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.
I'm a touring drummer. 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.