direction-less youth in a vanilla suburban biome, our wanderings tracing etch-a-sketch shapes with the soles of our skate shoe clad feet in desultory directions; like an apathetically magnetized compass.
We pass a fish market and countless Steelers apparel and memorabilia shops. We pass an Irish bar and only marginally decide against going in. We spend significant time in a three-story building that sells comics, movies, action figures, and vintage Playboy magazines. Pick something up, show it to somebody, put it down. Look at something somebody else picked up, comment, watch them put it down.
We continue walking in a part of downtown that can’t be seen by the river. Harry claims he knows which way we need to go to get back to the bus, so I don’t think twice and follow his lead. We admire the architecture and stop only to take pictures, mostly of each other.
We cross one of the giant yellow bridges back to the bus and watch the sun submit to the hills as the day closes in on us. Dagny and Harry head to a studio in town to track some vocals. Alex sets off to work in the hotel room. The rest of us think about finding food and seeing a movie. The choice of activity is ultimately irrelevant, as long as the day ends with a feeling that we did something with this day of nothing.
A couple of beers later, we find ourselves on a tram going up the side of a hill. I take us to a place way too far out of the way. We share drinks and dinner and a heaping plate of nachos that we didn’t need.
It’s bizarre how much I enjoy every one of these people. It’s bizarre that, out of all of us on this tour, there isn’t one guy that has too short of a temper or gets bummed too easily or doesn’t work quite as hard as the rest of us; that our tour ecosystem was pristine from the beginning. That’s what it is – an ecosystem. Especially when you’re working all day together and then living in bunk beds in the same room together, things can easily turn into an episode of The Real World. But it never did.
The fact that we are all on the front lines with the same goal in mind of course creates a basic need for teamwork, but I think the feelings of belonging and togetherness come from a deeper place than team spirit. As people who willingly submit our bodies and psyches to often last-minute and frantically unpredictable events, we share more than a common task and goal: we share a lifestyle that is fueled by deeply rooted ideals.
I can only speak for myself, but I think most of us are the type of person that never quite fit in; the status quo was never enough or didn’t make much sense. I remember at a very young age seeing my dad work from an office he had in our home and knowing I could never do that. It's a feeling I still get in my chest when I pass a cookie-cutter apartment complex or hear friends my age talking about retirement.
That makes it seem like it’s a part of my DNA. Like I never have doubts about it. Like questions about getting older and doing the right thing don't come up regularly on the bus. We’re all internally chaotic, driven, emotional, self-critical beings that find solace in people who share the same fears and doubts; in people who are propelled forward less by checking off life milestones and more by the fear of being consumed by the nameless shadow that we've stayed one step ahead of our entire lives.
We’re free-wheeling vagabonds, but we’re doing it together. Justification for our communal insanity comes from being shoulder to shoulder with a human that’s made the same choice, shares the same convictions and is taking on the same risks - even if you’re not sure where those convictions came from or if they’re even valid.
There’s a mutual respect for one another’s mental instability. Deep down we all know that this is crazy. Deep down we all hear those voiced doubts from people we’ve heard our whole careers and watch as our peers check off socially sanctioned life goals. Each night together acts as a silent nod to the deliberate neglect we commit.
I absolutely want the security and stability that top the list of most people’s priorities, but actively deny the means. I define my own means, putting me at odds with the parallel reality. It’s a constant foot-race between my ideals and the bullet points to happiness I’ve been force-fed my entire life. Most of the time, when I’m by myself I feel like I’m losing, but when I’m with my traveling commune of musical carneys, I feel like I’m winning.
Together we form a tribe based on the commandments of self-doubt and ingrown fear. A culture of self-analyzing, self-contextualizing, and rarely rationalizing beyond the gut feeling.
We find comfort in each other’s uncertainty because we share the same question marks.
Validation rarely comes from the outside and true acceptance comes from within the group. None of us know how long this will last, but when we’re together it makes the future seem irrelevant. It’s enough to know that right now was created by nothing but each individual’s own want and will.
I’m indescribably grateful for the brilliance and compassion of these people. The gratitude I felt mostly just put me in a state of awe; dumb and watching descriptive words lose shape and melt away, leaving me only the option to abandon thought and open my eyes to the silver screen of my actual life.
I don’t remember much of how our night in Pittsburgh ended. I remember we met back on the bus and Jesse ordered pizza for everyone and, as every night, we trickled one by one to the bunks, like a reenactment of the morning routine on rewind.
In Detroit, in the morning, we get coffee, exchange hugs, and I get in an Uber to the airport. It's a period on the end of this journey, but an ellipsis on my relationship with these unique human beings I didn’t know existed a month ago.
I opened my eyes and the first waking thought I had was a question about where people derive identity from. It was a summer's-almost-here type of morning, with the sunlight acting as my alarm clock and the window still open from the night before. I just flew in from the end of a tour in Austin a few days ago and was experiencing my first taste of what I like to call the “after tour blues.”
When life goes from being in a different city every day to motionless familiarity, it’s like slamming on the brakes. 100mph to 0mph.
The definition of who I am on the road is very well defined. I’m a drummer. I need to play well on stage and be a nice dude off stage. Every day is the same rigid routine, with everyone focused on delivering a performance to the best of our ability and getting to the next temporary outpost safely.
