We stay at Chris’s place in Knoxville. It is a nice big place and he owns it, which is nuts to me. We’re the same age! I wonder if I will every buy a piece of property and cannot imagine it. We eat all of the honey roasted almonds from Aunt Ruby’s and I sleep comfortably on his couch. We sleep pretty late, it’s all short drives from here on out. For breakfast we go to Wild Love Bakehouse. Wild Love is a coffee shop of a familiar sort. Using the word “hipster” to describe a person or place is over, right? I don’t know what else to call this place. At $12 for a cold brew, a pastry, and a savory thing, I guess it could be a lot worse pricewise.
This flat pizza-like object is tasty, with an extremely tomato-y heirloom tomato on top. Tomatoes are so fucked up these days it’s a delight to eat a real one. Dough is a little too doughy but it works. The kouign amann (which Julian calls Kofi Annan) is next level. It is so fucking good. The sugar on the outside is fully caramelized and it is buttery and flaky, crispy outside and just soft enough inside to have a range of textures. I could eat an unlimited amount of these. I get an espresso instead.
Look how goddamn picturesque this is, I can’t even stand it. It’s the best espresso I’ve had in a while, and I appreciate the seltz pairing. Ridgewood has a lot of espresso but a lot of it is bad. This place is a little much with the whole aesthetic but it does deliver the goods. I can’t hate if you’re serving me a proper coffee. Chris says his goodbyes, he is off to Nashville to attend a conference for work. Sated, we head off to our next stop.
Through Chris, we have been introduced to Ryan, one of the owners and designers at Hologram Electronics, a boutique pedal operation based in Knoxville. Before leaving town we stop in for a tour.
The factory is huge. I continue to be amazed by how much space people outside New York get to transact their creative lives. Ryan shows us the various functions of the two major pedals, as well as a prototype of a new one they’re working on. The pedals are extremely cool, very tweakable and intuitive and with a wide variety of emergent properties for the enterprising user to find. He shows us some of the code he wrote to control the parameters of the pedals. I also get to talk to Jason, who handles the hardware side, and he shows me some things in progress. We watch a 3D printer in action, mesmerized. The whole thing is fascinating and I could spend several hours here if left to my own devices. On the way out we grab some pedals and an extremely comfy T-shirt, and it’s off to Cincinnati.
Last time we were in Cincinnati we played at the Woodward, a giant theater entirely too large for this band in this city. This time we’re at the more modest MOTR pub across the street, which seems to be a better fit sizewise and vibewise. Tonight’s show is a free show, which is always a mixed bag. On the plus side, you get more people than you otherwise would and get a guarantee. On the minus side, the crowd could usually care less that there is a show generally or that you are playing specifically, so they’re probably going to mostly ignore the set and not buy anything. All of this comes to pass. We are fed a meal eerily similar to that of the night before, albeit better executed. I forgot this was a thing that could happen on tour, you can just end up eating a burger at a bar several nights in a row because it’s the cheapest or only available option. Before our set, a woman approaches Becca in the bathroom and asks if everything is okay. She is crisis counselor, and she saw Becca carrying around all her posessions in bags. Becca assures her that everything is fine, and she does in fact have a home to return to, but it serves as a reminder of how far from the straight world we are at this moment. Props to that woman for reaching out. She was fully prepared to take some time out of her Friday night at the bar to help a stranger find a place to sleep and someone to talk to.
The sound guy at the show reached out in advance to learn all our names. He is an older hippie-looking guy with a long ponytail and little magnetic labels for each channel on the mixing board to show what input each corresponds to. He takes his work extremely seriously. The placement of items onstage is directed down to the inch. The position of knobs is fine-tuned to the degree. He gives both us and the other band feedback on further adjustments on the talkback mic during both of our sets. This type of sound guy ends up having a lot in common with the more widespread disengaged/aloof type, in that it would be most convenient for both if you weren’t there for them to have to interact with at all. His extreme attention to detail stands in hilarious contrast to the big, loud Friday night crowd in front and to the left of the stage, which ensures that it will be impossible to hear anything in the monitors all night. I wish there were a backstage here where I could lie down for a minute, but we just have to power through. We will stay at a hotel tonight, with beds and all. It would have been good to book an additional day off in this tour. Another thing to remember for next time.
