3 January 2015


I've been writing a lot lately as to archive some tour memories in a more concise way. A lot of people have been asking several questions about touring such as how I travel or if I have time to visit anything. In the past, I've done tours with other bands, sometimes with other solos, duos or trios, or with a band of 5-6 plus crew - 9 of us crammed in a van. However in 2014, I was definitely travelling a lot more solo. This is partly what these entries might be about, though they are not really meant to be the craziest surreal moments or anything like that. Just a few behind-the-scenes touring moments I felt like writing about, in chronological order.


Driving on the autobahn at who knows what speed (for this one, I had a rented VW Polo from Europcar - might've gone up to 180 km/h for straight stretches when the roads weren't busy), on a 5-hour drive from Stuttgart to Prague. As soon as I passed the CZ border, my Western Europe map-loaded GPS went totally blind. That may not be a big deal if you have a European data plan for your smartphone but as a Canadian, my cellular data, 3G & data roaming were turned off as I wasn't going to pay 5$ per MB of data transfer just to arrive at destination. But to my surprise, there were frequent McDonalds on Czech highways, and you know what that means: free wifi. So I would often stop by for a McCafe (who knows where I managed to find Czech crowns - probably from the change of toll vignette purchase) to pre-load up maps (and the use of the phone's GPS locator) and/or print screen them as photos. I managed to arrive at the venue, Cafe V Lese, in Prague slightly late to worrisome promoters, but I had made it and the gig ended up being great. I repeated that experience for the Prague-Vienna & Vienna-Dresden drives the following days. Saved by McDonalds. 


It's closing on midnight & I'm all packed up at Manifest, the venue I just played in Moscow. Vitaly, the promoter hands me the overnight train ticket to St. Petersburg and tells me that Leonardo from Third Rome (who opened for me), a Venezuelan expat & his Moscuvite wife will drive me the train station (in his small red Hungarian-plated car). They put me on the train and I managed to find space for all my luggage (guitar/pedals/etc.) in this tiny & packed 4-berth cabin. I get the upper sleeper bed, and I'm all tucked in & ready to doze off when this sketchy Russian dude arrives with a backpack full of vodka bottles (I mean, A LOT - like 20) and pleads me to switch cabin to be with his drinking buddy. I, of course, refused. But they both insisted and pleaded for the next 20 minutes, even took out their stash of Rubles and offered me bills as bribes. It was clear that they wouldn't be leaving me alone and that they would be drinking all night no matter what and that I would most likely be spending a very rough night in their company. So I got fed up and agreed with the condition that they had to bring all my luggage to this other cabin, find space for them and deal with the other people in that cabin because this would not go down easily (who knows how I got to communicate with non-English speaking Russian when the adrenaline kicks in). Another 20 minutes later, after a lot of arguments between them and the others, it was settled. Sure, the others looked at me as the troublemaker, but in the end, no one killed me in my sleep and they even offered me hot tea in the morning. I was also 100 roubles richer. 


Daniel from Plurals/Ecka Liena surprised me by showing up at my gig in Estonia as he happened to be in the neighboring country of Finland. I've never met him before, but we were in contact by email for a while, as I had released something of his on my micro-label. After a nice evening performing two different sets at Snakehouse, a venue near a warehouse by the train tracks where there were several practice spaces. Holden (the promoter), Daniel & I had apparently drank too much vodka because we pretty much passed out on the couches and woke up as the run rose, freezing. Later on, I went sightseeing in the Old Town and I randomly stumbled upon the infamous Depeche Mode Bar! I remember reading about it years ago, but totally forgot about its location, so it was an unexpected surprise. I went in with Daniel after meeting up with him for pancakes at Kompressor, and we basically just ordered a coffee just to hang out and absorb the absurdity and the surrealism of it all while wondering how could the guy working the bar stand hearing DM 24/7 throughout his shift. Everything about the bar screamed DM, from the menus with the song titles as mixed cocktails to the non-stop DM videos playing, to the decors, memorabilia, etc. That place has been around for 10+ years or so. A couple of weeks later into my tour, I met an Estonian in London and he explained to me that in the 90's, there was this subculture of "dressing up as Depeche mode" - that's how crazy this phenomenon was. So weird. 

