I’ve been writing about metal for four years now, and I’ve started to get chances to hang out with some legit ‘rock stars’ or at least big names. Asides from being at the same party as Steven Tyler (Although he was in a higher security area then I was permitted access too) I’ve gotten to hang out with the likes of Napalm Death, Death Angel, and Soulfly. Otherwise, I seem to spend a lot of time in the company of various touring bands. I’d consider a lot of them to be my close personal friends. In my time I’ve learned some cool things and some not so-cool things, and even some things which were downright disheartening. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences:
5. No one has as much money as you thought
Even today, I am always shocked by how many of the people who we view as ‘superstars’ actually aren’t quite as well off as we might have thought. Some bands wear this proudly on their sleeve. For example with Napalm Death, the band members still help drive the van and they still don’t use a tour bus, simply to save money. When I first found this out I was fairly shocked, how could a band this big, this well known, and so legendary not be able to afford a tour bus? Yet this is the brutal truth for a lot of big name metal bands.
One thing I’ve gathered from a lot of the big name thrash bands that have reunited in recent years (Namely Death Angel and Exodus) is that part of the reason these guys can do it is because there kids are out of school now and they don’t have to pay for them. As Zetro of Exodus said “I have no ties back on the homestead, so I can do this now” In my naivete I’d always assumed that my favorite musicians had the cash to go out and tour even while they had kids, but as I keep finding out, this is often not the case. Sure I always knew a lot of big name dudes still had day jobs, but I didn’t realize this even applied to dudes who have been playing since the 80s!
4. No one is as famous as you thought
The biggest name I’ve probably met is Max Cavalera. Here’s a guy who, while he maybe didn’t revolutionize metal, is definitely one of the most important figures in the genre. He’s one of the few guys who has pretty much as much money as you thought, and is always doing something cool and exciting. He’s sold millions of records, toured the world thousands of times, and you see shirts for his bands on the backs of fans from Rio to Beijing. Suffice to say, he’s kind of a big deal.
His neighbors barely know who he is.
I’ve seen the members of Napalm Death walk around the inside of venues without being harassed by fans. I’ve seen Nick Turner of motherfucking HAWKWIND, this guy has worked with LEMMY of frikkin MOTORHEAD casually walk down the street. No one is as famous as you think they are, and on most occasions, I’ve discovered that my perception of someones fame is not at all correct with the general public. Trey of Inter Arma and Bastard Sapling put it best when he said to me “When I go back to my hometown and see people who know about my touring stuff they say ‘So you’re like a rock star?’ and I say ‘No, I may be more famous than you, but I’m not a rock star’”
3. Rock star antics are a thing of the past
A question I sometimes get asked when explaining my job to people is; “So you hang out with famous musicians, do you ever throw TV’s out hotel windows?” The answer of course is no. In fact, most ‘rock stars’ don’t really do much of anything that the common man might consider crazy. See, asides from being under contracts, like I said in the first part of this article, these guys are often pretty close to broke. They can’t afford to deal with a hotel fining them over a wrecked room.
Also, a lot of the people we consider ‘stars’ or ‘legends’ are kind of old. Sure at places like Hellfest we might all hang out and go to strip clubs and hang out with porn stars, but that’s hardly the norm. Most of the time these guys just hang out backstage, drink a few beers before going on, rock as hard as they can, and then go help out at the merch stand. Nothing is more surreal than watching a band rock in front of 50,000 people and then go to the bar to have a few drinks before hitting the road. Crazy parties aren’t that common, and the kind you see in movies like Almost Famous and Get Him To The Greek happen once or twice a year at most.
2. Tour life is ridiculously hard
Imagine spending eight hours a day in a car, getting to a shitty club, having to play at the peak of your ability, and then going to sleep at three in the morning inside the same car you drove in. That’s essentially what going on tour entails. It’s not for the faint of heart, and a lot of people can tell you that being ‘on the road’ is a lot less fun than the romantic image we have of it might imply. Touring bands face all manner of adversity. Asides from often traveling through unfamiliar territory and often never having met the booker before the night of the show, these guys have to be able to keep up enough sanity to do what they’re on the road trying to do, that is to say, play a good show.
I’ve had a lot of really strange conversations with touring bands where I discover that my perception of how shitty tour life can be is perpetually overoptimistic. For example, one time I commented to a friend of mine that he looked dead tired, he turned and cheerfully said “I am, I’ve gotten one hour of sleep in the past thirty six!” Take whatever perception you have of tour life and then half that, then half it again, now you have a sense for what it’s like to go on tour. This is not always a fun thing to do, but for some reason hundreds if not thousands of bands trek across America every year, and that’s because…
1. Touring is the most rewarding thing you will ever do.
Time and time again I have heard it “This is what we love to do” Sure you may be poor, unknown, tired of parting, and just generally a victim of poor living conditions, but you’re having fun. I’ve learned that though there is little to no support for touring bands and you’re often just trying to break even, its worth it. With even a shitty tour where you only do house shows you’re still reaching out to people and connecting with fans. Giving people a release and helping them through their own shittiness is why these bands do it.
So think about that next time you go to a concert. The people playing in front of you, even when they are in very well known bands, are probably kind of miserable. But they’re still doing it, and there’s no chance of them stopping. It’s not because we pay them that they do this, hell, many touring bands actually lose money touring. Ultimately it’s about the passion and a love for the music that allows anyone, no matter what age, to find true redemption through the music they love.