It’s easiest to compare it to being an actor on a TV show where the setting and the actors change every day, but your character and your lines stay the same. The city, the travel, the venue employees, the crowd, and the hotels are all variables; all slices of a stable life that I am merely peeking in the door of every day. Regardless of where we are, I know I need to wake up on time, get in the van on time, get to the venue on time, load in and set up quickly, perform, pack up, load out, and pull everything out of the trailer when we get to the hotel. If our routine was anything but concrete, it would be chaos. We ensure as much stability as we can by being our own cohesive tribe; worshipping the deity of timely, contrived normalcy.
Life at home is the complete opposite. The setting becomes the control and my actions, free from routine, become the variable. My environment is unmoving and my actions are dictated entirely by my own free will. On Saturday I had grown accustomed to being told where to be and what to do, an infantry soldier in someone else’s army, and on Sunday I was back home with a whole heap of free time and an absence of purpose.
The reason why I feel such an acute sense of purpose on tour is because I am a cog in a machine. I am a pawn on a chess board and I have one goal every day – to make sure that all of the pieces come together consistently to deliver the best product we possibly can. And in terms of being a touring musician, that goal encompasses 24 hours of every day for the entirety of my time on the road. This varies somewhat based on your role in the band (if hired or the leader), but in my instance as someone who is hired to perform, I am there to execute that one specific function.
I use the word perform in the same way that you would in an office work setting – your level of professional performance not only encompasses your actual work that you hand to your boss, but also how you interact with coworkers and clients on a daily basis. The difference on tour is that you don’t go home at the end of the day. You go to sleep next to your coworkers. You eat every meal with your coworkers. You drive to work with your coworkers.
So when that 24/7 routine is taken away, it creates a void that I imagine is similar in emotion to losing any job.
Work is a big piece of the pie chart when it comes to defining purpose for most people and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because if work is fulfilling, it gives a sense of worth. Maybe it’s because work is generally where money comes from and some people find a sense of worth in money. If worth defines purpose, then purpose defines identity. When my source of worth is constantly in flux, so are pieces of my purpose and identity.
When I’m on tour with The Wind and The Wave, I’m “Baby Face, Man Body.” When I’m home I’m Nicholas, the stubborn suburban kid who makes music and drinks cheap beer with his friends. It’s interesting being transplanted from an environment that identifies me largely by stereotypes to one that identifies me by memories. At shows, it’s my job to be the head-banging, arm-swinging brute, but even then, I’m not that person immediately after I step off stage. With that being said, it’s actually fun playing a character on stage; a nice, bite-size sampling of playing into a role created by an external perception of you by others.
There’s a degree of anonymity that comes with externally established identity and it’s relieving. It’s relieving to use an archetype as a crutch. I have to explain myself much less and leave it up to others to assume who I am. This is why the “9 to 5” and the “nuclear family” are so widely adopted; to take away the eternal headache of defining yourself.
These default settings of identity are so widely accepted for the good reason that they genuinely make many people happy and feel fulfilled. The amazing thing about being alive today is that, if I so choose, my entire life can be curated for me. I could let social norms and media dictate where I work, how long I work, what car I drive, what clothes I wear, what music I listen to, how many hours of Netflix is acceptable, etc.
The disparity (if there ever is one) comes from a shift in the source of personal worth. In my case, the willful aimlessness of my fickle sense of purpose steers itself into myriad elevations, amplified by the contrasts of being on tour and being at home.
It’s fascinating how such life-defining words as purpose and identity can be so pliable and temporary. How our worldview, self-esteem, and relationships are steered by intangible views of ourselves that can change instantly. Do you derive purpose from the same things now as you did when you were sixteen? I would guess the answer for most people is no.
This is a good thing – evidence of the inevitable change and growth of each individual as a force of nature. However, it presents a threat to the comfort of the psyche. A change in purpose could lead to a downward slip into a danger-laden unknown.
In my case, this redirection of purpose is a shift in the volume of excitement and adventure, which seems to dilute my overall drive and focus. I find it harder to write (hence my four-month hiatus from posting), convincing myself that my sedentary life is a story not worth telling. That my time spent with friends and family, time spent learning and practicing, working out and meditating, moving back to Denver and writing a song every week, are stories not worth telling because they don’t involve rock shows and late night debauchery.
I’m learning that it is worth telling it if I’m living it. That every moment is a chance to chisel out a story – a lesson you think I would’ve learned from the road. I have, it just happens to get buried in self-doubt and masochism.
Regardless of where my physical location happens to be, I’m a musician, I’m a writer, and ultimately, just a guy with a weird last name trying to impart my psychotic doctrine on the world. The whole reason I wanted to start this blog was to share what happens in my real-life life, off-stage and out of range of iPhone cameras. It would be wrong and inaccurate to shy away from that now, cowering and saving words for a time that I deem my life to be adequately interesting. I hold honesty as a value extremely close to my existence, my identity, and I carry it with me no matter where my physical body may go. I am concerned with nothing but conveying my thoughts and stories with undiluted honesty. That’s a purpose that transcends physical markers of identity.
It’s a Monday spent in the van in Nebraska with Scotty. It’s thoughtless here, in the same way the scenery is empty. I repeat the same words to one imaginary conversation in my head, just like the never-changing treadmill of fields. One straight line of horizontal boredom.
I’m learning to let these times be what they are; to appreciate the mere fact that I am here and that I am able to witness the calm angst of being surrounded by visual silence.
There were job interviews for a fried chicken restaurant being conducted in our hotel this morning. I could be there. Instead I’m plunking out letters on a keyboard in a moving metal tube on my own accord.
I don’t feel trapped. I don’t feel anxious. My food is paid for. I know I’ll eat today and be ok.
