Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?
Eleanor Whitmore: Our tour vehicle is a 2011 Chrysler Town & Country that we bought with our first record advance for Birds Fly South and has just over 170,000 miles on it.
The craziest and most notable breakdown was on a trip from LA to Austin. We had just turned off of I-10 onto a completely dark 2 lane road when all the lights on the dash started going crazy and we lost power while we were driving at about 50 mph. I managed to coast to the side of the road and the lights flickered erratically. This continued after taking the key out of the ignition. To lose power and lights going down a narrow two lane road in the middle of the night was terrifying! We had to disconnect the battery to stop the light show and managed to get towed into Austin that night as we had to catch a plane the next morning for a Steve Earle tour.
The mechanic couldn’t find anything wrong with it and it started right back up because disconnecting the battery had reset the computer. He theorized that it was a failure of the TIPM module (flux capacitor?) or the computer brain for the car.
It happened again a few weeks later, also at night but at a lower speed. We disconnected the battery and it started right back up. We had a family discount for repair, but it wasn’t cheap and it’s a part that’s been recalled in several other models. There’s an instagram video of the light show if you comb back through our posts.
We spend the other half of our lives on a nice tour bus with Steve Earle. Somehow we’re grateful for both modes of transportation.
How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?
Eleanor: We like to eat well on tour and spend a lot of our money exploring the highlights of the towns we pass through. We research on our phones when we’re rolling down the highway, but we really learned the most from Kelley Looney (Steve Earle, Connie Smith, Billy Joe Shaver) who we toured a decade with and we recently lost him after a brief illness.
Kelley would interview the locals and lead with his nose and make notes of the great places he would find and new friends so that he could hit them up again the next time he was through. He would curate the bus with the treats he would find in local bakeries and markets when he would walk around the venue in the afternoon and we would meet some of the friends he would make after the show.
His appreciation for the finer details and adventurous spirit broke the monotony of the road and made for a deeper experience and connection with the places and people we would meet along the way. It’s not always healthy or cheap, but the variety of experience and cuisine is rewarding indeed.
How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?
Chris Masterson: We don’t break too many strings honestly. That said, we have a lot of instruments between our touring gear and all of our studio equipment. We use D’Addario strings on everything and thank God they help us out a lot!
Where do you rehearse?
Chris: We record and rehearse at our place in LA. It’s actually a pretty nice space but it has its quirks. Being in the middle of the city, it can get a little noisy when we’re trying to track something. We also want to keep up a good vibe with our neighbors so we try to be aware of the hours we’re working.
What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?
Chris: Oh Jeez, it may have been a blues song about leaving. Can’t recall a lyric nor do I remember what/who I wanted to leave!
Eleanor: One of my first songs was called Just Friends and wound up on my solo record, Airplanes. “Just friends, lord it’s the hardest thing and it’s the best thing, for you and me right now.”
Describe your first gig.
Chris: My mom was an artist and she had a booth at the Westheimer Arts Fest in Houston TX. I must have been in the 3rd or 4th grade and talked my way onto a stage with a bunch of songwriters and played tamborine with them. Those guys were so cool for putting up with me.
Eleanor: I think it was a talent show in kindergarten, where my parents backed me up on the Cotten-Eyed Jo. Or one of my early Suzuki recitals.
What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?
Chris: I worked at a guitar shop briefly in my early twenties. I don’t think I was the best employee as I’d come in to work exhausted every morning. I feel very lucky to make a living playing music. Even if it’s not always the most fiscally rewarding path, I feel rich with friends, loved ones and experiences.
Eleanor: I worked as a dispatcher at an airport. I would call and make sure the pilots were awake and make the coffee and answer the phones.
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?
Chris: I think a freelancer will always have a wildly varying income. To make matters more complicated, it’s very difficult to balance art and commerce. It’s difficult to say “no” when some kind of gig or session comes along but the older we get the more we realize the importance of self care, whether that’s meditation and yoga, or passing on an opportunity so we can relax at home w/ our dog. Who knows what the future holds, we try to squirrel away what we can for when things get lean.
What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?
Chris: My dad always told me “Don’t sweat the small shit… And it’s all small shit”. I think of that often when worrying about inconsequential things. It’s a lot easier to get into a creative headspace when not consumed with a bunch of trivial bullshit.