Tag Archives: Berzerker

Flunkies, and Putting Stickers on AC/DC’s Tourbus

We woke up in a splitter van in a supermarket car-park somewhere in Cleveland. I think it was Cleveland, it could have been any one of those mashed-potato central-east states in the USA. There were six of us in the van. The van was jammed full of us, merchandise boxes of clothes and stickers and Berzerker CDs, our smell, and our rubbish. The drummer was a particularly filthy specimen, as drummers are wont to be. He had taken to draping his sweat-drenched unwashed gig top over a seat he’d marked as ‘his’ in the van. The stench was incredible. It smelled like someone had murdered a pig and then left it in a hot sauna for a month. No-one really wanted his seat, not after he’d let his miasma soak into it.

I hadn’t really been sleeping much in the previous weeks. I had taken to sitting in the front passenger seat. Although we agreed pre-tour to move around all the time, you end up claiming seats as your own after a week or two. I think it comes from living in such close quarters. The borders of privacy get pushed back so far that you start claiming turf and ownership, no matter how small and petty the object of that may be. So the front seat by that point was ‘mine’. I had a good view of the USA as we drove straight past all the lovely bits straight to the ghettos where our gigs invariably were. I could talk to the driver – a huge Puerto-Rican called Tito – which wasn’t necessarily pleasant but was often interesting, and made for a nice change-up from the bitching coming from some of our session musicians. I could hear the stereo clearly, and bands such as At the Drive-In and Deftones were being forever linked up in my mind with travelling the US. I could be alone, or as alone as you can be in a splitter van of six people. But the downside of the front seat was that you couldn’t stretch out and it was almost impossible to fall asleep in it. Somehow that night, I had managed to actually get some sleep. Not much, but enough to keep me going for a another few days.

So we woke up. It was a bright sunny day. The car park was completely empty except for us and an enormous black bus parked only one hundred metres away. We all goggled at it. It was a sky-liner, a touring bus. We saw the words AC/DC on the side of it. Jesus Christ, it was the AC/DC tour-bus. We remembered seeing billboards advertising their show in Cleveland, same day as ours. Then we saw Angus Young’s name down the side, with the words ‘On Tour Now’ and the website address for the ‘Angus Army’. Fuck…the entire bus was just for Angus Young. The bus was so big it looked like it ejaculated splitter vans. To be a touring band and have your own sky-liner is pretty damn luxurious. For each member to have their own personalised sky-liner was beyond ridiculous. The difference between us and them couldn’t have been greater.

 

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“Lads, we’ll be there one day. It might take another 100,000 years though”

 

Yet when we thought about it, there were actually similarities between us. We were the first Australian heavy metal band since AC/DC to do a full tour of the USA. One or two others had popped over for a show or two, but no-one else had actually done a tour tour. To add to the similarities, we had a session guitarist called Mark Evans. Their 1975 album “High Voltage” was released the day before I was born. Shit, we were practically brothers!

The course of action was obvious. We grabbed a handful of t-shirts and hoodies, some CDs, some stickers and headed over to the bus. We had images in our heads of Angus skipping up and down the front of the stage doing his mental-drooling-schoolboy act wearing a Berzerker t-shirt. Our CDs were insanely heavy, our stickers were insanely strong. Seriously, the stickers were industrial strength. Luke and I had put them on road cases and they were impossible to remove. They were possibly the only things still holding my cases together. I had tried removing one from my guitar case once, and it had ripped a hole in the side.

We arrived at the bus and knocked on the door. After a minute, the door opened. The smell of clean fresh vehicle and leather seating flooded out and we were met at the stairwell by a short, fat, bleach-blonde American bus driver. We explained to him that we were an Australian metal band on tour in the US, come to this very bus to pay homage to our forbears, and that we had brought gifts of music and song and stickers and shit, and could he please do us the honour of passing these on to Angus? Furthermore, was Angus home and could we have a chat? We were all Australian after, and we could enjoy ourselves some antipodean repartee and a breakfast beer.

“Fuck off” said the bus driver, and closed the door in our faces.

It took a further minute or so for our enthusiasm to finally deflate. We hadn’t expected to get on that bus. What we had expected was for the bus driver to say a couple words explaining Angus’s unavailability, accept our stuff, and probably chuck it in a bin, or better yet leave it on a table for a few hours before chucking it in a bin. We knew the only way Angus Young would wear our shirt is if he woke up, realised the only clothing he had was his sweat-soaked tour shirt that was beginning to get that dead-pig-tour smell, somehow didn’t have another shirt to hand, and threw on the nearest clean clothing out of desperation. We knew that. But we also knew that if you play enough long shots, one of them might eventually come through. I was a small-town Aussie boy on a tour in the US with my Earache band, after all. Anything can happen.

We wandered around the outside of the bus and ended up at its hindquarters. There was a fetching photo of Angus looking demented on the back of it. We wondered if he was asleep up top. The back of a sky-liner is the obvious place to put the bedroom if you’re kitting it out for one person. We thought about banging on the back window but knew no good would come of it. Then we realised what we were holding.

The course of action was obvious.

I put a sticker down on the bumper bar and pressed it good and proper, no loose edges. That one sticker was going to take someone a lot of time to get off. I put another sticker on the back picture. Then another. And then the other guys grabbed some, and we stickered the shit out of the back of that beautiful custom sky-liner. Getting them off would require hours and hours of elbow grease or a professional service and would likely damage the surfaces they were on. Some might have called it vandalism. We saw it as the gift that kept giving.

 

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I always preferred Slayer anyway, you midget

 

******

Silly bus driver. He just created so much extra work for himself by lacking some basic manners. I’d come across this shit time after time after time in the music industry. You get flunkies who have bigger attitudes than the bands that they’re working for. Angus Young, by all accounts, is an absolutely lovely guy. Almost every band I’ve come across are decent dudes who are more often than not lovely and polite. But on occasion the drivers, roadies, tour managers, and support staff can be such dicks. It’s almost like they absorb any residual ego which would normally attach itself to an artist. And every time one of these guys acts like a shit to someone, they tarnish the reputation of who they work for. Given the choice, I prefer the pleasure of tarnishing my own reputation myself.

I remember being on the way to a European festival in a van with some of the guys from Mithras and Pain and one of the guitar techs for Opeth. We had all been picked up from the airport. The tech’s self-regard was so enormous, there was barely room for the rest of us in the van. I think it was one of the Mithras guys who later showed me a clip on YouTube. It was Opeth live onstage somewhere. They were mid-song, and Mikael’s guitar had cut out. In the middle of it was the very same guitar tech, running around trying to get it all working again. It took minutes and minutes for him to get it going, while the band tried to jam and banter and do anything to fill in the silence. It was excruciating.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

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Getting a guitar smashed over my head

In Berzerker, we knew the importance of stunts.

You want to create a name for yourselves, and you don’t want people to walk away from your show bored to death by another four guys in black t-shirts making a bunch of noise. Metal bands know this. All the old legends had their stunts: Deicide would dress up in spikes and dump bags of entrails over the audience; Slayer had their nail armbands; Morbid Angel would self harm and bleed everywhere; Hawkwind would take massive amounts of drugs almost as performance art; KISS would fuck half the crowd. We’d really prefer people to like us for us, to understand the multilayered musical genius we bring to them, to connect with our music on such a profound spiritual level that all frivolity is rendered unnecessary. But that’d never happen, which is why I planned to have a guitar smashed over my head at a show in Dandenong Town Hall.

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Stand back, sensitive genius musicians at work

It was some gig around 2001, with Frankenbok and Blood Duster. The Alarum guys were in our lineup and we were still friendly with the ‘Bok. Samantha and Sarah from the previous blog entry had organized the show for a high-school communications project, I think. I don’t know. I forget exactly how the idea of the guitar-smashery came about. I may have mentioned how metal it’d be to see someone kick through a gig after getting a guitar broken over their head, and Frankenbok’s Aaron was like, I’ve got a spare acoustic I’ve been meaning to ditch, we can use that!

We spent some time preparing. Wooden acoustic guitars are surprisingly robust. We sawed through the weak points on the neck and the body. The idea was that when I got hit with the guitar, it would shatter into spectacular photogenic pieces. We decided that the techno-break during ‘Burnt’ would be the best time to do the deed. It was the bit of the song that normally entailed some manner of hijinx. Aaron would ‘sneak’ up behind me, smash the guitar over me, I’d aim a kick at him and chase him offstage. Too easy.

Something I kind of remember from before the gig – I was getting a late lunch at the KFC in Dandenong, close to the Town Hall, and I saw a dude making some scantily clad girls walk around the block. I was watching it for a while until I finally clocked what I was seeing. I disliked Dandenong for quite a while afterwards, a rough lawless place where hookers ambulated betwixt Town Hall and fast-food joints, and that dislike lasted right up until the night I partied with Skinless at ‘The Block’ in Baltimore. That night kinda reset my dodginess bar a bit.

So, the gig. We’re bashing our horrifying music out at a million miles an hour. Kids seemed into it. I had learned from earlier gigs to put a head-towel on so my that my mask wouldn’t move around, and my face was blacked-up like Al Jolson so none of my skin was visible to anyone. We’d also begun our lifelong romance with the smoke machine and strobe lighting. We used to rehearse with them going. We’d mask up, go into the rehearsal room in Luke’s house – which was a converted bedroom – turn the smoke machine and the strobe on, and rehearse for forty minutes. It seemed to affect us all in different ways. I remember I’d end up hallucinating a white horse galloping in the top right hand corner of my vision from the third song onwards.  When I saw the album cover to Deftone’s “White Pony” for the first time, I nearly started flashing back.

BUSHFIRES TASMANIA

Pictured: Berzerker gig circa 2001

We hit the assigned bit of ‘Burnt’ and I ripped my guitar off and stalked to the front of the stage. Then I realized I had a problem. My mask had no peripheral vision and we’d pumped heaps of smoke into the place, so I couldn’t even see the drum riser. I had no idea where Aaron was, or which direction he was coming from. There was just too much smoke. I had assumed that I’d be able to spot him coming from the corner of my eye and brace myself. You can handle some big hits just as long as you see them coming. But all I could see was smoke, and the other band members getting the fuck out of the way. When the guitar hit me, I was totally unprepared.

The guitar broke halfway across my shoulders and half on the back of my head. It didn’t splinter and shatter. It kind of just crumpled in half. I had that where-am-I feeling for a moment, then spun around. I could see Aaron scampering off the stage. I lost it for a second and swung a serious kick his way – which missed by a mile – then realized my mouth was wet. I spat on the stage and it was dark. When the show finished and I got my mask off, I had a look in the mirror and worked out what happened. I had chomped into my lip, and it bled everywhere.

It could have been worse. When I was a kid at boarding school, we had to do a task called ‘axesplit’ where we started the term off by riding a ute into the bush, about an hour away from school. We’d find stacks of logs and would reduce them to size by driving wedges into the cracks and bashing them with sledgehammers. Then we’d load the wood into the back the ute. I was lifting a piece with another guy, and a student teacher came up behind us unannounced and hefted the log up and over. I wasn’t prepared for the help and the log smacked me in the face on the way past, driving my front teeth through the inside of my mouth and out the base of my lip. We were too far out in the bush to leave straight away and couldn’t spare the vehicle so we kept working for another hour, then headed back. The matron did a shit job sewing my lip back up so whenever I drank anything, it would dribble out of my face. She also tied the stitches in a bow and cut the ends off, so it looked like I had a spider on my mouth. I was called ‘Spiderman’ for the rest of the year. An Austrian guy tried to hit the ‘spider’ off my mouth a few weeks later when I was skiing.

Anyway that was it for the show, the only other bit of it I remember is Tony from Blood Duster saying to Samantha “hey Sam…you’re eighteen now, yeah?” We headed back to Luke’s place for post-gig celebrations, but I didn’t feel like celebrating when we got there. I had a massive headache and it was getting worse by the minute. I had some Panadol but they didn’t seem to be doing anything. Occasionally I get those headaches where they just seem impervious to everything. Some of the girls recommended pinching the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and my forefinger, which stopped a tiny bit of the throbbing. It was still pretty bad though. I had another fistful of Panadol and ended up going outside to the pool in the backyard. I lay on the side and dipped my head in the water which seemed to ease the pain off a bit. It was a warm night, and the concrete by the pool was still toasty. I feel asleep with my head in the water.

