Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?
We have an ’08 Ford E-350 with the 5.4L V8. We call it “Zant,” and it has served us really well. It just hit a big milestone of 400,000 miles! When we started touring, I believe it had about 100,000 miles on it. I’ve done all the regular maintenance on it (oil changes, brakes, filters, etc), and have learned a lot about automotive maintenance and repair since owning it.
For one thing, I recommend anybody in frequently touring bands be religious about regular maintenance, and buy good new tires from a nationwide store that offers free lifetime balance, rotation, and patching. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in the middle of an 8,000-mile tour, and the 5,000-mile rotation comes up. We can just swing into a local branch of the nationwide tire store, and get the tires rotated free.
As far as repairs go, I’ve done most of them myself. I’ve replaced calipers, axle seals, various bushings, the tie-rod, all kinds of stuff. A couple years ago, as we pulled into Little Rock, Arkansas for the last show of the year at one of our favorite venues, the White Water Tavern, we lost fourth gear. I had a show the next day with Lonnie Holley in St. Louis, and so the guys–bless their hearts–had to take turns driving the van (which they couldn’t get over third gear, so like around 45 mph) all the way back to Birmingham on the old U.S. Highways. Bama was playing in the SEC Championship that afternoon, and they left at the crack of dawn so that they could get back home in time to watch the game. Sadly, because Zant was limping so bad, they didn’t get back till halftime.
While I was on the road with Lonnie, the guys and I had a long group-chat conversation about whether or not to replace the transmission, which was a tough call, but Zant had been so good to us, that we decided to go for it. Getting that done in a solid transmission shop was a lot of money for us, but a new-ish van that we knew would be reliable would be a lot more.
How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?
The answer to the first part of the question (cheaply) is partially due to the fact that the answer to the second part of the question (healthy) is “we don’t,” lol.
We all love eating regional food, so, in the past few years, we typically eat one good decent meal a day. We’ll get BBQ around the South, or tacos in Texas, or delicatessen stuff in NYC, or Italian beef in Chicago, or Surinamese food in Amsterdam, or whatever. Otherwise, we scrounge for what we need to fill the gaps. Sometimes, venues are especially cool and feed us.
In the first few years of touring, we would just hit the grocery store for sandwich stuff and peanuts and apples and whatnot. We would keep the perishable things in a cooler, and eat off that. It was a very cheap way to stay fed on the road, and we would pay for it out of the band money. We all got pretty damn sick of bologna and salami and white bread by the end of it, but it kept us on the road, and we are grateful now that we haven’t had to do that everyday in a while.
We were in the studio recently, and, since the studio’s kitchen was out of commission due to COVID, I’d gotten some sandwich stuff for us to eat, and Adam said, “Man, these sandwiches are pretty good when it’s not for the tenth day in a row.”
How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?
Man, a ton. I have to change strings every two shows. So a lot of years, that would translate to well over 100 packs of strings. I have never sat down to figure out exactly how much that translates to in dollars every year, because I don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Can’t play without strings, lol.
I guess with strings being around $5 a pack (and we always buy stuff at local, independent music stores if at all possible), it would be $500 give or take. And that’s just for me. Any strings, equipment repair, drum heads, etc, we pay for with band money, and write off on taxes.
Where do you rehearse?
Fortunately, our usual practice pad is our bass player Adam’s basement. It’s great–completely wood-paneled and festooned with old show flyers and random Alabama football stuff (which, as an Auburn fan, I don’t care for). But there haven’t been crazy experiences there, since it’s basically home for us (and is literally home for Adam).
Because I live in Atlanta, and can’t really make a lot of noise where I live, I rent a practice pad that I share with a couple bands. It’s a chill place, and I guess the only funny story I have is that over the last year or so, as I’ve been working on demos and ideas for the record we’re presently working on, on the quieter demos, you can faintly hear a grindcore or metal band practicing down the hall.
What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?
I can’t remember any lyrics from the first song I wrote, but I do remember its title and concept. It was called “Southside Blues,” and it was about police brutality on the Southside of Birmingham.
Describe your first gig.
