Saturday, August 1, 2009

Euro tour update #13, Cultural Differences (Uzhgorod, Ukraine)

There are a few reasons I tell you all that I do. For one, I value journalistic honesty. Two, I like a well-rounded story- not one that omits the bad to stay safe and cheery, and not one that focuses only on the good as if shit never hits the fan. I'm not objective and I am forgetful, but I do my best to recall these days as accurately as I can. My goal is to give you a true sense of what our tours are like. That said...

People who have not toured tend to have this romantic vision in their minds of what it's like to be a hardcore band on the road. I very much wish that what these people think goes down on the road was actually what went down- non stop partying, laughing, moshing, trouble making, forging life-long friendships with the people you're in the van with- but very rarely is this actually what happens. About 90% of tour is down-time. It's sitting in the van. It's washing your hair in a gross gas station sink. It's being so tired by the end of the night that you barely smell the cat piss in the carpet you're sleeping on. However, the other 10% is fun. That's the 25 minutes you play every night. The occasional day with enough time to fuck around in town, or go swimming. The rare times you have enough money to go out to eat, or get to check out a museum. The times you do actually get along with the people you're in a van with. But even these things can be a drag because after spending 24 hours a day and 7 days a week with your bandmates and whoever else you're on the road with, you may just be so completely annoyed that you find yourself unable to have any fun no matter what the situation.

I know a lot of people in a lot of bands both "big" and "small", hardcore, punk, and metal, and while every one of them enjoys tour, every one of them also hates tour. A friend in one band that tours full-time told me that he and his bandmates, who used to be best friends, don't talk at all anymore. Another marveled at how Kingdom all got along, saying it had been ages since he even shared a single laugh with his bandmates. Another friend of mine got ditched by his band in a state far from his home in the middle of tour. Screaming matches, fist fights, tantrums, tears.... this is the tour that people don't imagine but is very real. People who get homesick and have mental breakdowns on the road. People who leave their bands in the middle of tour because they miss their significant others. Some of this stuff has happened to us as well, but I'm actually talking about other bands right now. You get the idea though, tour is hell and the only reason we do it and put up with it and each other is for those 25 minutes a night and that 10% chance of fun. Anyway...

In Europe, generally bands on tour together share a van. So now that 24/7 is shared by people who hardly know each other, or maybe don't even know each other at all. To have 8 or 9 different personalities in a van together for a month and come out at the end sane requires constant work from everyone. Compromise and communication, understanding and patience. And this, from 8 or 9 people, is a bit much to ask.

Uzhgorod marked the halfway point in our tour with Dead Vows. Tour with them had started on a sour note when they came to pick us up at the airport with a van already packed full of their things, as if they had forgotten we were coming as well. Their extra equipment and superfluous personal items seemed an insult as we tried to cram our instruments and merch in the back. Worse still was that we had invited them and were being treated as an afterthought. For most of the tour they ignored us. Within a few days I wondered why they had even agreed to come, as they appeared not to like us or our band, and seemed completely at odds with the crowds we liked and the bands we dug. I spent a lot of time trying to talk to them, and even the members that were nice seemed disinterested in getting to know me. One dude was hell-bent on hating me from the beginning, and of course succeeded despite that we never interacted. I finally gave up trying to make friends and buried my nose in "A Voyage Long and Strange" by Tony Horwitz.

This was our final day with our first driver. He had accrued a speeding ticket that was coming out of the tour's money, and as Dave went to pay him for his 2 weeks of driving us he brought up the idea of splitting the ticket 3 ways (between us, Dead Vows, and the driver), since the speeding was his deal, not the tour's. I was sitting in the venue when this happened. Hell-Bent-On-Hating-Me ran in and told me were having an urgent tour meeting outside and everyone needed to be present. He seemed pretty upset so I braced myself as I walked out.

Hell-Bent argued that the tour should cover the ticket since the driver was only there for the tour. Dave mentioned that the driver was the one speeding, not the tour, so the tour shouldn't be punished. This went around and around, maybe we'd split it 9 ways, maybe 3, maybe 2, and I lost track. Turned out the ticket was only 70 Euro, and as that fact surfaced, so did a text from the dude who organized our tour saying it was up to the bands to pay the ticket. K, settled. But things were tense. I could tell the Swedes had some things on their minds and I knew that some of us did, too.

So here came the inter-band meeting of gripes.

I actually didn't have any problems that I hadn't brought to attention before, but I stayed to hear what everyone had to say. The Kingdom camp started. Our guys were upset with the Swedes for carelessly throwing our stuff around the van- like taking our things from seats, putting them on the floor, then stepping on them. Or moving our personal items without asking us. (There were a few times when we couldn't find our stuff... like computers.)

Another problem was seat claiming. On other Kingdom tours, on the first day of tour we'd all pick a spot in the van and never leave it, but Dead Vows like to change seats nightly. So we worked with that. (Or tried.) After a show was done we would put our things on the place we'd like to sit only to come back 15 minutes later to have our stuff thrown around and our seats moved. This frustrated Dave especially as he and I like to sit next to each other so we can use each other as pillows (and aren't particularly comfortable resting our heads on anyone else.), which was common knowledge around the van.

These problems were brought up calmly by Pierce and Dave with an "I'd appreciate it if you didn't move my things without asking me", and "Davin and I like to sit together, we don't care where, we just like to have 2 seats together which is why we put our things on them." To the latter, Hell-Bent exploded at Dave, saying that seating was first-come-first-serve, and that if seat claiming was allowed what would stop us from calling seats days before we sat in them?! We explained that we weren't trying to call a seat for the distant future, just a seat for the night, 15 minutes before we were to sit in it, and was that really asking too much?

