Hello! My name is Maia, I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I just turned twenty, and I recently got back from a six week East Coast/Southwest tour with British band Bull. Soundsphere kindly asked me if I would write an article about my role on tour, key experiences, what I’ll do differently next time, etc. So, here it is!
First: my role on tour. So, here’s the thing. I only had this amazing opportunity because my older brother, Kai, is the bass player in Bull. I was in England in November and happened to be in York visiting Kai when they were trying to figure out how to make this crazy idea work, especially transportation. America’s public transportation infrastructure is sadly lacking, and trying to do something like that using buses would be…not impossible, but very, very difficult and not at all enjoyable. So, what to do? Sounded like they need someone who’s American to obtain and drive a vehicle…so I offered to do just that, they booked the plane tickets, and suddenly I was going on tour!
Now, I’m the kind of person who absolutely loves to plan and organize things. Lists are one of my favorite things. I enjoy accounting. I think spreadsheets are fun. I find grocery shopping therapeutic. In essence – I’m a boring person. So, planning a tour was kind of heaven for me. This brings us back to the whole point of this tangent, which is my role on tour. While I essentially did the job of a tour manager both leading up to and while on tour, I did not do one crucial part of a tour manager’s job description – booking gigs. The band did this themselves while I was thoroughly preoccupied with sourcing transportation (which ended up being a beautiful short school bus lovingly named ‘Chet Donovan’,) and that was fine by me as I had absolutely no experience with booking anything and my plate was already quite full. My lists had lists. All I could talk about was what I still had left to do. My dreams were filled with everything that could possibly go wrong during six weeks on the road, including one where I got hit by a car.
I ended up being not-quite a tour manager, but definitely not just the driver, so it was easier to tell people I was the tour manager. Fraud alert! Just kidding. Kinda. I mean, like I said before, I did everything else a tour manager does. I made sure we got where we needed to be on time, took care of the money and merch, watched every gig, and had a massive handbag filled with everything important and essential. (I’m not sure if that last one is actually part of the tour manager thing, but I’m not sure how we would’ve fared without it.) However, doing all those things on top of being the sole driver of over six-thousand miles total, I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that exhaustion very quickly became my new normal. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was having the time of my life.
All throughout planning and prepping I kept trying to imagine what touring would be like and the types of things that would happen. My brain, being inclined toward the dramatic, supplied scenarios straight from movie scripts that I quickly discarded because those things just don’t happen in real life. At least, that’s what I thought until we had a cooking fire inside the bus, in a Walmart parking lot in Nashville and we spent the next couple hours cleaning fire extinguisher dust off everything we had right before the flash-flood-inducing torrential rain began. From there, other movie-esque experiences included staying with Satanists in Hot Springs, Arkansas (truly lovely people), detouring two hundred miles to play an epic house party, shaving Kai’s head in a Walmart parking lot in Austin, and the school bus dying in a spectacular cloud of black smoke after five days of trying to get it fixed. That last one is especially painful for me, even three months on.
Most days, our schedule would look roughly like this: wake up, hit the road as soon as possible, and drive for an average four to five hours interspersed with around three stops. Arrive in the city of the day, usually just in time to load in and grab a bite to eat (though occasionally we’d be lucky and have a bit of time to look around), then play and watch the other bands. This is the part of the day I’d struggle most with. Driving was easy and enjoyable, and I never felt the drain until we stopped for the day. But being flung into the highly social setting that being “with the band” brings, poor little introverted me had very low odds of feeling great. Until, that is, we called it a night and I could finally sleep.
On the subject of places to sleep – when the bus was alive, we spent most nights in Walmart parking lots or parked outside a friend’s house because it was free and we all fit, thanks to mine and my dad’s design planning. This was my favorite place to sleep, because in the morning I could just wake up and drive while the guys were still snoozing. After the bus died, we mostly stayed at the houses of lovely people we met at gigs, and a couple motels in a pinch. Some places were markedly less comfy than others. At the hippy commune outside Atlanta, Georgia we stayed in a tiny wood shack in the pouring rain and freezing cold. Our first night in the Smokies we made the – in hindsight – absolutely insane decision to camp without thinking to check the weather. 25° Fahrenheit (-4° Celcius) does not make for pleasant camping.
