Written by Ben Grounds Thursday, 27 April 2006 10:57
The party was very intimate, with Jamie joining in the sit-around-the-campfire-and-sing-some-songs feel.
Costs. I am the band’s guitarist and accountant. We round up AUS$9000 just to get to the U.S. via plane. We take two weeks’ leave from our jobs (mostly without pay), or putting off becoming employed until we get back. We look after our credit card(s) to ensure we have enough to get by while there.
Including at least US$1000 for transport. And hundreds for hire gear where we weren’t able to beg borrow or steal (well, not steal). Which, by the way, is about AUS$1500. We tend to our important relationships, ensure we will be OK, they’ll be OK, I’ll be back in time for my wedding (just). We consult our chiropractors for the last time to ensure our bodies can withstand two weeks of sleeping on floors.
After what is always a long flight, we get picked up from the airport from Robin, who looks after us like kings while we’re here in L.A. We’ve missed our exciting show supporting Twilight Singers thanks to a cargo loader who broke the door on the plane, forcing it to be delayed by 24 hours.
We played a show in a cool club last night called Spaceland with two other Aussie bands. We played first on and had a pretty good show, but there were about as many people there as there were at our recent Byron Bay show.
It’s way colder than we expected here, and we’re staying pretty much right on the beach. After getting plenty of fantastic sleep cuddling up to each other, we woke to a porpoise rescue about 100 meters away from us. They took it to a dolphin hospital.
After a bit of R&R today, we’re off to Austin tomorrow to get in gear for what should be a pretty exciting week. Let’s hope we don’t spend all our food money on CDs at the shop most likely to lose you a day (or two), Ameoba Records.
Good night and good luck (was the only movie I could stand on the plane on the way over...).
Well, we made it to Austin alive; making it out alive may prove to be more challenging. After two flight delays on connecting flights, we got into Austin late enough for our lift and host to have given up waiting for us, so we hired our rental car early (very early—we got in at half-past midnight) and found our way there. And then we went to a party we had been invited to. Not because we wanted to party, but because we’re here for a reason and we thought it’d be good meet some people. The party was very intimate, with Jamie joining in the sit-around-the-campfire-and-sing-some-songs feel.
After a longer night than we’d planned, we dragged ourselves out of bed the next day to go and register for the conference. The conference hall is massive and full of people. Wayne Coyne was a couple of people ahead of us in the artist registry queue. I was going to ask him how he got over the 13- and 14-year band hump, but I guess we’ll figure it out in the next couple of years.
We then had to load into the venue we played that night. It was called The Drink and it’s on 6th St.—6th St. is where it all happens; just ask anyone. There’s a venue every other doorway and it’s the street they shut off each night for thousands upon thousands of people to stumble around. They could all fit down the footpaths but SXSW seems to inflict most attendees and visitors with the inability to walk straight after about 8 p.m.
Our show that night, which was the first night of SXSW and our official showcase, was OK. No major dilemmas occurred and the people we didn’t drive out of the room seemed to like us. Right before we went on, a friend of a friend was photographing us and at least two middle aged women from the crowd in the street (there is always one) thought we must be super-famous and wanted to have their photos taken with us. I felt sorry for their husbands taking the photos.
We had an early night then—in bed by 2:30—as we had to get up early for our show the next day.
That show was our Twangfest spot, first on at 12 p.m. The venue was pretty cool, got a soundcheck and everything. Unfortunately, the backline was cheap; Jared broke the kickdrum pedal by the third song and had basically rendered the kit DOA by the fourth, so Jamie finished the set solo. There was a very interested crowd; I think they liked us.
After tending to business all afternoon, we then wandered the messy streets watching bands. There must be 100 venues in four blocks. We saw the drummer from Screaming Trees’ new band (can’t remember his name), the National Eye, the Fiery Furnaces, and the Twilight Singers, to try and make up for our cancelled flight at the beginning of the trip. It didn’t make up for it but it was a good show.
And here I am now bleary-eyed, ready for another day. Everybody wants to party but I just want to sleep. More business and shows to attend/do/create today; will let you know when we’re rich and famous...
After having breakfast with an ally (of who we wished there were ten clones) at noon (the earliest Jamie would accept a breakfast appointment), Jamie and I went back to where we are staying to pick up the two sleeping beauties, and then back into town (it’s about a 10-minute drive; it’s an easy drive, too, as all American cities seem so heavily friendly for the private motor vehicle that driving and parking is always much easier than any other option. NYNY may prove to be the exception) for our show of the day, the Captiva party. It was on as afternoon approached evening and we had a pretty good time. Drinks ranged in price between free and ridiculously cheap, Jared liked the show he played (which is extremely rare), and Jamie had the pleasure of playing through an amplifier more designed for Kiss than Bluebottle Kiss.
It’s been good putting faces to names and assessing the lie of the land, and we did all that and more this afternoon.
