If you want your band to grow, you’ve got to think, look and act as though you’re already a big band. This means marketing yourself and your brand effectively and putting as much as possible into the live show and production. You’ve got to appear big on and off stage.
Take TesseracT for example. On stage, we rely on an impressive programmed lighting system to sync with and compliment the music, which makes the show look more professional. We don’t have any equipment on stage, other than my drums so the lights are crucial. We like an empty stage.
Acle, James ands Mos don’t use guitar or bass amps, so we don’t have a wall of impressive-looking gear behind us to trick the audience - or at least the musicians in the audience - into thinking we’re successful. We have a rack of guitar processors off stage which links to our live computer (HAL) and all of the effects switching and sound changes are automated. Pretty neat.
The hilarious thing is that when bands have a wall of 4x12 guitar cabs behind them, there’s usually only one or two of them that are real - the rest are just facias.
I remember standing side of stage for Alice in Chains at a European festival a couple years back. They must have had over twenty 4x12 cabs in a three-high stack either side of the stage, then behind each stack, facing away from the crowd, was a single 4x12 cab with four or five microphones facing it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this - it’s their choice of stage production and it looks cool. I’m just here to tell you that at every single live show you’ve been to, there’s some trickery afoot.
The image of TesseracT that we try to portray is one of a forward-thinking, clean cut, professional band. Our photo shoots are intentionally clean. Our stage setup is minimal. Our album covers and artwork are generally simple shapes with a deeper meaning attached to them. This image works well for us as thankfully, no one in the band has developed an un bearable ego. Any of us can be the musician in the background on the t-shirt and it really doesn’t matter. Hey, at least there’s a t-shirt right!? Actually, I don’t think we’ve ever made a t-shirt with our faces on it. That would be awful.
The bubble I’m about to burst concerns life on the road. Specifically the last 48 hours.
The plan was simple. We all meet up at an open-air car park in Reading, which is close to my studios - the bus arrives to pick us up - we load into the bus and drive overnight to the first show in Cologne. Easy. Goodnight.
It was all going so well. We’d loaded all of the gear into the trailer - which was actually a huge logistical concern for everyone as the lighting rig had been packed into four more large flight cases than we were expecting, and the trailer was a lot smaller than we were expecting. Anyway, with a bit of pack-mastery it all went in fine and we were off to a good start - apart from being momentarily trapped in a car park which had filled up with cars since we arrived.
We arrive safely in Dover, board the ferry and head upstairs for some awful canteen ferry-food and beer. It’s about midnight. An hour or so later the ferry arrives in Calais and we head back down to the bus, get into our bunks and immediately fall asleep. Awesome. See you in Cologne.
“Sorry guys, we’ve got to get off”
Our tour manager Bryan’s voice wakes everyone up. The bus won’t start and we can’t stay on it while the ferry is travelling - and the ferry was due to travel back to the UK. So, quite pissed off and with our bunk pillows in hand, we all head back upstairs to find a place on the ferry to attempt to get an hour or so sleep.
I wouldn’t call this experience ‘sleep’. My eyes were for sure closed but I was repeatedly sharply awakened by noises and other people. It’s a ferry after all, not a hotel. We were stuck here for the next three hours as the bus was still not working when we got to the UK, and the tow truck couldn’t pull the bus off the ferry - so we headed back to Calais. Our third channel crossing of the evening.
The ferry docks in Calais and we head back to the bus, and once again get into our bunks on the knowledge that the bus would be fine now - a replacement part had arrived and was being fitted to the bus, so everything is going to be ok! Awesome - we’ll still get a decent amount of sleep and we’ve still got plenty of time to make the show at this point.
I immediately fall asleep in my bunk again.
“… Sorry guys, we’ve got to get off again”
It’s some time between 5:00am and 6:00am at this stage. The bus isn’t fixed and they need to tow it off the ferry.
We’re left in a small stairwell and there’s a speaker above our heads telling us on loop, in English and French to ‘be careful, there’s moving vehicles on the car deck’ - and we watch as the tour bus is towed away for surgery. A P&O passenger bus arrives to take us to a waiting area (a truckers restaurant) where we have to battle sleep deprivation to try and make the best decision to allow tonights show to still happen.
Our tour manager is frantically calling around bus and van hire companies. Our business manager is doing all he can to get a replacement bus out of the bus company, and we’re all doing the math to work out if we can even get to Cologne on time for the show. We need a vehicle to transport band and crew and another truck to transport all the gear - so we need a driver too.
It takes three hours and many phone calls to get a solution together. The whole time being assured that the bus might actually be fixed in time.
Two taxis take us to the Mercedes garage where the tour bus is being fixed. We’ve now got to wait on the promise of two vans and drivers that were driving from Paris to collect us and our gear, and take us to Cologne.
We're not allowed near the tour bus while it’s in the garage for ‘insurance purposes’ but it’s lunch time in France and no one is around - so we speedily empty the bus and trailer.
Our deadline for being able to make it to the show is 3pm and it’s fast approaching 3pm.
The vans don’t arrive. Sigh.
We’re now out of options. There’s absolutely no way for us to get to the show. The bus company couldn’t or wouldn’t source us a replacement bus. Our van contingency was a no-show and we’re stuck at a Mercedes garage in Isques, France.
We’ve still not slept.
We sadly accept that there’s no longer a solution to get to Cologne, so we book a hotel, cancel our performance and arrange logistics for the next few days as it doesn’t look like the bus is being fixed any time soon.
The show wasn’t a complete write-off thankfully as BTBAM and Plini were able to perform. We’ve also managed to reschedule our performance to an off-day on the 26th November - so we are coming back to play in Cologne. It means that we’re doing 14 back-to-back shows in order to do this, but it’s absolutely the best solution.
I’m writing this blog in the back of a splitter van, hurtling towards Nijmegen where we’ll arrive a little later than scheduled, but at least we’re actually making it to the show today. Sometimes it literally takes everything for this circus to roll through town, and other times even that’s not enough. We’ve all endured physical and mental stress the last two days just to get this ball rolling, which is not something that anyone in tonights crowd is going to realise. But - this doesn’t happen very often. We’re usually riding on a somewhat comfortable wave. Over dinner last night we were counting the number of shows we’ve ever missed:
One in Edmonton in 2011 because our bio-fuel van ran broke down.
One in Glasgow because our tour bus broke down
And a few shows of a UK tour in 2012 because our ex-vocalist didn’t catch his flight, thinking he could just jump on the next one… bless.
With the exception of that last point, it’s always been a vehicle-related cancelation and we can count them on one hand, which I think for a band of ten touring years is not a bad record.