2015.05-11/12 - BALTIC SEA FERRIES

People always ask me how I tour. It's never a simple answer. As a solo artist with 50 kg of gear and a lot of merch (vinyls are heavy), yet not needing to lug any big pieces of equipment such as amplifiers - all type of travel logistics can be considered if the planning is right. I still have to carry a heavy suitcase of pedals with my guitar & merch in another long bag and a backpack for personal stuff. Sometimes I rent cars - factoring in gas/mileage/tolls as well as the itinerary (full circle or ending in different countries), and sometimes I take the plane, the bus & the train if it's that is what's required for my next destination. From Tallinn-Estonia, I had to get to Stockholm-Sweden. So I looked into ferries. Turns out the direct Tallinn-Stockholm ferry via Tallink was more expensive than doing Tallinn-Helsinki, then Helsinki-Stockholm with the Viking Lines (pro tip: roundtrip cruises are cheaper than one-way tickets, so get that and ditch). Unfortunately, I didn't manage to find a gig in Helsinki, but after research, I managed to secure all my belonging in a couple of lockers at the ferry terminal (main issue: guitar length), as to explore the city for 6 hours before taking my overnight ferry to Stockholm. Since it was a Monday/Tuesday, the cruise wasn't packed with drunk party people but it was still odd to witness all the activities happening on the boat - the slot machines, the entertainment, the restaurants, the duty free shop. I had also upgraded my cabin to a single one for some Zs & peace of mind (so worth it after the Russian trains). In the morning, I went out on the deck to catch some breezes and there was another ferry on the horizon: it was the Tallink ship that has been immobilized and not running. It was stuck in the middle of the waters, with help coming their way. Suddenly I felt like I was part of the great steamboat race on the Mississippi river.


The Oslo show was not the best organized concert of that tour, long story short - the venue's booker went on a prolonged sick leave, the temporary replacement wasn't fully aware and also just left town, yada yada. On top of that, my three accommodation options fell through one after the other. In the end, some guy at the concert (who had some relation with the venue, but I can't recall - maybe the bf of this temp. person who had just left town) offered me a place to stay in his room, where he was squatting an apartment with his roommate. Also a girl friend of his had joined us as well because she had missed the last bus, but that was fine as we all got along. It's really not as bad as it sounds because it's Norway, where the #1 human development index scale somehow also applied to squats (ok not really, but in all seriousness, the room was much nicer than most non-squatted rooms I've stayed it on tour - plus i really just needed 6 hours of Z's). Anyway, the next day I met up with Michael, Caspian's norwegian soundman, with whom I spent 3 weeks crammed in a van on our 2012 tour. Before driving me to his place, he took me to Nesebled records, where used to be Helvete which was run by Mayhem's guitarist Euronymous in the early 90s, which as you may know from the documentary Until the Light Takes Us, played a crucial role in the development of Norwegian black metal scene, and is now considered as a black metal museum. An hour later we were deep in the countryside, sitting outside with the dogs, sipping homemade brews, just enjoying the fresh air and yummy Brunost brown cheese under the Scandinavian sunset at 11pm. The next morning, Kari drove me to the bus station in Oslo so that I could catch my bus to Malmö. We got stuck in traffic getting into the city as it was May 17th, Norway's National holiday, parades & festivities were being prepared. Luckily, the bus company took notice and delayed their departure until everyone was accounted for.


I always like to catch a concert or two while on tour. I've seen Low in Leuven, Swans in Istanbul, the Soft Moon in Amsterdam, Melt Banana in Berlin, a bunch of bands at Roadburn, etc. But when Slowdive announced the reunion with dates while I was on tour, I absolutely had to try to go. The tickets for the Village Underground show in London went on sale at 9am on Jan. 31st and I was wide awake in Montreal at 4am to snag tickets while the rest were sold out in 2 minutes. Don't ask me how I did it, it was pure luck. Or less traffic through my foreign IP. From that point on, I had 4 months re-route the booking of my tour and find a way to get an artist's certificate of sponsorship as to bring my gear into the UK without getting turned away. From my gig in Malmö, I took the train to Copenhagen airport and flew with SAS to London to then take the tube during rush hour with all my stuff, all the way to Bethnal Green to drop my stuff at my friend Freida's (who had just moved to London that same week) so that we could catch (what was supposed to be the first show of - they later added another show before this one making it the first instead) the Slowdive reunion. When they announced the Montreal show for October 27th, I also had to re-route my itinerary as I was coming back to Japan to play a few more shows in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. So from the Gent show the 26th, I drove to CDG where I was catching my plane in Paris early afternoon to land in Montreal around 5pm. I still managed to take a shower and eat something to get there shortly after the doors opened. 

