Monthly Archives: July 2012

Thoughts on 4ARM leaving their US tour

Melbourne band 4ARM have created a little bit of a stir over the past twenty-four hours by quitting their US tour. Apparently fed up with no organisation, no communication from the promoter Nemesis Records, tiny venues, and a string of broken promises, they’ve decided to cut their losses and finish up the tour. Their press release is up over here.

Naturally the metal scene – being the wordly, sympathetic bunch that they are – had their own thoughts to share on the matter:

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Ah, the good old predictable heavy-metal scene doing what it does best: shooting itself squarely in the foot. I don’t know 4ARM, I haven’t heard their music, haven’t met the guys, but I love being a contrarian and I’ve been in their position before so I’ll say the following:

Good on them.

I am so biased on this topic. Every US tour for me followed the same pattern: get tour contract from booking agent, negotiate conditions for backline and pay, get a list of venues, book air tickets to the US and get visas, arrive in the US, FIND OUT THAT EVERYTHING WE WERE TOLD WAS BULLSHIT AND THAT WE’RE EXPECTED TO GET ON WITH IT AND PLAY.

Um, hello? I may be an unreasonable-expectation having son-of-a-bitch but if I take vacation time from my job to enter into a legal contract where I pay my own money to fly to the other side of the planet to work my ass off on a tour (where I shall incidentally work harder than I do on my day-job), the absolute least I would expect is for the conditions I signed up for to be met.

However this simple ethical concept eludes many US booking agents. Unlike almost every other dick who’s flapping on about this story at the moment, let me back my rant up with an actual true experience. In 2002, Berzerker went to the US to do a tour with Finberg. We had signed contracts, quit jobs, bought our plane tickets, and flew over to do a one month tour with Immolation, Vader, and Origin. We were contracted to use Immolation’s backline for free. When we arrived the tour manager was like, sorry, you are now using Origin’s backline. Oh, and you’re paying them US$100 a week for the pleasure. And if you don’t like it? Well, I guess you’re not playing. What, your contract says otherwise? Well YOU’RE IN AMERICA NOW, LITTLE AUSSIE BAND. What are you going to do about it?

First we complained to the label who, true to form, said “that’s terrible” and did nothing. Next step? Complained to the booking agent and asked him to uphold this legally binding contract. Or at least we tried. He was on a holiday in Thailand and was too busy fucking kids to respond to any calls or emails. We were stuck. The only way we could afford to leave the country and go to our next tour was to play the shows. This is why I can’t judge 4ARM like everyone else is so happy to do; if we had enough money, there’s a pretty good chance we would have bailed. And I’m sure many bands would have done the same.

This wasn’t a one-off incident for us by the way. Every trip to the US was the same: lying thieving booking agents, venues who won’t pay you, venues who decide they’re suddenly entitled to 30% of your merch takings, suddenly being notified by the agent that you will be playing a show for free and he’s taking the earnings, and so on. It’s a different story if you play the UK or Europe.

If 4ARM are guilty of anything, it’s of doing a shitty PR job of initially explaining why they quit the tour. By posting a picture of a sub-par venue as an explanation, they opened themselves up to those hoary old chestnuts that the industry uses to continue exploiting touring bands: You are letting the fans down. You’re letting the other bands on tour down. We provided everything we said we would, what’s the problem? That venue was good enough for <insert now-famous band> to play in, do you think you’re better than them? Are you rockstars, or something? You may be big in <rest of the planet> BUT YOU’RE IN AMERICA NOW, YOU NOBODY!

Metal fans being, well, metal fans, swallow this BS hook line and sinker. It’s not enough that bands no longer make money on CDs or touring, but now we’re supposed to spend our money travelling the planet on bogus piece-of-shit tours playing dusty shacks for you illegally-downloading smelly metal fucks? I thought metal fans would like actually be in the corner of the metal bands they’re supposed to be supporting? Obviously not. Go listen to Bieber, pricks.

And while I’m wrapping up this rant, I need to address a couple of things people have said which seem to reoccur in every discussion of this type:

“They should be grateful to even be playing the US, I’d do anything to play there with my band!”

No you wouldn’t, otherwise you’d be doing it. Any Australian saying the above is a slack sack of shit. If I questioned them, I would drill down to their lazy-ass excuse in less a minute: Can’t get the time off work. Don’t want to leave the girlfriend for a month. Can’t scrape together the few grand for a plane ticket. Guitarist doesn’t want to do it. Maybe next year.

You weak Aussie bong-jockey bastards. If you would do anything to tour the US, then do anything to tour the US. Quit that job. Leave that girl. Steal that money. Sack that guitarist, hire a new one, and go now. That’s what almost every Oz band (yep, even the ones you whinge about and rip on) have had to go and do. And if you don’t have the cojones to do the same, yet feel entitled enough to speculate about how much better you’d act on tour, then have fun living your lie. I say this with the knowledge that when you really want to tour overseas you can achieve that in less than a year.