One more day here, a part of the world; an opportunity for me to paint my life into the landscape I see it to be.
Scotty and I are driving the van from Minneapolis, through Denver, to LA. We flew back from San Diego yesterday without the rest of the group. Dwight got some news about his dad in the hospital and decided to cancel our next week of shows so he could be with family.
You have to be able to push pause on this lifestyle when something important comes up. You can’t touch music. Music won’t keep you warm. You can’t crash with music when you’re broke and there’s nowhere else to stay. Family is real and can’t be neglected when they need you. Music can wait.
At home, a mile high
Saturday night I missed my friend’s wedding because I was playing a show. Monday night I was finding the end of the eastern Colorado plains and focusing my eyes on the growing skyline of downtown Denver.
An hour before I was set to arrive, texts were sent out announcing my return and plans were made. I summoned the homies and got picked up from a hotel in Westminster.
We drank boxed wine in a basement apartment and talked shit. We talked about everything that I normally talk to myself about. It’s different running in conversational circles when you’re with people and there’s alcohol.
We drank out of enormous stemmed glasses filled to the top and talked about girls new and old. We stayed up late and then later. My brother wanted to leave, but we convinced him to stay. Being around people who have witnessed years of my life was a necessary departure from the small talk and rehearsed smiles of being on tour.
It was after 4am when I declared the couch I was sitting on to be as good of a place as any to be my bed for the night.
11:56am – Edgewater, Denver
Cracked plastic awnings and broken glass ridden alleyways. Cold, long views of the mountains and the miles of empty dead fields in between. The imminent death of the yellow foliage around me is apparent with the cold breeze kissing my cheeks; hidden in plain view behind the brilliance of the sun. The winter sun. A phenomenon unique to Colorado; holding an impervious optimism over the head of every shivering soul.
Denver has a unique grittiness, a city with little architecture old enough to be considered historic, the dilapidations of brown buildings from the 1970’s set the aged standard.
This is my city, you know. I’ll take it with all its faults. I’ll take the freezing temperatures, with the mocking sun set in clear skies looking down, because I know every alley like the back of my hand. I can tell a story about every street corner. I watched myself live and thrive and grow here. A city that taught me to be me. The winters molded me – wearing oversized jackets to stay warm in the studio and blowing sinuous clouds of smoke and hot breath outside in freezing temperatures.
This morning I called all my friends to see how many I could get together to play at a garage studio we all used to frequent. I got eight of them to show up and it was as great as it ever was. What a feeling to know that you have people you can call with less than 12 hours notice who will show up just because you asked. People who want to get together and play, no questions asked. And that feeling once we start playing is irreplaceable. That feeling alone is almost worth moving back to this city that I love so much. Just beers and instruments and no expectations for how good or how bad anything is. It’s almost better when it’s bad. It’s more fun that way.
That’s substance. Playing and listening back to what we did and being drunk and high and loving every second of it; always wanting to pull out my phone to document every moment, but not willing to take my eyes off the reality in front of me.
We get high on creation. The act of making something and having absolutely no thoughts of what might come of it.
It makes everything ok. It answers every question I ever have about purpose. It settles my soul.
After the studio we hit the late night spot, a 24-hour Mediterranean restaurant near the University of Denver campus called Jerusalem. We split a plate of hummus, chicken, and pita and exhaustedly stumbled through the same conversations we always have. One drunken night closer to having it all figured out.
I paid because I felt rich having the $100 bill in my pocket for the next three days’ per diems.
In the car on the way home (back to my temporary, leather couch resting spot) we continued talking, leaving sentences unfinished; feeling it would be just as futile to stop talking altogether as it would to let vocal chords vibrate freely. After all, I am only in Denver for five days.
None of these breaths are wasted. We’re grasping, explaining, attempting to know. Attempting to understand things we never will because, the older I get, the more I realize a lot of life just doesn’t make sense. Life is only meant to be acted upon in the way you see fit. Sometimes the universe will say no, stomping out your efforts, and then sometimes all of your friends haul their instruments to a studio until 2am just because you wanted them to.
Things Have Changed
A week off while on tour always makes me feel off balance, like I’m the puzzle piece that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, so it gets jammed into a space it only vaguely belongs. This week happened to work out perfectly though. Since our Denver show was canceled, I was able to see my German relatives while they were visiting for a couple days.
I picked up my uncle, aunt, and cousin from the Denver International Airport in the early afternoon and immediately set course for a dispensary. I always forget how much of a novelty that is when visiting Colorado.
We navigated our way through suburbia – up winding asphalt in ant-farm subdivisions, interrupting the focused actions of several reflections of my younger self playing in the street. They were gracious enough to pause their game and let us through. I remember that feeling – this is their street. Everything of consequence happens on the tar-black estuary threading slanted driveways.
There is always a bittersweet feeling when I come home. The smells, the pictures on the walls, and the general familiarity overload, all add up to nostalgia mixed with an acute awareness of how far removed I am from that moment in the past where I referred to this place as “home.”
I could tell my uncle felt it too. He never lived here, but his brother did. The last time he was here, my dad was still alive.
I spent considerable time that day visiting different parts of the house with my uncle and brother, telling stories and asking questions about my dad. We looked at some things he had painted in the basement. We looked at childhood photos and posters of Bavarian cities in the room that used to be my dad’s office (or Büro) until three years ago.