My first gig was with my first band when I was in 6th grade and the other guys were in 7th grade. We were called Mind Detergent. We only knew a few songs–“Bro Hymn” by Pennywise, “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols, “Dammit” by Blink 182, “The Brews” by NOFX, and a song of our own making called “Cheese Pizza.”
Our singer’s dad was the singer and harmonica player in a blues band, and one weekend they were playing a keg party in his backyard, and said we could open for them. We were all really excited, and when we got there, I remember them saying that we had to pay our dues–which entailed carrying the kegs from the truck down the hill to the backyard. It took all four of our scrawny asses to carry one keg. We had to stand around it in a circle, each having two hands on one of the four little handles, and the bottom of the keg kept knocking into our ankles. They were all laughing pretty hard about that. Their friends weren’t wild about Mind Detergent, lol.
Our second gig was at the talent show at the Christian school where we all went. We played “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and our singer leaned hard into those opening lines “I am an ANTICHRIST, I am an ANARCHIST.” We all got detention for that, lol.
What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?
I currently work as a handyman. I went to school for English, and worked in editorial jobs for a few years after I graduated, but as jobs became harder and harder to find (particularly ones that paid), it became clear that I could only have one job where I had to hustle constantly and didn’t make much money. And I cared a lot more about music than editing.
So, I started working as a laborer on construction crews and as a carpenter’s helper, then started working on a paint and repair crew, and eventually got enough skills to get a property maintenance job that I was fortunate to have for several years and that accommodated our touring schedule for the most part. As a part-time/seasonal worker, I’d occasionally get laid off or have my hours cut when business was slow, but I could typically find a construction crew to jump on. In the last couple years, I wound up getting so much side work fixing stuff in people’s houses, that I just quit the maintenance job, and have been working as a handyman since then.
Probably my favorite job I ever had was working for Brad Armstrong and Jason Lucia back in Birmingham, when they were in an amazing band together called 13ghosts, and were also running a home-repair company together. I learned a lot from those guys, and also had some of the most fun work days I’d ever had. We all busted ass, but always listened to good tunes and had deep conversations. Brad is one of my favorite lyricists and songwriters, and Jason is one of my favorite drummers, and they are excellent craftsmen and teachers. They’re both great guys, in general. I really miss working with them.
How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?
It has very gradually gotten to be more. When we first started touring, I was basically having to pay for everything myself, and would pay the guys in the band some money per day on the road. When we first started, it was really paltry. Over time, though, the band gradually started breaking even, and then making a little money, and I was able to increase the amount and start paying myself along with the guys. Now, we all get paid the same amount per day on the road. As the band makes more money, which again has been very gradual, we give ourselves raises. But the thing is, touring is really the only way the band makes money, for real, so when we’re not touring, we all go back to our jobs.
I have no idea or expectation for what the money will look like in 5 to 10 years. We just collectively try to make decisions to “jam econo” as Mike Watt says, save as much money as possible, and also be careful and selective about what shows we take and don’t take–just to make sure that we can keep everything rolling financially. I’m really fortunate to be in a band with Adam and Blake, who both prioritize the music and the way we do it over what may come of it. Like I said, we’re all stoked that these days we aren’t eating out of a cooler for the most part (knock on wood), and that if we can’t find a place to crash, we can spring for a motel room or campsite and not sleep in the van. We would certainly welcome some more money, but I’ve known Adam and Blake since I was a teenager, and that has never been their driving motive, and it’s never been mine either. They care about the music itself, and doing it in an honest, unpretentious way. If more money comes, that’s great, but we’re not going to change what we do in order to get it.
What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?
Man, I honestly don’t have many regrets about that kind of stuff. I feel like the lessons that I learned along the way were lessons that I needed to learn that way. I will say that I think a lot about something my grandmama told me when I was in my twenties and I think she could tell that I was stressed out about making decisions related to playing music. She worked as a choir-director from 18, when she started directing the children’s choir, to 89, when she retired from directing the seniors’ choir. She told me, “No matter what happens–whether you have good times or hard times, you get a job or lose a job, you have good health or bad health, you begin a relationship or end a relationship–you will always have music, and that’s a gift.”