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Friday, March 12, 2010

Road To SXSW w/ Tape Deck Mountain & Writer



Last night San Diego haze-rock trio Tape Deck Mountain kicked off their SXSW tour at the Tin Can Ale House. Great times were had as the one-two duo attack (pardon the pun) of Primitive Noyes and Writer opened the night after which TDM swirled us all into the next day.

So begins the road to Austin, TX where after a week of shows, shows and more shows, promotional freebie overload and enough free beer to drown a whale, I am sure we will shall all return wrought with that good kind of collective exhaustion of knowing that we are a part of it all: 14o0 bands jockeying for some shipwrecked world's attention. The road to SXSW might very well a turning point for a band, so with that excitement, I couldn't be happier to be cram-jammed in their van as the journey unfolds.

I will be accompanying Tape Deck on the road to SXSW and back, rolling through the armpit of America, truck-stop dinners and whatever else comes our way. Keep an eye on Future Sounds, Fuel TV Music, Exitfare and Slumberjack for a (hopeful wealth of) coverage. For real-time anecdotes, follow @mdrapes (myself) and @tapedeckmt and @writertheband something called Twitter.

Wish us luck!

DAY 1

We're in Phoenix right now at the gallery/coffee shop/venue Trunk Space awaiting the gun-shot fury of Writer. Also on the bill are UK-buzzers Lovvers and Abe Vigoda. Should be a great night. We listened to some pre-disco Bee Gees and had a close call with a blonde-streaked mullet mongrel at the Thirst Oasis, so check back tomorrow for a recap how the show goes.

DAY 2

Writer, though setting up early on, managed to hold the crowd together, warming the small gallery space up before the other bands. UK foursome Lovvers are sharing a van with LA's Abe Vigoda on the way out to SXSW playing a handful of similar venues like ourselves so small talk and anticipation for Austin seemed universal. Merch in a fenced-in, dirt plot area behind Trunk Space proved successful as some 45's were sold and some high fives smacked. Because of the all-ages tag, the show was over before 11:30 and the vans (and Writer's Honda Element) were loaded and we were en-route to the kid's house where we were staying.

After watching Across The Universe most were out by 1am. There's something about getting used to shows that are out before midnight that give us all a little relief knowing that more than six hours of snooze is on the horizon and with today's drive under four hours, we woke up feeling limber. Most were up early as the apartment was like a sweat lodge. A smattering of Dell Webb communities and strip malls later and we are now at Starbucks thinking of what to do today. Grand Canyon isn't too far. Wineries and rodeos are also being passed around. Tonight in Prescott, AZ at Sundances.

DAY 3

The continental breakfast managed to wake us all up rightfully at 9AM, nice considering the night before was spent gorging on Cup-O-Noodles, saltines and beer, leaving our Juniper Suite smelling a general hint of armpit mixed with cigarettes and sweat as we all passed out around 3. Don’t let anyone tell you there are no glamours attached to tour. After filing out the room groggy and stiff, we lined up behind the hoards of RV riders, and in-law-visiting families with multiple small children rubbing their eyes over Styrofoam bowls of Fruit Loops while still in their pajamas.

The full-spread of breakfast fare (eggs, bacon, potatoes, waffles, juice, coffee, fruit, etc) quickly lead again to laughs, thoughts of the Ernest film catalog and remarking on how everyone in this small town either lived with their parents or their grandparents (making it harder than we thought to find a floor to stay on, hence the hotel, which proved a better bet outright). After breakfast, I decided to take a swim while the others showered. Legs-crossed, arms spread on the deck, I sat in the hot tub thinking about this place. The wood-roofed pool area was painted depressingly with a Miami-beach theme, the clock surrounded by painted sunrays, while undersized fake palm trees flanked the pool and skinny children challenged each other to underwater breath holding around the pool’s six-foot rosy-cheeked elephant statue that showered a weak stream of water from its trunk. Though the pool was indoors, there for some reason, were PVC-piped furniture arranged around umbrellas and a wealth of ferns and potted-plants crammed in the corner. I looked out the window at the bare-branch trees and the slate-blue sky thinking how for some, this was an intoxicated vacation to the musical Mecca of Austin, while for others it was, in a sense a sordid attempt at vacating from another neighborhood of slate-grey skies and minivans. It did however seemed to prove appealing for the only family of four happily splashing in the pool area.