I woke up slowly the next day. Someone was licking my face and my mouth. The sun was nice and warm, and the pain was gone. I kept my eyes closed. It was a bright day. The playful licking continued and I giggled a bit. I thought yeah, this is how gigs are supposed to end.

I opened my eyes. Luke’s small mangy dog was macking me, it was nearly midday, and I was sunburned.

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Slow Boat to Ireland

“The ferry to Ireland has been cancelled. We can’t make the show.”

It was raining. Berzerker was doing a UK tour in 2006 with Norwegian band Miksha, UK metallers Nekkrosis, and German DJ Bazooka, when we were told that we couldn’t play Ireland. This news was met with half déjà vu, half despair; déjà vu because we’d been booked to play Ireland three times previously and the gig got cancelled EVERY time, and despair because we were certain that THIS WAS THE TIME we were going to play there.

 

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This guy, on a treadmill in front of us, pausing occasionally to smash mirrors.

 

 

We were despairing extra-hard because the tour so far had been, as usual, a shambles. We were breaking in a new tour manager called Nobby Styles*, who ended up running off owing about four thousand pounds or so after the tour. I spoke to him on the phone post-tour and he was actually like yep-yep-yep, the-money’s-coming-I’m-good-for-it before moving to Italy, changing his phone number, and disappearing forever. I guess he had to do a runner, because the shows were so poorly booked that we’d only get about thirty people to each one. He must have lost so much money. I’m looking at some of the towns and places we played at on this tour….Rushden….Pontypridd….Weston-Super-on-Mare…

The tour nearly ended in Weston-Super-on-Mare when all the bands headed out after the show to see what nightlife existed in the town. Almost everyone had long hair and goatees and were wearing metal shirts. They walked down the road and turned the corner, and right outside a strip club were about sixty chavs all beating the shit out of each other in the street . The chavs all stopped mid-punch and turned to stare at the alternative types with long hair who had just materialized at the end of the road. Then they started coming for them. The guys ran back to the garage where our nightliner bus was parked, pulled the door down, and locked themselves in.

 

Weston Super Mare Pier Burning

Renowned landmark Weston Super-On-Mare Pier, built 1904. I’m honestly surprised it survived as long as it did.

 

 

This is why we were looking forward to Ireland. People we’d met on tour were hostile. The shows had been poorly attended. I’d already fired one of the crew. Fans were getting used to seeing us in England and weren’t turning up in the numbers they did previously. We felt bad for the opening bands who were buy-ons (they paid us to come on tour) and we knew that the Ireland show would be different. We hadn’t been there before, and we knew that we’d get crowds of people all keen to see us play Dublin for the first time. Plus Luke was dead set on going to Ireland come rain, hail, or Ragnarök because of his heritage – “Kenny”.

The weather gods had something else in mind. There was a hurricane laying down some freak weather between the UK and Ireland and the seas were reportedly enormous. Did you know they get hurricanes out that way? You better believe it. There is genuine big-wave surfing off the coast off Ireland. Billabong – the surf company – do an annual XXL video compilation of the biggest waves and biggest wipeouts from around the world, and Ireland has featured on there a few times. We had just played Bolton and the idea was to make for the nearest ferry, take the two-hour trip, get to the venue, and have a relaxing day in Dublin before throwing down. Our local ferry had cancelled though, as had every other ferry on the west coast of the UK. And how long were they cancelled for? Oh, about twenty-four hours…..just long enough for us to miss the Dublin gig.

We were rather upset. We were upset long and loud, and at various people. Absolutely every last soul on that doomed bus understood that we really, REALLY wanted to play the gig. And it was under those conditions that our bus driver Mike** said to us – how badly do you want to play Ireland?

We’ve had many drivers over the years, ranging from inoffensive to the downright incompetent. Mike was the best one by far. He was a lovely guy, fully professional, and understood what a jerry-rigged clusterfuck tours could be. He always made sure that out of the numerous worries you were dealing with, the bus wasn’t one of them. He’s Old School Music Business. He knows how to get shit done. We said to Mike, we REALLY want to play Ireland. If there’s a way to do it, let’s hear it. And Mike said, we can do it but it involves sneaking you in. And it’ll cost 200 pounds. After a short discussion amongst ourselves we said let’s do it.

There was one remaining ferry service on the west coast going to Ireland. Mike put the pedal to the metal and we headed there. Rain was pounding down. We were quiet in the bus. There was an air of Are We Really Doing This? The timing to make the show was brisk under the original plan. Under the new plan, I had no idea how we were going to do it. We were in Mikes’ hands. We arrived at the ferry just before departure, drove into the hold, then boarded it. The ferry left the docks a few minutes later.

All the bands gathered in the lounge on the upper decks where there was a bar with an awesome panoramic view of the sea and an assload of rain. It was hard to tell if there was more water above or below us. We all settled down with some pints and that lovely feeling of comfort you get when you’re somewhere warm and its horrible outside. The weather was astonishingly shit. The elements were hammering down and the ferry slowly made its way from harbor to the channel. Mike was sitting with us as well. This boat ride would normally take a couple of hours, but today it would take ten. When I asked Mike why, he said that it would be dangerous for it to go faster. At this point the upper bar was full of passengers.

We were outside of the harbor and in the Irish Sea when the fun started. The waves were big, and increased quickly in size the further we travelled. People started having problems staying on their feet. The nose of the ferry would climb up the face and we’d reach a moment of equilibrium at the top, before a three to four-second free fall back down the other side. Sometimes the boat would land right in the face of another mammoth oncoming wave. The wave would fly over the nose and hammer into the windows of the upper decks with a force that made people jerk back involuntarily. It was a fantastic spectacle. On the big hits, you could hear the ferry make a strange groaning sound as if the entire structure was being tested down to the last rivet. I have sailed near the infamous Bass Strait, and had a memorable trip in Greece as a child when I sailed with my family during a storm in the Sporades. I had never seen seas like this before.

 

 

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It felt like, oh I don’t know….being on a toy ship getting tossed around in a bath tub

 

 

This was enjoyable for a good ten minutes or so. Then the rollercoaster drops started affecting people. Someone in the lounge vomited and managed to get it in a bin. But that was the trigger. From that moment the other passengers didn’t feel quite right and began filtering back to their cabins. Our little Poseidon’s Adventure was starting to get out of control. The drops became longer, and the hits were harder. My girlfriend at the time was on the tour and starting to feel a bit crook, so Mike offered us a spare cabin that came with the ferry booking. We headed back to that.

It was like a plague had hit the boat. People were swaying and bumping into the walls. There were random piles of spew hither and thither. Other people were lying on the ground in corridors: lying down was the only solution to sea sickness, or at least the only thing that made it manageable. Such was the onset that people weren’t even bothering to get back to their rooms before dropping in the nearest convenient spot. I was doing alright. We had nearly made it back to the cabin and had one staircase left to go. We arrived at the bottom of it just as a lone small girl appeared at the top. Without warning, the little gorgon bent over and projectile vomited all the way down the stairs. I went WOAH and stepped to one side and it spattered past me. Then the smell hit my nostrils and suddenly it became a rush to get up them stairs, get into the cabin, and lie down. I recovered after a while and had a shower, lurching and crashing about the cubicle before sleeping the rest of the way.

 

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Pre-gig preparation, done incorrectly

 

 

When the death-ship pulled into Ireland, I went back up to the lounge. The aftermath kind of reminded me of that scene from Stand By Me, the one where Lardass gets his revenge by spewing on everyone. The lounge was empty except for Miksha. The Norwegians had stayed at the bar drinking for the entire trip and looked none the worse for wear, and were now ready to make land and pillage and loot. We all got into the bus, and were given instructions by Mike: He would not be the one taking us to the gig. He would be driving us to a far corner of the ferry lot. There, we would take the minimum required equipment and our merch boxes, meet a driver Mike had organized for us, and climb into the back of a van with no windows. We would sit quietly and not talk until we arrived at the venue. Mike would exit through customs with the bus the official way, and meet us after the show. It appeared we were getting smuggled into the country, and THAT is how we were to make the gig on time.

Everything happened just as Mike planned it. When the bus stopped, we tiptoed off, grabbed our stuff, and squeezed into the back of the van. We were sitting on boxes of shirts, guitar heads, each other. It swiftly became hot and airless. It was most uncomfortable, especially the feeling that we were in Ireland illegally, in the back of a pitch black van, and we had no idea who the driver was or where he was taking us. I also had no idea what would happen if we were caught. I assumed jail was a possibility, and fines were a certainty. I guess we really wanted to play Ireland after all.

We arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. The security were a bunch of unhelpful bastards. It’s a shame that in a country renowned for the friendliness of its people, I met dickheads right off the bat. We double-timed our gear in, ran it straight up onto stage, and got the venue ready to go. We literally threw our merch up onto the wall, soundchecked the first guys -no time for us to line check – threw the doors open and the first band started playing. We’d done it! We’d survived and made it to Ireland! We were in Dublin about to play our first Irish show ever! We looked around and checked out the venue.

It was near empty. About twenty paying people turned up.

We were tempted to sob into our Guinness right there and then, but at least the Berzerker came out of it okay by the end of the night. Each person who turned up spent an average of 100 euros on our merchandise. The venue had great lights and a projector with a big screen backdrop so we all downloaded our logos, projected them onto the wall, and came out if it with some sick photos. So there’s something. I know bands say it doesn’t matter if only one person shows up, they came to see you so PLAY WITH YOUR HEART. Maybe when you’re starting out, okay. But the audience attendance is a measure of two things: whether you’re on the way up or down, and whether you’ve found a promoter you can work with again. Only a few years before, we could turn up anywhere and people would flock to us and lose their shit and promoters would battle to get our gig. Here, all we were good for were autographs and the whole night said to us you’ve hit the ceiling. This far, and no further. The promoters cut our gig short because they’d double booked us with a reggae night. There were hundreds of people waiting to get in. We double-timed our equipment back out after the show to the curses of the venue security.

We were smuggled back out of the country. We stayed on the bus in the vehicle bay on the ferry, swaying quietly in our bunks.

*****

I have a dream that recurs, but very rarely. I think I’ve only had it three times or so in my life. In the dream, there’s a huge wave. It’s as high as an office block, maybe higher. The wave is right in front of me and it’s about to destroy everything. I can see the moment its mass launches the lip, and the lip starts coming down…tons and tons of water. Then I realize that there’s all the time in the world, and I can walk through the wave. I part it like cellophane curtains and there’s a stage behind it. I walk to the stage door and I exit.

* His real name
** Not his real name

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Three Death Threats

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It was 2001 and we were preparing for the first Berzerker tour of the United States.

The lineup was Luke, myself, and three guys from a Melbourne band called Alarum: Matt, Evans, and Palf. They played drums, guitar, and bass respectively. I was on guitar and vocals, Luke was doing vocals and keyboards/samples. The Alarum guys were first-class musicians, and their band is supremely technical. Musically, they were overqualified for our caveman-style brutality.

However we weren’t after the most technical players. We were after the most brutal ones, the people who didn’t recognise limits and wanted to rabidly smash out songs with overwhelming insanity, not finesse. And the drummer Matt definitely fell into the latter category. He’d play drums holding his sticks with a jazz grip which restricted his ability to play blastbeats. He couldn’t blast above 260 bpm and he definitely couldn’t do a gravity blast, at least back then.

Additionally, the Alarum guys were good friends but a bit of a closed shop. If ever there were band issues then they’d step down from being one-for-all-and-all-for-one bandmates in this together, us versus the world, blah blah blah, to being three session musicians who didn’t have a stake in the band’s future. We thought this would work well at first – you can just tell session musicians what to do, and they’ll do it….right? Wrong. These guys took some managing. And fair enough, they were doing us a favour. No-one else was clamouring at that point to jump aboard the Good Ship Berzerker and travel the world with us. We were an unknown factor. They had their own band which would always be a priority and in their view, we were lucky to get them and the commitment that they could spare.