Most days I can find ways to put these memories aside and continue life, but that night it was too obvious something, someone, was missing. I can only be grateful that it was communal. I was with a tribe of people that loved my dad and continue to experience pain because of his absence. We all felt it and all we could do was talk and drink and laugh. Those things are alright. And we had something to celebrate – it was my aunt’s birthday. Complete with glowing, colored candles on top of an apple pie (the most American thing we could think of), beer, and a home-cooked meal, we took advantage of the time we had together.
I couldn’t help but acknowledge the irony of the situation – that I was able to spend time with my family in Denver only because Dwight had to stay in California to be with his dad in the hospital. Maybe that was the universe’s way of telling us we needed to be with family that week.
2:38pm - Santa Ana, CA
After three days in Denver, Scotty and I began the remainder of the drive to Southern California.
We got the band back together in Santa Ana. We unloaded the trailer with welcome familiarity. Missing a couple shows on tour feels like getting pulled out of school for a few days – on one hand you’re stoked that you got to skip class and have a break, but you have that guilty feeling in the back of your mind that you abandoned your friends and they had to carry on without you.
When we got on stage it was pure catharsis. After an unexpectedly derailed week, playing songs in front of people, as a team, gave a little order to the chaos and uncertainty. The usual short bursts of conversation with the audience between Dwight and Patty extended into impromptu stand-up comedy bits that had the whole crowd laughing.
This whole week was a reevaluation of purpose and perspective. The tour ecosystem is a small, impermanent bubble; an intense, but temporary identity, lived in vivid, malignant bursts. A day feels like a week and this week without my tour family felt like a month.
Balance isn’t a topic that comes up very often. Emotions, actions, and sensory intake are usually experienced at extreme highs or extreme lows. There’s either so much happening that you can’t risk stopping to think of what balance might be, or absolutely nothing happening, at which point your mind tricks you into thinking that laying in bed, watching TV, and eating delivery pizza is the best thing for you. Watching one inanimate object talk at you seems like the polar opposite of spilling your emotional guts out to a thousand people every night.
But that’s wrong. In truth, balance means eating dinner with your family. Balance means being around people who know next to nothing about your career and know everything about your convictions. Balance means trading stage lights in front of thousands of people for fluorescent lights in a hospital to fight alongside the man that made you.
Music happens because of life, not the other way around.
Art is a diluted version of life, like playing a game of telephone, experiences are ingested by an individual and interpreted into a concentrated, bite-size piece of existence. Being on tour is a mobile version of that – I witness pockets of life in every city on a daily basis, and so much of it, that it’s easy to forget that it’s not my life that I’m seeing; I’m poking my head in the door to the lives of people in Houston or Boston or San Francisco or wherever I may be.
Life, and the balance it brings, exists independent of tour, independent of music, and independent of art. Music is the vessel of life; the frivolously ornamental, but inarguably necessary sprinkles on top of my ice cream sundae of being.
Sleeping on a couch sounds alright when the other option is sleeping on the floor. Sleeping on the floor sounds alright when the other option is spending $50 on an Uber. What’s a floor to a hammered musician anyway?
It’s 7:30am in Brooklyn. I’m on a couch in a living room, praying for more sleep, while every room surrounding me takes it’s turn cycling through every possible iPhone alarm sound. I’m not completely sure I slept at all last night. I remember laying on my back, staring at the ceiling, thinking about my unquenchable dry mouth and how many uninvited dog hairs had transferred themselves from the couch to my sticky, bare body. That was after 4am.
I should be in my hotel room across the river in New Jersey, but I’m not. Instead I’m splitting the longer end of an L couch with a curly-haired girl from a past life.
I found myself here after I played a show at Irving Plaza in Manhattan. After the show, there were drinks and then pizza and then more drinks following the 40-minute train ride on the L into Bushwick. It was one of those nights where you forget to look at your phone because you can’t remember the last time you stopped talking; pausing only to laugh and make sure your glass remains full.
The beginning and end of days blur when “Goodnight” and “Good Morning” are so close together.
I haven't always liked NYC, but I'm coming around to it. I’ve been here on tour maybe ten times now and there really is no other city like it. It’s easy to feel helpless and out-of-control here, with the city holding you up like a marionette. It drags your feet down gum-stained concrete and into underground tunnels of filth. It makes you stand in awe and disgust of everything that mankind is capable of.
The subway shakes and sways my body enough to keep me from falling asleep. I trace my path through streets of row houses with old, peeling paint and rusting black metal fences. Google maps is my saving grace, my trusty side kick. I find my way to the venue, but bank left instead of getting in the way of the early load in. Everyone in Williamsburg is on my schedule. It’s noon on a Tuesday and this breakfast place is packed. I stretch my legs and order whatever I want, which happens to be a coffee and an order of Moroccan eggs because that’s what the girl next to me is eating.
I’m too tired to write this. No matter how little sleep I get tonight, it’ll be more than last night.
I love this feeling of total exhaustion though. I love living this life. I love the spontaneity and chance involved in a night out after a show when I know I likely won’t be sleeping in the hotel bed that was meant for me.
I’ll lose sleep for a story. I’ll go broke for a story. Choosing to explore a city and forfeit sleep is one small way I can feel in control of an otherwise regimented, pre-planned day. It makes me feel like I’m writing the script of my life as I go.
Toronto, ON – 11:07pm
Today we spent 10 hours on the road to be at the Mod Club in Toronto for a grand total of four hours before we went back across the border. Load in, set up, play a show, and load out all happened in the course of four hours. We started our 6:30am day at a hotel in Vermont where we found five nails in one of our trailer tires. We ate shitty 7/11 sandwiches in Buffalo because there was a solid chance we weren’t going to make it to the venue in time for load in.
