City Mouse almost didn’t survive – as a band, not mortally – our first attempt at long-distance travel. It wasn’t exactly a tour, but we played a show or two on our way up to Rhode Island for the Newport Folk Festival. On the 5th or 6th day in, we were all having a bit of a meltdown. I was trying to bum money off of my mom for a plane ticket (I know, hashtag:firstworldproblems). This would have been another in a long line of mistakes and we were all making them.
Anytime you get a number of strong-willed people (like musicians) in a confined area (like a car) and put them together for 24 hours a day (like on a tour) there’s bound to be tension. Tiny and not-so-tiny resentments build up without being properly resolved and before you know it someone’s in a shouting match because their bandmate is crunching their shitty gas station snack too loud.
Obviously, City Mouse didn’t break up. If you can’t say for sure about every band member “We all want this.” then you shouldn’t be on tour in the first place. Ultimately, we’re all dear friends with a common goal so when the talk of another tour came up we each had a better idea of what it was going to take to coexist and we talked about it.
Basically, it boiled down to four things:
1) Make decisions as a band.
No one member should ever make a decision for the band. As a DIY band like us – no managers, no agents – every variable is another chance to make someone uncomfortable. Even if you think the answer is super obvious, consult the other members. A last-minute show addition to the tour? (No matter how awesome it is) Talk to the band – and the bands you might be on tour with. Maybe there’s some emergency that’s come up that you don’t yet know about. In that case, you’ll not only raise tour tension, but you’ll also look bad to the promoter if you’ve prematurely assured them that the band was available.
This can also apply to assumptions about the route or the stops on the tour. Have a friend in a nearby town? Well, you’re all in the same van so unless that friend has agreed give the band a place to sleep don’t make any promises to them about “hanging out”. It’s important to have fun on tour but it’s not a vacation. Tell your friend to come to the show and hang out with them there. Oftentimes, we roll into a town with barely enough time to play and sleep before we’re heading out again. There’s no room for a surprise coffee stop to see an old college roommate.
Furthermore, if you have made plans as a group, stick to them. Any audibles should be confirmed with all members. As a trio, we are very sensitive to a last-minute bail-out on plans. It’s alienating. It turns what was supposed to be a happy band outing into a chance for a schism. It’s totally okay and super-necessary to develop your own space and sense of control as a band member, but there are right and wrong ways to do it.
2) Check your ego at the door of the tour van/bus/car.
Anger and anxiety are toxic during a tour and acting on these emotions will only make everyone less comfortable, to put it so very mildly. Check your crowns and tiara’s before hitting the road. No one needs you bitching to the sound guy and souring the mood before a show. Furthermore, it helps no one to bitch about the gig for the next 4 hours of driving through the desert.
Basically, no matter who you are, you should try and be a more flexible, amicable version of yourself. Of course, voice your opinions but always have the goal of looking for common ground and compromise as opposed to stating the best case as to why you’re idea is the best. Go with the flow.
It’s relatively impossible to go for an infinite amount of time without being cranky. Everybody knows that. If you can’t keep your frown upside down, then put in those damned apple earbuds we all know came with your iPhone 5, middle-class person in a band, and zone out. You don’t have to be happy to be peaceful. Similarly, if you’re getting some iffy vibes from a tour member, back-off. Give space when space is needed.
3) Be Prepared
This is sort of self-explanatory, but for some people it does need to be spelled out. Just have the shit you need. Have instruments, have picks, have strings, have toiletries, have medicine, have to save Maggie, have to save Jack, etc.
“Hook” references aside, there is nothing worse than a mad scramble to find picks or replace strings during soundcheck.
In our band, we have a special breed of people called a “Jenna Mobley”. Jenna never stops working. Never. She definitely applies that work ethic to the band and we wouldn’t be doing anything outside of Atlanta without her, but she also has other jobs – yes, “jobs”. Plural. Very much plural – that she can’t completely abandon for a month-long tour. Does she expect us to turn down the radio, stop at coffee shops for wifi and wait on her to get those things done before we load-in? Hell. No. She has a portable hot spot that she pays for herself, head phones and an impeccable use of foresight.
Although that’s a rare scenario for a musician in a band the same basic principle applies: be prepared.
4) Be Available
You’re on tour. Always have your phone or some way you can be reached. Anytime you leave the group, stay extra alert to any noises and buzzing coming from your purse or pocket. No one wants to spend the wee hours of the morning after loading out in a strange city to shout down dark alleyways looking for you and the prostitute we assume you’ve hired to screw our night up (and you, I guess). Is your phone dead? Ok. Stay put.
The Reverend and the Rodents Tour has been incredible (see for yourself on Instagram via #reverendandtherodentstour2015) and a large part of that is due to us following these mantras and applying foresight and flexibility wherever we can. Seriously, all four of us want to keep it going for another 3 weeks. Compared to the 5-day tour meltdown I mentioned earlier, I’m enamored by the possibilities.
There’s something extra special about collaboration. It’s what the human spirit was made for, I think. It’s one thing to look back on these past 7000+ miles and think of the landscapes, beautiful and serene, but, it’s something altogether more wonderful to know and love the people with whom we’ve stayed, played and, most importantly, traveled each and every inch of the road. It’s all well and good to bask in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains, but to look over at a friend who is not only sharing the experience with you but helped you get there… I haven’t the words, only the gratitude.
* Musician’s Journal: This is a new series we will be publishing from different young musicians as they work through the exciting times of a young, up and coming band trying to make it, whether it’s going on a big tour, trying to put out a record, etc. This is from the musicians mouth to you. It’s meant to give an inside, behind the scenes look at the good, the bad, the struggles, the exhilarating happenings of being a musician in today’s world and the hard work that it takes to “make it.”
This first series follows one of our favorite young folk bands from Atlanta, City Mouse, taking their talents West for the first time. Check out these guys, catch their show when they hit your city, and check back here throughout their tour as Brian Revels, guitar, banjo, and vocals, keeps us up-to-date on the latest behind the scenes of their tour.
Listen to the track “Mary” from City Mouse’s debut EP: