It's Thursday 22nd November 2018, just before 11am and I'm waking up in my bunk on TesseracT's tour bus. I've managed to get a solid eight hours sleep, which has become absolutely necessary in order for me to stay on form when touring. My mind and body need time to recover from a 90 minute set and the other wears of the day.
Our tour manager Bryan has the bunk below me and thankfully, keeps personal hygiene high on his to-do list. I also share the four-bunk back section of the bus with Amos and Acle who are quiet sleepers.
We put the snorers in the far back section, which actually doesn't make any difference as we're only separated by a single layer of veneered MDF and annoyingly, there's a large air gap down the side of the bunks - so we're not really separated at all. I did my best to tape mine up with some box tape I found. It had the placebo effect at least - I THOUGHT I could no longer hear snoring or smell feet - but they're both still very much there.
No sooner had my eyes opened when a series of iMessages come in - the daily coffee hunt begins. Dan thinks he's found a place a five-minute Uber ride away so a small group of us bundle into two Uber's towards, hopefully a selection of world-class coffee and pastries.
Not quite. The pastries were amazing and ever so German but the coffee was just water flavoured brown.
We arrive back at the venue in time for load-in - the daily activity of watching the two hardest workers on the tour - Stas and Ronnie - unload our truck-load of gear into the venue. Some of us do help (Amos) but at this stage, I have a genuine concern with lifting ridiculously heavy objects that all have sharp metal flight-case edges. I kind of need my hands to perform and I can't imagine the business end of the band being too happy with the news that we can't perform because I put my back out lifting a lighting truss, or dropped a base plate on my toe, or lost a finger.
Also Ronnie has repeatedly told me to bugger-off when I've been anywhere near the load - so, I shall.
We've played this venue three times before. First with Protest the Hero in 2013, then on a co-headline with Animals as Leaders and again on our headline with Contortionist a couple years ago. So we know it well. We know that the toilets block if you so much as look at them. We also know that the shower cubicle is actually a double shower which, if you're not careful when using, you're going to see way more than you signed up for. We're not a Rugby team ok, we're a band and we like our privacy. Particularly when applying Lush 'sea salt' soap to my arm pits and nether regions post-show. There's only so many times one can see Dan Tompkins backside before the image is permanently burned into my retinas.
We set up the stage, making sure the kit is dead centre - and the lighting is symmetrical. These are the important things - a symmetrical stage is a happy stage and a happy lighting engineer. My kit isn't symmetrical though which tends to throw off the balance a little bit, but now we're getting real picky.
The venue staff today were very helpful. One chap offered to help with my kit but - as anyone in our touring party will tell you - I'm very protective of my kit. So I nicely and immediately declined his offer. I don't like people touching it - it's as simple as that. It's literally the drum kit of my dreams, one of a kind and it's already sustained minor cosmetic damage by someone other than myself on this tour. So I insist on people staying the hell away from it. I go so far as to set up my own microphones and cables around the kit just in case. I'd rather be annoyed with myself than one of our crew or venue staff when they scuff the finish on my kick drum. You've been warned.
Anyway, everything is now set so it's sound check time!
We sound check drums first (because they're obviously the most important). Then it's guitars. Acle usually plays a combination of chugga chugga djenty chugs, followed by the intro of an old Textures song, then some percussive thumb slappy things. James' sound-check choices depend on the volume of alcohol consumed the previous day (and whether it's still in effect). On average there's a fair few pick squeals, more than a moment of 'Metal on Metal' by Anvil and he'll finish up with the chuggy intro to 'Sunrise'.
Amos' choices are usually a little more on point and purposeful - i.e, stuff that he's actually going to perform. Dan treats us to some vocal classics such as 'one, two, one two,' and 'Aaaaaaahhhhhhh'. Then usually a full-voice chorus from one of our newer songs.
We play through a dynamic section of 'Retrospect', followed by 'Juno' and finally 'Luminary'. Occasionally we'll play a bit of Concealing Fate Pt 2 if the kick is flabby on stage.
