Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What is it Really Like to be on Tour?

When I was younger I dreamed about going on tour, being on tour, and what tour was like. I imagined that everyday was a string of  meeting good looking men and women, drinking strong drinks, and  partying late into the night after playing the show. A lot of my friends were in bands and as they started to tour I was overcome with jealousy, especially when they got to travel to other countries and see the world with their bands. But, as I got older I realized that touring meant that you weren't home, like ever. It meant that you were driving most of the day and that you were in a new place that you likely did not know much about every night. Watching 4-7 people stuff themselves in a van and head out on the road lost  a lot of the allure that it once had.

Years later some of those kids who spent days in old vans actually upgraded to tour buses. Some of them "made it" in their retrospective bands and some of them started working in the industry in other forms. These tours looked a little more alluring. I think that a lot of us glamorize the idea of being on tour and we do not have a clear picture of what life on the road is like. Lady Gaga might roll with 27 buses when she heads out on the road, but that's not the reality for most touring bands. So, I decided to talk to a long time friend and talented musician Brian Southall about what it is like to be on tour. 

Brian has been on tour for as long as I can remember and being on the road is what he does for a living these days. Sometimes he is out on the road with a band that he plays in and sometimes he is out with bands that we grew up listening to. I had the chance to ask him a lot of questions that I have always wanted to ask and I found a lot of his answers very interesting. He loves what he does, but at the end of the day is it is a job. A job that keeps you away form home and on the road most of the year, and just like any other job it has it's up and downs. I think this interview is a great way for those of you still dreaming of hitting the road to get a better picture of that what that life might be life if you choose that path. I also can't believe that Brian has been so many places and seen so many things that I will never see. Brian heads out on tour again in a few weeks, but before he hits the road on another adventure check out my interview with him about life on the road.  

HID- When did you start touring with bands?
Brian Southall- "My first serious bands were Fordirelifesake and Rescue. We did small/short tours as early as 2000. By 2003 I had joined Boys Night Out and started touring full time professionally. Since then I haven't had any job outside of touring."

HID- What bands have you toured with?
Brian Southall- "Aside from my personal bands (Fordirelifesake, Rescue, Boys Night Out, The Receiving End of Sirens, Isles & Glaciers, The Company We Keep) I have worked as a Tour Manager for many bands. The most known would probably be: All Time Low, Jimmy Eat World, Thrice, City and Colour, Liars, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, Dev, Motion City Soundtrack, and Chiodos."

HID- What countries have you visited over the years?
Brian Southall- "Travel is probably the biggest perk of this job, and I've been insanely lucky to visit some amazing places. Without starring at a map and trying to remember, I've been to: Australia, Japan, The Philippines, Russia, Brazil, Malaysia, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland and UK."

HID- What roles do you have when you are on tour with a band?
Brian Southall- "I almost exclusively work as a Tour Manager these days, but in the past I have worked as a Guitar Tech, Drum Tech, and sometimes Lighting Operator."

HID- Explain what a tour manger is in your own words.
Brian Southall- "Let me think of the simplest way to explain this so that even someone with no knowledge of the music industry could understand.... Every professional touring band has a Booking Agent. This is the person who plans their tour routing, negotiates contracts and payments with venues, etc... After they finish their job and a tour is routed and confirmed, that's when we (Tour Managers) come into the mix. We then have to plan how everyone travels (plane, van, bus, etc), and when everyone travels. We, along with the touring Production Manager, decide the day to day schedule for each show, then work to make sure everyone and everything is in place to make that happen. Once all the pre-planning is handled we move on to the actual daily work. We handle all of the day to day accounting for the tour, and crunch the numbers every night to make sure the band is being paid properly by each venue. Depending on the band there may or may not be a certain bit of baby-sitting involved in the job as well! If you're lucky, you spend time out on the road with a mature and responsible band and they can take care of themselves just fine, however sometimes you do end up pushing a drunk into his bunk before heading off to the next city. All in all, it's very much like managing any business, except ours moves daily."

HID- Where do you usually sleep? buses? vans? hotels?
Brian Southall- "On a typical US tour everyone would sleep in the tour bus on show days/nights and sleep in hotels on days off. Obviously if you're just starting out there's a good chance you'll be sleeping in your van or on some nice stranger's floor... I definitely did for many years. Tours in other countries often require a lot of flying, and for tours like that you're obviously in hotels since there is no bus to sleep in."

HID- You said you slept on a lot of floors over the years. Do you have any really weird stories from sleeping at peoples houses that you technically didn't know?
Brian Southall- "The first thing that comes to mind would be while I was playing drums in the band Rescue. We were invited to sleep at a house in CT after a show... We got inside and were directed towards the basement. The house was your average party house for early 20's band dudes, nothing crazy. We were pulling off couch cushions to create somewhat of a mattress on the floor when we noticed about 100 ear wigs crawling all over the couch! Needless to say this sent all of us into a bit of a panic, and we decided to just sleep in the van that night. This did however inspire a great t-shirt design for Rescue."

HID- What is your go to food choice when you're out there?
Brian Southall- "It can be hard to eat healthy in any way, especially when you're just starting out and on a budget. The easy fix on tour is something like Jimmy Johns/Chipotle. I'm lucky now to usually be with well established bands and have the budget to shop for the food/groceries we want on a daily basis."