We didn’t have time to waste in those days. So while we were all rehearsing up for the US tour, Luke and I were already sniffing out other drummers for future touring and recording. The idea was that we’d continue trying to assemble a band committed to Berzerker above everything else. We had already burned our way through a lot of the local talent. Some guy called Russell talked about how amazing he was on drums….but could never make a rehearsal. We dubbed him ‘Russell the Love Muscle’. We’d used Matt Rizzo from Blood Duster for our opening gig but he didn’t want to risk losing his job at the four’n’twenty pie factory by touring overseas. Plus he kept on turning up late to rehearsal for stuff like accidentally leaving his wallet on the train. Then there was some crazy guy who played an electronic kit for a band with the tasteful name ‘Sufferkunt’, who turned out to be way too mental to do anything with.

We even had the pleasure of rehearsing with Psycroptic’s Dave Haley. He turned up to rehearsal and seamlessly blasted his way through the set. It was like a dream. It was like going from driving a car with three flat wheels to one with four new tyres and a brand new engine. And he was the nicest, loveliest dude ever, with his head screwed on extremely straight. He wanted so badly to come on tour – we were supporting Dying Fetus back when Kevin Talley played with them, and he loved both the band and Kevin’s drumming. But he couldn’t do it. The tour and the commitment we demanded clashed with Psycroptic’s gigs (*note: I spoke to Luke – he reminded me that Dave’s actual reason was that he was still at university and was committed to finishing it).  I tried to change his mind by saying “Kevin Talley Kevin Talley Kevin Talley” over and over again, but much as he wanted the gig, he wouldn’t do it. I was like, your loss. This is your one chance to tour the US, it’s not going to come around again.

Ha.

We found a potential new drummer about a month out from tour. The guy was called Mick and he played for a band with the excruciating name ‘Cybergrind’. We turned up to rehearsal to check out his fastest blasts, and he absolutely drilled the kit. His feet blurred, and although his hands weren’t perfect they had great potential. We learned one or two songs, had a bit of a chat. It looked like he could commit to gigs, touring, and recording. We were like, damn, if only we’d found you six months ago then we could have taken you out to this US this time around. We gave him a few more songs to learn and organised to rehearse again in a week’s time.

A week went by. We were rehearsing regularly with the Alarum guys and making preparations to head off overseas. Promotion for the US tour had stepped up. I had the new experience of reading about us online. We were anonymous, barely anyone had seen our show, and we had this reputation as the craziest band ever already. Emails were coming in from the label, booking agent, tour managers, magazines. We went and had our second rehearsal with Mick. This time around, he sucked. His feet were all over the place, his hands were uninspiring. It didn’t look like he’d actually learned more material since the last time we’d caught up. He made some excuses, I forget what….it was a busy week at work, or he was out late the night before or something.

I think we gave him our pump-up talk. We said that the drumming he’d done the week before was some of the fastest we’d seen, that there were tours and recording for Earache records at stake, but he was going to have to work at it. He had to become consistent. He reaffirmed he was fully interested. We laid down the iron rule: he wasn’t to tell anyone he was rehearsing with Berzerker. We were anonymous. No-one outside of the band and a small circle of friends knew who we were. No-one was to know if he was drumming for us. And especially now, he wasn’t to say a word to anyone – we didn’t want the label or promoters getting nervy hearing that we were breaking in a new drummer this close to tour. We’d get back to him on when the next rehearsal was. He apologised for his efforts, and that’s how we left it.

The next day I started getting phone calls. The calls were from friends in the metal scene throughout Melbourne. “Who’s your new drummer?” they asked.

Eh?

Their stories were all the same, and they went like this: there was a gig by a band called Hellspawn at the Arthouse the previous night. A renowned drummer, Matt ‘Skitz’ Sanders, was doing vocals for them. The guy was the number one drummer for metal in Australia at that point. His work with Damaged was groundbreaking, intricate, and extreme. The guy is a nutcase. That night during the performance he was swallowing tattoo ink and vomiting it back up. Mick, the drummer we’d been rehearsing with, attended this gig. It seems that Mick got drunk. Mick loudly told everyone he was the fastest drummer ever. Mick told everyone that he had a new gig. Mick announced that this new gig was with Berzerker, who were faster than everyone else. Mick said he was going on tour with them. Mick nearly got into a punch-on with Skitz when Mick told him that he was a faster drummer than him.

skitz

…crush your idols? Or molest them in the moshpit?
I forget which one

We had a rehearsal with the Alarum guys that night. There was a deliciously uncomfortable moment when Matt straight-out asked us “So, I hear that Mick’s the new drummer, and that he’s going on tour with you?” We were like, what, where’d you hear that? The Alarum guys said EVERYONE knows.

That did it for me. I called Mick that night.

“G’day Mick. Sam from Berzerker here.”
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”
“What? Why -”
“You were at the Arthouse gig last night? The one with Hellspawn?”
“Yeah?”
“Telling everyone you’re the new Berzerker drummer?”
“No! I haven’t told anyone!”
“Telling everyone you’re the fastest drummer ever?”
“No, I never said that! Someone’s bullshitting you. Who’s telling you that?”
“And you didn’t nearly get into a punch-on with Skitz because you said you were a faster drummer than him?”
“Someone’s pulling your leg”
“So why have I received half a dozen calls from people telling me all this stuff?”
“Well I didn’t say anything”
“Not just one person: HEAPS of people are telling me you said this”
“I…I don’t know why they’re saying….”
“And do you know what I had to do tonight? I had to explain to Matt that you weren’t our new drummer, and that you’re not replacing him on tour!”
“Ah, really?…”

“Let me tell you something. You’re a good drummer, but your hands aren’t there. You’re not consistent and you need more practice. You’re not the fastest out there. Not yet. And right now, we have a tour of the US starting in a few weeks. It has taken a day, and all of Melbourne suddenly thinks we have a new drummer. What happens if our label hears this? Or the booking agent? What if they think that we can’t even keep a band together leading up to a tour? Our first overseas tour ever? They’re spending thousands getting us over there, what if they pull the plug because they think we’re about to disintegrate on the eve of our first real chance? Because I tell you right now mate, we’ve worked hard to get this tour, we’d do anything to play it, and if our band got dropped because someone couldn’t keep his mouth shut then I’d fucking kill him. You understand?”

We didn’t rehearse with Mick again.

***

les grossman

We played a gig in Manchester in 2003, covered over here.

After the show, I was packing up and I heard Luke scream “SAM!!!” at the top of his voice. I dropped everything and followed him out the front of the venue. There was some middle-aged guy selling bootleg Berzerker Tour t-shirts for 5 pounds out the front, undercutting us by a large margin.

The poor bastard found himself confronted by two demented sweaty running-makeup Australians stinking of metal and hate. Luke was like, what are you selling here? The bootlegger guy’s like, shirts, I’m allowed to do this. Luke’s like oh yeah, where’d you get permission? I was walking in circles around him, waiting for him to make a break for it so I could tackle him and start beating him. He knew it too. I wanted to kill him. Luke talked to him while I muttered at him in a low voice how we were going to do him. He was scared, and we could all smell it.

The guy said, I got permission from your record label. Luke said, who gave you permission at the label? What’s his name? The guy went, Scott. I laughed. There was no Scott at the label.  Not in the UK, not in the US. The guy showed Luke a piece of paper that was the supposed ‘permission’ from the label. I stopped uttering death and evil and said, well our label always gives us free merch, so you don’t mind if we take some samples do you? The guy said sure, go ahead. I grabbed all of the shirts and started handing them out to the other bands and crew. The guy went, hold on a second and tried to stop me. There was a tug-of-war with the goods. The guy kept trying to grab the t-shirts back off me, going “this is my living!”

And that was the moment Luke exploded. He got right in the guy’s face and screamed at the top of his voice “THIS IS MY LIFE”. Everyone from the show was out the front watching. I was still handing out the shirts. The fella snatched up his bag and made a run for it. We followed him for ten minutes or so. He eventually got away down an alley, and we realised that if we chased him any further there was no guarantee we’d know how to get back to the venue.

When we arrived back at the tourbus, everyone was wearing a bootlegged Berzerker t-shirt.

***

1863171478-Malcolm_Tucker

I was on the phone with Dougie, who was asking me for money.

He had been on tour with us as our soundman with Berzerker in 2006. At least, he had been for a couple of days. We were in Leeds just after the tour started and we were getting ready to go on. I was in the toilet having a pre-gig wee up at the trough when suddenly Dougie came sprinting around the corner. He leaned over the urinal right next to me, whimpered “oh god” in the most pitiful voice, then started violently throwing up.

Well there goes the soundman for this gig, I thought. Dougie crawled over to an empty toilet stall and disappeared in there. I asked through the door if he was alright , if he’d be mixing the show, but didn’t get an answer.

I left the toilets and found Baz the ‘tour manager’. I include the apostrophes because he was the tour manager in name only. He could barely manage dick. Akercocke’s Pete Theobalds was roadying for us that tour and basically ended up being our defacto tour manager.  I told Baz that Dougie was sick in a stall and looking in bad shape, and that he might want to go check on him. I forget what we did that night for mixing, but we ended up using support band RSJ’s soundguy for the remainder of the shows. Dougie was destroyed by some vicious bug that laid him out for the rest of the tour. We detoured and dropped Dougie off at his house within twenty-four hours so we didn’t have him festering in the motorhome.

Now the tour was over and he was on the phone asking to be paid soundguy fees for all the shows he was absent for. I was explaining that we’d already paid a soundguy, and that although it was unfortunate that he had become ill, that we couldn’t pay him for not doing his job. We weren’t some corporation with a ‘sick pay’ arrangement, this was the music fucking industry. If you don’t turn up and do your thing, you don’t get paid. That’s why musicians will play with the flu, diarrhea, broken feet. That’s why I had a vomit bin next to my bass cab at Jaxx in 2002. You don’t play, you don’t get paid. And we weren’t about to extend that courtesy to someone who had mixed two shows out of twelve before leaving us high and dry. And how did he get my fucking phone number anyway?!

Dougie explained Baz had given it to him. As soon as I heard that, I started grinding my teeth: Baz had taken us back to Nottingham halfway through the tour to collect some equipment and have a sleep in his flat. At some point, he’d tried driving the motorhome without retracting the stairs and they’d smashed against a light pole. Now they wouldn’t retract. We got under there with spanners and hammers and went at it but they were stuffed. All the local garages wouldn’t be able to fix it for days. We needed to leave within the next twelve hours to make the next show. We couldn’t drive anywhere with these broken stairs hanging out the side. So the decision was made to cut the stairs off. When the motorhome was returned to the hire place, they billed Baz over 600 quid for the stairs. He asked us for money. We were like, you wrecked ’em, you pay for ’em. Baz had been to jail for a previous tour, where an unpaid parking fine bounced from band, to label, to bus company, to Baz, and he’d obviously decided that was going to be the last time he was left holding the can. So now he was forwarding all payment queries directly to us. And he’d taken some pre-tour money Luke had advanced and was supposed to receive back, and used that for the stairs and a two-week holiday.  He had long since stopped taking my phone calls.

And now Dougie was begging me for money? I was furious.

“Oh, so you’re speaking to Baz are you? He speaks to YOU, does he? I thought he was unavailable? This fucking guy is holding out on us, taking our money for doing fuck all work on tour, now he sends me another guy who did fuck all work on tour for some more money! Well if you’re talking to him you can fucking tell him, he owes us money and if he doesn’t want to pay us, well fine, but if he comes down to the south of England with another one of his piece of shit tours, then I’m waiting for him and he’s a dead man.”

Baz never paid us that outstanding money.

***

Threats are an expression of powerlessness made by people who feel either scared, insulted, or that they’re losing control. That requires a measure of cowardice or vanity. I think of that last story with Baz. I was ready to run over him with a bus for the matter of a thousand quid or so. But the funny thing was, we’d absolutely rinsed it that tour. We’d made heaps of money and all in the space of a few weeks. Sure, Baz had been the world’s most hopeless tour manager, but we received both the shows and the majority of the fees we’d been promised. We should have been ecstatic. I couldn’t enjoy it though. I was too vain, thinking ‘who is this guy to fuck us over like that?’

Threats are made by weak and small people, who have let their emotions go to their heads. People who mean business tend not to bother with them. If the matter is out of their control, they ignore their vexation and move on. If someone needs crushing then they don’t forewarn anyone, they get on with it.

Spoken threats take on a life their own. I look back at the ones I made and can only thank god that no-one pushed back, and I didn’t have to choose between cowardice, or pride and its consequences. Not everyone has been so lucky.

