Preparing for a tour is a stressful endeavor. There’s logistics to coordinate, budgets to create, musical equipment to maintain, egos and personalities to manage, setlists to create (and endlessly change), and songs to rehearse. Preparing for a band’s first tour back since the globe-changing Covid-19 pandemic was stressful on many other levels. Beyond the usual concerns of “are people gonna turn up to the shows?” and “How many of these shirts can we afford to print?” there was a zeitgeist of uncertainty permeating the entire endeavor. All of us were intently watching other tours and trying to take the temperature of the industry – some tours seemed to be going great, others were truncated or canceled outright. We wondered which of the venues on our circuit would even still be there to play once we set off.
From the outset, I knew this tour would have some unique challenges. Beyond the usual stuff, we needed a new van, and purchasing a vehicle is a big financial commitment, especially while Covid was canceling other bands’ shows / tours left and right. The possibility that we’d be unable to perform to make our investment back was very, very real. Facing a lot of doubts, I made a conscious decision to change my verbiage when things looked grim and hit a snag – rather than saying things “sucked” or were “fucked” or any other “ucked” word, I started employing the phrase “less than ideal.” It would be a string of words that would get a lot of use going into this tour.
Foremost among my doubts was how we were going to get through a four-week tour with nobody getting Covid-19. Between us, our crew, Creeping Death, Bewitcher and Enforced, there would be a roving band of twenty-one rockers criss-crossing the good ol’ US of A and any one of us getting Coronavirus could lead to a string of cancellations and other serious financial setbacks / logistical complications. Between the merch that we printed at our shop and purchased from vendors, flights for everyone, and financing a new van the week before the tour, there was a pretty significant amount of money on the line before we even took the stage at the first gig in Costa Mesa.
That sets the stage for the financial concerns I had about this tour. From the outset of putting this whole thing together, there were a bunch of other complications, and the specter of Covid-19 hung over everything. There were so many plans in place for 2020 that fell through – including a European tour, a US tour with Gruesome, and a Japan / Australia tour – I had the uneasy feeling that we were tilting at windmills as we put this tour together. A huge thanks is in order to our agent Ron Martinez at Crawlspace booking (yes, the singer for Final Conflict, that Ron Martinez) for persevering and putting together a great tour with a great package of support acts. Ron and I agreed on a couple things early on – that every member of the touring party would be required to be vaccinated and that we would avoid the South as much as possible, because in all likelihood that’s where the highest number of Covid cases and un-vaccinated people would be. That said, we ended up doing five shows in Texas, but spending time in the Lone Star state was a geographical inevitability / financial necessity. Minimizing risk as much as possible was the order of the day.
The next wrinkle in an extremely rumpled equation came when our longtime Front-of-House / recording engineer Alejandro Corredor (also my band-mate in Pounder) informed me that he would be unable to do the tour due to health issues – less than ideal, indeed. Thankfully, when I was in Chicago with Gruesome in September, I ran into Cheyenne Brandt who does sound at Reggie’s and the Cobra Lounge, who I had unsuccessfully suggested as FOH for our 2019 tour with Necrot and Gatecreeper. Improbably, she was available and into the idea. That was one wrinkle smoothed out. As Mike Hamilton always says “Tour is all about encountering a problem, solving it and then moving onto the next problem.” And there would be lots more to come.
Not to reveal too much about the “man behind the curtain” but another spanner in our works was that our longtime driver / production guy / mascot that you know and loathe as Dr. Philthy was no longer able to tour. The guy now has a marriage and a career and stuff – what a loser, right? We had known this for a while and had arranged for a new creep to come in and fulfill that pretty unique double role. Again, without pulling the curtain back too far, two weeks before tour, the guy we had lined up had a schedule conflict that meant he’d be unable to join us for the first week of the tour – less than ideal, am I right? So that wasn’t particularly welcome news, but luckily Ross tapped his Creepsylvanian pals in Ghoul and one of the numbskulls that works with them agreed to come out on tour with us until our guy joined us in Austin and, even better, they accepted turnips as payment. Another problem solved, right?
The tour was scheduled to begin October 22nd and “coincidentally,” my birthday is October 19 (in case anyone wants to know when to shower me with Super Powers action figures, German beer or gift certificates for Spitfire Audio). My wife Camilla and I (okay, mostly my wife) set to planning a birthday party for me when everyone would be in town for rehearsals that Wednesday, the 20th. We found the perfect spot – one of our favorite local watering holes for cider and craft beer, the Poisoned Apple. They agreed to host the party and, even better, let me take over the stereo since we’d effectively have the place to ourselves. Flights were booked so folks could come in time to rehearse / prep merch and also enjoy a righteous birthday / tour kickoff party. Things seemed to be falling into place.
