Cerebral Upheaval with Dan Sugarman - Life on the Road: Removing the Veil
Hello, friend, and welcome back to your Cerebral Upheaval. I am your host, Dan Sugarman.
Today we are going to take a look at one band's life on the road, through the eyes of an idiot. The name of the specimen we will be observing this journey through will not be mentioned, but what I can tell you is this: He looks a lot like me. No relation. That being said, let us begin.
Alright, that's enough role play for one day. Hopefully that won't happen again ... but I’m not going to promise anything.
I would like to start off my third column by thanking everyone for all of the awesome e-mails and positive feedback I have been receiving on my two previous Guitar World columns -- Optimizing your Practice Time Part I & Part II. I encourage you to let me know what you thought of them as well, if you feel so inclined. Contact me at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments, have lesson inquiries, if you just want to talk shop, or just want to tell me what’s on your mind. Lines are open, so to speak.
The e-mails I have received thus far have been all the proof that I need to show me that my previous Guitar World columns can truly help you make progress as a musician and a guitarist. Improvements and growth can be made without me even being in the same room as you, it seems. It's an immense feeling to know that these columns are working, and this is just the beginning for the two of us.
I really do believe that this is an amazing opportunity for both you and I to grow, so I encourage you to communicate and be interactive with me.
I'd also like to apologize for the lack of columns or updates recently. I have no excuse for not doing them ... just reasons haha. But needless to say, I am sorry. Next time I will put more effort into letting you know when I have a tour coming up, which should give you the clue that I may be absent for a brief period of time. So keep those eyes peeled, alright?
Just the other day, I arrived at my house in Los Angeles at around 5 a.m. Completing The Summer Slaughter Tour 2011 was one of the most difficult things we have ever done as a band and that I have ever done personally. To say I'm pretty beat right now as I write this column would be an understatement. Luckily I love writing these, so in all honesty it shouldn't be that hard to pull off. But due to mental and physical fatigue, please bear with me.
In reality, it's just another day and another city for me. This just happens to be the city where I stay for a few months out of the year.
Anyways, for my third column, I've decided to write about what it's like being a touring musician in an internationally traveling band. I'm going to do my best to remove the veil that has been masking what touring is really like, as well as expose to you how truly gritty and grimey being a touring musician can really be.
Enough! Let's kick this off...
What comes to mind first when you think of touring? What do you think that being a touring musician in a traveling band is really like? Let me give you some clues as to what life is really like on the road, through my eyes.
Disclaimer: Performing and writing music is my passion. Touring is my job. I am not a cynical person. I am not jaded, and I would not be doing this to myself if I didn't love touring with all of my heart. The fact of the matter is that touring is one of the most stressful, grueling and challenging things one could put themselves through. If I didn't truly feel at home when on the road, then I wouldn't subject myself and my LIFE to this on a consistent basis. This IS my life, my view, experience, and my story on being a touring musician.
The format of this column will be brief journal segments as well as commentary on my journey through The Summer Slaughter Tour 2011, as well as the past year touring internationally with As Blood Runs Black. Enjoy.
Chapter 1: I Live in a Van ... Down by the River!
How would you feel if you were taken out of your comfort zone completely for weeks -- or even months -- on end? How about not showering for more than five days and living in a rolling box with five other dudes who are equally as smelly as you, if not worse? How about living off of fast food and gas station snacks? Sleeping on a van bench and calling said van your "home"? How about emptying your bowels in a bathroom straight out of a horror film -- daily? Disgusting, yes. Too much information? I know. Little do you know that dumping is a major priority and discussion topic of each and every day in almost every single touring band. There is definitely something to be said about that. More on that later, though.
And how would you feel about being on call at all hours of the day and night? Being on the clock 24/7? Dealing with 115 degree heat and 100 percent humidity, followed by tornado warnings? Snow, black ice, hail and torrential rain? Flying through multiple time zones and then immediately playing in front of thousands only to pretend that you're awake and excited to be onstage? I could think of worse things, but that shit is difficult to pull off no matter who you are.