HID- How do you wash your clothes on tour?
Brian Southall- "This one is pretty easy! When you're on smaller tours it's either at a friends house or just stopping at a laundromat. These days I'm lucky enough to usually be on large enough tours that we can just send a runner out each week from the venue to drop off our clothes for fluff-n-fold. I rarely pack more than 1-1.5 weeks worth of clothes anymore when traveling, laundry is easy!"

HID- What is the biggest misconception about being on tour?
Brian Southall- "I think the biggest misconception is that everyone is partying non-stop and their are naked women hanging from the ceiling. When you do this as a job, you're typically so tired by the end of the day that you just want to go to bed. Obviously there's more of an inherent party atmosphere than most jobs, and that can get the best of some people, but for the most part you won't find everyone doing drugs and having sex on the bus, they are more likely to be playing video games or sleeping."

HID- Worst thing that ever happen while you were on tour?
Brian Southall- "I've been extremely lucky in my touring career. I've never had any massive problems (knocking on every piece of wood I can find right now). The usual problems have to do with the tour bus breaking down, or flights being canceled, etc... If you have a good crew with you, the problems are pretty minimal, and I only ever tour with good people who do their jobs well."

HID- Best thing that ever happened when you were on tour?
Brian Southall- "I'd have to go with the memories I have from actually playing music. I love my job, its insanely rewarding and almost always very fun, but the best memories I have are from the times that I got to be on the stage. I think my fondest memories would be the first time Fordirelifesake played Tokyo, the final Fordirelifesake show at the Magic Stick, and the final TREOS shows. Bittersweet to have played so many damn final shows, but almost all of them have been amazing."

HID- Tour managing doesn't sound as glamorous as we all think it is. Other than money, what is your motivation for doing it? It seems like hard work that would keep you away from a home a lot.
Brian Southall- "There are certainly moments of glamour, but yes it's not always a party. The people who make it always a party tend to find themselves out of a job. When I first started doing this, a lot of my friends would make comments that they don't think they could ever do it. "It" being to step away from playing and solely work for other people who are up there doing what I wish I was doing.  The truth is, that is still hard to this day. I miss playing music for a living, I loved being on stage and performing with my friends. I worried that would be a problem for me, but eventually I found a way to be at peace with it. I often have moments now, towards the end of a show day wandering through the venue and watching portions of the show, where I'm just really damn proud of what my crew has accomplished. It's very rewarding to look at the kids singing their hearts out, having the best night, and knowing that myself and a few other crew members made that all happen. We planned for weeks/months, we worked hard all day, and the result is this perfectly orchestrated evening where the people we work for get to do their thing with no issues and make their fans happy. I think the people that last in this field are the people who can find some joy in that.

Another rewarding aspect is simply meeting/working with bands you love and respect.  For example, if you could time travel and tell 16 year old Brian Southall that he would eventually work for his favorite bands and call them friends, his young fat head might explode! I grew up loving and flat out ripping off musical ideas from bands like Thrice and Jimmy Eat World... fast forward nearly two decades and I find myself employed by them. Pretty crazy." 
HID- How did Fordirelifesake get the opportunity to tour Tokyo? How was the music received?
Brian Southall- "FDLS going to Japan in 2003 was absolute insanity and just perfect timing. We had worked out a deal with a small UK label, Skipworth Records, to release our albums in the UK. Paul from that label had done a small amount of business with Alliance Trax in Japan, and the owner of that label just really liked FDLS. He was willing to take the chance and offered to fly us to Japan for a short tour. Obviously 5 young dudes from Detroit weren't going to think too long about the chance for a free trip to Japan! We had no idea what to expect. The reality was, while FDLS would have amazing shows in MI, we rarely had any great reactions anywhere else in the US. Southern Ontario and spots in NJ were some of the only other areas we would get a warm reception. I remember the first show, we set up to play and all just kind of looked at each other wondering how it would go. Seconds into the first song kids were singing along and going nuts. We couldn't believe what was happening. It's a pretty surreal moment when someone who doesn't even speak your language took the time to learn enough to sing along to your songs! The first tour went very well. Most shows were smaller 150-250 people, but we did play to over 500 in Tokyo, as a headlining band. It was insane and so much fun."

HID- Do people in different countries react differently to music. If so how so?
Brian Southall- "Most people in other countries act similarly to fans in the US, but Japan is one place where its definitely different. They will go crazy during the songs, just like anywhere else, but between songs they will often become completely silent. It's just their way to show a high level of respect, and remain silent in case the band has anything to say. It's off putting at first but then its just pretty cool to see how their polite culture even translate into hardcore shows!"

HID- What advice would you give to someone that wants to get into the music business?
Brian Southall- "If you're trying to tour for a living, the best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who are already doing it. I got my first Tour Managing job simply because I was around a band at the right moment. I often recommend to try to get a job at a local venue as a runner or a stage hand. When people work hard at venues, we notice. I know a few people who have ended up with great touring careers simply because bands would remember them any time they came to town and eventually offered them a job. If you cant do that, take a look at any friend's bands or any local bands that plan to tour. You will likely have to work for free at first, but if you are able to make friends with any of the musicians or crew for the more established bands on the same tour, you'll have a shot at a job in the future."


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