I stayed up until 3am editing video because I just wanted to sleep all day in the van. There’s nothing else to do when you’re driving across upstate New York.
The clouds here look like a pillowcase I used to lay my head on, in a cabin my family used to own. They're nothing but parchment-white papier-mâché hanging low over rotting, red farm houses and acres of idyllic, slow hills.
Buffalo, NY – 9:29pm
The end of a day of nothing at a hotel in Buffalo. I’m drinking red wine and writing about my day like I’m Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ve been to this hotel before, maybe three years ago. Air Dubai was stranded here after our van broke down. We were on the Journey’s Noise Tour with Mariana’s Trench and Ghost Town. Our buddy Gabe was the DJ and opening act. Gabe drove the whole tour in a new Escalade with two friends from Long Island (which was way more hip hop than anything we ever did). In Buffalo, he saved our asses by towing our trailer to and from the gig and in exchange we let him crash in our hotel room. Yes, room. As in one room. We had seven people traveling with us and three people traveling with him - ten people sleeping in one hotel room.
This time is much better. I have my own bed and there’s only three guys in the room. It's funny how things come full circle. I'm in the same city, the same hotel, but it's encouraging to see progress like that; life measured in small improvements.
Washington, DC – 5:30pm
It’s been raining for the last three days here. I’ve spent my days working out, writing, and eating consecutive meals at a place called Legends Chicken and Grill. Now I’m at the venue and it’s almost time for sound check. My mind is on a girl I met on Bumble yesterday who is supposed to be coming to the show tonight. Meeting up with girls in random cities almost never works out, so I’m fully expecting a text saying she can’t make it or for her to not show up at all.
She does though. Right on time.
We hug and I hand her a pass. I lead her through the back entrance, our steps accompanied by cordial small talk and the ever-increasing volume of the house music as we approach the venue. I introduce her to the band, we grab beer and head out to the balcony.
I do my thirty minutes on stage, trying to look as cool as a nerdy, bespectacled kid can. I hurry to pack up my stuff and load up the trailer, halfway dreading having to make conversation for the next several hours, but wanting to see where this goes.
This is the fun part - the undefined, unwritten grey area of playing shows in different cities every night. These little moments and connections that help steer me away from the blueprint of the day - something I usually have no control over. I jump at any opportunity to change my fate of drinking by myself backstage, sitting on my phone, and waiting to drive back to the hotel with the rest of the band.
I head out to the crowd to find her, but am anxious to do anything that doesn’t involve standing in the audience and watching the show, just like no one in the world would want to get off work and invite their friends to hang out at the office. We leave the venue to find some bars on U Street, this girl I met less than two hours ago acting as my guide. After drinking IPAs out of mason jars at a hipster bar across the street, I follow her to another place that looks like a strip club from the outside, Dodge City.
Far removed from the shoulder to shoulder, mumbled conversations of the last bar, Dodge City feels like home with its low light and blog rap blasting. This is exactly where I want to be. There are two different DJs playing music on two levels as I walk up to the bar. The bartender finishes taking a shot and halfway succeeds in explaining to me which beers are local. I order two more IPAs and head to the floor. There’s no one else dancing because it’s only 10pm, but we’ve been drinking since 6pm so we don’t care.
I grab her head and pull it up to mine. She can’t dance and I’d much rather be looking at her from an inch away anyway.
Sip. Dance. Kiss. Repeat.
I keep wanting to leave, but this playlist is so good I’m convinced it was curated specifically for me. As it gets later we become encased in a mass of bodies, dozens of other people wanting to dance skin to skin and spend whatever they have in their pockets on overpriced drinks. We swallow another round and leave.
I lay in her bed while she brushes her teeth.
I lay in her bed while she changes into a short, black nightgown.
The kissing is intimate and slow, cautious and fluid, like magnets pushing away from each other.
Intimacy, and love in any form, is mostly absent from life on the road. Nothing permanent and stable is able to exist, so I grasp at any form of it I can, no matter how fleeting. That’s why nights like this matter so much. Especially when my body hurts and all I want is to feel hands on my sore muscles. When I’m so tired and callused to the work I’ve been doing, that tenderness feels overwhelming, a new sensation from a different existence; something that doesn’t belong with the turbulence of the road.
These nights enable me to escape. They enable me to feel requiem in a city where no one knows my name. In a day when I was supposed to play music for people I don’t know, assisted by employees at the venue I don’t know, and stay in a bed in a city I’ve never been to, these moments are a giant middle finger to that submissive non-identity.
This year is the first time I’ve toured without having a girlfriend back home. It was difficult leaving someone for months at a time, faking stability with drunken late night phone calls and Snapchat sexting and dozens of other poor excuses for companionship. It’s such a basic principle, to be in the presence of another person, but the emotional weight it carries makes it inarguably significant. It’s the kind of significance that makes you consider giving up everything else to have it. It makes you think about tossing this silly music thing aside and trading it in for home-cooked meals and back rubs and waking up to forehead kisses in the morning.
I admire the couples that make it work, particularly the spouses of touring musicians. They're forced to continue existing in the same place, but with a key character missing - off living a life preceded by so much false glamour. I once had an argument with a past girlfriend while I was on tour in which she said “you’re out there just getting drunk and having fun every night while I’m stuck here at home.” This pissed me off, particularly because she was living at my house at the time.