We had to rush to load out and then find a bite to eat before another meeting/party/social engagement. Seeking a more traditional sit-down arrangement after too many nights getting takeaway bratwurst or giant pizza slices and eating on the footpath of 6th St., we found an Asian place. Jamie got the steak sandwich and immediately regretted it—it was designer style, so looked like somebody waved a photograph of a cow over a bun with lettuce, rather than actually cook some steak and put it on the sandwich.
After shoving it all down, we ran to get to the next appointment. We ran in the wrong direction. Hailed a cab, as we were getting in discovered directions for the venue, thought it was close and let go of the cab, walked, and discovered we should have taken the cab.
Anyway, the meet was for us to see a band called Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. They were pretty cool, an eight-piece reminiscent of, say, Arcade Fire, with interesting instrumentation happening.
From there we walked a long way to see the Black Heart Procession, who were pretty good, too. I’d never seen them before and they suited the darkly lit venue well. After that show we saw a few Australians—I caught up with Jonboyrock (a Sydney sound man) and discovered why he didn’t want to mix our Syndey show on our Australian tour just before we got here: he was touring the world with Wolfmother. Fair enough.
After that, I was almost asleep on my feet and opted to head home (well, our temporary home), but not before the others persuaded me to have one more drink at a nice little quiet bar…that we discovered after we started a tab was playing remixes of old Madonna songs a fair bit too loud. My sense-omeoter called red alert and I went home; the others stayed out to try and see the Brian Jonestown Massacre (line was eight miles high), Om (too far away), and/or Ladytron (again, too far away).
They returned to the bar with cheap drinks and watched a band whose bassist brandished an instrument that looked like a 100-year-old fig tree struck by lightning... They got home just after me; we all have a good sleep and are recharged for today, where we have an in-store closely (dangerously closely?) followed by another private party. We’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
Well, our last shows for this week/conference/city were today. The shows so far haven’t been fantastic but we’ve encountered no major dramas. We were hoping to go out on a high, show-wise. I went shopping in the morning for a new fancy-pants pedal, was looking forward to getting all Pink Floyd.
When we arrived at the instore we had expected to see the Australian band—who had hired the backline (to their specifications) and were meant to be playing before us—playing. They weren’t. In fact, nothing was even set up. Turns out that band had arrived, seen the scenario and setup, and cancelled their set.
We unloaded the ridiculously sized backline (Marshall stacks, the ‘fridge bass rig) (ridiculous because the stage was tiny, covered from the rain by a tarp) (ridiculous because the PA was good for little more than an acoustic show) and went to great pains to se it up. Then I discovered I would have to set the PA up, too. Now I’m no thicko, but I’m no sound engineer, either. Anyway, after much stress (the guys said I had my stressed face on, which is the blankest expression I own...), we got the stage to being able to play—which was good because we were already over time and had a show to go to straight after this one. I was mixing from onstage.
After “Everything Begins and Ends...” as our first song, the very nice fellow organizing the event was very flustered: We were way too loud, they neighbors will complain and the plug will be pulled. We were playing about as quiet as we could, so the only option we had was to play all our quiet songs. Which weren’t actually very numerous. So our set was five songs, including “The Women Are an Army,” “Harold Holt,” “Last Playboy in Town,” and “An Ounce of Your Cruelty.”
So we rushed off to the next appointment, which was going to be a good last show, for sure. Well, we got there and there were no guitar amps. A bass amp and a drum kit, that’s all. There were amps to borrow that would take 15mnutes to get there. And then, including setup, our show would be over. Our last hurrah turned out to be defeat. Jamie did play a solo set to some falling raindrops and our two American fans/friends. Of course it was good, but no BBK.
We went band-roaming again during the dark hours; saw Pink Mountain Tops, some band like Love of Diagrams whose name I can’t remember, Nine Black Alps who were very 1992, and Die! Die! Die!. While we were waiting for Nine Black Alps to come onstage, Jamie was at the bar getting a beer when a couple of Texan boys—who had obviously been well warmed up for a good night already—said HEY. After hearing his accent, they had a whole lot of ammunition for conversation and asked for a high-five from Jamie. Who doesn’t do high-fives. But they insisted. He resisted. They insisted—by grabbing his arm and physically forcing him to high-five. Then they bought him a shot of something unknown; Jamie was too scared to say no. The process involved twirling the shotglass around his head and some other movements before drinking it. Then they forced another high-five, this time grabbing his hand and holding it up high for minutes, shouting to the packed bar, “LOOK EVERYONE, HE’S HIGH FIVING!!”
I doubt I will ever see anything quite like it again in my life. It was the best bit of networking Jamie had done all week!
The whole SXSW thing is basically over now; today is a bit of a comedown. We fly to NYNY tomorrow; today we can wander around Austin, safe in the knowledge that we came to deliver our music and, well, hmm...
Well, we’ve had a couple of lay days here - first was Sunday in Austin, which by our reckoning was meant to be the last official day of SXSW but obviously wasn’t to most people. The streets were deserted (relative to the previous days), and the sky hung as grey and drab as the leftover SXSWers’ hangovers. We visited Waterloo Records, one of the bigger/better record shops in Austin, and of course bought stuff. We debated over lunch the pros and cons of tater tots versus fries, and then drove laps of the city (now that we could) until we figured out what we wanted to do.