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Horrifying Flyer

This article is a tad NSFW
Please do not read if you have delicate sensibilities

Berzerker did a gig back in 2001 at the Tote with Bowelmouth, Resistica, and FMC….a band whose initials stood for ‘Filthy Maggoty Cunt’. There’s always got to be one, eh?

I don’t remember much about the gig except for the low turnout and FMC doing a song called ‘Arse Maggot’. Tote shows were like rehearsals to us. We had our eyes on playing overseas and used Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world to try to work the kinks out of our gig before touring. Funnily enough, we’d actually rehearse at the Tote as well as perform there – the band room could be hired as a rehearsal room during the day and it was cheaper than a normal rehearsal centre. We’d been using the Dane Centre, or something like that previously…a grim, dingy place favored by metal bands and run by a guy who was physically and spiritually like the Nazi leader in The Blues Brothers.

 

The Dane Centre or Wrigley Fields....I honestly can't remember

The Dane Centre or Wrigley Field….
I honestly can’t remember

 

I think it cost fifty bucks to rehearse there but only twenty at the Tote. Plus we could practice on a stage, get the hang of the PA and mixing board, and practice playing to the occasional drunks who’d wander in to see what the ruckus was. They weren’t too different from our usual audience. Oh, plus we could buy drinks at the bar after rehearsal, something that you couldn’t do at a normal rehearsal centre. I remember we had just finished rehearsing when we were told that we’d scored a booking agent in the US, and I bought everyone a rum and coke to celebrate.

This story isn’t about the show or rehearsals. It’s about the lead-up to the show and the flyers we made for it. See, we were going for the reputation of the world’s most extreme band and FMC were gunning for the reputation as the world’s most disgusting. The singer was one of those post-G.G.Allin types who’d do anything to cross the line with the audience. I’d heard a rumor he’d done a gig smeared in excrement. At the time, I had a reputation for leaping offstage and assaulting the crowd or running off into the street and into traffic all masked-up mid-gig. And I haven’t even mentioned one of the support bands, Bowelmouth, who had songs like ‘Mexican Facewash’ and ‘Spacedocking’*. So we needed a flyer that reflected the range of dynamic artistic possibilities represented by our show. Something strong and visceral and muscular, like the music.

 

spacedocking

Sorry China, but I suspect Japan beat you to this many, many years ago

 

I don’t know who came up with the flyer but it was a beauty. There’s absolutely no delicate way of describing it: the picture was of a japanese woman lying on her back in a bathtub, naked except for a pair of stockings. Her legs were raised back over her head and she had received an enema of what appeared to be custard, which she expelled in a big looping parabola into her own face. The photo was taken just at the moment it was splashing into her mouth and appeared to contain a fair portion of excrement. Some colour posters were made and a truckload of black and white flyers were created for everyone to hand out. Luke uploaded the poster design to the Berzerker website, which earned me a rebuke from my dad who unfortunately saw the new poster design before I did. I received a phone call from him where he mentioned he’d seen it and “it lowers the tone of your band and website greatly”. Doesn’t matter how big you think your band is, you get a call like that from your father and you feel five again.

We did what we could to alert the entire city of Melbourne to our upcoming gig. Posters were plastered everywhere, and removed shortly afterwards by a combination of disgusted private citizens and councils. We took heaps of flyers and left them in shops and handed them out to people. This was before we realised that posters and flyers don’t work for bringing people to your shows. It’s a costly and high-intensity effort that reaps next to no results. It might go down a little better these days since almost no-one does it anymore. It might even go better if you don’t have one of the world’s most revolting images as artwork **. But it’s time and money wasted that should be spent on mailing lists, press releases to metal media, or buying ad space in local street press.

 

bribery

Or other things

 

So one night after rehearsal I was on my way home. I’d usually go straight from work to rehearsal and I’d be wearing my work suit. I’d turn up, lose the tie, untuck the shirt, and go for it. This particular rehearsal had been at Luke’s place in an outer suburb. I lived in the city. It was late by the time my train arrived back in town and I couldn’t be bothered lugging my work case and bass to a tram, so I treated myself to a taxi outside Flinders Street station. There was a large queue waiting for the cabs, mostly people dressed nicely. I guessed that there’d been a show at the nearby Arts Centre and it had probably just let out. I kind of fit in…by then my shirt was tucked back in, my jacket was back on, my tie was done up, and the death-metal insanity had left my system. I could now pass as a ‘normal’ again. I got closer to the front of the queue. I was looking around kind of aimlessly while waiting and noticed there was an older gentleman with a lady standing behind me. There was something kind of familiar about him. I did a second take and he noticed and said ‘Hello’. I said ‘Good Evening’ and then realised who it was.

It was the Honorable Barry Jones. For anyone who is neither Australian nor of my particular vintage, the first page of his Wikipedia entry reads: “Barry Owen Jones… is an Australian polymath: writer, lawyer, social activist, quiz champion and former politician. He campaigned against the death penalty throughout the 1960s, particularly against the execution of Ronald Ryan, and remains against capital punishment. He is on the National Trust’s list of Australian Living Treasures.”

He was regularly on both TV and radio either in debates or discussions and he looks like an eternally respectable wise old man, which he basically is. He’d usually be brought in when a show required someone with authority to NOT talk like a moron. The dude has a ton of awards and commendations to his name. He even has Antarctic territory and marsupials named after him for god’s sake. His intellect and recall are so fierce that I dread him reading this anecdote then contacting me to correct the details.

After the brief pleasantry-swap, I turned back around to face the front of the queue and thought, gee, Barry Jones. The person ahead of me got in a cab and I was now at the front of the queue. I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked back around. The lady with Barry congratulated me on my performance, said it was beautiful. I thought eh? for half a second then realised – they must have seen a band or orchestra play at the Arts Centre and assumed I was one of the performers! Cool.

“Oh, thankyou very much” I replied. It seemed simple enough to just go with it. My cab was pulling up. I didn’t want to correct them or get into an explanation of where I’d been or anything. The moment before I climbed into the cab I remembered that I had a bag full of flyers for the upcoming Berzerker gig with FMC in my work case, freshly collected from Luke’s place that night. Hundreds of the evil things, sitting in my bag. I took two out.

“If you’re interested in seeing me play again, feel free to attend this upcoming show” I said, and handed them both a flyer. They smiled and thanked me. Bless. I jumped into the cab and gave my home address. As we pulled away, I sneaked a look out the window. They were both turning the flyer around this way and that, trying to work out what was happening in the picture.

*One of the highlights of my life was telling the members of Bowelmouth what ‘spacedocking‘ meant, and having them turn it into a song. I’m credited on one of their CDs as ‘Lord Denim’. 

** Want to know what the picture was on the front of the flyer? It’s the first picture at this link…..but think twice before looking. May God have mercy on your soul.

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L.A. Cops

note: this story is the extended version of an incident touched on in the post “Touring in the US”

I never got into any problems with the police ever until I went to America.

The closest I came to a brush with the law before then was when I was drinking on the street of a holiday town as a teenager. I was walking along the road one night with some acquaintances from a different school when one of them hurriedly passed me a champagne bottle then ran away. “Thanks!” I said at this unexpected gift and started necking it. It was immediately snatched out of my hand by an undercover cop. Four plainclothes police officers were roaming the streets nicking kids who possessed alcohol. The kid who passed the bottle to me had seen them coming, dumped me in the shit, then legged it. The police bailed me and a couple of others up. “Where’d you get the drinks?” they snarled. I was petrified. The other kids weren’t, they were cocksure little bastards. “From our parents” they sneered.

The cops smashed all the bottles in the gutter. “Go home and tell your parents you had a good time.”

That was the extent of my troubles with the law when I was younger. Even when I moved to Melbourne and went to university, I didn’t get into any trouble. I had friends I grew up with and people I knew at university who had real problems with the cops and would call them ‘pigs’ but as far as I could see that was because my friends were caught nicking things, spitting on politicians, or were out drunk and causing trouble so they had it coming. I’m not saying that in Australia there’s no such thing as police harassment, just that I’m yet to meet someone in person who copped hassle and didn’t do something to earn it. I never got in trouble with the police.

Until I went to America, that is.

The first impression I got when I arrived in America was ‘Police State’. You can’t do anything without the police coming along and questioning you. When you’re on tour, both you and your clothes are unwashed and tatty and the company you keep tends to be long-haired and tattooed, so we’d attract police attention all the time. It could be anything from long stares, to low-level questioning (“Where you from? Is that your vehicle? When are you leaving?”), all the way through to outright harassment. Other bands on tour had some amazing stories about their encounters particularly in the southern states, and it seemed like half the people we met had been arrested and jailed at some point. The general vibe is that the police can do whatever they want with you, right or wrong, and it scared me a bit. It reminded me of being at high school and having to keep your head down so you didn’t attract attention from the bullies.

The other thing about the US police was that we couldn’t play the ‘foreigner card’. If anything, they often seemed to hate that we were from another country and would go extra-hard on you. In my experience in other countries if you play up the police sometimes figure you’re just a stupid foreigner and take it easy on you. One time in England I sped through a roundabout and accidentally cut off a police car off at the exit, while driving a car with expired registration. They laughed, told me to calm down, and suggested I see to my rego the next day. An Aussie friend in Japan was driving with a beer in one hand, and said that a cop car pulled up alongside him. The police looked at him sternly, wagged their finger, then drove off.

"YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE, COPPERS!"

“YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE, COPPERS!”

Although I can peel off story after story about police in the US, the best story by far is an incident we had with the infamous LAPD. The police in LA have gotten a bit of a bad reputation what with Rodney King, and all that stuff those nasty rappers have to say about them….and I reckon every bit of that reputation is earned. And although we did earn a portion of grief, I believe the retribution we experienced was in excess of our crime. I’ll let you be the judge.

I guess this story starts on the way from San Francisco to LA. We were driving along in the motorhome and our tour manager suddenly went “hmmmm….it’s going to be a long drive, and a long night, AND a long day tomorrow. I think I’m going to smoke some meth”. And with that, he got out a glass pipe, filled it up, and toked away. I had no idea what he was doing. As far as I knew the only drugs you smoked in a glass pipe were crack and DMT. He wasn’t saying “BLING BLING” in a vocoder voice, and he wasn’t talking about intelligent lights and dribbling on himself, so I knew it was something different. He toked his last bit, put the pipe away, and returned his attention on driving. Did I mention he was driving? He was driving. He became intensely focussed on the job at hand and I kept an eye on him for the next few hours. If anything, he seemed more work-minded than his normal self. I approved.

Our lives. His hands. Bono's sunglasses.

Our lives. His hands. Bono’s sunglasses.

We arrived on Sunset Boulevard in LA which is always a joy for me. The arrival was without incident, except for when someone backed the motorhome into a bollard and pushed the ladder on the back through a rear panel. It let cold air into the motorhome for the next few weeks. We fussed over it but in retrospect it was nothing serious. The motorhome would experience far worse in a week or two’s time, when Luke would drive it straight through a red light in New Orleans and get t-boned by a car. He was playing Sega ‘Mortal Kombat’ while driving and was steering with his knees at the time.

finish-him

So we were in LA to play the Key Club and I was happy. LA means warm weather, and Sunset Boulevard means civilization, beautiful people, and decent food, things I’d normally have to go without for weeks while on tour. People shit on LA and call the nice parts fake, but I’d rather some insincere nice stuff over real sincere ghetto-horror any day of the week. I got my dose of civilization and went to the Key Club, where the night went tits-up.

Although we were travelling as part of a four-band package, the promoter had added a bunch of local bands on before us. The venue had a strict curfew. Local bands being local bands, they all started late. I’ve got to rant here, sorry, but if you’re a local band opening for a bunch of bands on tour – especially bands from overseas – do everyone a favour: get your shit on the stage on fucking time, stick to your fucking set time, and get your shit straight off afterwards. Don’t start late because your girlfriend hasn’t arrived yet, don’t stretch your set out to include encores, don’t stand around shaking hands and fetching drinks when you’re done. The other bands didn’t travel countless miles just to have their sets cut short because of your local hero bullshit.