“Text message break up, the casualty of tour” – Kanye West
While it’s amazing to me that so many touring musicians in marriages and relationships can make it work, it’s equally amazing to me that two people who didn’t know of each other’s existence 6 hours ago can feel so connected. In essence, it’s the same thing. We all have the same need to be with another human being in an intimate way.
It doesn’t matter if we don’t know each other. When my body is pressed against yours, holding the side of your face up to mine, I know you. In the purest way.
I’m so grateful for that moment in DC. Even if that’s the last time I see her, it won’t subtract from the beauty of it all. Two strangers sharing a night, carving out a space for each other in their previously oblivious, parallel lives. It means something - even just for 2 hours naked and awake, 4 hours naked and asleep. A feeling and genuine connection were made from nothing. From the blank canvas of our respective days we made something and we felt something. And that’s enough for me right now.
To try to hang on to moments is something naïve we do as human beings. We attempt to grasp feelings, recreate them, and never let them leave instead of living in them when they are there and letting them come and go as they please. We’re always so afraid that we’ll never feel that good again, which is only true if you don’t make yourself available to those emotions.
The impermanence of a situation or a feeling holds no influence on it’s importance. If it did, my entire life of living in a different city every night would be meaningless. I recently watched an interview with Kendrick Lamar and Rick Rubin in which Kendrick said “an artist’s year is cut in half.” By that he means with several months of the year in the studio and several months on the road, we only live half of the home life that our family is living. That may be true in Nashville, where I call home now, but that doesn’t account for this storyline I have in DC. What about the cumulative weeks I’ve spent with family and friends in Chicago? What about my life in Austin or LA or Portland; all separate screenplays, with their own characters and plot lines that I routinely press pause on, but can pick up again whenever I’m back in that city.
I’m going to take my brother to New York in the Spring and I’ll be able to tell him specific stories from street corners and take him to see people I’ve met playing shows in that city. I’ve had nights that turn into stories in almost every major city in this country. If I were in Nashville all year long, I’d have roots and stability that I don’t have now, but what I wouldn’t have is pockets of memories from all over the country, tributaries splitting off from the sides of my main narrative.
We finished our night in the morning. She had to get up early to spend the day in Philadelphia with friends and I needed to get back to the hotel. My uber dropped me off so early that everyone was still sleeping when I got there. I ate some continental breakfast and drank coffee.
I wish I could think of a bigger word than “grateful” because that’s how I feel right now. I feel grateful for these short bursts of ecstasy, all these makeshift moments of belonging. If I felt it, it was real; whether for a night or for a year.
Tonight is a boring night, on a boring drive. They can’t all be blog-worthy, but I’m working to see more nights turn into mornings in bars I’ve never been to, with people I just met. I won’t fight my restless nature, I’ll feed it. I’ll travel and end up where I end up and sort it all out in the end.
Let’s just keep drinking and laughing. We’ll figure it out in the morning.
Somewhere in the South
Goodnight everyone on their phones
Goodnight road that’ll look the same when I wake up
It’s 1:28pm and I’m sitting in the first of three rows of benches in our metallic grey Ford van. This routine travel typically encompasses one third of my day, but today we have a short drive. Most of the time I sleep because I can’t stand the monotony of sitting in a van with nowhere to go and nothing to do. There’s only so many photos on Instagram, so many pages of my book, and so much music I can make before I get bored. At this inevitable point, I fold my pillow in half, put my legs up on the armrest and prepare my best open-mouthed, triple-chinned sleeping position, so I’m ready when Patty decides to turn around and take a picture of me.
I create my nest; a place where I know sleep will be the most productive activity available.
Sit. Stare. Repeat.
Raleigh, NC – 3:50pm
Scotty carefully maneuvers the van, trailer first, flush against the side of Butch Walker’s bus. His glossy black bus, perfectly color coordinated with a trailer of the same hue, dwarfs our fifteen passenger Ford towing a UHAUL trailer. If I weren’t in this band, it would give me the impression that we are a bunch of college kids trying this touring thing out for the first time; that someone’s dad gave us the van to use for a week.
We unload everything in the thick, hot air and follow a gravel walkway leading to the venue’s backdoor. I’ve played here before, I think to myself, but then decide it’s only reminding me of a venue I played in Albuquerque a few years back. Or was it Austin during SXSW? No, I haven’t been here.
We eat chicken and waffles. I get coffee. I think about nothing.
I think about how to describe the nothingness of this. How to put words to actions that are empty; to monotony of routine and the void left by the lack of creative work.
Push something. Lift something. Carry something. Lift it onto the stage. Put it in the right place. Hit the right drums at the right time.
This is sport, it’s not art. We’re athletes practicing the same shot every night. It’s about executing songs as well as you can, musically and visually, night after night. How does an athlete find joy in that? By winning? Unfortunately, there’s no winning in art. You can leave a show behind, good or bad, in whatever city it was in, but there’s no medals, no trophies, no “good game” at the end. Just girls that like every photo of yours on Instagram and well whiskey and watching Netflix on your phone; few hugs and fewer moments of creative ecstasy.
Artists are all introverts to some degree and creating art is a very personal thing, but even as I write this I’m flanked by Patty on my right and Dwight on my left on this black, L shaped leather couch in the green room. They’re asleep from the mint chocolate weed candy we ate this morning, but they’re here, listening to me type.
As I’m setting up my drums, pacing across the room looking for the pieces I need, one of the loaders, a woman in a neon green tank top, comes up to me and asks if there’s anything she can help with. I answer simply with a “No, not right now, thank you” and watch her return to her seat where she will remain until she gets told to go home. At this point I realize she’s just as out of her mind with boredom as I am, looking for anything to pass the time, having already scrolled through her Facebook feed at least once.
