Road Trip

How a mid-list band spent six weeks in an RV, fueled by chili

My wife gave me two distinct, easy-to-follow rules before I shuffled out the door: "Don't cheat on me and don't die!" The cheating part would be a breeze. I'm what you'd call a slow burn. Women fall in love with me over time, not in lust over a few drinks. Quick "I! Must! Have! Him! Now!" blasts of drunken, sloppy, one-night-stand sex have never been a problem (or a blessing, depending on your perspective) for me, and I don't suspect they will be.

Cheating isn't a concern.

Not dying, on the other hand, might be tougher. After all, I'm hitting the road with my mid-list band, Fatal Flying Guilloteens, for six weeks, playing 40 shows all around our great nation (okay, on the coasts). Now certainly, you'd think that strumming a guitar night in and night out in a different city for a mediocre (when sober) band shouldn't earn you a trip to Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, but that's because you've never been on tour…with us.

I'm up and ready to go at the start of our adventure.
I'm up and ready to go at the start of our adventure.
The band relaxed while our roadie did all the driving.
Brian McManus
The band relaxed while our roadie did all the driving.

You've never driven the roads of Pennsylvania's tollway in the wee hours of the morning when it's densely populated with only the most hard-core truckers driving only the most hard-core rigs popping only the most hard-core speed. You've never broken a soundman's premium, custom-made Japanese import microphone while he watched in heartbroken rage behind the sound board clutching a lead pipe. The food alone that most clubs feed us is enough to stop a grown man's heart. Wife has plausible reason for concern.

No one is loosening our aching and torn muscles with shiatsu. We're mid-list.

Mid-list means we can tour the country for a month and a half and not lose our shirts. We won't make much (any) money, but we won't be spending our own, either. We have an agent who books our shows (she's paid a percentage) and a publicist who ensures we're mentioned in the newspapers (she's paid up front…theoretically). We also happen to be on an independent label with reasonable distribution (two of them, in fact). This means, at the very least, that people working in the industry (club bookers, et al.), have heard of us if not outright heard us. It also means you can walk into, say, Tower Records in Philadelphia and see our CD in stock. No one is buying it, sure, but it is there nevertheless.

If you are below us on the music totem pole, you aren't getting paid. If you are above us, someone else is handling your money. As mid-listers we act as our own liaison between our band and the club. This entails getting paid ourselves after shows…possibly while inebriated. If we're going to be late to a show, there's no one to phone it in but us.

And who are we? Fatal Flying Guilloteens. What do we sound like? Well, if you believe our press, we're a "spastic, epileptic-seizure-prone, bike-helmet-wearing offspring of the Mars Volta and Fugazi." Not seeing it? How about "slightly glam trash rock, with guitars that stab you in the ear and a rhythm section that kicks you once you're down for good measure." Sounds refreshing, right?

September 8, 2005: Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta is home to one of Fatal Flying Guilloteens' BFFs, Henry H. Owings, esteemed publisher of the drop-dead-hysterical Chunklet Magazine. Henry is bullish on our band. He also happens to have about 2,000 gigs of music on his computer begging to be downloaded into our collective iPods.

Which is what we did until it was time to head to the club, load in and get our beer tickets. Our honest-to-goodness RV is equipped with a fridge, a freezer, a microwave, two beds, a pullout sofa, four captain's chairs and two TVs. On day two we're still in awe of these creature comforts, swilling our free case of beer from the club while watching the first season of Lost on DVD. Touring is hard.

Our Lost party is interrupted by the show's promoter, who informs us that the opening bands are finished. Time to rock! The club is reasonably packed, and the crowd seems eager. We kill them with eight quick songs and retire quickly to the RV, where we've invited the audience to have a few with us. About five kids take us up on the offer. A young black man with a huge Afro and a British accent tells us that we're "raw as hell." His dreadlocked American girlfriend agrees. "It was spiritual," she says. There's only one plausible solution for her choice of words: She's stoned out of her freaking gourd. Shortly afterward, she pulls out a pipe and waves it at our suspicions.

Not all the news is good, however. Henry hops on the RV, tells us he just got an earful from a girl in one of the opening bands, God's America. She thinks we're assholes for not watching any of the opening acts. Henry did the job of kindly reminding her that we'd be playing with some 120 (not an exaggeration) bands on this tour and couldn't possibly see them all. "Besides," he told her, "your point is irrelevant."

Irrelevant or not, this gem of a message on our MySpace.com account appeared the next morning: "you guys should give less of a fuck about being rockstars. being offensive isn't that 'shocking' anymore. grow up. plus, it would be nice to watch the bands you are sharing shows with instead of hanging out in your stupid rv. the worst part is that you were good."

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