You can probably already tell, but we had some Local Hero tossers on before us. If anyone wants to know who they were, find the band on before Berzerker at the Key Club in LA in november 2002. I’d look them up myself but I care about them so little that I can’t be arsed, not even for this story. I shall refer to them as Local Hero Wankerband. They started late, had stressy rockstar fits about their sound, soundchecked way past their start time until they felt ready, played…and then did encores.

Normally a stage manager, the tour’s manager, or our own tour manager would storm the stage, unplug them, and kick them off. I remember an awesome night on the Nile/Napalm Death/SYL tour where the promoter inserted a local band into the lineup against contract and then threatened to pull the entire gig if they weren’t allowed to play. Poor local band. They were marched onto stage early by all the tour managers, and for their entire twenty-minute show every single roadie, techie, and tour manager stood on the side of the stage just staring at them furiously. At the end of the set the singer yelled out to the crowd “DO YOU WANT TO HEAR ANOTHER – oh”…they had already been unplugged. Everyone on the tour was snarling viciously at them “get-off get-off get-off”. They were all but shoved off the stage. The tour manager Boz made a note of the band’s name to ensure that they would never be booked again for anything, ever.

No-one came to our rescue that night in the Key Club. The stage manager did not rise to the occasion. Woody – the tour’s manager – hated us because we were foreigners and didn’t lift a finger to help. I think he actually said to us, sorry, but you can only play thirteen minutes tonight. There’s nothing I can do. Our own manager was off in a meth frenzy, chatting up a chick called April whose twin professions were ‘porn-star’ and ‘death-metal vocalist’. When we got onstage, we were given thirteen minutes to play and that was even without openers Origin making it to the gig. They were stuck in San Francisco for van repairs.

We played, and I broke a string in the first song. There was no time to fix it. I spent the remainder of the gig trying to transpose songs onto the other strings on the fly at 300bpm. Fortunately I was on bass, so people probably couldn’t hear what I was playing anyway. I put a foot on one of the foldback monitors which was super-light and weighted forward, and nearly fell into the crowd. Everyone had a bad gig with multiple mistakes. We got off after our thirteen minutes rather dispirited. Local Hero Wankerband had already polished off a lot of the drinks rider and were proudly telling everyone how they blew us away.

One good thing about the masks was that although everyone could hear me scream, no-one could see me sob

One good thing about the masks was that although everyone could hear me scream, no-one could see me sob

I went to the merch stand, hating everything as I usually do. Luke went out to the motorhome to have an argument with the booking agent Finberg and Woody. Woody was making us pay the opening band Origin $100 a week to use their backline despite our contracts stating that we could use the headline band’s backline for free. Finberg hung Woody out to dry in front of Luke – “What are you making them do that for?!” – but by then it was too late. We weren’t getting refunds from Origin, they were as broke as everyone else, and it was near the end of tour anyway. I sometimes wonder what happened to Woody. That was his first tour as a tour manager. He used to be a cop. He was a total dick, and I hope he’s mopping bathroom floors at truck stops with his tongue for nickels, that big pasty-faced bitch.

The gig finished. The promoter was looking for our tour manager so he could pay him the show fee. Someone pointed our tour manager out, the promoter tapped him on the shoulder and said “I’ve got your money here”. Our manager spun around and shrieked “DID YOU JUST CALL ME AN ASSHOLE?” He was tweaking a bit. I’m surprised we got paid that night.

We packed up and loaded into the motorhome, defeated. It was a windy night. April was with us. Our tour manager drove us back to her flat on Venice Beach with the intention of hanging out with her to par-tay for the rest of the night. I fell asleep before we even got there.

I woke up twice the next morning. Matt opened the door of the motorhome. I could see the beach outside, the lovely sand and water. It was a beautiful day and no-one was about. Matt went for a walk. I fell asleep again, thinking this’ll be great. I’ll get a bit more sleep, then go for a swim and get some sun. Then I might go get coffee and a taco somewhere, enjoy myself a bit.

The second time I woke up was because I could hear someone knocking on the windshield. They were knocking insistently. I waited to see if anyone else in the motorhome would respond. It appeared not. I pulled back the windshield curtain. The knocker was an angry cop. There were police cars outside and more angry cops and flashing lights. There were also many angry business owners and residents. Angry windshield-knocker cop uttered the cliché American-Cop phrase “Get Out Of Your Vehicle! Get Out Of Your Vehicle Now!” If I was french, I’d be like c’est pas bien! But I’m not, so I was like oh-shit-what-now and I got out.

It appeared our glorious tour manager had parked the motorhome in a ‘No Standing – business loading’ zone. None of the local cafes could load their stock in and they were standing around on the sidewalk pissed. Additionally, he had left the generator running and the noise had woken the entire block so all the residents were pissed too. Now I was left on my own to deal with the fallout. I was pissed.

KnockerCop barked. “Are you the owner of this vehicle?”

Well, there’s many ways of looking at that. Sure my name was listed as one of the renters, due to me being the only member of the band with his shit together enough to have his own credit card. But I was renting it, not owning it. And I wasn’t listed as a driver. And besides, the tour manager had been driving and everything was his fault, and no-one hands me the champagne bottle and does a fucking runner. Not anymore.

“No sir. But I know who is, and I’ll get him now”
“GET HIM NOW” yelled the cop, as if I hadn’t just offered to do that.

There was one phone in the motorhome and the tour manager had left his contact number. I took great delight in calling him and handballing the entire mess over to him. The phone rang and rang and rang. I had no idea what to do if he didn’t answer. Finally he picked up. I told him what the situation was and told him to get his ass down here immediately. He let loose with a long anguished howl – “NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I’m just about to put my dick in her!!!!”
I’ve never taken such delight in cock-blocking someone.

So the tour manager came downstairs and was promptly slapped with a $60 fine. The police yelled at him for a bit and told us to move on. Could we wait for Matt? He had gone for a walk, we didn’t know where he was, he didn’t have a phone, he wasn’t from this country. NO! said the cops. GET OUT OF HERE NOW! We jumped back in the motorhome and started it up. The road we were parked on was actually a cul-de-sac. At the end of it was the boardwalk then the beach. I looked behind us. The road was blocked with police cars. I asked the cops if they could move so we could get out. The KnockerCop said  “No. Drive straight ahead. Turn right onto the boardwalk. Drive down to the next street, and leave from there”.

I was kind of doubtful. There were big signs saying “No Driving On the Boardwalk”. But it was a policeman telling us, so off we went. We drove forward and turned right onto the boardwalk. A cop car was parked there, blocking the way. They had been waiting for us. Their light flashed. One of them got out and screamed at us “PULL OVER!”

They immediately gave our tour manager a $100 fine for driving on the boardwalk.
“This is bullshit!” he cried. “Those cops back there told us to come down this way!”
“What cops?” the policeman smirked.

I got out and walked back to the road. CockKnocker and the other cops were gone and the road was already empty. Some of the business owners were still there, laughing at us. They’d known the set-up was happening. I marched back to the motorhome, shaking my head.

"I told you to stay off the boardwalk..."

“I told you to stay off the boardwalk…”

The cop kept yelling at the tour manager. The cop demanded the motorhome insurance. We got it out of the glovebox. One of us had the foresight to quietly remove the top page and keep the carbon copy hidden. We gave it to the cop, who went back to his car. The tour manager was fuming. “I better get some money from you guys to cover these fines!” I just stared at him in disbelief. I would like a day on this piece-of-shit tour, went the conversation in my head, where I get to enjoy myself and not get dragged from drama to fucking drama, especially by a meth-addled tour manager who can’t park for shit running after his dick. After five minutes, the cop returned.

“Here’s your ticket” he said, handing the fine over. He brandished the insurance. “And I’m keeping this.”

“That’s our car insurance” I pointed out. “We need that. We paid for it, we need it to drive.”
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” screamed the cop, getting in my face.
“Sam Bean” I said. I no longer gave a shit. I’d had enough.
“DO YOU HAVE A PASSPORT?” this pig hollered. I had finally reached the stage where it seemed appropriate enough to use the term.
“Yes”. I had it in my coat pocket. I displayed it.
The cop snatched it out of my hand and leafed through, then held it up. “I’m keeping this.”

Rule 1 of travel: Never give up your passport, even to police. Or depending on where you are, especially to police.

“What!” I said.
“I’m keeping this, you can pick it up at the station tomorrow.”
Tomorrow we’d be racing from LA to San Diego for the next show. I snatched the passport back out of his hand.
“GIVE THAT BACK NOW” yelled the cop.

“Get this straight” I said. “I am on a tour. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where your station is. I don’t know where I’m playing tonight. We have to be gone in the morning, and I don’t have time to arse around picking my passport up off you. You do not have permission to take it, and you have no cause to take it. I AM ON TOUR. If you want this passport, arrest me. Then my next call will be to the Australian embassy, who will want to know what you’re doing taking passports off Australians and arresting them for trying to hold onto their vehicle insurance. Are you going to arrest me?”

As it turned out, no.

The police left after a bit more chat with the tour manager. We drove down the boardwalk, turned right,and drove aimlessly through the streets. We were a bit shellshocked. We just kept turning random corners and driving and trying not to break any laws. Luke and Gary, who had been fast asleep in the back the entire time, started waking up. Twenty minutes later by some random fluke, by some unutterable MIRACLE, we saw Matt walking down the road.

He had been at a cafe having a coffee, and when he got back to where the motorhome was parked to find it gone, he just went walking through the streets thinking that we might turn up at some point. He didn’t have a mobile or anything. I remember asking him what he would have done if we hadn’t found him. He said he was going to give us another hour or two, then go into a business and ask to use their phone, try to find the number for Earache, and tell them to call us and tell us where he was. Or get them to call and pay for a taxi to that night’s show.

It’s hard these days to really convey how incredibly lucky it was for us to find Matt. Today everyone has a smartphone, everyone has GPS, but we didn’t. Matt didn’t. We had no idea where the hell we were, or where the hell he was. There was a reasonable chance that if we hadn’t stumbled across him in the street that we may have lost him for the rest of the tour.

"...pretty sure they were parked around here somewhere..."

“…pretty sure they were parked around here somewhere…”

The show that night was better. It was at the Galaxy Theatre, a glorious place. Our tour manager was a little dented though, and suffered an almighty comedown that lasted a few days. He was still distraught over getting fined, and not getting to sleep with April.

***

Once a week during the last year of high school my year group and I would sit in an auditorium and have a different speaker talk to us. We had a few notables; the late Campbell McComas gave us a speech in disguise, pretending to be a Harvard Professor. He fooled every last person in the building right up to when he removed his wig and switched back to an Australian accent. We also had rock legend Nick Seymour from Hunters and Collectors come in and give us a talk about the music industry. But to my mind the most memorable and valuable speech was given to us by my old House Master, and it was the very last speech we received before we graduated.

He said that before we got sent out into the big wide world, he needed to give us a talk about police and how to handle ourselves. In retrospect, I had completely disregarded most of his advice when I was in LA. He said to make sure that you don’t do anything wrong. If you were caught, then co-operate. Whatever you do, don’t argue with police. Stand up for yourself but do it politely. If the police are being unreasonable or it looks like you’re going to get roughed up, don’t fight back – you’ll only make things worse. Save disputes and fighting back for legal channels afterwards. All of it was good advice, and it has kept my life trouble-free for the most part.

And the House Master who gave the speech? Last I heard, he’s in jail.

postscript: this link added…just because

update 30/04/13: holy zeitgeist! – Tucker Max giving tips on dealing with police

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The Worst Day of Air Travel

I’m going to blather on about plane flights, specifically a set of them that nearly did my head in back when I was touring with Berzerker. Obviously, these flights weren’t that bad. The planes actually landed for starters, we didn’t crash, and no babies spewed on us.

I’ve seen that, actually. I had a Ryanair flight to Spain, where a mother fed her noisy baby too much milk to shut it up, then walked the aisle with the baby over her shoulder trying to settle it. I had an aisle seat, and the baby looked me dead in the eye before fountaining vomit down her back and onto the floor. She didn’t realise what happened until she heard the first spatters, the same moment she probably felt her back go wet. She was totally stuck in the aisle, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and I still remember her helplessly going “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” while her pride-and-joy sicked all over her. I entered bullet-time the moment the first spray left the little bastard’s mouth, and managed to leap from my aisle seat to a spare seat two rows back before the first spatters even touched my sneakers.

