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Road Work

Ava Luna is going on tour! We will be accompanied by Krill, who are an excellent group of musicians and humans. I look forward to backstage hanging, van DJing, and guiltily satisfying trips to places like Sheetz. Sheetz is the dystopian future of fast food, but sometimes it just hits the spot. If I’m hungry and I’m several hours from the nearest fresh vegetable, you’d better at least give me a lot of choices, which Sheetz certainly does. However, excessive consumption can lead to a condition known as “the sheetz”. I will probably be posting a lot about food, as it is one of the major things I enjoy about traveling. But right now I’m going to post about work.

I’ve been very fortunate the last few years to have it both ways regarding work. I go on tour with my band when the opportunity presents itself, and while on tour continue to do work and get paid at my day job. Most days this works out surprisingly well. We spend most of the day driving, and I’m in the back of the van with my laptop and 4G wireless hub, doing all the stuff I normally do. I’m a database administrator, so not a lot of my job duties require my physical presence in a particular location. I can run reports and reset people’s passwords and dial into conference calls and that really covers the vast majority of it. Of course, the fact that tour is going on around me while I work sometimes leads to some difficult situations:

  1. I might have to miss out on fun things like sightseeing because I’m at work, if only in spirit. Anywhere I can’t take my laptop and pay attention to it for a while is off the table, unless it’s a low key day and I can make up the difference at night.

  2. I might have to show up at a venue early for load-in, and go back and forth to soundcheck while still on the clock.

  3. I might be passing through one of the surprisingly broad swaths of America that have absolutely zero cellular data reception, and have to rely on bathroom stops to send and receive important emails. I am fortunate to be in a big enough band that someone pretty much always has to pee.

  4. I might have to wake up at the crack of dawn because I’m on the West Coast and 9 AM back home is 6 AM there. With the time we usually get to sleep I’m probably running on a single REM cycle, but I still have to project confidence and focus to my colleagues and get shit done.

  5. Conference calls are particularly difficult because they require talking, and talking makes noise, and people on tour have to sleep whenever they can get it. It became clear very early on that I could not be around sleeping people while on the phone. I have a very loud speaking voice because my hearing is shot because I killed it playing music for you, you’re welcome. So I set the alarm on my phone and sleep with it right next to my head such that it hopefully wakes up only me. I attempt to silently maneuver around the sleeping bodies of my bandmates in search of a place where I can talk at normal conversational volume. If it’s a motel night this means going outside, lugging my laptop, painfully aware of what an asshole I look like to the destitute people who usually stay at the sorts of motels we can afford. If I’m lucky, I remember in my half-asleep state to bring the key. If not, I have to weigh the inconvenience of staying outside against the awkwardness of waking one or more people up.

  6. And of course, there are times when people are straight up partying around me and I have to try my best to shut out my surroundings and try to enter an “office of the mind”. We rely a lot on the hospitality of friends-of-friends and total strangers, which means we basically have to roll with whatever situation we end up in unless we are in imminent physical danger. If some college kid who liked our set and graciously allowed us to crash wants to sit on the other end of the couch and do bong rips with the entire suite while I’m working on an RFP or something, I don’t really have the right to complain. It’s not my house.

I was terrified to talk to my boss the first time I got a big tour. It was a whole month, and I couldn’t imagine any employer would accommodate such a request. I could try and use vacation time, but that would never be long-term sustainable. I imagined that by even bringing up the subject I was giving notice, and started to save money in preparation for not having a job. I had had steady work since my early teens, and the prospect of losing that security was frightening. I even went so far as to tell my parents I’d be moving back home. My brother and I had shared a room growing up, and he was still in the house. This was not an appealing prospect. After all that stressing, I was surprised how well the conversation actually went, but in retrospect I had a few things going for me. My superiors trusted me. I’d been there a while (at the time it would have been six years, now I’m approaching my tenth). I made a strong case for how I’d still be able to get things done while traveling. When the time came and I left, I made a point of being extra reachable and communicative to set them at ease. Nothing terrible happened, and everyone was happy.

Being a musician and worrying about money is basically the least cool thing ever, I know, but you can’t ignore it. It might not be at the top of your list of priorities, but it’s in there somewhere. Even if you’re an ascetic freegan living in a squat, you have some sort of standard of living that will be affected by going on tour, and you have to think about how you’re going to maintain it in new surroundings. I’m not going to play like I don’t have an extremely lucky situation with my job; not a lot of places you work are going to take a chance on accommodating your hectic artist lifestyle. But if you’re musician and you have a job you hypothetically could do from the road, there’s no harm in trying, especially if the other option is quitting outright.

Even if you have plenty of money, or you make your money washing dishes back home and you are resigned to the idea of tour as a time of great penury, it’s important not to treat travel time as wasted time. If you have any sort of computer skills, there exists a way to use them on a remote and possibly freelance basis. If you don’t have something explicitly marketable you can do, and you’ve already gotten enough sleep that day, do something else productive. Read a book, find new music to listen to, practice, write something. Knit a scarf. Knit a bunch of scarves and sell them at the merch table. My record for continuous van travel is 30 hours, and there is only so much Angry Candy Run Deluxe you can play in that time before something inside you dies. You need that thing to play a good show when you finally get there. Keep your insides and your outsides alive.

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