When Mike arrived in California from his new home base in Ohio, I was pretty hungover after a weekend of watching Metallica and the Misfits in Sacramento – or so I thought. I went to work the next day and still didn’t feel great, but I just figured it was one of those two-day hangovers that us 40+ folks occasionally get. After work, Mike and I rehearsed, scraping layers of rust off songs that had been moldering for the past year and a half. Mike left the studio to visit some friends and I stayed behind to do a very fun interview with the Horror Flicks and Guitar Picks podcast. As the interview went on however, I could feel myself getting sicker by the minute – specifically, I could feel my temperature rising. After I finished up, I wiped down everything with sanitizing wipes to be on the safe side and headed home. I spent that night tossing, turning, and sweating my ass off. No doubt about it, I was properly ill. The next morning, I called out sick from work and told them I needed to go get a Covid test. I knew I was sick, but hey – I was vaccinated, I was fairly careful and pretty conscientious about wearing a mask etc. etc. I was sure it was the flu.
Except it wasn’t. I tested positive for Covid-19. The good news is that the doctor cleared me to come out of quarantine (assuming my symptoms improved) on the 22nd, the day of the first show.
To say I was stressed out by this diagnosis would be the understatement of the year. I ended up testing negative on Thursday the 21st and was at least able to rehearse with the guys once before the first show, but as far as the timing of getting infected, it was (you guessed it) less than ideal. Thankfully, I had a very mild case and I was able to pick up guitars and my computer at the studio, because the virus also put me behind on coming up with music for a film project (a Candyman fan film you can check out here), not to mention rehearsing the set and finding a new van.
I spent my time in quarantine nervously calling the guys and making sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing as far as rehearsing and picking up merch that was getting delivered, etc. I grabbed my recording computer from the studio and a guitar to rehearse by myself at home so that helped pass the time. I managed to not miss the deadline for music for a film project – a Candyman fan film you can watch here.
Scouring the internet for a new van also took quite a bit of time during quarantine, but I finally found one. The downside: it was at a dealer about 300 miles away. Nevertheless, I managed to secure financing over the phone and bought the thing sight unseen. I had to fork over several hundred more dollars to get it delivered, but again, things seemed to be moving more-or-less in the right direction. The delivery turned into a clusterfuck and arrived 9 hours late, so by the time the van got to my door it was 11pm on Wednesday night (less than 48 hours before the first show) and I couldn’t really inspect the vehicle. Since I was still in quarantine, Ross had to pick the van up from my house Thursday morning to install the tow package so it could haul our trailer and the whole thing was fucked – sorry, I meant it was less than ideal, but it got done. That afternoon I tested negative (I had felt fine for several days already at that point) and the guys agreed that it would be a good idea for me to come down and cram in at least one rehearsal. We had planned to add “Rot Your Brain,” “Worming,” and “Nazi Metallers Fuck Off” to the set, but we agreed to postpone those until we could work through them at soundcheck for a few days. “Rot Your Brain” never did make it into the set, unfortunately.
Me not being there and us having to rehearse late Thursday meant that the gear would need to be packed Friday morning, which of course put us behind schedule. Anyone who’s ever toured will tell you that there a million tiny last minute things that have to get done before tour, and our entire morning consisted of doing all of those things ON TOP OF loading all the gear and merch into the trailer.
Another less than ideal realization was that the interior of our new van was absolutely permeated with dust. The AC blew dust, when you sat down on the benches, little dust clouds would appear – the dealer had clearly never detailed the van. The check engine light had come on and we’d ran the codes and they were weird, random things that didn’t seem to affect anything, but it didn’t seem like a great omen. On the bright side, the new van seemed to be running well and was a lot bigger and newer than our old 1997 Ford Club wagon, which had broken down almost weekly on our last tour.
Our fearless FOH Cheyenne flew from Chicago to Los Angeles that same day (Friday the 22nd), which is three hours south of our HQ in San Luis Obispo and about an hour north of Costa Mesa, where the first show would be. I knew from the get-go that she’d end up waiting at the airport for at least an hour, but she had been there for almost four hours when we finally rolled up. She was extremely cool about it and rolled with the punches like a true road warrior, which didn’t stop me from sheepishly apologizing about it. Once she joined us spirits began to rise, because all seven of us were finally in a van together pulling a trailer full of gear to our first live gig in almost two years. Sure, we arrived an hour and a half late, but just making it to the first gig felt like winning a marathon.
– To be continued…