“Pay your dues”

Yeah nice one, Yoda. Stick your dues right up your ass.

What does “pay your dues” mean, anyway? The translation of it seems to be “work and get ignored and shafted by everyone until an ill-defined moment decided by pompous dickheads who don’t matter that you may start to live like a human-being”. I’ll tell you all something now: paying your dues is for suckers.

I remember hearing the cry of “but they didn’t pay their dues” grow fainter as my plane lifted off in 2001, destination: America. Melbourne metal bands were in uproar that my band, after only playing about four shows, was already heading off to the US. I’ll freely admit, they were better musicians, made better music, and had paid their dues – which counted for fuck-all. We hurdled that group-hug dues-paying bunch and went out to the world to destroy…which is what anyone with any balls goes and does. While we were on the road they were on the internet filling our website guestbook up with all sorts of hate. The idea was that we should have played more shows and gotten more popular at home before heading out to the world.

The industry loves talking about those mythic first US tours for AC/DC and The Police, where they travelled around sleeping on a tricycle, eating their own bootlaces, and getting paid with punches to the face.”Look where they are now!” Yeah, well, I guarantee the conversation in the van every night went like this:

“I want to go home. I hate this. I should have stayed with my teaching job. Why? WHY?!”
“Because we can’t afford to do literally anything except drive to the next venue, play, and hope someone gives us a sandwich to share so we don’t starve to death.”

And for every AC/DC that came out of the other end of that experience and arrived at success, there are hundreds of bands that went home broke, miserable, and quit immediately. And that was in the days when it was possible to make a living from metal. It doesn’t have to be this way. Bands don’t want necessarily to be rockstars, or multimillionaires. We’re not that deluded. If we’re spending our money and time travelling on one of the longest and most expensive plane flights in the world, all we want is for our business partner at the other end NOT to fuck us over from the moment we arrive.

In closing, I’ll leave metal with a piece of knowledge that a lot of teenagers already know: people treat you how you allow them to treat you. If you let a someone get away with calling you a ho, banging you in the ass, stealing your stuff and hitting on your friends, then quite often they will. If you let booking agents and tour managers in the US get away with not paying you, not supplying schedules, not paying promised advances, or supplying backlines, they will. In such times your only recourse may be to walk away from the business contract you are in. Real fans will be disappointed, but will understand. Everyone else can go to hell.

And Short Fuse are a bunch of Uncle Toms.

“Prince played here. What, are you too big to play here or something? You ROCKSTARS”

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Killing Nails

This is Nails.

He’s a good friend of ours and we nearly killed him while on tour, somewhere on the M1 in the UK on a dark and stormy night.

We first met Nails on the evening of December 10th 2002 at The Underworld in Camden, London. We were there for some pre-tour partying and to meet up with Immolation as they were beginning a European tour. We had just finished a lap of the US with them, and it was a pleasant freakout for us to wave goodbye in Texas and then catch up a week later in the stank bowels of Camden.  We also wanted to size up the venue as we’d be playing there a few days later on our first Berzerker UK headline tour.

I forget at which point in the evening we met Nails but he established himself as an interesting character right off the bat. “Why are you called Nails?” He stuck a large nail a few inches into his nose and hammered it the rest of the way using the bottom of a pint glass. I was delighted at the trick. We ran around the Underworld that night as a double act where I’d help hammer it in, and then lick the nail when it came out. He helpfully introduced us to all sorts of metal celebs and media types. It turned out that apart from being the man about London he was also a large distributor of extremely sickening mail-order porn. The dude was heaven-sent. Everyone in the band was on a quest to wreck their sensibilities as much as possible, and this man was the fixer we needed.

He graduated from fun acquaintance to solid friend a couple of days later when we played London. We had no roadies, t-shirt guys, anything, and our gig was packed out. The queue for the merchandise desk ran all the way up the stairs and out of the venue. We normally worked the merch table ourselves but were getting stretched between both media commitments and the record label, not to mention having to abandon table to play our gig. Nails volunteered to look after the merch which was rather generous seeing as he’d come to the show to actually see us play, not to sell shirts. Normally we didn’t trust anyone with our merch or money….ANYONE. Even if they were a trusted friend it was just too easy to fuck up change, or lose track of money, or take your eyes off the CDs and then have them nicked.

Sounds paranoid? Fans walk off with stuff all the time. One time I caught some Mexican guy doing it with CDs in America. I leapt the table, ripped them off him, and jumped back over the table to make sure no-one else absconded with our shit. He spent the rest of the night saying “Fuck You” to me in a funny accent. I’d heard of Emperor starting a tour, and getting a box of their shirts walked in the first week. If you pay for merch it’s stressful, because you usually only hit your break-even point three or four shows from the end of a two week tour. If any stuff gets stolen then you have to hustle your heavy metal asses off just to ensure you don’t end the tour out of pocket to the merchandise manufacturers.

We shouldn’t have worried. Nails was safe. We finished the gig and got back to the table and he’d not only handled our merch, but all the other bands merch as well. He had all the money counted, all the product tallied, sweet as could be. It was also our busiest night ever; we sold thousands of pounds of stuff. Bootleggers certainly took notice. Each time we came back to England we’d end up terrorising and chasing pikey bastards who’d stand out the front of our shows selling five pound knock-off shirts.

We felt kind of bad that Nails had missed the show so we made it up to him by kidnapping him and bringing him along with us whenever we played England. This worked well for us because we got a merch guy, ‘entertainment engineer’, and cultural commissar all in one package. Self-interest was always one of our strengths. I imagine Nails was pretty happy with the deal as well, right up until when we almost-murdered him on the side of a motorway.

It was an Earache Records package tour starting late March 2003. We were on the road with Corporation 187 and December. December was a Californian emo/hardcore band who probably would have been the revered godfathers of all this deathcore non-sense if they’d stuck at it for a few more years. We were travelling not only with Nails but a new drummer called Ryan, who we’d found in Florida the week beforehand…literally, the week beforehand. He was Gary’s replacement after Gary broke his foot. I will at some point give up the story of how we found a replacement drummer in such a short space of time when remembering it doesn’t hurt my brain. All you need to know about Ryan in the meantime is that he was a big American dude who handled going on his first ever trip overseas about as well as you could expect: he was hopeless, inappropriate, couldn’t hold his alcohol, and upon bonding with Corporation 187 he’d punch things yelling out “I’m Swedish!” in his strong Florida Baptist-boy accent.

We had finished a show at the Cathouse in Glasgow and headed off to some massive club for a post-show party. Dudes were getting drunk and chasing girls, I was convincing a dude who wanted to be in a band that it was the worst thing that can happen to a person, and Ryan was bouncing up and down telling bemused onlookers that he was Swedish. After a few hours of this we headed back to the bus. We were travelling on a big Skyliner, one of those double-decker jobs with rear lounges. I hated that bus. I’m pretty sure the exhaust ran right through a pipe into the lower lounge. We tried to hang out down there one night and almost hallucinated on the fumes. We had a bunk each but there was no place to put your personal effects or luggage. Well, you could stash it in the hold of the bus but that meant you’d have to stop, open the luggage bay doors, and unpack the bags every time you wanted to brush your teeth or fetch a clean pair of socks. I emptied my luggage bag, put all my clothes under my bunk mattress, smoothed them out as best as possible and slept on top of my stuff. Luke just left his bag in the aisle.

So I was already at the bus when Luke arrived back. The moment he arrived, two girls sort of appeared out of nowhere. One was a chubby little Boadicea with braids, the other one was a cute number with blue hair. Luke walked up to Little Miss Blue-Hair, said a couple of words, and they started making out. I was amazed. It was definitely the quickest pick-up I’ve ever witnessed. I found out later that Luke had taken a fancy to ‘bluey’ working in a bar opposite to where we were parked, and told her to ditch her boyfriend and come with us. She asked for five minutes to get her friend and grab some stuff. He gave her two. It only took one more minute to convince both girls to come far away on a magical journey full of wonder and excitement: our smelly tourbus chock-a-block with drunken metal bands.

Everyone squeezed into the top lounge. It was these two girls and about fifteen threatening shitfaced dudes. The bus started the drive from Glasgow back down into England. The girls were flashing their boobs and everyone was taking photos. Someone put on some Iron Maiden, and Nails put on one of his horrifying porn videos. I overheard one of the Corporation 187 guys say “the Haunted tour was NOTHING like this!” The December bassist was smoking spliffs downstairs, and Ryan was punching the ceiling screaming that he was Swedish.

And I went to bed. I was over it.  There was nowhere to sit, I didn’t give a fig for boobs, I hate Iron Maiden, and I wanted to go to sleep and dream of someplace warm and clean. I think I told Ryan if he said the word ‘Swedish’ again, I was going to cut him. I was in the later stages of road-burn.

Be a Rock Star! Tour the World! Battle insanity and sleep deprivation!

