Letter from the Music Editor: And in the End…

This is part of a series by Bryan Rolli. Opinions are his own.

They say home is where the heart is. They forgot to mention that home is where the comfy bed, working kitchen appliances and free Wi-Fi are as well. We got back from tour a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to sit down and write my final reflections on the whole adventure ever since then, but truthfully, I’ve been trying to enjoy my last week and a half at home before I leave yet again, this time until December at the earliest. Hey, this is the first stress-free week I’ve had all summer.

I think I’ve earned it.

Anyway, we last left off in the wee hours of Monday, July 28 in Jackson, TN. The last show we had played before that was the previous Thursday in Columbus, GA. The original schedule looked like this:

Thursday, 7/24 – Columbus, GA

Friday, 7/25 – Day Off

Saturday, 7/26 – Panama City, FL

Sunday, 7/27 – Jackson, TN

Monday, 7/28 – Day Off

Tuesday, 7/29 – Day Off

Wednesday, 7/30 – Spindale, NC

You’ll notice there are quite a few days off in the course of one week. Still, Jackson to Spindale is a pretty long haul, and we figured we could kill some of that downtime in Atlanta and Nashville. But alas, because I am me and anything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong at the very last minute, I was so fortunate to find out on Thursday night that the booker at the Panama City venue had failed to find any local support for our Saturday show. A show that had been booked months ago. At a venue that almost certainly had a roster consisting of hundreds of local bands to throw on a bill. Incompetence strikes again, and this time, we were the ones feeling the brunt of it.

Still, it could be worse. If all that meant was spending a whole weekend in my hometown of Atlanta, so be it. I already showed you the Big Chicken at KFC; how could we possibly consider that a waste of time? After two laid-back days, we were feeling plenty rested and ready to make the six-hour trek to Jackson. I called the venue some time that afternoon to figure out load-in time. “Um, any time before 9?” was the half-annoyed, half-ditzy response I got from whomever was bartending. Fair enough. We arrived at the venue around 8:30 p.m. only to find four people meekly picking at some plates of chicken and looking not-at-all ready for a metal show. I didn’t even have to ask; I knew we weren’t scheduled to play that night.

A quick word with the bartender only affirmed my suspicions, and a sickening mixture of dread and fury started to bubble in the pit of my stomach. At this point, we’d had three days off with two more to follow – suicide for any band of our stature. We had blown almost all our gas money, with a long haul to Spindale still in front of us. And the most pressing issue of all: how the hell were we going to survive two more days off without killing each other?

At this point, I should mention that I booked none of the shows on this hell week. As a matter of fact, we hired a so-called “booking agent” to handle it all for us. Are you familiar with the old adage, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself?” I’ll be damned if we didn’t learn that the hard way on this tour. This so-called agent played us for fools, took our money and ran, and ultimately, completely failed to uphold his end of the deal. I was the one who had to fill all the cracks for the shows he lost or simply never booked – including the very first night in Michigan where we had to beg to hop on the Cadaver Dogs’ show! I was the one who had to spend hours in front of a computer every day, emailing venues under a fake alias and posing as a booking agent myself – not so easy after having my MacBook stolen, might I add. Best of all, I was the one forced to book locals in cities I had barely even heard of, let alone visited or played in myself. I thought the primary goal of touring was to play shows, not scroll through Facebook and “Indie on the Move,” while simultaneously copying and pasting the same stupid booking inquiry into dozens of emails every night until my vision fails.

"These shots from the Ultimate Basement in Spindale were just about the only highlight of North Carolina," Rolli (pictured) says.

“These shots from the Ultimate Basement in Spindale were just about the only highlight of North Carolina,” Rolli (pictured) says.

If it sounds like I’m complaining too much, it’s because I am, damn it. The average age of this band is 19. None of us can even legally set foot in a bar, yet here we are trying to book ourselves at every dive in the country with less than 24 hours’ notice. Honestly, I don’t care that it’s excruciatingly tedious and difficult work. I expected to bust my ass on this tour. However, I expected the bulk of that hard work to involve driving hundreds of miles a day and hauling gear up and down seven flights of steps. You know, the physical labor that every band does. Little did I know I would be assuming the role of booking agent/manager, with musician fitting into the equation for 45 minutes a night.

Hard to believe I haven’t even gotten to the part where we play our last four shows yet. We managed to kick it in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, frequenting the local Applebee’s and Guitar Center enough to distract ourselves from the fact that we weren’t playing shows. We ran into our friends in Wilson on Tuesday, where they guest-listed us into their show at the Exit/In in Nashville. After the show, we talked to their drummer, Matt Puhy, about the trials and tribulations of tour life. It was encouraging to hear every band has to slog through the same nonsense at the beginning. It all becomes worth it eventually, though, and that’s what we keep telling ourselves. Before we left for Spindale, Puhy gave us one of the best pep talks I’ve ever heard: “If you ever f–king quit, I’ll poop in your shoes.” Duly noted.