Our hotel is oddly laid out, such that the elevators are about a quarter of a mile from the entrance. The faucet is only sort of attached to the wall and the sink is full of gunk like somebody mopped the floor and dumped it out there and it took a long time to drain. As always happens when you get an inexpensive nonsmoking room, it reeks of old smoke. But it’s free of bedbugs and we’ve got two rooms next to each other, ensuring a proper bed spot for all in attendance. Maury is on, one of the lie detector episodes. As the experienced viewer of Maury would expect, both parties have in fact cheated. The audience hoots and hollers, and Maury looks at the wayward couple over the top of his glasses like he’s the guidance counselor and they both got caught writing graffiti in the teacher’s lounge. Maury and Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones and shows of that ilk always fascinated me. They were among very few shows ostensibly for adults that were available during the day without cable, and as a preteen I watched them every chance I could get for valuable information about what adult sexual relationships were like. As I got older the appeal changed, and became more straightforwardly about bearing witness to the travails of someone messier than I. You are always having a better day than whoever is on Maury. The shows are equal parts prurient and moralistic without any production value to distract you from the basic grossness of the premise. They’re also pretty egalitarian compared to most TV, it’s the most screen time given to thoroughly average people, neither charismatic nor articulate nor attractive. The host is confessor and antagonist in equal parts, showing understanding and concern while calmly asking questions and making statements guaranteed to escalate the conflict. It is simple and enjoyable enough and bad for you, like sour cream and onion Pringles. Eventually, I sleep.
Our next stop is Indianapolis. Again we have a short drive and some time to kill. There is a street fair and parade in town, with the usual assortment of regrettable handicrafts for sale but for some reason no street food. There is a witch component to the parade, and we see several people in witchy attire. Props to them for wearing black in the hot sun, that is commitment to the bit. I am pleased to see there’s a music store right by where we parked, and that’s my first stop.
Arthur’s is the sort of music store I’m always looking for on tour. It is large and has a good mixture of old and new and cheap and expensive stock. The staff are friendly and not pushy. They have some cool weird items like an upright bass with a giant banjo body and frets. I am intrigued by a display case off to the side with some old-looking hardware in it. I immediately jump on this brass-saddled bridge. Gabe from Mr. Twin Sister has a ’70s Japanese P-bass copy I worked on once with this giant heavy brass bridge. It sounds big and thick and looks really cool. I’d already been thinking about putting such a bridge on something, so for $26 this is a steal. Later I learn these bridges are from ’80s Epiphones, which sounds about right. It’s for stringing through the body, too, which will present an interesting challenge. I am impatient for it to get cold out so I can work on instruments again, my workspace has been too hot for more than a cursory project for the last couple months. This will be a fun one. I’ve been thinking about how to trick out my old Ibanez Soundgear, and a heavy fancy bridge would be one piece of the puzzle.
We still have several hours to kill. I check out the street fair and buy a popsicle. I go to Goodwill and get two good shirts for nine dollars. I get some coffee. I go to another music store, String Theory, and buy a miniature volume pedal. I had been looking for such a thing to use with my Aeon. The Aeon is an extremely cool device I got recently that I recommend to all gear nerds. It’s a little thing you hold over the strings that induces them to vibrate, like an EBow. Unlike an EBow it comes in a sturdy enclosure and is better at exciting the fundamental on a bass instead of a squealing harmonic. It does indeed work sort of like a bow soundwise. But on bass the volume is pretty difficult to control, so a volume pedal would be the missing link. I am excited to mess with this next time we get a long soundcheck, and it looks like if I end up not liking it I can flip it for more on Reverb. I’m trying to get more into pedals. When I joined Ava Luna there was a gritty low synth and I set my bass up for a low tuning and got a fuzz pedal so I could blend with it when needed. Now that we have more synths with a wider variety of textures, I need to expand my own palette. I just have a distortion and an octave pedal on this tour, both of which I use very sparingly. I think of pedals on bass as sort of a seasoning, you need it for the food to taste good but if you overdo it it’ll taste worse, and different cuisines need different amounts of seasoning to work. It’s a delicate line, but I’m trying to do more of an Indian or Thai type thing in the future. Lots of spices mixed just right.
