Hustle The Most Episode 16: Banding In Europe
So in 1998 which was the summer before I moved in with Phil I was drummining in a band called Earthmover. We were a hardcore band from Detroit and we had a few records out and done a handful of small tours and bunch of weekends all over the east coast. We had just released a new record a few months earlier and were about to head out on our first European tour. I can’t tell you how stoked I was. I was going to Europe to travel and play drums! had this record label in Europe that we working with that was pressing all of our vinyl. In hardcore this was pretty standard that bands would have a record label in the states that put out there cassettes and CD’s and then in have a label in Europe that pressed all vinyl then it would be distributed to other distros or record stores. It was pretty cool because sometimes you would see records that made it back here to the states from other bands or distros and it would be strange because it would be something that you had never seen before. It would be CD’s that you own but everything just looks bigger. I think the weirdest would be when you would see a record of your own band that you had never seen before. Something about seeing the artwork in a different medium it just really cool.
So the label we were working with was called Genet records and they were based out of Belgium. They were pressing all of our vinyl for the new record. The label also had a big hand in this big festival in Belgium called “Ieper Fest”. This fest was great because people from all over Europe would come to this show. Usually on the bill were a few American Bands, and then a bunch of different Euro bands from places like Italy, German, Holland, the UK and all over the place. This was the first time Earthmover had been there so people were pretty excited. Generally people over there were pretty stoked on most american bands. The label put us on the fest and then we worked with a few other companies, promoters and bands to basically book a tour around the fest. So 1 big festival and then a handful of supporting shows. This tour had lots of crazy adventures from the very beginning. We started the tour by driving our van from Detroit to Orlando so we could catch our flight. At the time there was an airline called City Bird that flew from like 5 destinations out of the US and only went to Brussels International Airport in Belgium and only on Wednesdays. The tickets were cheap I think it was like $330 roundtrip.
I think you can find deals like this now for cheap but at the time this was a pretty good deal. I think one of the reasons we booked with them was because they had less restrictions on luggage so we could bring guitars and drum stuff without paying crazy amounts of fees.
So we drove to 24 hours to Orlando and left our van with our friends in the band Drag Body. We headed off to Europe. It was like an 8 hour flight. The flight was pretty uneventful for the most part. I remember we got there and our driver was waiting for us at the airport and we went right to the label. We didn’t really have anywhere to go so we just went there. We got in like 2 or 3 days early. Since the flight came in on a Wednesday and the first day of the fest was Friday we had a few days to kill. The guy that owned the label was a dude named Bruno and he and his wife owned record store in Gent Belgium called Pryuss and they also had an apartment above the store where they lived. We were shacked up there for few days and we would go out and explore the city and just hang around the front of the store looking like weirdo Americans that completely didn’t fit in. Fun fact: This was the first place that I had ever had the ability to buy waffles in a vending machine on the street.
The record store was cool. There was so much cool stuff in there. Lots of vinyl and CD’s cool Euro posters and banners of bands that had come over. As far as records stores go this store was the place to be. About a year before we came over our guitar player Andy started swapping records with Bruno. Andy ran a distro and record label called Plus Minus Records. So real quick in punk and hardcore we they used to have these things called “Dirstos” which are basically small record stores but without actually having a store. So when Earthmover released a record like 10% of them would be traded to distro and in return he would get records from other bands and he would sell them at shows. Back before everyones music was online or the bands were small bands and their records weren’t carried in stores this is how we all got new records. He would trade like 10 CD’s to Bruno and Bruno would send Andy 10 CD from his bands. This is how we learned about bands like Liar, Congress, Facedown, Arkangel and all kinds of other euro bands. One of the first dudes we met in Belgium was a guy named Hans who was the singer of a cool Belgian metal band called Lair. They were pretty rad. Hans worked at the store and he was awesome.
