Sneaking Through Strip Clubs With the Protomen
The road is not a pretty place. Tour Is Hell collects your favorite bands' war stories, some of which make Cormac McCarthy look like Dr. Seuss. Today, we get in the van with nerd-rock titans the Protomen, who are currently touring behind their new film, Light Up the Night.
What album can everyone agree on in the van? What’s the most divisive?
Agree on? Man, with nine people, that's a tough call. Maybe Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak. And divisive, huh? Well, there's always been a rule that no one can bitch about what the driver puts on the stereo, but sometimes Murphy [Weller, bassist] likes to listen to the Candyman soundtrack while he drives through the night. It's really disturbing.
What’s the strangest gig you’ve ever played?
We played El Paso once. We got there and saw that the bar was packed. Literally overflowing with kids. We knew the night would be a special one because, while we unloaded the bus, a kid wandered through the parking lot with a full-blown samurai sword. Thankfully, he wasn't headed for the show!
Anyway, we unloaded the bus and were promptly told by the promoter that we couldn't set up just yet, as the "opening act" was a Guitar Hero II tournament that was just getting started. We slid all of our gear into a corner of the bar and watched the kids filing, one by one, onto a stage with a lone TV sitting in the middle of it. They'd pick up their guitar controller and click along to whatever song they'd been working on for the last two years. Then, one by one, as they lost to a better player, they left the bar. This went on for SIX HOURS! By the time we played (at 2 a.m.), it was just us and the bouncers. Even the little shit that won the tournament didn't stick around. Oh! and I think the promoter stiffed us on some of the payout. Man…we haven't played El Paso since.
Tell us about your biggest onstage clusterfuck.
See: above "El Paso" answer. No, we'll give you another scenario for this, because it has happened more than once.
So, we're a nine-piece band. And we used to be closer to 13 or 25. We eat up a LOT of power onstage. There have been a handful of venues that just couldn't handle it. And we always seem to blow a fuse on the biggest hit of the loudest song we're playing that night. The downbeat comes, and BAM: nothing but drums and trumpet. Usually, a couple of the guys will scramble backstage to try and sort out the problem, and most of the time they can get us back up and running before the song ends, but we refuse to quit playing. And as awful and awkward as those few minutes are, when the crowd realizes they can help carry the song by screaming along and THEN the power kicks back in, it's glorious.
Describe your craziest afterparty.
Back in 2012, we played in Montreal at Katacombes. The opening act was this wild metal band — think GWAR, but with go-go dancers and guys dressed like Nintendo characters. Anyway, some of the girls in the band worked around the block at a strip club and invited us to come back there to party. MEANWHILE, the city streets were erupting in a student riot over the government jacking tuition through the roof. We actually weren't able to load our trailer after the show because the venue was afraid the demonstrators would flip it over and trash our gear, so instead we snuck through the back alleys to the strip club.
Now, we're a bunch of kids from Tennessee, where the Bible Belt covers most of the secret lady-bits in our strip clubs. We saw things that night we can NEVER unsee. It was the first and last strip club afterparty we've ever been to — but the student protests helped elect people who kept the tuition from spiking! So Everyone Wins! Except those of us who sat near the stage at the strip club. We did not win. The smell of gin and lighter fluid still haunts us.
How do you deal with going days or even weeks without a shower?
No band should ever go without showers. But especially not a band that wears silver face paint every night. There's always a Days Inn somewhere on the side of the highway. Just send your cleanest-looking member in to rent a room for the night; then, one by one, completely destroy the bathroom in that room. If you run out of towels, just use the sheets. If you run out of sheets, you'd be surprised how absorbent a flat screen TV can be.
Be it an accident, crazy fan or place to crash, what’s your scariest experience on the road?
Once, while driving through the mountains of Virginia, a couple of the guys were playing Wii Bowling. Things got heated, and on a particularly tricky split shot, Ringo [Segundo, guitar] lost his hold on the controller. It sailed through the air, took a bounce off the dashboard and ricocheted into the headlight switch. It was the PERFECT SHOT: one in a million. But, as a result of the great shot, the mountainous road ahead of Commander [B. Hawkins, synth / vocoder] (the poor bastard driving that night) simply disappeared.
Now, I don't know if you've ever been driving down a pitch black road and had your lights go out, but it's exactly like going spontaneously blind. After a few seconds (that felt like days), Commander realized that he hadn't, in fact, gone blind, and found the headlight switch. With the lights back on, he — along with a bus full of screaming assholes — saw in front of him the cliff and the road sign warning of the sharp curve that we were blindly hurdling towards. He promptly shat his pants and screamed while swerving to barely miss the sign and edge of the mountain. Wii Bowling is now banned in the RV.
What’s your universal must-go restaurant or road stop?
We will drive as much as five hours out of our way to go to Cosmic Cantina in Durham, N.C.
Who drives the most and least, and why?
Everyone pretty much splits the driving duties evenly in the RV. Except for the Gambler. She decided long ago she'd be in charge of emptying the shitter. Maybe she thought if she left it up to the rest of the band, it would never get done.
What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without sleep?
We once got a phone call during a gig in Boston to come open for Tenacious D in Vancouver 48 hours later. Now, if you Google driving directions between Boston and Vancouver, you'll see that, at best, it'll take you 47 hours, which doesn't include stopping for fuel, or food, or to poop. So, we did none of that and hauled our asses literally across the whole country. Not sure if anyone remembers the show, but we've been told it was magical.
How do you amuse yourself on long stretches with nothing to do?
Everyone has their own thing, but there's a lot of binge-watching TV shows and playing card games. Also, our incredible sound guy transforms into DJ Dav Cat and spends all day every day playing the smoothest riffs on Spotify with his iPad. Does that sound boring? Are we boring? What do the "cool" bands do for hours on a bus? Cocaine? I bet it's cocaine.
What do you argue about the most?
Which Stallone movie franchise is the best. Some say Rocky. Some say Rambo. The answer, however, is Over The Top. Yeah, I know there was just the one movie. But we've decided to dedicate the rest of our lives to making sure that the full story of Lincoln and Mike Hawk gets told.