What about being hassled by border patrol officers every time they see you just because you're in a band? How about being stalled by airport security and being forced to miss your connecting flight home from Europe after you've already spent more than 20-plus hours traveling and waiting around during layovers?
That was a lot of questions, I know. But my point is this: TOURING IS HARD.
It takes every last bit of mental and physical energy you have to make it through a tour. We've lost band members, crew members, had fights, and even had non-stop laughter due to deliriousness and the ridiculousness of life on the road. Sometimes though, all you can do is laugh at the situations at hand and make the best of a shitty day, because chances are that there will be equally as many bad days as there are good days. Know that. Accept it. Embrace it. Live it.
Being on tour is like being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. When people ask me where I've been and what I've been up to, I often see looks of jealousy on their face. It makes me laugh, honestly, because they really don't even know the half of it.
Don't get me wrong, though! I am ecstatic to be doing what I'm doing and I love my life, but I have to explain to them that touring is not all that it's hyped up to be. At this level, nothing is glamorous. Even at the highest levels of touring, bands have to live day to day and deal with some truly messed up stuff.
It is simply the way of the road, and there is nothing to be done about it. No matter how much you've prepared for touring, how many crew members you have, or how much money you make every night, issues like these will arise -- NO MATTER WHAT!
You must always be the better man/woman in every single situation, or else the road will chew your ass up and spit you out. That way, you can overcome whatever obstacle that is in your way, hop back in that van or bus that you are cruising around in and then do it all again somewhere else tomorrow.
Sure, I've been to X-City, but did I really experience the people and their culture to the fullest?
What I HAVE done though is spend copious amounts of time in parking lots all over the world. I've been to almost every McDonald's and fast-food joint ever (I highly doubt that, but it sounded good, right?) to refuel my belly with their processed delicacies in the familiar and lovable shape of a chicken nugget or a round piece of meat between two buns.
I must also say that McDonald's has some of the best restroom facilities across the nation ... not only does Ronald make great imitation meat pucks, but he’s also a great janitor!
I have also been to more gas stations then you would ever hope toimagine. I have seen more corn fields and desert terrain than my brain and my eyes would have ever liked to witness.
But hey, it's all about the sacrifices, right? I love doing this. I knowit doesn't sound like it yet, but believe me: It is my life.
The following is a brief journal entry that I did after the first day of The Summer Slaughter Tour. I did one of these entries almost every time something major happened to us throughout the tour. My intentions behind doing this were to compile all of my entries into one book-type-thing (over the course of many tours) for my own sentimental reasons. But after I got back from this tour, I realized how truly interesting and intense touring could be. I decided right then and there that I needed to come up with some sort of way to express this to you. I wanted to show you how touring can be both punishing and rewarding at the same time, yet always leave you wanting more. This, my friend, is that outlet.
June 22nd, 2011 - Summer Slaughter, Day 1
Today was an amazing day filled with some steep and deep slopes and dips. For one, I have dreamt of being apart of The Summer Slaughter Tour ever since its inception in 2007, and to say that I am here -- now -- doing what I am doing, is an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Meeting all of the bands on this year's Summer Slaughter Tour was an awesome experience, too. I have looked up to some of those bands since I started playing and listening to metal. It was such a humbling experience to finally meet and talk to some of my favorite musicians and find out how mellow and similar to myself they were.The words "flustered" and "excited" don't even come close to how it felt to me. I felt like a little school girl.
This show not only marked our 1-year anniversary with our current lineup, but it was also one of our tightest day-one-of-tour shows that we have ever had. The journey ahead looked bright and the road before us looked smooth, when all of a sudden, driving through the slums of Hollywood, the leaf spring on the right side of our trailer shattered -- devastating if you're trying to actually go somewhere.
We sat waiting, in the grimiest part of Hollywood in a shady parking lot under a busted and flickering light. We sat there in the dark, literally and metaphorically, calling AAA towing services and all of the local towing places in AND out of town. Our efforts proved fruitless. No one was willing to help us tow our piece-o-shit trailer for the life of us.