Still time to kill. We were all intrigued by a sign advertising a $4 Pimm’s Cup and go to get one. It’s refreshing and the bar has pinball. I am very bad at pinball. Eva and her bandmate Nathan stop by to say hi. They’re playing in town tonight too. I’m not familiar with Nathan’s playing but Eva is one of the nastiest bass players I have been in a room with and plays with Carlos when he does his solo thing. Eva plays with super low action and shreds all up and down a five string with a musicality and taste rare among shredders. They’re both in town to play with Rotem Sivan, a jazz guy who’s opening for White Denim. The presence of this other show in such a small city is worrisome. A guy I talk to in one of our opening bands says this is par for the course in Indianapolis, and next weekend there will probably be no shows at all. Will there be enough audience to go around? No point stressing about it.
Before soundcheck, Julian and I make a stop at Joyful Noise to grab a shipment of records. Joyful Noise is a record label we’ve worked with a bit in the past, putting out a flexi last year as part of their subscription series. They also used to have a venue in their office where we’ve played the last few times we were in town. Karl, the owner, has graciously agreed to receive our shipment for us after the shipping snafu earlier in tour. We timed it well, we’re not quite out of records but cutting it close. What we get from Karl today will do us for the rest of tour and probably our next couple shows as well.
There is a wake going on at Joyful Noise for a friend of Karl’s who recently died. There’s a big tent set up and people are eating and drinking accompanied by a slide show. Apparently the guy was a big deal on the local music scene, and there are posters around town for the event. We feel weird rolling up to a wake to pick up records, and it is not immediately clear where Karl is, but eventually we make contact. He gives us the records and a tour of the new Joyful Noise office. No venue on premises this time, which he says is on purpose. Initially they needed to have one as a place for bands to play when they came through, but now that other venues have opened up this was no longer necessary. They now have a lathe in house that they can use to do short runs of records in house. It is awesomely lo-fi, you basically plug a cable into the cutting head to play the music into it and it rotates a plastic blank and makes a record. Edison-era technology. Karl lends us a dolly to cart the records over and we make a plan to return it later. We are grateful for Karl’s assistance, and glad to see the business taking off. They even put out a Swamp Dogg record! The jovial, shirtless, potbellied figure of Swamp Dogg decorates the office. Good vibes.
On the way back to the venue, we see a guy who looks like he needs help. He is sitting on the sidewalk next to a wheelchair and looks disoriented. We agree to split up, with Julian taking the records the rest of the way and me going to talk to the guy. It’s hot as balls out and he probably just needs some water. He says he’s a veteran and has some ailment whose name escapes me that causes dizziness and vertigo. His name is David. He says a six pack of water is a dollar at the Family Dollar down the street. There’s a whole back and forth about who’s going to pay for the water, he clearly needs money and is too proud to ask for it. He mentions that he doesn’t get a check but he doesn’t like to ask people for things. I briefly consider whether he’s running some type of game and decide I don’t care, he’s old and frail and not asking for much. I get him the water and give him a few bucks. He insists on walking to the Family Dollar with me. On the way he starts singing, Wonderwall. He’s not drunk or anything, just a little out of it and feels like singing I guess. The whole thing is very sweet. He has a little Igloo cooler on his wheelchair, which I see he uses as a walker with a shelf rather than sitting in. It has a sandwich in a little bag. He says he wants to go give the water to people at the street fair. I insist that he drink one himself. He says he’s good from here on out, he just needed the water and he knows how to get where he’s going next. He thanks me profusely and gives me a blessing. I’d feel better if I could walk him where he’s going but he wants to go on by himself. We say our goodbyes and I get back to the venue for soundcheck.
The Pioneer feeds us, burgers again. There are also, mysteriously, tempura’d green beans. Too much batter, they are effectively fries. At this point you might as well just eat fries, and there are also fries. The burger is tasty but I am over burgers right now. I am happy to see that the venue brought us a handle of Old Overholt and some orange juice and kombucha in addition to snacks. Plus a lemon. The whole thing gives me an idea for a drink. Let’s call it the Alcobiotic. 1 part rye, 1 part orange juice, 2 parts kombucha, and a slice of lemon. Serve over ice. It is delicious, you’re welcome. Kombucha works in a drink the way shrub does, adding an acidity that intensifies the other flavors. Plus, you know, healthy.