Prescott, AZ is like visiting the set of American Movie shot in the town from Back to The Future (the city’s tag line: “Everybody’s Hometown”) sprinkled with the blunt depression of maybe Gummo. Most of the businesses in this town were pawn shops, liquor stores, kitschy art galleries selling ceramic tabletop horse heads or dream catchers, Western-named bars like “Coyote Joes,” or “Shotgun Sams” (each oozing with the sound of their equally as poorly-named bar rock bands like “Hot Honey” and “The Lizard Brothers”) while cowboys and hunters strolled around gawking at us as the long-haired hipster crazies. There was however a diamond in the rough found in The Raven Café, where we spent most of the afternoon sucking down happy-hour microbrews on a rooftop eating hummus and pita talking about San Diego’s current state of radio broadcasting. If for some reason you happen to find yourself in Prescott, this is truly the only place worth visiting. Oh, there is an In-N-Out there too down the road a bit.

The show proved equally as awkward while, after discovering that night’s opening band failed to show, if we could fill their slot (as well as ours) we would be payed for the entire night. The game plan presented itself quickly- jam session mixed with any song both bands thought to play, old, new or even “Sublime covers,” that actually weren’t at all Sublime covers. While watching TDM turn into Russian Gentleman--that night’s jammed-out supergroup-- one of the bro-bent, baseball-cap-wearing bar patrons leaned over after a few songs and remarked; “Is it just me, or do these guys suck?” I mean it’s painful to my ears.” Feeling like if I replied with something other that completely appeasing to this gentleman, I might end up the victim of a bar fight and quickly managed to raise my glass to him, tip my head and mumble a “yeah, I know right?” I felt like the only song this dude wanted to hear was “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor” while he ‘slam danced’ while guzzling down Jagermeister. Party. The venue’s sound guy turned out to be amazing, being one of the only one (besides us) that would clap or shout anything after a song finished. That guy ruled. Time to shower and saddle up for the drive to Albuquerque.

Follow the photos over at HOLLOW-EYED.

DAY 4

Waking up in a town like Albuquerque at a total stranger’s house is something you get used to pretty quick. Turned out that Andy from Writer has a good friend who is a landlord in the area and owns a few houses. He called up one of his tenants and told them two bands were in town and needed a place to stay. The young couple provided us with beds, late night food, beer, the remaining tequila and a wine bottle full of homemade coconut rum (a milky, spiced drink reminding me of horchata) that Andy and Paul stayed up late to finish. In the morning, our host Brian leaving for work, told us to have “a great rest of the tour.” I replied with “have a good day at… work,” which felt oddly like I was his mother, but nothing else really could have been a solid response. This tour was our work, and the call center was Brian’s.

Del Taco was breakfast, a $2.97 decision that was far from ideal, as my stomach decided it would not agree with the rubbery egg and hash brown mix the rest of the day. Stopping for gas on our way out of the muted-grey city, Paul tried bargaining an off-highway Chevron’s attendant for a pair of yellow Hulk Hogan-looking sunglasses from $12.99 to “eight bucks, cold hard cash.” It proved unsuccessful and he later continued his shade-search at a Las Cruces Salvation Army. There, Jaime, whose sucured a few fitted flannels already from our handful of thrifting stops, attempted to buy The Who’s Qaudraphenia on vinyl, but it was missing a disc. Las Cruces, New Mexico is a place rich with cheap beer, Western, Billy-The-Kid-shootout lore and big pickup trucks. We drove by pawn shops, fast-food-filled strip malls and a place that advertised “Donuts and Burritos” on the way to the historic town center where the venue was.

After wandering into the Double Eagle for an awkward bar counter session of bloody marys sipped under chandeliers and an over-ornateness of Baroque paintings filling gold-adorned frames, the (near comical) juxtaposition of us weary, scruffy longhairs getting served by a vest-wearing bartender next to midday martini drinkers conversing in an outdoor foliage-filled outdoor courtyard proved enough to handle and we opted for a healthy dose of $1 drafts and pool at the venue. After (what I think was some) traditional Tex-Mex, (It was all cheese, beans and the color brown to me) we set up inside El Patio for a Tape Deck Mountain production in between a jukebox blaring with Jay Z, Lady Gaga and Billy Idol. Sharing the bill with three two other San Diego bands, Black Mamba and The Paddle Boat, who closed the night with the great “Tears in a Bucket, Mother Fuck It” and dedicated the night to “fun.”

After more drinks and rounds of pool, it was full speed to El Paso. Empty sky and highway eyes. The pungent scent of roadside manure filled our nostrils as our speed neared 75 mph and we raced though the night towards the city lights. The breakfast burritos were still making me feel sour but I guessed it was only fitting that a bloated pile of MSG-filled glop was slopping around in my stomach as we crossed into Texas. Viva America!