Berzerker DID have a flight once where it looked like crashing was a possibility. We were on an Australian tour in 2002 and flew to Perth, and a huge storm hit Perth right around the time we were coming in to land . The plane was thrown all over the sky, people were weeping, it was crazy. I loved it at first and then struggled not to throw up in the final twenty minutes of descent. When we landed we heard that a tornado was reported in Mandurah.

But that was not my worst day of air travel.

The following year, I had to get from Amsterdam to Houston via London and Chicago with an extra piece of luggage over the airline allowance, putting me about thirty kilograms over the excess limit. THAT was the worst day of air travel.

I had to get my broke ass onto the flight with a big cricket bag of clothes, a bass guitar case, a bullshit-heavy bass amp, and my carry-on manbag stuffed with guitar pedals and leads. I had done my best with both the record label and airlines to ensure that I could get everything onto the plane, but it was far from a done deal.

 

"Hurry up and get to the airport, man...this multimillion dollar tour waits for no-one"

“Hurry up and get to the airport, man…this tour waits for NO-ONE”

 

For starters, the record label didn’t give a fuck. The flights they’d got us had a 40 euro per kilo excess, so I was up for 1200 euros of excess luggage penalties if anything went wrong. When I pointed that out to them, they were like “you’ll be fine, don’t worry”.

After much foot-stamping on my part, label manager Digby finally said okay, okay, whatever…we’ll cover you if there’s any extra costs. I still wasn’t happy. A guarantee from the label was like relying on a security net made from fairy floss and letters to Santa. They were probably wondering what on earth I was doing travelling the world with my own bass amp instead of renting one from other bands, or when arriving on location. In which case I’d agree with them. Travelling with my own amp was definitely one of the most stupid things I’ve done.

For their part, the airlines agreed after much phone-calling and negotiation to give me a luggage clearance that would treat the day’s multiple flights as one international trip, with the same luggage conditions right through to my final destination. There’s two great words to use in the context of air travel, eh? Anyway, I got them to email through the exemption and I printed it out but I wasn’t sure the agreement was worth the proverbial paper it was printed on. Airlines are notorious for fucking over musicians. Terms and conditions are specious enough on the subject of electronic equipment that at any given time your musical equipment may be luggage, or electrical goods, or commercial goods, or what the fuck. And it’ll probably be smashed to bits by the baggage handlers anyway. Secondly, airline customer service is the same as customer service worldwide, in which it isn’t customer service: it’s customer frustration. Just in case the uninterpretable phone menus and forty-minute queues to speak to a human doesn’t give you the hint, then their complete inability to provide intelligible information or any service whatsoever should make it clear – if the airline had its way, they would just slingshot you and the plane into the nearest mountain and be done with you.

 

"Wankstain Airlines would like to wish you a pleasant and safe journey, and HAVE A NICE DAY!"

“Wankstain Airlines would like to wish you a pleasant and safe journey, and HAVE A NICE DAY!”

 

I wasn’t particularly trusting of neither label nor airline.

The first flight of the day left from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with the morning rush of commuters to London. People actually commute daily from Amsterdam to London for work! Remember that next time you’re having a moan about your fare prices or the train being delayed. I had negotiated for all the weight to be allowed onto the flight, but the fact that it was split into three pieces of luggage instead of two was going to be a problem. I approached the desk.

“Hi. I’d like to check in” I told the girl behind the counter.
“Sure!” she replied. “Can I have your passport?”
I handed her my passport.

“And how many pieces of luggage?” she asked, eyeing all my bags.
“Two”, I said brightly.
“Um…I see three bags there” she said.
“I have an exemption for the luggage.”
“But you have three bags?”
“No I don’t…here, let me fix this” I said.

I snatched the ‘warning: fragile’ tape off her desk, laid the bass case down on the ground, and commenced taping the cricket bag to the case. The girl wasn’t sure what to do. A big queue of morning commuters were forming behind me, probably bankers and executives. Being the warm caring human beings they are, they all started rolling their eyes, huffing, and looking at their watches. The girl at the desk decided I obviously wasn’t worth the trouble and helped me mummify the bag and case in tape. I was processed extra-quick, and made it through to London.

 

"Get a move on. This financial system isn't going to wreck itself, you know"

“Get a move on. This financial system isn’t going to wreck itself, you know”

 

There was some sort of problem at London which I don’t exactly recall. I was supposed to exit customs, meet up with Luke, then go back through customs and board together, something like that. I think I exited customs into the general airport, but couldn’t find Luke, who had already entered customs and was searching for me in the boarding area, like a death metal Three Stooges sketch. We eventually caught up and boarded the plane.

Chicago was where the fun really started. When we exited the London to Chicago flight, we were told that we needed to pick up our bags from baggage collection and check them in for the remaining flight. I arrived at the luggage belt and waited. And waited. And waited. Everyone had collected their bags and departed. Luke was hanging around waiting for me and getting impatient. My bass amp came out, then my cricket bag. The cricket bag was covered in broken ‘warning: fragile’ tape from where my bass case had been ripped away. Uh oh.

I ran through the cavernous hall looking for the complaints desk or a lost luggage collection point, and ten minutes later at the far end of the hall I found my bass. It was propped up against a wall by itself. No collection point or official or anyone was in sight. All the identification tags had been on my cricket bag. I realised what had happened and nearly blacked out with rage. Airport Security had removed my bass case from the cricket bag, searched it for god knows what, then just left it wherever untagged and without notifying anyone.

We grabbed our stuff and ran for the train to take us to our terminal. I was already getting the skin-crawling hateful distrust of everything I get whenever I travel to America. We eventually got to our check-in desks where we’d get our domestic flight vouchers and check in our baggage for the last flight to Houston. Luke went first and finished quickly and without incident. I was next.

The desk clerk lady greeted me and asked me to put my bags on the conveyor belt, which I did. I hadn’t reattached the cricket bag and bass case together. I gave the lady my flight booking details and passport, and asked for an extra tag for the bass case. I figured it shouldn’t be a problem. The airline had said my luggage allowance was good for Amsterdam right through to Houston, and I thought if there was going to be a problem it would be at either Amsterdam or London. All my baggage had already been checked in for the day, twice.

It turned out that I’d figured wrong.

“You got an extra piece of luggage here”, said the clerk while fixing the tag to my bass case.
“Ha, I know, but I’ve got an exemption from the airline for my extra piece of luggage”, I said.
“We don’t recognise exemptions. And we charge $100 per piece of extra luggage”
I didn’t like the way this conversation was going.

I protested. “But this has already been checked in at Amsterdam, right through to the Houston destination.”
“Well you’re in America now, this is a domestic flight, and we do things differently here”.
The loathsome bitch started up the luggage belt, then sweetly smiled and said “Would you like to pay by cash, cheque, or credit card?”  My bass case was disappearing through the curtain into the loading area.

I certainly didn’t have cash or cheque, just bucketloads of desperation. In retrospect I may have been able to use a credit card but I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d maxed it out. In any case, I went straight for the wrong move which was to lunge straight through the curtain and drag my bass back out.

The conveyor belt instantly stopped. I could hear an alarm on the other side of the curtain. I looked around. All the desk clerks were staring at me. I looked at Luke. He was standing a distance away, and probably couldn’t work out what was happening, just that I’d gone and got myself into some sort of trouble again. I could see further up the hall to where airport security guys armed with automatic rifles started approaching. I looked back at Luke and indicated with my head that he should get going for the security queue. He got going.

 

The solution to 100% customer satisfaction?Shoot all the unhappy customers.

The solution to 100% customer satisfaction?
Shoot all the unhappy customers.

 

Well, the security guys were approaching, the desk clerks were sneering, I was feeling like a bit of a dick and it looked like things were going to get ugly when all of a sudden a lovely, wonderful, pleasant lady from the airport stepped up and announced to everyone “There has been a misunderstanding. I’ll handle this.” She turned to me and apologised for the confusion, and of course she could put my extra luggage through at no additional cost. She even helped me tape my cricket bag and bass case back together. I don’t know if she was the manager, another baggage counter employee, or what. All I know is she saved me from a total airport meltdown. She put my luggage through and gave me my boarding pass, and sent me on my happy way. I still kick myself for not getting her name and address so I could send her a card every year for the next ten years thanking her for being so brilliantly cool.

The security queue was almost a kilometre long. I ran the length of it. Luke by then was almost at the front so I jumped in next to him, causing waves of passive-aggressive resentment to ripple up and down through the other passengers. We went through screening….and then it was my turn to wait for Luke. He looked like a cross between Osama Bin Laden and a Mad Max villain, and American airports were in full-post-9/11-retard at the time, so he got a bit of a search and question.

Speaking of 9/11, here’s a quick story: Luke was on the phone to Earache US label manager and fellow Aussie Al Dawson when the first plane struck the World Trade Centre. Luke was hassling Al to get us a US tour when Al saw the plane hit. He yelled “Jesus Christ!”, and the phone went dead. Luke tried calling him back for a few hours and when he eventually got through, he said:

“Listen to me, Al. Listen very carefully….give us a headline US tour or the STATUE OF LIBERTY IS NEXT.”

 

We got the tour, and the Statue of Liberty is still standing. Coincidence?

We got the tour, and the Statue of Liberty is still standing.
Coincidence?

 

We finally got through customs and security. We found our gate. The flight had just been called and people were beginning to line up. I was a wreck after the day so I told Luke I’d meet him on the plane. I was pretty tense and I needed to go have a terror-wee before boarding. I went to the toilet. I washed my hands. I splashed water on my face. I dried my hands. I took about five minutes. I exited the bathroom and returned to the gate. The queue was gone. Through the windows, I could see a plane backing out onto the runway.

“Is…that the flight to Houston?” I asked a guy behind the gate desk.
“Sure is” he replied.
“Is there…any chance you could call it back so I could get on it?”
It was worth a try.
“No!…” he laughed.

Before I could fully spaz out he continued.
“…but there’s another flight leaving for Houston in twenty minutes. I can put you on that one?”
“Yes please. Thankyou.”

I got my flight to Houston. Luke told me later he was waiting for me to get on the plane, and when it started backing away from the terminal the air stewardesses had to push him back into his seat while he screamed “YOU CAN’T GO! MY FRIEND ISN’T ON THE PLANE YET!!!” At least that’s what he said. For all I know he was probably eating peanuts going ahhhh, peace at last.

Long story short, I made it to Houston without further incident. One week later I managed to get myself into much, much worse trouble.

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Ten Days in Florida

Someone told me a theory that the Chinese apparently have: you are born with a certain amount of life-energy to see you through your lifetime and that amount is inflexible. Therefore a particularly energetic and frenetic person born with a medium amount of life-energy can use it all up in time for their mid-life crisis, and die at a relatively young age as a result. There are so many holes in this theory and it was told to me by another paleface white-ghost so I don’t particularly believe it. I’m also hoping it isn’t true, because I probably used up all my life-energy in ten days in Florida when we achieved an impossible feat: finding and training a drummer for a headline European tour with “the world’s fastest band”, to play a one-hour set in a mask. We accomplished this with no money, no transport, and no place to stay.

I honestly truly don’t want to type this story out. All the other stories, even the bad ones….well, ESPECIALLY the bad ones….hold a grotty pleasure in the retelling. This story is just miserable and difficult, and reliving that time is stressful. The only reason I’m doing it is I’ve blasted my workload for the next few days, but I’m trapped in the office and this story has been a monkey on my back for ages. I KNOW I have to type it at some point if Berzerker is to be truly explained, and it also stands as testament to what can be achieved if you really put your mind to it. Replacing band members after tours have been booked is a necessity for professional bands but we really took it to an extreme here.

This will also be a big story, one of the longer ones I’ve put down, and it’s not as action-packed as the others. We’re talking over four thousand words of unrelenting grimness here, so be warned.

 

Like this, but less peace

Like this, but less peace

 

If you’ve read the stories I’ve been putting up , then you’re aware that we were on a big US tour in 2003 when our drummer Gary got pushed down a staircase in Poughkeepsie by a Nazi bouncer and broke his foot. As a result, he could no longer drum. This posed multiple problems. There was the problem of looking after an injured band mate and getting him back to Australia. There was also the problem that we were still on tour, and if we weren’t playing shows then we couldn’t afford gas or food…so we HAD to somehow keep playing shows.