2014.09.19/20/21 - INCUBATE FESTIVAL

This will be short as I've also wrote a bit about it in my top ten gigs, but in those three days and with my busy schedule, I also managed to see Current 93, 65daysofstatic, Wovenhand, Bardo Pond, Silver Mt. Zion,This Will Destroy You, The Cosmic Dead, Goat, Sol Invictus, trepaneringsritualen, Bombino, Nordmann, Ortega, Sargeist and probably more I'm forgetting about. Great festival, which I'm glad I had found a way to spend the weekend at. Usually bands just pop in and out of the festival because of schedule/itinerary/logistical restrictions, so no matter how "cool" it is to have "shared" the bill with all those "great bands", it's not always as it seems. For example, if you are a touring band, on top of flights - you will be paying for daily van & backline rental, and so you probably can't afford a couple of days off for leisure if you are trying to at least break even. On a smaller scale (my solo one), that is also the difference between travelling by public transport (bus/train) and renting a car which determines a large part of your daily touring expenses. My car rental portion of my tours usually have less days off than my bus/train/ferry/plane portion of my itinerary, and more sightseeing is possible then.

2014.10.02/03/04 - THE ITALIAN FEASTS

It started in Massa, near La Spezia, where Paolo from The Star Pillow had set up a concert for us at his friend's studio. A home cooked meal was also prepared for us and the guests attending the concert. We had insalata, pasta, potatos and pappa al pomodoro. I stayed in Paolo's parents guesthouse (where my room had a wooden stove pizza oven) and the next morning I was invited by his parents and grandmother for lunch for fresh homemade pizza and fresh pasta. No one really spoke English but I could understand about 40% of what they were trying to communicate with me thanks to my French. But the beauty of that meal was that the tomato sauce was made fresh from the tomatoes in their garden, while the wine was from the local Tuscan winery next door and the mineral water was bottled at its source from the mountain on the horizon. The same day in Rome, I had a margherita pizza with a negroni before my concert, and the next day before leaving, Toni took me to this roman Osteria where we had roman delicacies such as cervelli fritti (fried brains), orecchiette with clams and fiori di zucca. The same afternoon, I had a rough drive in the spiraling mountains of Grosseto (Citröen C3 really aren't built for those), where I was received by Igor & Alessandro in their club in Santa Fiora. Again, a large choice of Tuscan delicacies made from an array of products such as liver, eggplants and too many to remember at this point. Those three days were just perfect, food-wise. And what's the point of touring/travelling if you are not going to have a taste of local and regional specialties.


There were many Japanese eating moments to pick from. Honestly, it was the best part of the tour. The food was great, from the first meeting with Archaique Smile & Tokyo Jupiter Records at the Izakaya in Kunitachi to the tempura soup I devoured in Akiharaba to Burger King's kuro (black) burger in Shibuya to authentic Okonomiyaki in the middle of nowhere near Tamba/Hyogo or the last ramen at Haneda airport - I had to pick the meal we had at this a famous restaurant in Kanazawa. Not only they were probably the best sushi I have ever tasted, but also because the threat of the typhoon was looming all over us for the whole first part of the tour. In Kanazawa was where our fate were to meet, and we had to drive back to Tokyo into the night and throughout the storm. As we were eating, we could see that the typhoon was approaching our location, it was starting to pour and the winds started to grow stronger. But how could we even worry when we were stuffing our faces through the thickest, juiciest slices of fresh quality fish?


It was after a long day of solo sightseeing in Asakusa, Akihabara & Roppongi. I also had reserved a ticket to see Keiji Haino's Fushitusha alongside Melt Banana, Masonna & Violent Geisha, a "noise" show featured by the Red Bull Music Academy that was happening in Tokyo at the same time. I also bumped into Alex & Shub of Dirty Beaches at that show (I had met Shub in Montreal before), as they were in town for a performance the next day. However, I didn't have a place to sleep that night since I was staying at Kimi's house in Kunitachi, which requires taking the JR train from Shinjuku, which ends a little too early. So Kimi arranged a friend of his, Yosuke, to come meet me at the end of the concert. He came to pick me up on his motorcycle, to bring me to his place near Nippori, which was kinda on the other side of town, yet still in Tokyo (but hey, the population of this city is roughly the population of Canada, how's that for perspective). It was a half an hour ride past midnight through the bright lights of Tokyo, which reminded me of the opening scene of Akira, except that no one was trying to kill each other, and we stopped a couple of times at 7-11s on the way to pick up snacks & beers. But I have never witnessed getting so much visual urban information at that speed before, I remember seeing the cliché of the drunk business man passed out by the sidewalk with his briefcase outside of a fancy hotel, passing by the numerous maids cafés, going through a buddhist cemetery, while pretty much hanging for my life on the back of a bike.

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