Which turned out to be seeing a movie: Capote. The cinemas have service for food and drink, which was nice but a little disturbing having a waitress ask you questions in the middle of anon-scrren D&M. The film was quite good.
We revisited 6th St. for the final time to get some dinner; music still emanated from numerous bars, albeit in a less festive, more sad way. One pianist in a corner bar proclaimed as we walked past, “A free drink for anyone who knows all the words to this song,” as he began the opening chords to McCartney’s “Yesterday.” Jamie promptly joined in song, belting it out in the streets of Austin, the musical center of the world (according to itself)—only to begin the second verse instead of the first. No free drink for him. We dined in a bar where burgers (of which I’ve eaten seemingly billions so far) take 45 minutes to cook (sans tip) and the CD player works fine for Mötley Crüe but jumps annoyingly for Afghan Whigs.
Monday we make it to New York after seeing almost every single person we met in Austin in the airport, each heading to their next destination, or home, happy or sad or near-dead after yet another SXSW.
We have all of Tuesday to sightsee NYC and sleep into at least noon, as has become our regular sleeping pattern. Ross is sick and stays in bed all day, Jared goes to look for a hostel and we never see him again, and Jamie and I walk endlessly around Greenwich Village in search of a good bookstore, finally striking gold at the Strand. After shopping there, while standing on the street figuring out our next move, a figure in a puffy jacket walks up behind Jamie, grabs him with one hand and shoves into his side whatever is in the other hand, demanding money. I step away but to face Jamie, ready to instigate retaliation, and in doing so look up to find the accoster to be Pete from [Australian band] Decoder Ring, holding a gun made of fingers. The odds of running into these guys in Manhattan are low!
Jamie and I go see the Statue of Liberty, then Ground Zero, like good tourists, then have dinner, return to our accommodation in Queens, collect our host and Ross, and go have a drink or two at a close-by Irish bar called Mickey Johns, or Mickey Dicks, or something.
Everyone sleeps until I wake them up in just enough time to get to the venue for soundcheck for our final U.S. show this time around, at the Mercury Lounge. Except Jared, from whom we’re yet to hear since his disappearance yesterday.
But Jared does meet us at the venue, and we do soundcheck. Decoder Ring does so before us and with some trouble, their Australian electronics disagreeing with the U.S. power. The level of technology they have onstage startles and frightens me; I could never evisage Bluebottle making it all work!
Our soundcheck isn’t lightyears better, with the hire gear not all working. More ominous still are Jamie’s pedals beginning to work only intermittently. They had behaved well for many months, on the Women Are an Army Tour as well as all U.S. shows to date. He employed his usual technical fix of wiggling them until they worked, which they did quickly.
Before we went on, reports from the other bands concluded that onstage sound was little short of terrible—all those bands, though, sounded pretty good out the front. We wanted to have a good show as a few people were there to watch us specifically, and it’s not like we’re in America regularly, now, is it? Well, we suffered the same problem with onstage sound as previous bands, but apparently bad sound was heard out front, too. Ross’ and my vocals were a lot louder than Jamie’s, for instance. Even when we weren’t singing. We opened with “Dream Audit” and the guitars decided to retune themselves mid-song. Jamie’s pedals’ temperament went from manic to depressive and he wrestled with them all night. The set came good (well, better) as we soldiered through, though.
We packed up and went home, then the next day Jamie and I packed up and went home. Jared and Ross stayed one more week to immerse themselves in NYC culture. Or underground life. Or the black market, or something.
The taxi Jamie and I caught to the airport was not only driven by a maniac, but he listened (and so we did, too) to a radio station where the host had listeners call with their deepest problems, then proceeded to slag them from here ’til tomorrow for acting like idiots. Especially the woman who had been “chiefing,” even though she had been married...
I’m either getting longer legs (not likely) or economy class seats are getting more cramped (very likely!) as I learnt claustrophobia on the plane home. The woman in front not only decided to keep her seat in the reclining position the whole way, but in putting it there—and only getting it halfway, as her seat was now hard up against my knees, which could go nowhere—she decided the best thing was to keep ramming the seat back until it went al the way. I had a very low tolerance threshold by the end of the flight.
Whilst waiting for our luggage in Sydney airport, a suspicious security man questions Jamie. Jamie hasn’t shaved for a couple of days, but people look pretty bad after a long flight anyway, right? Well, when Jamie had collected his suitcase, another security man thought Jamie looked a bit suspicious, and questioned him. When that was over, we collected our guitars from the oversize baggage section and wheeled out carts to the long lineup for customs. I looked around and Jamie had disappeared!
Then, while waiting in line, I see Jamie leaving the customs check, way ahead of me. It turns out yet another security guy took Jamie to be a threat, and gave him a special security check. Dodgy musicians, I tell ya!
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