Most of the younger people that we came across in Belgium spoke some sort of English. The older people usually spoke Flemish which is this weird Dutch, French, German hybrid language. I can’t believe how many people I met over there that learned to speak English by listening and singing along with Iron Maiden records! The store had a lot regulars that would just come by to hang out so we got to meet a handful of people right off the bat which was pretty cool. I remember being upstairs in the apartment watching some weird Belgian TV show and our guitar player Andy came up stairs and told me that someone was downstairs looking for me and I was kind of like “what” and he’s like yeah come down stairs. I went down totally thinking there would be some half naked drunken homeless guy dancing in the street. So I get downstairs and my friend Jay Parkin from Flint Michigan was standing in the middle of the record store with his arms out waiting for a hug.
My mind was completely blown!
I guess at the time his girlfriend lived in Belgium and he was there visiting her and they were looking for this record store that we happened to be staying above. The world definitely got a lot smaller that day!
So Friday finally comes and we head to the fest and when we get there it’s total chaos there are tents and busses, and sprinter vans and trailers. It’s totally crazy but like a good kind of crazy. I remember freaking out a little because they had these weird outdoor urinal things for dudes that were designed for you to just pee in them but out in the open.
They are designed so 4 people can be peeing at the same time. It was pretty weird but when you gotta go you gotta go. I’ll throw a photo of one up on the hustlethemost.com blog. Anyway, we got the fest early in the day and we didn’t play until like 10:00 on Saturday so we just hung out around the fest, watched a few bands. There was another American band that we new from Florida that was headlining Friday night. They were called Culture. We had played a handful of shows with them in the states over the years but they were rolling with a different line up that we had seen before. Actually now that I think about it, they were actually on our flight on the way over and the pilot had to turn on the seat belt sign because we were all congregating around each other’s seats and just talking shopThey were on the same flight as us so when we saw them at the fest it was like we were old friends! They headlined Friday night and when they played it was absolute chaos.
They were huge in Europe I was standing on the stage when they played and it was like 2000 people going nuts and probably half of them had cameras. There were so many flashes I felt like I was watching Rocky 4 when they have that press conference scene with Ivan Drago. It was completely awesome.
I honestly don’t remember where we stayed that night I think they had a place for the bands to stay but I can’t even remember where it was or what it looked like. Saturday came around and we spent another day hanging at the fest. We played at like 10 PM Saturday night as a headliner and it was crazy. I remember trying to carry out gear through this massive crowd of people.
The place was called VORT’N VIS which in Flemsh translated to “The Rotten Fish”. It was actually an old fish market so it smelled not the best and when the heat got up there from having 2000 people moshing it up in this place it smelled like straight up death. We get on stage, it’s super hot and sweaty and we just let loose! 24 hours in van, 9 hours on a plane and 48 hours of sitting around a record store and 2 days waiting at the fest to play and we just ripped it. People were flying all over the place and it was pretty awesome!
Once the glory was over then we started the real tour where just like in the states a Monday show is just OK compared to a Friday or Saturday.
We started in Belgium then off to places like Germany, Holland, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Most of the shows were OK at best but was fun because we kept jumping from country to country and there was so much to see. We were traveling in a full size Mercedes Sprinter Van with a big sleeping loft built into the back of it. Aside from the backdoors flying open once and us spilling like 500 CD’s all over the autobahn it was pretty sweet. We had a few shows set up in Italy but just before them we had 2 days off. We met up with the guy that was putting on the show his name was Marco and asked us if we wanted to go to the beach. We of course were like YEAH we were in Italy in the middle of summer and it was hot! This guy took us to the beach and we all were so stoked. We all ran out of the van and jumped right in the Adriatic Sea. It was so amazing. We all turned immediately into little kids just splashing each other and being dumb. The beach was cool it was white sand and it like an on the sand restaurant and all these chairs with the umbrellas it was cool. The little restaurant sold like burgers and fries and other sandwiches. So we were all swimming for a few hours and we came out of the water and Marco who had come to the beach with us was gone.