With sound check done, it's time for everyone to mysteriously vanish to their separate quiet corners. A couple of us head to the bus to get a much-needed nap. Others hog the full bandwidth of the already awfully-slow venue Wifi to download the latest episode of whatever Netflix original they're watching. At some point, we'll either jump on FaceTime or an old fashioned telephone call to see how it's going back home. An hour or two passes like this before its either time for in-house catering or time for us to find a nearby restaurant which either serves Sushi or Italian food - the two food options that we all agree on. Today, it's in-house catering and it's good!
The first band of the evening - Plini - hit's the stage, at which point, those of us napping on the bus know it's time to wake from our slumber, grab a coffee, throw on our still-wet-from-the-night-before stage clothes and get mentally and physically warmed up. This is usually me. I've taken to napping a couple hours before our set if possible and / or doing a guided meditation which I find helps me focus when it comes to stage time.
In terms of warming up, Dan's by far the most regimented when it comes to this. He's warming up pretty much all day. I'm quite awful at it. I have a few warm up techniques that I'll start running through when the second band of the night - Between The Buried And Me - hit the stage. Typically, I'll spend ten-ish minutes hitting my Moongel pad randomly with singles and doubles of varying velocities and if I can sit down somewhere approximately the same height as my drum stool, I'll play imaginary double-kick for a while. I find it more useful to prepare mentally so I'll put my headphones on and listen to the first few songs from our set, and tap along on my practice pad. None of our songs require me to perform anything stupidly fast, so I don't spend ages warming up.
Acle, James and Mos occasionally have a guitar backstage to warm up on, but rarely. For us, it's more about getting our heads in the game.
Something that only touring experience will teach you is how to manage audience energy. The energy on stage each night varies so much from city to city. For example, we know that Italian crowds are always incredible and sing along full-voice to the entire set. These shows are the easy, fun ones to perform because the energy coming back to us from the crowd is so high. Then at the opposite end of the spectrum, we'll play places like Luxembourg where most of the crowd stands still, looking unhappy. It's very odd to see such a massive difference from city to city but it's definitely a 'thing' all touring bands are well aware of. We all agree on the amazing and bad cities to play.
I'd like to re-phrase slightly as the experience of a low-energy crowd isn't 'bad' - I'm extremely grateful that people come out to see our shows even if they do stand still and clap quietly. On the rare occasion that I go see a live show, I'm for sure the quiet guy somewhere at the back of the room - so I get it. It just sucks the life and energy out of the room when we don't see consistent audience feedback.
I wonder what the science is behind this?
On this tour we've nearly always hit the stage a little early. BTBAM are going on stage five to ten minutes early each night and our line checks are always super efficient - because we have no gear on stage. So give us five minutes to check everything over once the stage is clear, and we're good to go. We typically give ourselves ten minutes to compose ourselves, decant stage beers, have a pre-show wee etc, before walking back out on stage for our set.
85 sweaty minutes later, we're done and the crowd are treated to our choice of post-show music. Unless you're from Parma in Italy where the DJ cranks the PA volume up to moon-shattering, immediate-ear-damaging levels and blasts 'Bleed' by Meshuggah, followed by Spotify's 'djent classics' playlist. Not at all what any of us want to hear immediately after a show. Evidently the crowd weren't too happy either as the venue quickly emptied of all but three people.
A new and very welcome ritual on this tour has been post-show pizza. I can vouch that pizza has never tasted better than at 1am on a tour bus, after the trailer is loaded and we're back on the road. So, so good.
Some evenings we'll stay up watching TV in the lounge on the top deck of the bus. The other night it was Metallica's ' Some Kind of Monster' - which if you haven't seen, you really need to. Other evenings we'll retire to our bunks to do our best to catch up on much needed beauty sleep.
And that's about as exciting as it gets. We're not a party band. We're not a bunch of promiscuous slags. We really don't fit the stereotype some of the older generation would expect when picturing a band on the road. We like our comforts. We like our sleep. We like good food and coffee. We like putting on the best show possible and for that to happen, we need our bodies and minds to be adequately rested.
In my next blog, I'll tell you about some of the times we've ignored our own advice and partied way too hard... such as the infamous naked ice slide.