We decided to risk it all and drive home at 3:30 am with our mangled and dangling axel scraping the highway pavement all the way home.
We were lucky to be close enough to our hometown so that we could get there quickly and safely to repair the trailer early the next morning, otherwise this tour would have been over for us before it had even begun.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that yesterday and today were two of the most stressful days of my life -- as the two preparation days prior to leaving for tour usually are. I take that back. The two days before we leave for tour are hell ...always!
Those two days consist of last minute van and trailer check-ups (whoops!), Guitar Center runs for strings, picks, drums heads etc., last minute rehearsals and set-list changes, making sure that all guitars, amps, and electronics are in working order, as well as packing up all of your shit! Me being a master procrastinator doesn't help my situation out too much either.
TOURING TIP: When packing, keep in mind that you are packing for at least a week and a half or two (as long as doing laundry is a possibility). If laundry isn't an option, which happened to us in Europe, then you should pack for as many days as you can fit into your bag.
Doing so will get rid of that amazing salt-vinegar odor that you get after wearing the same pair of clothes over and over. Salted nuts and moldy clothes versus a heavy bag filled to the brim with fresh clothes? Do what you will. The choice is yours. I choose a heavy bag for prolonged cleanliness.
That journal entry right there was just a brief description of the daily ups and downs of being on the road. Keep in mind that it was also only one of the four major trailer issues that we had on this tour ALONE.
After a quick and shitty trailer repair early the following morning, the same issue resurfaced again on June 27 going from Boise, Idaho to Sacramento, California. We actually had to skip the Sacramento show so that we could get a legit repair done and then drive straight from Boise, Idaho to San Francisco. Awesome, right?
And to make things even better, when we arrived at The Fillmore in San Francisco, we discovered a massive pool of engine coolant surrounding our van. This was only one day after we had just barely avoided the second near tour-ending catastrophe.
We somehow miraculously recovered in time though, which was great. The issue in SF was that the van had basically pissed out all of the engine coolant liquid through a hole in the hose. Upon bringing the van into the nearest shop for inspection and repair, we were told that our water pump was ALSO broken. Cha-CHING!
And don't think it stops there either! On August 17 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we had another major axle issue that threatened to keep us from finishing out the rest of the tour. We were on the complete opposite side of the United States in the most southern tip of Florida. We could have been stranded there for days. Lucky for us, though, we had a mechanic who was a part of the tour package, Oceano's driver, Adam Lavesque -- a great drummer, hard working and an all around awesome dude, who is a master repair-man. He told us about a few of the options that we had if we wanted to make it to Texas. We made the decision to saw off the bent part of the axel and weld on a new straightened axel tip so that we could begin the 20-plus hour drive from Fort Lauderdale to Houston. What a damn long day that was.
Everything was finally starting to look up, and the sun was-a-shinin’, if you will. And after three major trailer issues that threatened our means of transportation, we thought we had finally dodged all of the bullets. But this gun was still loaded, apparently.
We were ready to finish out the last three days of The Summer Slaughter tour, and couldn't wait to get home. The last three days of the tour were in Texas. That state always treats us right, and this time was no exception. All three shows there were highlights of the tour when I look back on our trip, and I can't wait to get back over there and play again.
The last day of the tour was in Dallas. It was a night full of raging, saying goodbye to some of my favorite bands and friends in the world, and realizing the time of my life was quickly coming to an end.
The last show of the tour definitely ended on a high note for us. All that was left for us to do was a 24-plus hour drive home from Dallas to Los Angeles. Yippee?
Excitement to get in our beds and sit on our own porcelain thrones was high. We were ready for the trek to begin. Our guitarist Greg started out the drive, and then our drummer Lech put in some work.
By the time my driving shift came around early in the morning the next day (about 6 a.m.), I was ready to hammer out some serious mileage and get our asses home.
I was maybe 20 miles into my shift and had just purchased my coffee and sunflower seeds -- my vices for staying awake -- when BOOM! We popped a trailer tire. Not the biggest problem in the world for most people, except that most people have a jack and a road worthy spare tire on hand! Our only spare tire was SHOT. It had saved the day for us one to many times before, and another long journey on that thing would not be a good idea. Not to mention, we didn't have a handle for our tire jack to jack the damn trailer up.