We briefly dip out to the Rotem Sivan set around the corner. So this is where everyone in town who’s not at the wake is. We catch the last two songs. Eva and Nathan are a tight rhythm section. It’s loud and harmonically complex and kind of proggy. This is probably a fun gig to do. I’m curious what White Denim is or sounds like, but I want to go back and check out our own support bands. Every body in the room counts tonight. Outside the Pioneer, there are about 50 tricked out bicycles covered with lights accompanied by their riders. There is some kind of bike club meetup, the end of summer ride for a group of bike clubs. People have matching shirts representing their various clubs. Some have come from other states. A few people are rolling blunts or sipping on plastic cups, just right in the center of town with not a care in the world. The vibe is celebratory and relaxed.
I go in to catch Deja Doog’s set, and I’m glad. Deja Doog is one guy with a guitar that looks like this.
The songs are all about death and the apocalypse and such, but also wry and funny. Sort of a more tongue-in-cheek Nick Cave. He says something in one of the songs about having a brain tumor, which is true, he does. When he sings about death he is engaging directly with the prospect of his own. The small crowd loves him, it’s clear he’s a local favorite who doesn’t play out much. I buy a tape after the set and he gives me another one. Nice guy. I only have a small Walkman at home which I break out every now and then to listen to my tapes I buy on tour. My old place on Halsey had a boom box in the living room with a tape deck and they were a more regular part of my life. But I like having them, if nothing else they serve as a physical reminder that’s cheaper and more durable than a CD. Radar Gold puts on a solid set, and then it’s time for us. I am pleased to see a handful of people who came from the other show, but it’s still a pretty small one. You can’t win ’em all. I am a little nervous to play in front of Eva but she has only nice things to say. I think she would tell me if I sucked, she seems like she would. At the merch table we all talk to a friendly New York expat for a while. She’s Jamaican and we talk food, getting deep into the technical aspects of jerk preparation. I’m pleased to hear her favorite spots back home are all in the Bronx near where my folks are. I’m hoping she might have a lead on some good Jamaican food nearby but she confirms my suspicion that we are a long way from any decent jerk and when she wants the real thing she makes it herself. We sign a record for her and begin to load.
It’s around this time we remember we have no plan for lodging. It’s too late for Priceline Express Deals, so Becca and I tag team negotiating with the proprietors of various mid-to-bottom tier hotels in the area. You’d think you’d have basically all the leverage offering to occupy 2 rooms that would otherwise remain unbooked for like eight or nine total hours beginning in the middle of the night, especially since at a lot of these roadside places you’re dealing with the owner directly, but you’d be wrong. Everyone is driving a hard bargain. Just as we think we’ve got a lead on something we could convince ourselves is acceptable, Karl comes to the rescue, texting to ask if we have a place to stay. It had occurred to me earlier that we could all sleep quite comfortably at the Joyful Noise office, but what with the wake and everything I assumed that was off the table. Saving a nice chunk of money and a drive plus avoiding the always too early checkout time of a hotel is a no-brainer, and we make the two minute drive with great relief. People have gone home, Karl wants to hang, and we are happy to oblige. I grab a Spaten Oktoberfest, a slightly improved version of what is already one of my favorite beers. Karl says our rent for the night is to listen to Alopecia by WHY? with him in its entirety. I have never heard of this record, nor has anyone else in the band. He is truly shocked by this, saying it’s a classic and they just did a 10th anniversary re-release of it. The record is pretty weird, sort of hip hop more than anything else with equal parts rapping and singing and instrumentals, and a semi-jokey emotional register reminiscent of Ween, oddly polished and radio-ready for how out of left field the musical choices are. Karl says everyone loves this record in college and he’s shocked we missed it. I resolve to give it another listen in the cold light of day. A major perk of tour is having people play you records you haven’t heard. Between us we house most of a 24-pack of La Croix before going to sleep. In the morning, Karl gets us all breakfast at the local healthy/organic type restaurant. I get a smoked salmon thing and a breakfast taco. My body craves smoked fish and it hits the spot. The breakfast taco has ranch on it, which is inauthentic but goddamn brilliant. Another innovation to file away for later. Sated and reasonably rested, we say our goodbyes and set out for Chicago.