Remember to check HOLLOW EYED for all of tour's photos as well as other coverage over at Future Sounds and Indigenous.

DAY 5

Waking up refreshed and full of an actually decent breakfast, our we lounged around our El Paso fortress (Jordan’s girlfriend’s parents house) until packing the van for the short trip down the road to Take Two. Upon arrival we discovered, due to a promoter/venue mix-up, the bartender wasn’t aware of any band coming that night and it the show was cancelled after some free drinks and gas money were handed out by the overly nice bartender. As we started down a 9 hour drive, this cancellation proved helpful in giving us a four hour head start to Austin, so with our hollow-eyed sights set on SXSW its impending week of free beer, corporate sponsored whatever and enough running around to sprain an ankle (I did), we packed up and headed east.

The only real town on this 560-plus drive is Fort Stockton smack dab in the middle, off the I-10, just south of Odessa. It was there we collectively rubbed our eyes, stretched our legs and stopped for gas around 4A.M. next to an SUV full of giggling girls. After I hopped over the cymbal stand, out of the van and onto the concrete, one of the girls, coated with makeup leaned out the van and asked, “Are you alls a band?”

“Something like that,” I replied.

I walked around to the trunk and while searching through my bag, she asked, “What’s ya alls band name?”

“The Beatles,” I told her, thinking to tell them the biggest band on the planet seeing how she took it.

“Really? That’s weird,” she said puzzled.

“Yes, I know,” I told her and walked inside.

Arriving Austin just past 9A.M. proved fruitful, as we were able to find a spot just outside of the beating heart of SXSW, the convention center, and head inside for our credentials. “All convention centers look the same,” Andy (who teaches architecture back in San Diego) said while we waited in line. The columns outside the huge building were haphazardly covered in posters and colorful flyers advertising bands, brands and showcases like puppies from a pet store window. “Pick me, pick me,” they begged, yipping and tripping over on another. This was SXSW, where 1800 bands come to make it or break it and hopefully (soon) go home with a shiny new collar around their neck. I was with two of these bands and (though I had no idea how each member felt) I knew the little pit in my stomach was growing for them.

Writer had been slated to have their video for “Four Letters” featured in a film screening alongside indie mainstays like Grizzly Bear and Passion Pit and had that event to attend while TDM and I drove over near Lustre Pearl, the trio’s first SXSW show, and try and sleep somewhere. Travis took his sleeping bag down the street to a park and tried to nap, while Paul and Jordan passed out in the back of the van. I forfeited sleep after a brief attempt at shotgun-seating snooze and instead talked to the sound guy, while behind me, cases, upon cases of Pearl and Tecate were unloaded and stacked under a tent. Afterwards I went for a walk. SXSW has begun I thought, and the only shoes I brought are these $12 plimsolls with holes in the bottom. Shit.

So you know at this point, the coverage with Tape Deck Mountain and Writer was about the road to SXSW. I attempted to attend all of their shows, but once in Austin, I had a wealth of things unrelated to that tour planned such as interviews, showcases and work-related parties to attend, so naturally, I missed a few. Below are photos from two of TDM’s SXSW shows, which both turned out great. The bulk of general SXSW coverage can be found (later) here on Slumberjack and all the photos are of course over at Hollow Eyed. Further content will be Fuel TV, Future Sounds post SXSW.

DAY 6

SXSW was exhausting fun (read in-depth coverage of it here and here). With Austin behind us, we packed up yet again (minus a drum throne) and made the long drive from Austin to El Paso. I drove half the way blasting a wealth of records including the likes of Piebald, The Mary Onettes and Oasis to keep my awake, while Travis took the reigns for the remaining hours. We arrived this time around 4A.M. and quickly passed out, the six of us, in one back bedroom.

Six or so hours later, after some quick laundry cycles, we were headed to Tucson, AZ to play day three of some local festival that was being held in a small airplane hanger. Fellow SD bands Black Mamba and Blessure Grave had played previous sets. While stopped in Lordsburg, NM for gas and food, Andy asked us all, “So what did everyone learn from SXSW?”

“I learned that everyone [that matters] in bands and involved with the industry are [act like they are] 20 years old,” he said, smoking a cigarette standing in a parking lot between an Econo Lodge and Taco Bell (Travis called it the “worst ever”). Paul has no doubt that the underage hype-band boat has docked.