I slept for about forty minutes, maybe an hour, and then I woke up. I don’t know why I woke up. Hell, I can’t even remember if I was really asleep or just staring at the ceiling of my bunk two centimetres from my nose. I had missed two events which I’ll point out before going further. The blue haired girl had popped downstairs and smoked some spliff with the December bassist, who kindly tried to talk her out of her career of flashing on tour buses. And Luke went downstairs to fetch her, and brought her back to his bunk. Her smoking the spliff may or may not have influenced what happened next.

The blue-haired girl was in Luke’s bunk when she freaked out. Did she freak out because of the spliff? Did Luke whisper in her ear that he was going to give her a Tokyo Sandblaster then flush her down the bus toilet? I don’t know. Don’t be getting the wrong idea about Luke. For sure he was an absolute menace. These days though, his facebook page is ninety percent models he has artistically photographed and ten percent pictures of cats. Our bunks were opposite and I just happened to be looking out of my curtain when blue-hair burst out of Luke’s bunk, pulling her top on. She charged down the corridor in the direction of the driver and headed for the stairs. Luke leaned out of his bunk, yelling “yeahhhh, tuck and roll bitch!” We said “tuck and roll” a few more times, high-fived, and laughed like goats.

*edit: I take back everything I said. Luke is a fucking monster. I always send friends these articles before sticking them on the blog if there’s a chance that they’ll object to how they’re portrayed. I was worried Luke might be concerned as to how this story makes him look. He called back to harangue me for not making this incident sound brutal enough and said, quote:  “I wish I choked her to death so you could write ‘Sam saw her lifeless arm dangling from the side of Luke’s bunk while he gripped her neck like a microphone in mid-gig rage. Then we tied her with some rope to the back of the bus and dragged her all the way to Nottingham, and when we got off there was no body left just some frayed rope like in National Lampoon’s Vacation. I hate women. HA HA! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

He is currently helping find the UFC Ring Girl for the Australian edition of The Ultimate Fighter.

Seconds later, the bus came to screeching shuddering stop. The fat roly-poly chick with the braids was thrown sideways out of a top bunk, fell a good six feet and landed in the aisle. She was in her underwear. A second later – and to his eternal shame – Nails peeked out from the same bunk to see what was going. Braids started bellowing for her friend in a deep, unnatural, Scottish voice. “Natasha! NATASHA!” She bounded down the aisle for the stairs, vomiting on herself and Luke’s bag. “And now she’s spewing all over my bag”, commentated Luke. “Yes, very good. Very fucking good. Excellent. Great.”

Photo included purely to link Nails’ face to the idea of people banging chubby man-voiced vomiting women

It turned out Natasha – the blue haired chick – had screamed at the bus driver to stop the bus immediately. Being an idiot, he did. She then leaped out the door and ran off into the night. It was raining heavily and we were in the middle of nowhere. Her braided friend bounced downstairs and was yelling at her to get back on the bus in her loud Crying-Game voice. She actually threatened to beat her to within an inch of her life if she didn’t return immediately. Scottish girls, eh? Nails went outside in his union jack boxer shorts to go searching for Natasha who by then had leaped a fence into a nearby field. Luke got out of his bunk and headed downstairs, ostensibly to boot the braided chick out of the door and tell the bus driver to keep driving. Baz, the tour manager, got up to see what all the fuss was about. The bus driver reversed the bus to get off the motorway and managed to back over Nails.

“He steps on the clutch, and then Nails goes CRUNCH, and he…”

Nails had worked his way towards the rear of the bus, and was looking for a gap in the fence when the bus got him. It was a barbed wire fence too. Luke by then was in the rear lower gas-chamber lounge, reaching out from the door and trying to drag Nails back in before he went under the wheels. I could hear Luke and Baz screaming at the bus driver to stop reversing, I could hear the driver screaming back at them. I could hear the braided chick screaming “NAH-TASH-AH! NAH-TASH-AHHH!” I think I may have been able to even hear Natasha screaming in the field, losing her mind. I sighed, lay back in my bunk, closed the curtains, and put my Walkman on.

Nails lived. He got squashed up against a barbed wire fence but they managed to stop the driver reversing long enough to drag him out. He broke some ribs and was shredded a bit. Luke managed to film the entire thing. Even though Nails was about to get crushed, Luke made sure he had the handycam running in one hand the entire time. The video shows an emotional Nails saying “You saved my life! LUKE KENNY SAVED MY LIFE!” 

“AND DON’T YOU FUCKING FORGET IT” snarled Luke.

The girls were dropped off at the nearest truck-stop rest-station and given enough money for a cab back to Glasgow. When it came down to it, the real victim was Baz the tour manager. The police fined the bus for parking beside the motorway or something, and the fine found its way back to Baz. He tried to get Earache to pay for it but they weren’t having that. He didn’t pay the fine, eventually went to court, and scored some jail time. We toured with him again afterwards but he was a different man, and not for the better either.

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