Charleston, SC – 4:00pm
Bud Light slips down my throat. Something cold and painfully carbonated feels ok on a day where sweat finds it’s way out of every pore, making sure to keep your clothes at an uncomfortable damp at all times.
We already did the lifting and pushing part, already put all the pieces together before they go on stage. Now we wait. Sit and wait and drink beer and stare at the wall. I find it funny that my existence is similar to my equipment’s. Every day it arrives at a venue in a metal case, gets pulled out and set up and waits until it gets set on stage. It enjoys the same half an hour playing music for human beings that I do. It observes the crowd moving their hips and clapping their hands in the same way I do, until I return it to it’s metal case and see it at the same time the next day in a different city.
I have the same work schedule as these inanimate objects. They don’t get beer though.
Sometimes I feel like my life is a game of mad libs.
Today I woke up in _________________ just in time to ___________________
Philadelphia, PA - 12:28am
There’s a man. He’s walking towards me. He’s signaling something to me, a gesture, attempting to communicate something with utmost urgency. I wade through passing pedestrians to the point where I can finally make out what he’s saying. “Wanna buy a bracelet?” Because I’m in Philly and everyone has an angle.
There's something funny about the east coast, how the people in cities like Philly, Boston, New York City, the oldest, most mature cities in this country are the most notoriously confrontational. The least friendly. The most dog-eat-dog. I think about the middle east, specifically the fertile crescent, where civilization began. The oldest societies in the world are entrapped in a state of perpetual chaos and have been for centuries. I’m no anthropologist, but the most mature civilizations in the world and in this country demonstrating bad attitudes at best and endless war at worst doesn’t make me very optimistic about the future of our species.
The TV is on. It’s the way Scotty falls asleep and it’s what keeps me awake. Adult swim really isn’t funny if you’re tired and not stoned. Scotty sets the sleep timer on the TV, but I’ll end up switching it off once he falls asleep.
I slept heavy last night. Heavier than usual. The kind of sleep that begins your day disoriented, wondering why you don’t recognize the blinds. This isn’t my room. Where the fuck am I. I was having the kind of dreams that are better than reality. More vivid and exciting than anything I will do today.
I go down to the gym to run and lift some stuff. Back and legs. This gym actually has free weights and isn’t 120 degrees, what a pleasant surprise.
Post-workout, I partake in the same fine-dining breakfast experience I find downstairs at every hotel, every morning. The night previous, the front desk attendant told us we could store all of our gear in a secure conference room until we left the next day. But of course when I begin to make myself some oatmeal with almonds and craisins at the continental, I’m treated to the realization that the door to the conference room we put everything in is wide open and, inside, fellow Holiday Inn Express squatters are casually dining on their own powdered eggs, mystery meat sausages, and a variety of thawed baked goods.
As we’re rolling out the last of the cases, I notice someone has left a napkin on top of the keyboard case. Wonderful. Thank you. That’s exactly what that’s there for.
It’s groundhog day. It’s monotony and repetition at it’s finest.
The sitting and waiting isn’t the problem, it’s where the sitting and waiting takes place. A turbulent van, a coffee shop, a green room that either doesn’t have wifi, doesn’t have enough space to physically fit everyone, isn’t set at a temperature meant for human beings to survive in, or most likely all three. It’s like sitting at your kitchen table all day. You’re allowed to be on your computer and on your phone, but you have to be at that table. You’re limited by location.
We are nomads. A resurgence of the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Wake up. Find food. Drive to the venue. Find food. Play a show. Find food.
It’s a “fly by the seat of your pants” lifestyle. A “I really hope these Yelp reviews are accurate, so this Thai food in front of me doesn’t make an unexpected cameo on stage later” way of life. Nothing is consistent except the outlines of your actions; the setting changes every day. It’s irregular, spontaneous, and moves at the exact speed of my overactive mind.
Sometimes getting drunk in a hotel room is good enough.
I don’t know the name of the city I’m in, but there’s beer.
This sure as fuck isn’t my bed, but I know the guy in the bed next to me has my back.
Today I’m stuck at a hotel, bored and finishing this blog post. It’s 6:21pm and all I’ve done today is stare at my computer screen and drive fifteen minutes to get food. Tomorrow I get to play a show.
I promised myself in college that if music ever felt like a job, I would quit without hesitation.
Maybe next week I'll quit.
Maybe in five years I'll be done.
Today I'm ok right here, anxious to get on stage again tomorrow.
I have things to do. A list of seven things in fact, which is sure to expand and contract as I simultaneously accomplish tasks and forget things to buy, forget what to pack, and figure out where to store my things I’ll be leaving at home in Nashville. On Friday I leave for Charlotte, NC, somewhere I’ve been before several times, but this time to play at a venue I've never heard of.
I haven’t looked at what time my flight leaves and I don’t know where I’ll be past the second stop of the tour. Getting on a plane and leaving for three months has become normal to me now. It doesn’t phase me.
I’m 26 years old and I play music for a living. Since 2010, I’ve been doing something most people only see in movies – driving around the country in a van and playing shows.
I was 20 the first time I told my college professors I would have to miss a week of school to drive down to Austin, TX with my band, Air Dubai, to play the yearly music industry festival, SXSW. Several conversations and a hefty amount of persuasion later, they allowed me to leave desolate Greeley, CO to drive cars we borrowed from our parents and sleep on cheap hotel room floors all the way to southern Texas.