While waiting to get gas, I went to get something to drink. I walked across the street next to Kranberry’s Family Restaurant, where a sign adorned with a portly prospector wielding a spatula, directed RV traffic one way. I thought about what the food was like in there. Settling on Tecate, the Texaco attendant attempted to put the beer can inside both a paper and plastic bag. Telling him I didn’t need a bag (as I would just as soon throw it away), he remarked that it was “for my safety” and that there are “cops all around.” It was broad daylight in this one-street town of a few gas stations, hotels, a Taco Bell/KFC combination and the aforementioned Kranberry’s and he was worried (for me I hope) of crawling cops. I thought about believing him, but then noticed his clip-on tie was affixed a near two inches from his top button/collar, and assured him that I would be fine.

Washed Out and Four Tet’s latest proved excellent driving music as we crossed the deserted New Mexico drab. After a stop for Indian ponchos and fireworks, excitement rose, but tackling SXSW-related work (for me) proved a hearty task at this hazy and fatigued point in the day and it was something I had no interest in jumping into. I opted instead to open the beer and settle on a movie.

Upon entering Tuscon and checking into the venue, looking for anything normal to eat in that part (looked industrial, but we were assured it was “the center of things”) proved difficult, even after our hand-drawn map that listed “food places.” For a few minutes it looked like our only option was gas station food (again) or Dairy Queen, to which Paul replied, “I’m not about to wait in that dirty line for my gross hamburger.” We finally found a Whataburger next to a Food Mart (what the Hispanic grocery store was called). I almost bought a can of tuna and some bread, but later decided I wasn’t hungry and instead had some Modelo Negra in the van while we drove to the venue. I later met up with an old friend and they took me to an all-night diner where I finally gorged myself on two eggs, potato pancakes and toast, and later a breakfast burrito.

The show went well for both Writer and Tape Deck, who both sold some records to kids from CA (that drove up just for this local festival). We loaded up the van and went to meet a friend of the promoter at a local burrito spot who said we could sleep on his floor after he had eaten. I passed out in the van en route to the house and woke up several hours later cramped in the backseat wondering where I was. In hindsight I learned the van was a better accommodation as the rest of the guys clambered out groggy at sunrise telling me of the house’s “disgusting” cluttered floor. Jordan and Paul were convinced there were roaches in the house.

DAY 7

After loitering over internet and coffee at a bagel place, plastered with posters of local swim, basketball and baseball teams of years past on the walls, we got in touch with a friend who had the night before invited us to their pool for a swim. The last day of tour and it was time for a pool party? You know we got margaritas and popsicles. Four or so hours later, sundazed and crispy, we showered up and headed for Tempe and the last show. I started to push the feelings of returning to normalcy out of head. Two weeks is a long time to do nothing but sit in a van, sleep, eat, drink and watch music (with the intermission of SXSW thrown in). Andy from Writer shared my thoughts.

“Think about it,” he said packing drums in the parking lot before the last show.

“Going back to work, doesn’t that suck?”

That night’s gig was at a place called the Sail Inn near the airport in Tempe. While the openers played, Travis and the Washington-state headliners (also on their way back from Austin) exchanged stories and CDs. I brushed my teeth in the parking lot and just after spitting the white froth on the ground Travis hustled over to the van and exclaimed “it’s time to rock!”

Token singer-in-a-band-statement yes, but with his nerdish, endearing demeanor, you can’t help but believe him. The Sail Inn was fairly dead that night and the guitar amp had been malfunctioning, but as I noted the first night on tour back in San Diego, seeing TDM play “Scantrons” every night, regardless of the vibe, was something I assumed I’d never get tired of. I was right. It sounded as alive, as slow-growing and perfect as it had the first time I played (TDM’s debut) Ghost. For the Tempe show, each band got just $8 as payment, some friends made it out to fill the seats and some didn’t. What mattered was not the pay or turnout, but overwhelmingly, the nicknames we came up for each other, the stories we shared, the Font sizemaps we couldn’t read, and most importantly, the camaraderie of each other clapping and singing along each night. I spent the last two (mostly sleepless weeks) with a core group of five amazing people, each riding some ever-longing, tiresome quest for, as Travis put it, finding that perfect “time to rock” and the overall fact of the matter is how I could not feel in anyway different from them.

All the tour photos (including the handful of bands I saw at SXSW) can be found over at Hollow-Eyed. SXSW coverage will be up soon over at Slumberjack. Thanks to everyone who came out to shows, to Future Sounds, Indigenous and of course to all the dudes in Tape Deck Mountain and Writer for this experience.

--Matt Draper

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