Something to know about the van we were in is that there were exactly as many seats as people, and one of the seats was TINY. Even for me at 5' 3", it was excruciating to sit there. It was located between the driver and the passenger seat and had no leg room at all (this was taken by the shift stick.) One of the Dead Vows dudes always sat in the passenger seat. He explained to me a few days before this meeting that he liked to be up there to watch the GPS. Hell-Bent spent a lot of time in the mini-seat, I did a couple shifts up there (much to Dave's chagrin), but generally it was always occupied by Swedes. We just assumed they liked it. Well, they didn't.

First issue they brought up was how they didn't want to be the only ones crammed of front. The dude that always sat in the passenger seat said he was unhappy that he was always in the passenger seat. (Which seemed a bit odd to me as I had been under the impression that he liked being up there, since he had given me that impression by saying that, well, he liked being up there.) We were all surprised by this problem since we had never thought they wanted us up front, but in fact were under the impression that they didn't want us up front. Some days we would get to the van and see two of them already occupying the front with spots left for us in the back, which would, obviously, lead us to believe they wanted us to sit in the back and them in the front. I couldn't believe this was a problem that hadn't been mentioned before since it would have been instantly remedied and we all apologized and explained how we had no idea that they were unhappy.

"We'll sit up there, all you had to do was tell us you wanted us to!"

"We Swedes", they explained, just helped people when they saw they needed it, and took turns as they saw it was necessary. But how on earth were we to know that they needed help if they didn't tell us? And how on earth could we tell they didn't want to be there when they voluntarily put themselves there over and over? We explained that when we needed things we asked for them and assumed that when other people needed things they'd do the same. "We aren't mind readers, you just have to talk to us." They explained that they weren't like Americans, bossing people around and making demands. (I tried to imagine how that generalization might look in our situation. Rather than saying, "Does anyone mind sitting up front? I'd like to sit in the back today." they imagined that a demanding American would say, "YOU! You're here, right in the mini-seat, and there ain't shit you can do about it. G.W FOREVER!!!")

Next issue from the Dead Vows camp was they they'd noticed that they did more equipment loading than us, and that "not everyone loaded." Pierce always loads, Dave loads and sets up merch, Ryan always loaded... so who could they be talking about? As I realized they meant me, I said, "Oh, you guys must be talking about me. I'm sorry, I'll load if you need me to." then I laughed that I'd probably never loaded since this band formed in 2006 since my talents lay more in making contacts and plans than lifting things, but I'd be more than happy to drag some guitars in. (For the record, I kept good on this. I even refused help every 3 feet from kids at shows who saw me tripping over everything I carried. Problem ended up being that I rarely got the opportunity to do that since that we would play last and Dead Vows would load out while we were still selling merch and talking to people, or they'd start loading without telling us and be done by the time we noticed.)

These problems probably seem absurd now. But that's tour. Something that sounds petty to write now becomes the single most important thing in your life. Your leg room is worth losing friends over. Finding your marzipan chocolate bar crushed leaves you screaming at everyone in earshot.

There was more shit said that was amusing, more crossed wires that were frustrating. No one fully kept their cool (me included), no one fully grasped (or wanted to grasp, perhaps) what the other was saying. After the meeting, things got easier for awhile. We took turns in the front. Our stuff got stepped on a bit less. Everyone but Hell-Bent was nice. I genuinely liked some of the people in Dead Vows, but it was obvious that we were poorly matched as tourmates.

Cultural differences aside, the fact is that Kingdom can't tour with bands that do not love Hatebreed, because unless we have "Satisfaction" in common, we just don't have much.

(I would like to add that as I write this we are sharing a van with second half of our tour tourmates, Rhinoceros, and quite coincidentally Hatebreed just came on. But I was so worried after this day with Dead Vows that perhaps Rhino might start harboring easily-remedied grudges against us that I asked Joe, who's been sitting up front every day, if he was comfortable. "Yeahhhh... why?" I told him that, well, if he wasn't then just say the word and someone else could sit up there for awhile. He looked at me like I was a lunatic. "If I'm not comfortable, I'll just sit somewhere else." Whew. I can now put my psychic non-abilities to rest, no mind reading with be required for the next month.

And also, what I said about that 10% chance of fun? So far, on this leg of tour, it's been met and exceeded. Luv u Rhinozzz! <3)


  1. Interesting update, I hoped to see something about the Fluff Fest, or how were the shows in Bydgoszcz and Gdynia which I couldn't make it to be there. :/
    And btw, is there somewhere I can find the original (in English) info that you had on your merch table on Fluff?

  2. Of course! I'm going in order, just haven't gotten there yet.

    Sure, I'll post it here. It says Hungary, but the country changed with the language it was put in (France for French, Russia for Russian, etc)

    (the note from our table at fluff:)

    Unfortunately, we do not speak your language. We know that a lot of you also don't speak ours. But thanks to the internet and some kind people, we were able to translate this letter to you.

    First, we want to thank you for inviting us to your country. It's an honor to be able to play for you.

    Second, we want to tell you a little about us. We are a vegan and straight edge band. Our songs are about things you are probably familiar with- urban poverty, the soullessness of consumerism, the exploitation of animals, the subjugation of women, ACAB (!!!), and the constant struggle to remove ourselves from these things, and remove these things from the world.

    Hardcore bands have been talking about these issues since the 80's, and over 20 years later, these ideas are no less important- whether you are from America, or Hungary. We are connected not only by this music- but by our common enemies, our common struggles, and our common dreams.

  3. Hey! No single word about Uzhgorod!
    Hope to get something about the show or/and the city.

    Hey, nice photo. :P (the 3rd one)