At that point in my “career,” that was all I ever wanted to do. Despite my parents telling me I needed a plan B and my college professors discouraging me from taking gigs, I was completely absorbed by the elusiveness of being in a successful band.
Over the next 5 years, Air Dubai went on to sign a record deal, release three albums, play hundreds of shows across the US and Canada, sign with a booking agent, a business manager, a lawyer, and the biggest management company in the world. For two years we rented a nice house in south Denver that band money paid for. Not bad for some dudes that met on Craigslist.
We were young, not rich by any means, but supporting 6 people on money we were making from playing music. In 2014, I accomplished one of my pre-teen dreams by playing Warped Tour with my best friends. We had our own bus and played alongside pop-punk bands I idolized as a young drummer.
During that same year, we released our first full-length album on Hopeless Records and (drumroll..) nothing happened. The label told us the budget for promotion had been used up before the album came out and we were dead in the water. The album we had spent two years working on and promoting was stillborn.
Later that summer, we split ways with our management and the label. After reaching our touring peak on Warped Tour, we returned home to Denver, with nothing but a $40,000 bill for our tour bus and boxes full of hundreds of copies of our album that we didn’t know what to do with.
The glamour was gone and reality hit like a ton of bricks. This part wasn’t supposed to happen. We were a pop band that saw nothing but the Top 40 for ourselves, but our mid-twenties came up quick and we questioned everything.
This life isn’t all glory, in fact the majority of it isn’t. This story is so common in today’s music industry, that it’s almost not worth telling. The part that is worth telling is the in-between. The “where do we go from here?” The stuff that’s typically reserved for montages.
I was fortunate enough to get a call for another gig right when I needed it.
“Do you know how to run tracks with Ableton?” Yes.
“Do you know how to work an SPD-S?” Yes.
“Can you fly to Austin next month for a rehearsal?” You’re goddamn right I can.
In January 2015 I started playing drums for The Wind and The Wave. Feeling raw to the promise of the music industry as an artist, I was happy to be hired on strictly as a touring drummer.
When I was transitioning into my role with The Wind and The Wave, it softened the blow of losing a labor of love I had spent years creating. It was similar to the feeling you get when you break up with a long-term boyfriend/girlfriend. Letting go of someone you've made so many memories with that it becomes a part of your identity, is extremely difficult. That chunk of who you are gets ripped out and you wonder why you spent so much time on it in the first place. It's easy to focus on what you've lost instead of being grateful for the countless moments of joy and purpose it brought you.
For the most part, I’ve put the regrets of Air Dubai behind me. The thoughts of what could have been and what was supposed to be are gone. The thing that remains are the memories. The places that I got to travel to and the things I got to see and experience with my high school buddies is incredible to me.
We were just a bunch of suburban kids who wanted to do nothing but lock ourselves in the basement and play music and only a few years later we found ourselves playing in the MTV offices in Times Square, hearing ourselves on the radio, and opening for some of our musical heroes. I watched my little band go from rehearsing in a garage, taking breaks to talk to people who would stop and watch us, to headlining 1500 capacity venues in our hometown.
But the times I remember the most are the times we spent off stage. The countless hours spent in vans and green rooms, hotels and coffee shops. Nights spent awake drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in a city you never thought you’d see.
Most shows are a repetitious, fleeting moment of joy. A brief release of energy and emotion. One hour on stage to validate why I’ve given up so many other “normal” aspects of my life.
Those memories blur together. I don’t remember how Air Dubai’s show went at the House of Blues in Cleveland in 2013, but I remember standing out in the back parking lot smoking a joint with Skizzy Mars, all of us awkwardly fan-girling over this rapper we idolized.
The real shit happens off stage, in the other 23 hours of the day. Bands will come and go. Some shows will be great and others will be horrible. In the morning it doesn’t matter. You get in the van like every other day and drive to the next city.
I live a life of constant upheaval and instability; tirelessly performing the same menial tasks of driving, pushing cases into the venue, setting up, sound checking, playing a show, packing up, and heading to the hotel. But if I were to describe the life I live to my 13-year-old self, I know he’d be fucking stoked.
That’s why I have to do my best to take it all in. All the weird people I meet and will never encounter again. All the middle of nowhere towns I spend a night in and will never see again. All the drunken conversations that make me feel like I’ve got life figured out and get me to the next day.
These are the stories I’ll be telling my grandkids. These are the connections with human beings that will never be broken. The mundane, inconsequential experiences that act as the beautiful glue to our chaotic lives.
Like any job, it’s not the hours at work that define who you are. It’s those hours of free will and what you choose to do with them.
It’s not the parts with the bright lights. It’s not the pictures that fans see on Instagram. It’s the real-life moments of real-life people trying to find meaning in a mobile life. Finding stability in a transient existence; unconsciously clawing to find ways to detour around the rockstar archetype and just feel like a kid in a band playing with your friends.
All these in between hours excite me and I’m grateful for them. One late night in the van recently a man who I have great respect for and who happens to employ me currently told me, “Build your story.”
I’m 26 and I play music for a living. My story happens in the 23 hours I spend off stage.
23 hours waiting.
23 hours missing home.
23 hours questioning life choices.
23 hours creating memories I’ll never forget.
I'm a 28 year old musician touring around the country playing drums in bands. I live in hotels and venues to be on stage for one hour a day. That hour is why I do this and the only part people see. This is a documentation of the other 23 hours.