So here’s the deal: the year is 2024, full-scale touring is back on the menu (an idealistic proposition, we know), and your band has just hit ‘send’ on the email pitching your latest single to that one radio station every Australian band would kill to get their song played on… You know the one.
A few days pass with no answer. Then a week. Then a month. You post cheesy Tweets and even cheesier TikToks trying to lure in the masses, but the best you can muster up is a few ‘care’ reacts on Facebook (thanks, uncle Chase) and the occasional follower on Spotify.
But then one day, on the drive home from your gruelling 9-to-5, you tune into [that one radio station] and holy shit, that’s your song playing! You pull over to text your bandmates, but damn, your phone is dead! Turns out the battery shat itself from all the notifications you were getting – because you know that one TikTok you made at 4:31am last Thursday in a half-drunken haze? Yeah, that shit went viral, and now your song is the official soundtrack to the latest trend.
When you get home, you see an email from your favourite band’s manager: that band is lining up a 30-date tour across the country, and they want you guys to support them. Are you down? Of course you’re down! This is the biggest opportunity of your life, there’s no way you’re going to miss this opportunity.
But here’s the thing: you’ve never been on a full-blown national tour before. You’re about to spend upwards of five weeks no more than 10 metres away from the same five people at any one time. How do you handle that? How do you make sure you don’t end up hating each other to death by the end of it?
Well, for the latest instalment of BLUNT’s Vox Pop series, we posed that question to a handful of artists who’ve not only been in the shoes your future self will don, but somehow defied the odds and powered through the entire run with their sanity intact. We asked some artists whose bands have been touring for decades – like the Hard-Ons, who in 2021 will celebrate their monumental 30th anniversary. We also asked Wade MacNeil, who’s not only been active in the scene since 2001, but has played in enough of the world’s most renowned rock and metal bands than we could fill a whole edition of this column profiling just them.
Adam Granduciel is not quite a veteran, but he certainly isn’t new to the world of touring (and, well, world touring). He’s the frontman of Philly indie-rock outfit The War On Drugs, who since 2005, have dropped five truly transcendental slabs of mend-bending rock ’n’ roll. He’s also toured as parted of Kurt Vile’s posse, with whom he’s made the trek Down Under once or twice.
On the younger side of the line are Amy Taylor and Ellen Chan, frontwoman of Amyl And The Sniffers and guitarist of Moaning Lisa, respectively. Where the Hard-Ons might know Australia like the backs of their hands, their perspective comes from decades of gigging in a much different version of the scene – so while their input is undoubtably crucial, Taylor and Chan know best how to survive today’s landscapes of burgeoning rock and punk.
So let’s take it to the streets, shall we?
What are your tips for keeping sane on the road?
Ellen Chan (of Moaning Lisa)
It’s hard to stay sane! I was in a little webinar the other day, it was about mental health and being a musician, and someone was talking about how it’s a really kind of unhealthy lifestyle to live. Y’know, there are a lot of times, when you’re traveling, where you’re doing these long trips in a car or on a plane, and you can get bored really easily – there’s not much going on. But then all of a sudden, you’ve got to go to soundcheck, and then after soundcheck, you go to perform in front of a crowd, and it’s like, “Woah! Adrenaline!” But then afterwards, it’s just another slump. So my tip is to listen to podcasts. Because when you spend so much time with the same people, there’ll be moments where you just kind of run out of things to say.
Putting on a podcast is similar to music in that it allows you to be in your own little world. If you don’t feel like socialising, but you want like a voice you can latch onto, listening to a podcast about a subject you really like is a good way to get that. Also, just practice mindfulness – like, mindful meditation – that can really help you feel like you’re less on autopilot and more present. Because it is hard. Usually after a show, I’m just drained of energy. And I think that just comes from an unhealthy balance of boredom and adrenaline – and because it’s night time. You’re staying up late to play a show, then you’ve gotta pack up your gear and stuff, and then go to the hotel – it’s draining.
Amy Taylor (of Amyl And The Sniffers)
I think one thing to note is that you will lose your mind – and that’s okay! I think you just need to lean into it, and just let yourself be insane. Because then you’ll understand yourself more, and your bandmates. Yeah, don’t be afraid of the dark side of it – because you will go crazy, and that is dark. But embrace it. And drink some motherfucking water!
Wade MacNeil (of Dooms Children, Alexisonfire, Black Lungs, ex-Gallows…)
I think no-one should really take themselves seriously – especially when you’re living on top of each other. Like, you should take music seriously – you should take being in a band seriously – but you can’t take yourself seriously, or you’re going to end up getting into a fistfight in the van. There’s this weird thing about pitting people against each other – it’s social dynamic. Y’know, if you had five people living in a cave together, the same thing would happen. One person is the quiet one. One person is the outcast. One person is the villain… It’s just a social dynamic that I think happens when you have a collection of people interacting with each other. And so not taking yourself seriously is very important. Just make fun of each other and keep passing it all around.
Peter ‘Blackie’ Black and Tim Rogers (of the Hard-Ons)
Black: Before anything else, love what you do to death. Everything else will fall into place easily. Being in a band can be like an intense form of cabin fever, so y’know, if everyone loves what they’re doing, you’ll find a way to make it work. Just don’t get into cocaine or meth as a hobby!
Rogers: I think you’re going to see people at their best and the worst. Listen to your friends. When there’s fun to be had, enjoy it to the hilt. Music does funny things to people, it makes them very emotionally raw, very excited, and very emotional. Just give your friends some room if they need it. And get off your fucking phone! Put records on and talk about records, because that’s what we’re here for. Stay off your fucking telephones, unless you’re talking to a loved one or a parent. If people get bored in a tour van, they shouldn’t be in a band. Whack on a record and let the tigers loose.
Adam Granduciel (of The War On Drugs)
I feel like one of the only ways to stay sane is to go on the road with your friends! I mean, y’know, give each other enough alone time, let people go do their thing. You’ve gotta keep a clean house, if you will, to make sure everyone is as dedicated as the next guy. Because as Robbie Robertson said, it’s an impossible goddamn way of life. But you all have to be invested in it, and if someone’s not, then it’s not going to work. You can’t have 75 percent of the band interested and have it all work out. But I would say nowadays, too, cruising around in a van with everyone’s favorite podcasts or tunes… That’s where you learn shit. Driving around your friends for 50 days, listening to music that you don’t listen to all the time, getting deep and listening to full records – I mean, that’s the shit you don’t do by yourself, y’know? It’s tough. It’s a tough way of life. But it’s also the most inspiring think in the world. You’re being with your friends, you’re playing music that you love to play, and you’re seeing the world – there’s nothing better than that.