We followed him there in our van and then he just bounced. So we’re all sitting around kind of waiting for him to come back and then we hear this girl yell out from the restaurant “Americans, Food” so we walked up there and there was a huge spread of pasta and breads and drinks. We were all like uhhh, for us. She said “yes for you” and we all sat down and ate then said thank you and went back out to the chairs and just kind of hung out. Right around dark the placed closed down and everyone left. We were still hanging around waiting for Marco to show back you but he never did. Instead they opened the bar back up for us and started up music and we had this dance party with the people that ran the restaurant and a bunch of their friends and us. We were playing foosball and ping pong and playing frisbee it was awesome. About 3 in the morning we finally called it a night and we all climbed in the van and went to sleep. The people that worked there stayed in these yurt kind of houses that were next to the restaurant on the beach. I think a few of the “Friends” just slept in their cars. The next morning we woke up in our steaming hot van and ran out in the sea again. 10 minutes we hear again “Americans, food” and we walked up and there was a huge spread again of breads and jellies and jams. The girls name that ran the place was Sylvia and her best friend was also called Sylvia. They were pretty great and apparently they were friends of Marco and he told them to take care of us and that he would be back in 2 days to pick us up. No one told us that. Once again we hung out there all day and at night the party started again. That night we ate lots of weird ice creams and listen to lots of obscure Italian punk bands. The next morning Marco rolls up in his little Italian car and asked if we were ready to go. We all piled in the van and headed out to play a show.
The show we played was funny because it was at some place that no one really cared that we were there and no one really paid attention. The entire tour we were using backline equipment with basically means that we brought our essentials like I brought cymbals, snare, sticks and my pedal and I would just use what ever house drums were laying around. Andy had to play out this little combo amp that was so small that when we were playing we actually started having a conversation in the middle of the song just because we could. The rest of the tour was fine we were all pretty strapped for cash toward the end. I think touring is tough in general because you have 4, 5, or 6 dudes in a tight space and people just get cranky. It’s really difficult to navigate. People get hot or hungry or tired and other people are yelling when others are trying to sleep and it just get’s tough. The goal sometimes is to just hold it together. You’re in an emotional pressure cooker and you have to try to be empathetic and understanding and also keep calm and just not blow up in every situation. With a bunch of dudes in their 20’s it’s definitely a challenge. Lots of bands break up in Europe. It happens all the time. People get left there, people quit, people get into fights, or go to jail or just get plain sick of each other. Either way it happens it happens. Earthmover was no exception, we went over and basically called it quits before we got on the plane back home. With so many variables that we are trying to navigate it’s much harder to stay in and keep it going. It’s a weird balance of working crappy jobs so you can go on tour and play shows but when you play shows and come home broke you wonder what is it all for. These questions come up over and over again when you are in a band trying to grind it out on the road.
We came home from Europe and played our last show in Detroit a few months after that tour. It was an amazing show and lot’s of friends came from all over the place to be there. We crammed about 1000 people into a place that holds about 400 and it was hot and sweaty and pretty awesome.
What did I learn from this:
I think the first thing I learned that you have to be open to new things and new experiences. I think we spend a lot of time being safe and sticking with what’s in our comfort zone. Sometimes you have to just say yes and don’t think about it. Once you start thinking about you will start selling yourself on all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it. I think I said this before, its lie trying new foods. The first question is: am I going to die? Hopefully the answer is no and then you can just get to gettin.
This is the band where I really learned the ins and outs of touring and traveling. It seems like common sense but you would be surprised. You need little systems and routines for things like keeping your self occupied, or keeping your headphones close, keep food in your bag or having a book handy at all times. These are little things that keep you sane and keep you together. I think you have to know how and when to retreat into yourself for a while and then come back out when its time to play. Being in a band and traveling around the world isn’t for everyone. You just have take care of your mental and physical state at all times.
I think the last thing that I learned was navigating a band is really no different than navigating a group of co workers or members of your team. There are always people that you gel more with than others. There are always the ones that are the loudest or the most demanding. It takes all kinds of people to make the machine work. I think sometimes in our careers we get thrown into that emotional pressure cooker but I think the goal is the same you have try to be empathetic and understanding and also you just have to just stay calm and try not to blow up.