I was all for cancelling the remaining shows, maxing out the credit card on a plane flight home, and returning to Australia immediately. We had been so focused over the last four years on making the show absolutely perfect, as perfect as could possibly be, and I couldn’t fathom the idea that we were now going to cobble together imperfect shows while in the US on our highest-profile tour. Luke didn’t have the credit card option and was painfully aware of how in-hock we were to the record label. For him, there was no quitting. We argued heatedly before deciding to go ahead with the shows. We were  perhaps a little manic as well from all the touring so far and were starting to go totally Ahab: no matter how badly the Good Ship Berzerker was starting to sink, the Show Must Go On.

We tried a set with a programmed drum machine accompanying us over the PA but seeing as though it didn’t come with a click track it was a complete mess. It was like trying to play along to someone firing off a machine gun. Playing a crap show is the worst. It honestly makes me want to die. People sometimes walk up going “Great show dude!” after playing a shit show and I want to kill them and then myself. And the only cure is to play a devastatingly awesome show to cleanse all the crap-show off you. It’s the only thing you can think about until you go out and do it and make the world right again. We played that crap show and realised we still had a week of crap shows ahead, and there was nothing we could do about it. It was the worst possible feeling.

Luke made a decision after that disastrous show – he’d play drums AND do vocals for the following gigs. Please consider that he’d never done that before and that a few of the songs are over 300 bpm. All the other bands on that tour – Nile, Napalm Death, Strapping Young Lad – were like “you’re going to do WHAT?!” The idea wasn’t as crazy as it sounds however. Luke used to play drums before he had a car accident and injured his back. I played drums (badly) and we’d all have the ‘Berzerker Grind Challenge’ during and after rehearsals where we’d compete amongst ourselves to see who could do the fastest blastbeats. Our drummer turnover was such that we repeatedly had to teach new drummers the beats and often demonstrated them ourselves, so the hapless tub-thumper-du-jour could see that our songs were actually possible to play.

I still remember the first gig Luke did behind the kit. It was just me and Matt standing up front on the stage in some theatre in Philadelphia. I felt exposed. Watching Luke adjust the microphones and drum stool as he sat behind the kit made me want to shit myself and hide, that first-gig-ever feeling. Just before we started I looked side-stage and could see the guys from Nile, Napalm, and SYL all standing there to watch the show…Jon Vesano, Karl, Mitch, Devin. No pressure, thanks guys. I had the following thought: three of my top ten all-time favourite bands are standing there watching us and we are going to fuck this gig up worse than any gig I’ve ever played. They were probably standing there either to lend support or to actually see if someone could both drum our songs and do vocals at the same time. I sure know I didn’t believe it.

Luke actually managed to do it, and the gig was alright. The feat itself was superhuman. I could feel the confusion of the crowd during the show with only two of us running about the stage and half the vocals coming from the drummer, but the other bands were impressed. I think the only fuck-up was when playing Massacred. I remember agreeing with Luke beforehand that trying to play that song would be a mistake, but he was so pumped up after smashing the other songs that he stuck it on near the end of the set and accidentally extended one of the verses.

We managed to scrape through the remaining gigs. We were assisted by Tony Laureano in New York during the BB Kings Blues Club gig. I could have just said “the New York” gig but I’m still stoked to have played at BB Kings Blues Club in Times Square. It’s something I mention whenever I’m trying to impress upon my parents that I didn’t waste years of my life playing in a band. Tony learned the Carcass cover ‘Corporeal Jigsore Quandary’ by tapping it out on a seat with us backstage. He climbed on for our last song and bashed it out perfectly, did not miss a beat. We went to play Jaxx in Virginia again and were banned from even parking in the parking lot. If I get the access codes and the red button tomorrow, I guarantee you there will be a massive radioactive crater in Springfield Virginia where Jaxx used to be. We played at some wonderful venue in Norfolk which seemed to be staffed by hobgoblins, and had a gloriously comfortable backstage…the catering was sensational, and there were steam rooms and a jacuzzi to relax in. I asked one of  the staff if the venue was owned by a touring musician who’d won the lottery. He smiled enigmatically and said “something like that”.

We were on our way to our last two shows in Florida when we found out that our tour manager Akim intended to ditch us after our last gig, despite there being ten days between that show and our flight to England. “I don’t know what you guys are doing, but I’m going to hang out down at the beach” he cheerfully told us when we fronted him. Naturally, he hadn’t warned us of this plan. He was like, I’ve been responsible for you during the tour…no-one said anything about when the tour finished. We had a bout of harsh words with Akim until he finally organised for us to stay with a friend of his called Scott, who lived in a shack on a swamp out the back of Orlando. At that point, the strippers were still travelling with us so they’d stay for a day or two before jumping aboard the local Spearmint Rhino.

 

Pictured: One Responsible Tour-Manager

Pictured: One Responsible Tour-Manager

 

We’d also had words with the label. They said there was no way we could back out of the European tour, they’d spent way too much on promotion for it. I keep thinking retrospectively  that I should have said to them “What would Morbid Angel do if their drummer broke his foot ten days out from tour, hmmm? What would Napalm Death do? Nile? We’re not playing fucking 4/4 rock and roll here, you know”. Gary had got a lot of press for his inhuman drumming performance on our second album Dissimulate, and was backing it up live. Earlier the label was making claims that the drumming was being considered by the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest drumming ever. And now these fools thought we’d just find another drummer in some foreign country and train him up in ten days for a headline Europe tour? Fucking Earache Records.

I guess in a perverse sort of way, the sheer Mission Impossibleness of it all appealed to me and Luke. We had got fully pumped on Tony Robbins between making the debut album and Dissimulate and had got ourselves to a state where ANYTHING could be done. We heard one of the tasks Tony would put special clients through would be training them in all his self-mastery stuff for the first week….then dropping them one hundred miles away in a town they didn’t know, without credit card, phone, money, anything and they’d be picked up a week later.  It sounded fucked-up but a little bit of you wondered how you’d fare. I guess this was the closest we’d come to it.

So we played our last two shows. I remember the final one was at the Masquerade in Tampa and I had an epic drinking session with Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel afterwards. He got so hammered that he collapsed backwards onto Napalm Death’s merch, and lay there screeching “My back! My back!” Jesse Pintado nudged him with his foot, saying “Get up, fool”. George Corpsegrinder turned up as well and talked about how when he plays Grand Theft Auto and Slayer comes onto the radio, he is compelled to mount the pavement and run over pedestrians. We’d put the word out to all the bands and everyone we met that we needed a drummer quickly, and the famous Florida death metal scene got to work. I met Angel from Genitorturers who offered his services, but the only stuff I’d heard him play was mid-paced industrial rock-metal. Someone said they got in touch with Steve Asheim and recommended him but again we’d only heard him play fast stuff with Deicide…we needed a superfast megablast drummer, a complete freak of nature. We had already contacted John Longstreth from Origin but he had a tour with another band booked. By the time we left the show we had four people to audition: some random guy, a dude called Goat, Ryan from a band called Archer, and an Israeli fellow who played with a band called Salem.

 

Entangled in Drummers

Entangled in Drummers

 

The next morning, Akim left with the motorhome. It had to be returned to the rental place. We were thus stranded. I think the first audition was with ‘some random guy’. The dude had a light moustache, long hair, foetal alcohol syndrome, and coke-bottle glasses. He was like a death-metal Napoleon Dynamite and played in a local band. He was accompanied by a big earnest dude from the same band who told us how good the drummer was. For the audition they drove us to some rehearsal garages that are part of Florida Death Metal Folklore, and that was the only highlight. It became apparent very quickly that foetal-alcohol dude could not play very well. We tried him out on ‘Reality’ which is around 270 bpm or so and he’d scrunch up his mongoloid eyes and strain as hard as he could….and play it in triplets, not 16ths. After twenty minutes or so we went nah, forget it. The big earnest friend kept going “No, no, he can do it, he can…CAN’T YOU” and would make foetal-drummer bash out another attempt. Eventually they took our No for an answer and gave us a lift back to the Swamp Shack. Then they tried to sting us for petrol money.

Luke stared at them speechlessly then stalked inside. I fobbed them off with the sobbiest of sob stories. By the time I got back inside all the sleeping surfaces were occupied. I lay down on the dog blanket which was draped on the concrete floor of the lounge room. I watched the clock hit midnight. I was now twenty-eight years old. I turned twenty-eight years old while sleeping on a dog blanket on a concrete floor in a shack on a swamp. I made a mental note to ditch this musician bullshit for a real job and fell asleep.

I’m trying to remember when we auditioned Ryan. I think it was the following morning, but I’m not sure. He was a nice guy, a sound drummer and pretty quick, and he could get the time away from work to tour. But again, he couldn’t do the blasts. He gave us a lift back to the Shack afterwards.

Later that night, the Salem drummer picked us up. What was his name, Nir? Hmmmm. I think it was Nir. I remember he had to say his name a few times, we kept going “Huh? What?” He set up his kit up in the rehearsal space and I think the first song we auditioned was No-One Wins, which is about 310 bpm or so. He played the most original blast-beat we’d ever seen: the blasts were done as a snare roll, but one hand would hit the hi-hat on the way down to the snare…..and hit it again on the way back up. It was fucking ridiculous. He effortlessly and TIGHTLY played our fastest songs with this innovative cheat method and all the sounds were there: hi-hat, snare, and kicks. We pissed ourselves laughing and he stopped – “What’s the matter?”   We told him it was the most brilliant thing we’d seen. He told us he’d invented the technique the previous day when he heard the speed of the songs. This dude just innovated his way past the entire speed-drumming debate. He learned three songs that night and we offered him the tour. He said he had to check with his wife. They had recently moved to Florida and she was either pregnant or had just had a kid, I forget which. He advised us to keep auditioning people, and would let us know over the next day or two if he could do it.

* Note: Holy shit….I went to wikipedia to look up the entry for Salem so I could check this guy’s name. It seems we inadvertently auditioned a legend. Not only do Salem seem to have crazy respect in the scene for their longevity, but they got into some sort of beef with Varg Vikernes, aka Grishnakh the Euronymous-stabbing Church-burning nutcase from Norway. Apparently Varg wasn’t down with them being jews, and sent them a letter bomb!!! I don’t often use exclamation marks, but this occasion suffices.

We were picked up after the audition by a guy called Goat. He was the last to audition but he was saving his try for the morning. As it was my birthday, we went out for burgers and milkshakes at a cheap diner then headed back to his flat to crash. He lived with Pete Helmkamp from Angelcorpse and I think Pete was on a night-shift with work. They had a ferret for a pet. I slept on the loungeroom floor in a sleeping bag and remember thinking, mmmmmm, carpet. Pete’s big bass cab was behind my head. The ferret nibbled and licked my ear during the night and on one memorable occasion charged into the sleeping bag and rummaged around my trousers.

 

Pete and myself after a brief discussion about the possible implications of America's post-9/11 military policies on the global balance of power. No really, that's what we chatted about.

Pete and myself after a brief discussion about the possible implications of America’s post-9/11 conservative imperialist policies on the global balance of power. No really, that’s what we actually chatted about.

 

We auditioned Goat the next morning, and it became clear that he couldn’t play the speeds we were after. At least he didn’t faff around. He stopped after ten or fifteen minutes of trying and apologised. I remember feeling pretty respectful of him for both giving it a shot and then being straight up when he realised it was past his abilities. He was a good dude, and it’s a shame I didn’t stay in contact. It was a hectic time. He gave us a lift back to the swamp.

At some point over the few days we were at the shack, we got a phone call. I remember being surprised that there was a phone at the place. Scott wasn’t around so I picked it up. It was Sarah the Press Chick from Earache, calling from Nottingham England. I had absolutely no idea how she was able to track down where we were staying, I mean we were totally in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t even know what our phone number was. Without any ado, she completely cracked the shits. A rumour was getting out that we had no drummer and some of the promoters from the European tour had heard that we might not be able to play. Who was leaking?! Didn’t we realise the huge amount of work she’d put into promoting the tour?! So much anger from such a small woman.

Of course I didn’t know. I didn’t care either. I was away from newspapers and TVs, and happened to be living on a swamp with no car, phone, or anything else. At night I could see the fireworks go off over the top of Orlando Disneyland in the distance. No, I didn’t know who was telling them that we didn’t have a drummer. No, it wasn’t me. Thank you for your concern about our predicament. Yes, I’ll put Luke on.

