This summer, indie bands everywhere booked out-of-town gigs, loaded up the van and hit the open American road in search of new fans and more success. They racked up miles and formed impressions of the places they visited. Few crossed an ocean, drove 15,000 miles or put as much trust in total strangers as the ska-punk band Night Gaunts.
From June through August, the band traveled from Auckland, New Zealand to play dozens of U.S. shows in 31 states. Now that they're safely back home, they've opened their travelogue to share their impressions of touring, the modern music industry and America circa 2013.
"Not only was it our first U.S. tour, it was our first tour ever. Before this tour, we had only played outside of our town once," says Hayden Pye, the band's bassist.
Before Night Gaunts played a single note on American soil, they did the hard work associated with today's breed of independent bands. They put their work -- which Pye describe as "The Beastie Boys met Sublime and partied" -- on music sharing sites like Spotify and Bandcamp, and turned to social-media sites like Twitter to build a broad audience.
That done, they began searching for contacts in the States to help book the 51 shows they'd play. Pye says he and bandmates Paul Jonassen (guitar/lead vocals), Simon Jonassen (drums), Daniel Costello (keys/guitar) and Jacob O'Brien (saxophone) began planning the tour seven months in advance. Pye said Night Gaunts e-mailed about 500 different people and bands to make arrangements.
"This tour was self-funded, through our gigs in Auckland and our jobs. We are still unsigned," says O'Brien, who celebrated his 21st birthday on tour. "We did an Indiegogo campaign, selling our merchandise and services over the Internet, earning us about $2,600 U.S.D.
"We were paid in advance for a wedding we played in Detroit, which really helped us pay for our van," he adds.
Detroit was actually a city of concern for Pye.
"I was kind of dreading going there because I thought we would pretty much have to hide in our motel to avoid getting killed, but we had friends show us around and it was actually a really cool city," says Pye. "All the people we met there were so nice and hospitable. The whole country was nice to us."
Once plans were set, all but one band member quit his job and Night Gaunts flew to the States for their first tour anywhere. One obvious difference between being on the road in the U.S. and being on the road in New Zealand? The road itself.
"The long, straight Interstates," says O'Brien. "At home, our roads are generally two-laned -- one each way -- and they dodge around the landscape.
"Obvious things like driving on the opposite side of the road took a little getting used to, as well as the American food," laughs Paul Jonassen. "My god, that stuff is packed full of shit and very addictive."
"I never really got used to it. Some of it doesn't really seem like real food in America," Pye offers. "Nacho cheese is awful, it's like melted plastic or something."
"Daniel and Hayden are vegetarian and found the USA a lot less accommodating to their diet," adds O'Brien, who considered Taco Bell one of his worst American meals. "We have none of this high-fructose corn syrup back home either. It's in everything! What's up with that, Monsanto?"
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"Oh, also in New Zealand you don't bus your own tables," says Jonassen. "We found that out in Vernon, New Jersey after leaving a Burger King and having one of the young female employees scream at us to clean up. She was not happy and unreasonably angry."
The drummer also notes that "Jack In the Box was dreadful. Who the hell even eats there?"
But if the food was hard to stomach, it was at least better than the televised news.
"We saw the George Zimmerman trial in cafes, bars and fast-food joints," O'Brien notes. "It doesn't matter if he was found guilty or not, having that on TV for so long would definitely endanger that guy out in public. Fox News is a load of bollocks, showing video clips of events or statements, and then having some 'newsreader' yell her opinionated, smart-arse reply at the camera."
"Your media is confusing," agrees Pye. "They only really talk about America, and the reporters seem completely biased and just express their opinion in a manner that comes across as 'This is evidence and you should also have my opinion on this matter."
"How are those people allowed to spill such shit to the masses?" Jonassen adds. "I mean, I know why, but to allow it seems mind-numbingly retarded. I guess that's why no one seems to watch TV anymore, at least the vast majority of people we met anyway. At least people are able to see through the lies on a daily basis."
Like any visitors from afar, Night Gaunts did their share of sightseeing, driving their second-hand van nicknamed "Stonehenge" to Niagara Falls, Disneyland and the Grand Canyon.
At the shows, Night Gaunts was thrilled to meet fans who considered them the sight to be seen, because it meant they'd successfully used music-sharing and the Internet to build an audience abroad. This is where they felt at home in a foreign land, standing on common ground with their U.S. fans, some who'd driven six or seven hours to see them perform.
"As with New Zealand, the whole country is just a bunch of people chilling out, drinking at bars, smoking trees and listening to music," Jonassen says. "I think that's pretty much all humans do, Western humans at least."
Night Gaunts' summer saga concludes tomorrow, with some very kind words about Houston. Join us, won't you?
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