We sat on the side of the road, waiting ... and waiting ... in the middle of Nowhere, Texas with nothing to do and no way to fix the problem, when all of a sudden, after waiting on the side of the road for a long while, dealing with serious stress and taking turns kicking each other in the ass, a good man with all the tools we needed stopped behind our busted ass trailer to help us out. We told him we were on our way home to Los Angeles, and he quickly got what we needed out of his truck and helped us get back out on the road in no time.
Thank you for the random act of kindness, kind sir! We are forever indebted to you. I doubt you will ever read this though, considering you probably don’t know what a computer is.
What's ironic and kind of funny to me is the fact that the same sort of situation happened to us on the last day of the Atticus Metal Tour III. Devastation crept up on us once again literally one hour into our drive home.
All of a sudden the RV started to shake and rattle. We heard noises that we had never heard before from a car. BLONK! The RV's engine exploded out of the bottom of our vehicle and shot all over the highway in the middle of New Mexico.
It seems to me as if someone keeps on trying to prevent us from getting home at times. I don't know what there is to be said about that, but it sure seems like that's the case to us.
As you can see, the problems are never ending. If you think about how often the average person is on the road versus how often we are on the road, then you would quickly realize that the likelihood of a major transportation issue coming up for us is MUCH greater than it is for you. Not to mention that the drives on Summer Slaughter averaged out to be about 8-12 hours. That is almost 50% of our day spent on the road en-route to the next show. Not as glamorous as you thought right?
We aren't playing awesome shows every night that end in wild parties and free-flowing pussy, like some of you would think. We don't make a ton of money and then go to strip clubs and then teleport to the next show/party/pussy-fest. Oh no. On the contrary, my friend...
That's some rock star movie shit right there. We are not rockstars. We are simply musicians who are lucky enough to travel the world playing our music to awesome fans.
Touring isn't about partying. Touring isn't about getting laid. Touring isn't about finding the easy way out of having to deal with a regular life and working a 9-5 job. Touring isn't about getting famous.
Touring is about working your fucking ass off 24 hours a day, for weeks or months at a time. Touring is about picking yourself up and moving forward no matter how heavy the load is or how much it feels like the odds are stacked against you. Touring is about family and brotherhood. Touring is about spreading your music across the world -- at all costs.
Remember all of this next time you say that anyone can do this. It is a lifestyle that I don’t recommend to everyone.
It takes a certain kind of breed of human to do this, and not everyone can hack it. Touring separates the boys from the men, so to speak.
If you are a band that is trying to take that next step and you'd like to begin touring, sit your band down and talk with them. Make sure that everyone is aware of the things that I have brought to your attention here today.
You can't afford to lose your vocalist or lead guitarist in the middle of Shithole, Arkansas, because they miss their mommy and home-cooked meals. Trust me. We've dealt with situations like that before. You don't want that. You want to avoid that by any means necessary.
Start talking with your band members NOW. Open the portals of communication and understanding, and lead way.
Well, that concludes my third column, as well as Chapter 1 of "Life on the Road: Removing the Veil." Thank you for taking the time to read this thing, I know it was a little lengthy. Hopefully it was as entertaining for you to read as much as it was for me to write.
I'm sure you've figured out by now that the majority of this column was specifically about transportation and the problems that arise from it.
Stay tuned for the next chapters of my non-existent book, as I will be covering other topics, such as: tour stories, tour diet and dumping, survival and tour tips, as well as putting a positive light on touring (finally, right?)
I do have many other ideas brewing in my skull for more guitar-related columns, though. I may or may not follow this column up with Chapter 2 and 3 right away. As this is Guitar World magazine, I believe I mentioned my guitar not even once in this column!
What would you like to see next? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you’d like to me talk about next. Thank you!
And until next time, this is Dan Sugarman here, signing out.
You stay classy, planet earth.