November 27, 2017
“I don’t watch shows with drugs in them. They just make me want to take drugs.”
Things come full circle in funny ways sometimes.
Last night, after we played the final official show of the tour, we found ourselves talking to a great guy named Jan Willem who, it turns out, was randomly at the first official show in Gramsbergen. He liked us, and when he heard we were going to be in his neck of the woods, he made a point of coming to see us again. That’s the way it works in the indie music world. You build an audience once fan at a time. One show at a time. One tour at a time.
It took a few minutes for us to pull memories of Gramsbergen out of Deni’s head.
“Don’t you remember? There was a front room and we went through the double doors to where the stage was. We ate schnitzel at the bar and the fries were in those paper cones.”
Thread by thread, detail by detail, it comes back. How raw we were back then. How fresh-faced and not yet sick. That’s where we met so many of the people who would become part of our extended tour family over the next month. It feels like forever ago. These bands that go on huge tours for six months or a year or two years must feel like they’re on another planet half the time.
Our tour reached its finale in a Dutch biker bar in the middle of nowhere. It felt like northern Ontario. There were biker shirts and Harley Davidson logos on the walls, and the whole interior of the place was wood. Wood walls, wood floors, wood stage. It’s managed by a guy called Bert who took good care of us like so many others. It was a fun show and a nice way to celebrate the tour’s official end. Our pal Willemina opened and did an awesome job, as did Deni.
Once again last night I looked out from behind the drum kit into the familiar faces of our superfans from Germany and the Netherlands. They aren’t really superfans by this point on the tour. They’re our friends now. Sarah has a unique ability to build communities wherever she goes. It’s pretty incredible, but I’m sure at times it’s difficult for her to be the centre of so many universes.
Which I suppose is a useful segue to what many of you have been asking for. Here you go:
A few entries back I wrote in a bit more detail about Ken and Deni. I didn’t include a feature on Sarah in that piece, partly because it was getting long and partly because … well, what do I say? I don’t even really know what to say now and I want to do her justice if it’s possible.
I met Sarah for the first time about three and a half years ago. My band, Hiroshima Hearts, was playing the same festival as her and I went to her show. I knew the legend, of course. I wanted to see it up close. She was terrific, as you might expect, and I made arrangements to interview her for my music blog (an interview that turned out to be one of the most popular on the whole site).
Fast forward a bit and I started playing with Ken in Carly Thomas’s band. My connection to Sarah grew from there. I became at least peripherally involved in the Sarah/Carly music circle and got to be friends with everyone. Later I started my publicity company, Power Trio Media, and Sarah became my first client. We worked together a lot, getting her reviews and interviews, booking shows, doing other music business stuff. I really appreciated Sarah giving me that opportunity to work with her. She taught me a lot.
I didn’t start playing with Sarah until earlier this year. That’s the way it goes in the sideman business. It becomes about who you know – or perhaps who knows you. Usually these jobs come along because somebody makes a recommendation. Sarah has her regular players back home, but sometimes they aren’t available. Through circumstance and good luck, I worked my way up her list of drummers until at last she booked me for a show. From that came other shows and eventually the offer to go to Europe with her. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. It was a dream opportunity, and when you get those, you have to take them. I’ve spent the past month writing about the gift that this opportunity has been, not just for my personal experience, but for my playing. As I’ve told Sarah, she’s made me a better drummer.
I don’t think most people have any idea how hard Sarah Smith works. When I write about what happens after the shows, I usually say the three guys went to an after-party or stayed up late talking and Sarah went to bed. That’s true, but going to bed isn’t going to sleep. Almost invariably, going to bed for Sarah means two hours on the laptop taking care of business. She’s booking shows. She’s making deals. She’s answering emails. She’s handling the ten thousand tiny details that make up this life she’s created.
In the morning, more often than not, we’re tucked into our beds and Sarah’s up doing yoga or some power workout or running. When van time comes she takes the wheel. She knows where we’re going. She calls the venue to make sure the details are straight. She has her eye on the next day’s show already. When the shows are arranged, she makes damn sure her band has a good place to sleep and food provided. When stuff goes down, Mama-bear Sarah handles it. We love Mama-bear Sarah.
When we load in, Sarah lugs as much gear as anyone. When we do our own sound, she’s the one at the board getting it just right. When the show’s over – after handling those details and driving all day and setting up and doing sound and singing her heart out – she’s at the merch table shaking hands and taking pictures and giving as much as she can to the many people who want a little piece of her. And then she’s loading out. And then she’s driving back to the hotel. And then she’s working. The demands on her time and energy are extraordinary. The grace with which she meets those demands is extraordinary too.
Now take all of that and add the Virus of the Van.
You could forgive Sarah for putting up walls or becoming sullen. It isn’t roses every day by a long shot, but she always prefers to see the good in things, which is why you still hear Sarah burst suddenly into song in the grocery store. Which is why you still see Sarah leap with both feet into a dance-off. Which is why Sarah beatboxes in the van. Which is why Sarah laughs loudest and hardest at whatever bizarre thing is going on in our weird little world.
Which is why we would do almost anything for Sarah.
I don’t want to turn this into a coronation. Sarah’s not running for God and one of the most dangerous things you can do to a person is put her on a pedestal. It’s not fair. I’ve been trying to think of how to present Sarah in a way that’s honest but still protects her privacy. Accordingly, I give you a collection of tour memories that stand out to me:
Sarah, half a zombie from the virus, taking on Ken and Deni in a heel-clicking contest outside the hotel in Berlin.
Sarah playing the drums and absolutely beaming.
Sarah squealing as she hits a speed hump just a little too fast in the van.
Sarah slam dancing on the stage in … somewhere, then politely but firmly asking the soundman to turn her vocals up in the mains.
Sarah “answering” every single banana like it’s a telephone.
Sarah, five minutes after we landed in Amsterdam, buying coffee for her guys.
That’s our Sarah. I haven’t done her justice.