And onward we went to Spindale. The Ultimate Basement was an awesome venue, decked out with a huge stage and incredible lights. Sadly, it was also more of a community game room than concert destination, and the place was nearly empty. In fact, the only kids at the show were there on account of community service, having just gotten out of juvy. They could be found playing with (torturing?) a stray cat outside the venue before the show began. What goes on here? we all collectively pondered. We didn’t dwell on it long, though, because we were dying to leave Spindale forever, and we had a show back in Nashville the next day (we were so fortunate to have an agent that booked such an efficient and cost-effective tour route). Daisy Duke’s is apparently one of Nashville’s newest dive bars, which seems inherently contradictory, but who am I to judge? We played another fairly empty show – no big surprise, considering it was 10 p.m. on a Thursday – but the other bands were friendly and supportive, and the bartender was a babe. If you’re going to endure the crappy shows, you have to look for happiness in the little things. We made a few bucks at Daisy Duke’s – just enough to dine like kings at Waffle House and drive to the next show – and we were finally out of Nashville once and for all.

Our last weekend of the tour included two back-to-back nights in Indiana. On Friday, we played the 5th Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis. I’m still not sure what this venue used to be, but it looked like a weird hybrid between a young men’s club and a church. I wouldn’t have considered it prime real estate for a metal bar by any means, but they managed to clean the place up pretty nicely! I booked all the locals for this show, so I was feeling pretty accomplished and hopeful that they would bring people out. But as we’ve already learned many times, local support means nothing. Also, since I’m not at all familiar with Indiana geography, apparently the “local” bands I booked each lived about an hour away. Oh well, live and learn, and play to eight people in the process. The two highlights of the evening were sharing the stage with our friends in Let the Trees Burn, who played with us a few weeks prior in Fort Wayne, IN; and they actually had two fans there to see us! We met the girl Dakota on our day off in Chicago at the Cadaver Dogs show, and she and her friend drove an hour to see us as the fourth and fifth persons to be at our shows, so to have two people go out of their way to see us after having only met us once before was truly flattering.

"These shots from the Ultimate Basement in Spindale were just about the only highlight of North Carolina," Rolli (pictured) says.

“These shots from the Ultimate Basement in Spindale were just about the only highlight of North Carolina,” Rolli (pictured) says.

Finally, it was Saturday, our last show of the tour. We were hitting the Berlin Music Pub in Fort Wayne again, since they were kind enough to throw us on a four-band black metal bill at the last minute. For those unfamiliar, black metal is one of the most extremely and notoriously “evil” subgenres of metal, whose clichés involve denouncing God and burning churches somewhere in Scandinavia. Perfect fit for three Christians in a fairly commercial-sounding metal band, right?!

Turns out we didn’t have to worry about fitting in anyway, because when we arrived at the Berlin, we learned that three of the locals had dropped off, leaving only us and one local. Why do these things surprise me anymore? Still, being a Saturday night in a town with little else to cater to metal-heads, we amassed a fairly large crowd by the time we took the stage. Not only a large crowd, but a highly inebriated one as well, where everybody was willing to buy merch and leave tips to help us get home.

Yeah, maybe I milked the starving artist thing onstage, but we had a 600-mile drive home, so I’d say it was totally warranted. It worked, too: we walked out with $90 in merch sales and tips – which, I should add, was due in no small part to the fact that we actually played a killer set and were totally off-the-wall for the entire performance. Our cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash” is enough to make any bald, bearded man in a patched denim vest swoon, and there were plenty to be found in Fort Wayne that night. We left the Berlin with fuller pockets than when we entered, satisfied with our last show, proud of ourselves for surviving the whole month and, most of all, excited beyond belief to get home.

We made the drive back to Pennsylvania in one day, and since then I’ve been taking care of something I neglected all summer: relaxing. For the last week, I’ve had the luxury of being a normal human being. No albums to record, no shows to play, no photo shoots to plan, no T-shirts to order. NOTHING. I can finally sit back and reflect on this entire summer, and I must say I’m amazed at all we accomplished. We recorded a debut album that perfectly reflects our talents and ambitions at the moment. A few short weeks later, we took it on the road and crossed 16 states in 24 days, for a whopping total of 7,300 miles.

We met some great people, befriended some incredible bands and took our stage show to all-new levels. Most importantly, we learned some invaluable life lessons, not just about how to tour and manage ourselves, but about how to coexist with other people whose views and opinions can often be different than our own. We ended the Fight to Live Tour with a lot more perspective than when we first embarked, and we grew exponentially as people. Now, as summer winds down and we all go back to school and work in different parts of the country, I guess it’s time to write some new music and plan for the future. I’m not sure when we’ll get to tour again, especially if I have to start seeking internships next summer, but there’s no doubt we’ll stay active. It’s in our blood, and we have no other choice.

You know, we take some creative liberties on our “Whiplash” cover. It goes a little something like this: The show is through, the metal’s gone, it’s time to hit the road. Another town, another gig, again we will explode. Hotel rooms and motorways, life out here is raw.

But we’ll never stop, we’ll never quit, ‘cause we’re – The Last Remark.

Thanks for reading.

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