AVT: 40 min (Tot. 42h, 30 min)
ADT: 20 km (Tot. 3,285 km)
"I feel like this is the best age to be. You're still holding onto your youth, but you have wisdom."
"I don't know. I just feel like I'm getting old."
- Deni ___
Here’s the thing.
Normally when you do a seven-hour drive to anywhere, the work is the drive itself. You arrive at your destination and it’s over. You have dinner. You put your feet up. You have a drink and relax. Maybe you just go to bed.
When you’re on the road (as we are yet again today, doing seven hours across Germany in semi-torrential rain), the work begins after the drive. You get through the highway grind and then you have set up and give everything you’ve got to a show. Today is the 14th day in a row that we’re on a gig (happy two-week anniversary everyone!). It takes quite a bit of endurance. If you’re on a bus tour maybe it’s different. You can sleep as you go on a bus, but for us in the DIY world, there are few such luxuries.
This is not a complaint. Just an observation.
We’re probably nuts.
The really good thing is that at some point during today’s drive I’ll be able to sink for a few blissful moments into the brand new Steel Panther record, Heavy Metal Rules, which was released yesterday. Huzzah!
Last night was yet another memorable gig on The Reeperbahn at Cowboy und Indianer. The day itself was pretty chill. We were already in Hamburg, so there was no drive. After our late night adventures on The Reeperbahn on Sunday, I woke up earlier than I intended to yesterday to find Sarah loading up for a laundromat run. I couldn’t let her do that solo, so I shook the cobwebs out and went with her to get the laundry done. We’re two weeks in. Now is when socks and underwear begin to become an issue. You wouldn’t believe – or maybe you would – how good it feels to get some clothes cleaned and have that off your mind.
And so off we went in the Sprinter van to find a laundromat. Parking is a nightmare in a lot of these cities. Man, oh man. Every square inch of space seems to have a vehicle in it. The roads are narrow and congested. We reached the general vicinity of the laundromat we were looking for and there was nowhere to park a big van. What do you do in those circumstances?
Well, you invent a parking spot. Or, more accurately, you look at the roughly van-sized space that sits vacant on an otherwise jam-packed street and think, “There must be some reason why nobody is parked there. Let’s play dumb and park there anyway.”
So we did. Sarah parallel parked the Sprinter into that little space (I don’t know how she does it) and we got out, shrugged our shoulders, and lugged our laundry bags up the street. A few minutes later Sarah got a bit jumpy and suggested we put our laundry in the machine and then go sit in the van to wait, just in case. Funny thing: About a minute after we got settled in the van, a guy came out and told us very firmly that we were not allowed to park there. Sarah pleaded for 20 minutes and he said okay. Sarah’s pleading eyes can be very convincing.
Anyway, we did the laundry without getting arrested or towed. When we got back to Andreas’s place, the lads were up and we walked off to find lunch, eventually settling on an Asian place where Deni had pho for the phost time. It was all warm and delicious and the walk felt great.
After that we had time to kill, so I edited yesterday’s blog post and began editing on the next episode of my podcast (which is a fun roadisode recorded with Deni and Ken on the eve of my birthday in Gladbeck).
The show was ….
Well, let’s go back in time for a minute first.
A few weeks ago I published a podcast episode featuring an interview with a high level British drummer named Emily Dolan Davies. We talked about her development as a professional drummer, and she said the best and hardest advice she ever got was to record her performances. She started doing that and it blew holes in her perception of her playing. This can be a harsh thing for a musician. You think you’re doing okay but then you start listening to the tapes and the truth becomes much more evident.
I’ve been trying to do that over the past few months and, yeah, it can break you down pretty hard if you let it. I said in an earlier post that I haven’t been super happy with my playing on this tour at times so far. Partly that’s because we’re still getting tight with new material. Partly it’s that the band hasn’t played together a lot since last year. Whatever the case, I’ve been listening to and watching videos of our shows and it’s been eye-opening. There’s been stuff that doesn’t sit well with me.
How much should I talk about this?
It’s hard to admit your … failures seems like the wrong word. Apart from one complete train wreck in one song very early in the tour, we’ve played fine. The problem is that fine isn’t good enough for me. I don’t aspire to “fine” and there have been some videos that shine a light on areas that I thought were better than they are. I won’t get into specifics, but yesterday afternoon the tale of the tape was very clear and it didn’t feel good. And yes, for a few minutes it brought me way, way down. Now, this is a collective thing. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but as the drummer, there are certain things that fall into your realm of responsibility and there has been room for improvement.
I’m talking about feel here. Groove. Pocket. Whatever. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice some of the stuff that made me cringe and – I’m being serious when I say this – consider giving up music. I know that sounds dramatic but it’s true. I hear things in my playing sometimes that just have amateur written all over them and that can be a very, very hard thing to admit. It’s much easier to not watch the tapes and pretend, but all that does is create a bigger illusion and a bigger pop when the bubble bursts.
Emily Dolan Davies said that when she was confronted with the harsh truths, she had a choice. She could let it get to her and quit, or she could work even harder at correcting those issues. That’s a mature thing to do and she was young when she made that decision. Mr. Grey over here is not so young anymore, so I had to be mature about it too. With that in mind, last night I took a somewhat different approach to the show and I can tell you honestly that I think it was one of the best shows I’ve ever played for Sarah. In fact, I would venture to say that the first set was the best seven songs in a row that I’ve played for her. Again, you might not have noticed anything different, but the feel was better and the pocket deeper.
It was the platform for a really great performance for all of us. Let me tell you that Cowboy und Indianer is a cool venue, but not an easy venue to play. It’s a smoking room, for starters. We’re not used to that anymore and it can mess with your voice hard. The room is also oddly shaped, with the band kind of playing out the front door while people sit or stand on the sides.
The advantage of that arrangement is that people on the sidewalk can hear you playing. Last night I saw several people stop and listen, and a few even came in. I’m delighted to report that the club was nearly full on a Monday night and most of the people in the audience were Sarah fans. This is such a testament to all of the hard work she’s done building a fan base in Europe. It really is one fan and one show at a time in the indie world.
At a certain point just before the second set, I looked up from the drum kit and noticed some new listeners standing by the bar. They were obviously not European. It’s hard to quantify that statement, but they had the long hair and beards that are characteristic of a North American rock band these days and they seemed to be with an older guy who was shepherding them around. I knew they were a band right away.
Turns out they were and are Them Dirty Roses – a southern rock band from Alabama in the midst of a two-month European tour. What great guys they turned out to be. Just friendly, enthusiastic, southern gentlemen road dogs and, it turns out, a killer band. They’re due to play Cowboy und Indianer tonight so they stopped in a day early to check it out. Toward the end of the evening we handed our instruments to them and they ripped a song. You should check them out while they’re in Europe.
Oh, we also spent longer than we might have expected talking to a didgeridoo player dragging an enormous didgeridoo down The Reeperbahn. These are the characters you meet on the road, friends. You just never quite know whose path you’ll cross.
So it was another great one on the boulevard of infamy. Sven the giant and his crew took great care of us as always, although he kept throwing things at me as I was playing. That's fun at first, but ice cubes hurt, and what am I going to do about it anyway? Have you ever seen cartoons of a big guy boxing a little guy? The ones where the big guy stretches out his arm and the little guy swings furiously away underneath it, hitting nothing? That would be me and Sven in a tussle. But I did manage to hit him in the chest with a crinkled up ball of paper during a two-bar rest in one song.
The road, man.
And now we’re on it again, bound for Suhr in the east and another set of paths to cross.
Steel Panther awaits.
*Sarah photo by Claudia Dittmann-Wulff