Okay, I’d better throw a few key tips and observations in here now. I think first and foremost, even though it’s very obvious (I won’t blame you for rolling your eyes): be prepared for anything. I don’t think I would’ve been nearly as helpful or useful or on top of my shit if I hadn’t had my “mom bag” full of everything I could think we could potentially need and would physically fit. I’m already planning Mom Bag 2.0 for next time, which is probably going to end up twice the size and three times heavier. Good thing I’ve been toning my arms.
A decent smartphone with an unlimited data plan was definitely instrumental. We used it for directions, music, pictures, music video recording, finding last-minute gigs, social media posting, other PR related things, etc., etc. It was super rough on my phone, though. I’m not sure I could have avoided that, since the guys all had English phones that were expensive to use over here.
I’m not sure if this goes for all touring bands, but we lost and left stuff a lot. Mostly just little things like capos and drum keys, and, strangely, an entire pile of everyone’s freshly washed socks I’d spent ages matching. There were some big ticket items, too, like leaving our cymbals at the venue in Asheville and having to get them shipped back to my house. Luckily it was near the end of the tour, and we were able, for the most part, to borrow cymbals. In Boston neither of the bands we were playing with used a full set of cymbals, one had only a crash we could use, so while the guys were finishing up their live radio session in the afternoon I was calling every place I could think of to see if we could rent some, and when that failed, I walked around the building (which was luckily filled with practice rooms) until I heard drums, knocked on the door and begged the use of hi-hats for the night. Shout out to Nora(h) for being utterly amazing and lending her cymbals to complete strangers. You’re the best.
We also managed to forget our bass in Baltimore and after receiving the text from Jonah, the host of the house party and the air beds we crashed on, forty-five minutes into our drive to Philly, we had just enough time to turn around and go back for it. Granted, we were a smidge late for the live recording we did at Rowan University with Jace, but it turned out okay.
Last, and most importantly, it’s all about the people who help make this sort of dream achievable. The Spiral Stairs guys, Canshaker Pi, my family, badass photographer John Pearson, Bob Sokol, everyone who was kind enough to open their homes to us, the bartenders and bouncers, Jesse the mechanic, Curtis Eller and family, the guy in Hot Springs who gave us his skateboard, all the bands we played with, the people who came and watched and listened and enjoyed, and everyone who donated to the GoFundMe, who made it possible to rent the van and continue the tour.
Before I go, allow me some shameless promoting of the music video we shot in Durham, North Carolina, on Curtis Eller’s family land (while I’m at it, go look up Curtis Eller’s American Circus. They’re fantastic.) We filmed it on my trusty phone, and I’m pretty proud of it. You’ll see at one point in the guitar solo I get hit with a pine cone, and I wish I could say that’s the most I’ve been hurt while filming Bull. While in Amsterdam in April for the Canshaker Pi album release party, we shot some footage for another video, and I ended up crashing a bike. Nothing too serious, just some ripped tights, a skinned knee and a bruised ego. Anyhow, if you haven’t already watched the video for Perfect Teeth, watch it below…
So, you may be thinking: was that it? Was this really the whole post? Why did I just spend my time reading this? Just kidding. This piece passed the Mom Inspection, so it’s undoubtedly prize-worthy. However, if you’re wondering what I’m doing now and whether I’m going to tour again, well, thanks for being interested. After dropping the guys off at the airport in New York and driving the two-thousand miles back to Austin to return the rental van (the best price and only fifteen passenger van available had been through a local Austin rental company), I flew home, then three days later I flew to England and joined Bull on their UK tour supporting Canshaker Pi. Even though it was just a fraction of the time the US tour was, crazy things still happened. Unfortunately for you, the biggest crazy thing is being withheld for use in a music video, so I can’t divulge.
From there I joined Canshaker Pi for the last few gigs of their UK tour, which Bull wasn’t able to make. I celebrated my twentieth birthday with the Cansakers during the gorgeous weekend of the Great Escape music festival, and three days after that I found myself on another plane, heading home for the summer. I’m now working at a bread bakery and, among other things, taking drum lessons again. Somehow I found myself promising the Canshakers that next time I see them I’d be able to play some of their songs. Gulp. The next time I’ll see them will be in September/October, which is, at the time of writing, just thirteen short weeks away. I’ve got a lot of practicing to do.
WORDS: MAIA WILLE