Luke spoke to her, then got off the phone and shouted at everyone. I suspect Gary was on the laptop letting people know what the situation was, he and Luke were the only ones who had contact with the outside world at that point. I picked up an acoustic guitar and went outside to sulk. There was a jetty leading out into the swampy lakey thing, so I walked out onto that, sat down on the end and started playing. I stopped playing when Scott walked up and advised me to keep off the pier. “We’ve got gators here. Big ones. They can get your legs from there”. I stood up and walked back to the shack. I had a jam with Matt, which was extraordinary because it was the first jam we’d ever had. This was after being in a world-touring band together for two years. We’d only ever rehearse together. We jammed and the strippers watched, and I felt extremely unhappy about my place in the world.

 

"Stop with those AC/DC covers and play me some goddamn Nile already"

“Stop with those AC/DC covers and play me some goddamn Nile already”

 

It took us two days from the audition with Goat to decide on a drummer. We were holding out for Nir the Israeli SuperDrummer, while keeping Ryan in the mix. On the second day Ryan said he’d have to let work know by the end of day if he was heading out for a month-long tour next week or not. We put the hard word on Nir, and he said he couldn’t do the tour. He couldn’t justify leaving his wife by herself at that point in time which was fair enough. We thanked him for his time and told Ryan he had the job.

There were added benefits with choosing Ryan as the drummer. He was a super-nice guy with a super-nice place of his own, and he fed us. I remember waking up to a bowl of breakfast cereal after the first night’s sleep on a mattress and I almost sobbed with joy. He let us use his phone and internet so I could let people know I was still alive. We set up the mixer box in his lounge room with his kit and rehearsed in there. We had a week before the european tour started.

We rehearsed the first day, and tried to teach Ryan to play the superfast blastbeats. For those who don’t know what blastbeats are, they’re beats played in sixteenths with one hand on a cymbal, another hand on the snare, and kicks interspersed. It was apparent by the end of the day that there was no way he could learn it within the week. The blastbeats were amended into two-handed snare rolls. This was the final straw for Luke, who had a breakdown. He lost his voice, couldn’t speak, and had a full hundred yard stare going on. He got a hotel with some American girl he was seeing and hid out there for the rest of the week. I visited him once to let him know how it was all going, and all he could do was gesticulate and make the odd croaking sound. Gary had already left us and was staying with either Akim or the lighting technician he was smoking weed with when the bouncer bounced him down the staircase. So it was down to Matt, Ryan, and myself.

We got to work and rehearsed for up to ten hours each day. It was no use rehearsing more than that, everyone became too exhausted and our tired brains would invent ways to forget songs. Ryan found a way to fast-track getting up to speed. He wrote out the drum sections – the patterns and how many repetitions – and kept them in a book that he’d place on a stand next to the kit. Then he’d be guided through each song by both the click track and his notes. This made things easier. I had rare moments of silly optimism. Training up this new drummer in a week was just too easy. Next time we should try walking off the plane, grabbing the first person we saw, and make them the drummer on the way to the first gig. I was so giddy I was even occasionally making fun of Matt as he bonded with Ryan’s housemates over John Petrucci videos: “Neeeeee! I’m now going to play a harmonic minor-major fifth wankatronic scale in twelveteenths! NNNNEEEEEE!!”

Matt ignored me.

We were making decent progress when we hit another snag: Ryan didn’t have a passport. By now, there were only a few days left before we flew off to begin the new tour. I sunk into depression again. The label had managed to get him a flight which sort of amazed me, I was waiting for the moment when they’d tell us he’d have to swim over. However he didn’t have a passport and there was no way in hell he could get a visa to perform in the UK and Europe. I had a horrible not-again feeling in my gut: Gary had lodged his US visa application so late the year before that we nearly missed the start of tour, and only knew we’d make it on-time days beforehand. We hit the phones and managed to get Ryan an appointment with the passport office where – God willing! – he’d become one of the rare Americans to own a passport. The problem was that we were in Tampa and we had to drive down to Miami the day before flying out to interview for it and pick it up. This not only took another day out of rehearsals but left absolutely no room for errors or delays, two things that passport offices worldwide tend to specialise in. I had no fingernails left by this point.

So we drove to Miami on the last day. The set was in order, or as much order as it was going to be in. I think it was just me and Ryan who went, everyone else stayed in Tampa. We talked a fair bit on the way down. Ryan revealed his deep Christian beliefs, his background, and his lifestyle – he was 21 or 22 years old, hadn’t really got drunk before, had only had one girlfriend, never taken drugs, and was helping us out because we were brothers in need and as a Christian he was obliged to help us. I had a fair idea what was waiting for us in Europe, and wondered if it was really such a good idea to take this guy over on tour. Fortunately I’m not particularly christian so the defilement of my fellow-man didn’t concern me.

 

"Long hair, facial hair, frown...perfect. Wanna come drum for us?"

“Long hair, facial hair…perfect. Wanna come drum for us?”

 

We made it to Miami and began the process of applying for Ryan’s passport. Making the application took less than an hour, but it was followed by a long wait for them to process it. We hung out in a park down by the waterfront to pass the time. Ryan got on his phone and called a few friends to tell them he was going on tour in Europe. I was wearing shorts. I took my t-shirt off and lay down on the grass, then fell asleep. The sun felt so good. I had been frostbitten and miserable for months. We had started touring at the end of the northern hemisphere spring, and now winter was finally wrapping up and I was far south getting some rays. I fell asleep.

I woke up almost two hours later sunburned from head to toe. I was bright pink and slightly blistered. Ryan was still on his phone. He hadn’t noticed me cooking. We got the call that his application had been successful and went to the government office shortly afterwards to pick up his passport, then made the drive back to Tampa. My skin was crawling and unfortunately I started peeling soon after landing in England so I looked like I had leprosy for the first week of tour. We all gathered back at Ryan’s place – Luke had finished his hotel stay by then – and made plans for the flights the next day. Ryan was catching a separate flight from us and was entering England as a tourist so we had to apportion out his sticks and kick pedals between us, and make plans for him to get to Nottingham. We still had no idea what we’d do for a full month-long tour if he couldn’t make it over.

I managed to sneak away once packing was done and check my emails. I had a death threat waiting for me. The guy somehow knew the address for where I was staying. I don’t know how. He wanted to shoot me. I told him to give it his best shot, and flew out of the country the next morning around 7am. I haven’t been back to America since.

 

"FUCK YOUUUUuuuuu....."

“FUCK YOUUUUuuuuu…..”

Tagged , , ,

The World’s Worst Roadie

** update 29/12/2012 : I have been contacted by the subject of this article, who understandably was not enamoured with this story. He wanted me to take it down, or remove his identity. Anyone who has read this story would imagine that my response would be Get Bent….however, he DID ask around Christmas and I’ve a soft-spot for doing favours at this time of year. The article has been updated to obscure the subject’s identity.

I am a frustrated, shallow, shrivelled man of thwarted ambitions, and my greatest feat of creativity has been the internal monologue of victimisation that allows me to justify having enormous chips on both my shoulders. Naturally it follows that the only way I can make myself feel good is by stomping on others. So it goes that today I am taking great pleasure in smearing someone else’s reputation other than my own…a man who made the ghastly mistake of offering me help :

Behold, the World’s Worst Roadie…henceforth known as WWR.

 

 

* picture obscured to protect the identity of the useless

* picture obscured to protect the identity of the useless

 

 

‘Man’ might be pushing it too far. The dude was a child. We first crossed paths when Berzerker was looking for a drummer for a UK tour. Which tour and which year, I can’t remember. They’ve all blurred into one noisy, cold, miserable experience.  I was living in Bournemouth, England at the time and a friend mentioned that he knew a kid who could drum pretty fast. He gave me WWR’S details and seeing as though WWR was going to university in Bournemouth, I immediately caught up with him and checked him out.

As promised, he could drum pretty fast. I was impressed. Berzerker material is a whole other level of insane though, so I gave him three songs and asked him to learn them and show me his progress a week later. A week went by, and I didn’t hear from him. Then two weeks. Then three. The start of tour was only a few months away and no drummer had been finalised, so I wasn’t particularly enjoying the uncertainty. Then I got a text from WWR saying the following:

I think it’s time I said what’s on my mind, I don’t think I can do the tour and learn the material. Let me know if you can’t find anyone else though and I’ll see if I can help

I scratched my head over the message once or twice, showed it to Luke, laughed, then quickly forgot about it. We eventually decided on using David Gray again seeing as though he’d toured with us before and already knew the set. Additionally he and Matt (long-time Berzerker guitarist) both played in Akercocke together and so we kind of got a “package grind-unit” out of the two of them, and they could rehearse the set together outside of our once-weekly Berzerker rehearsals at Dave’s studio in Hounslow.

So I forgot about WWR until I got another message a few weeks out from tour. He contacted me out of the blue and wondered if I knew of any work going around Bournemouth as uni had finished for the year and he had time to kill. I asked if he wanted to come and roadie for us on the UK tour – we couldn’t pay him, but we could offer him a place to sleep and meals each day. He said yes.

A lot of people would read the above paragraph and think what kind of tightarses are you? You want a roadie but you won’t pay for him? What kind of a deal is that? So let me explain. We had two bands buy-on to this tour. They were Nekkrosis from the UK and Miksha from Norway. When a band buys-on to a tour, they or their label pay us one or two thousand pounds to ensure their band is supporting the headliner for the entire tour. There are numerous benefits to this, the obvious being that they have an audience to try and win over each night that is larger than if they were playing by themselves. Their press kit then gets to throw in “supported Berzerker around the UK” and there’ll usually be a line or two about their show in all the reviews and mentions of the tour.

There are additional benefits above and beyond those mentioned. When you’re a buy-on band, this is what you do: you impress everyone on tour, you meet promoters and try and set up gigs, you meet club owners and try and set up gigs, you meet booking agents and try and set up tours of your own or festival appearances. You meet the press, win them over, get emails and phone numbers, you push for interviews, reviews, and features. You meet labels, buy them a drink, angle either for a deal now or down the track, or to work with one of their bands. You meet managers, and see if they’ll manage you. You meet all the fanzines and blog writers who are out there to cover the main band, shake some hands, and win them over to your cause. And you thought tours were just tits and jagermeister.

 

Life-blood

On the other hand, IV’s and jagermeister comprise 92% of touring

 

I see these additional benefits as the ones which really count. The object of any band is to get straight from a money-losing status (the support band) to a money-making status (the headline band) as soon as possible. If you have a firm handshake and the ability to make friends then all you need is to buy on to one of these tours and off you go.

WWR played in a couple of bands, and I’d heard he had just replaced the drummer for UK death metallers Corpsing. He was coming onto tour in exchange for a couple of hours work each night. Nekkrosis and Miksha had paid over a thousand pounds for those additional benefits I mentioned above. He was getting them for free. I made that clear to him pre-tour and he was excited. As I say, it’s an opportunity. Go on tour as a roadie for two weeks with a backpack full of press packs and promo, and fucking well go for it if you have the band’s blessing. At the end of those two weeks you can now do your own national tour and have reasonable coverage for it and maybe even reach the Holy Grail – get paid for it. That was the idea anyway.

Berzerker normally doesn’t use roadies and I would not have invited WWR onboard to do anything, but he was actually getting me out of a fix. Dave and Matt, as well as asking for performance fees, were demanding a roadie for the tour. It was a reasonable demand, they’re professional musicians and they have roadies for Akercocke. It’s one of the first things most bands get before they’re even signed, a roadie to make sure their gig goes as well as possible and all onstage fuck-ups are unfucked as quick as possible. But as I said, we weren’t a normal band. We were complete bastards and didn’t trust anyone, even each other. I think our one lone previous experience of using a roadie ended up with our mixer and sampler getting exploded in Canberra. Luke was loath to let anyone near our equipment since then. Sometimes we were so tightarse we didn’t even hire a soundman. Luke would stand up near the mixing desk for the first song with a remote mic, get the mix as good as possible, and do the rest of the show from the stage. We never used roadies.

I asked Dave and Matt how much their Akercocke roadies charged and I think it may have been something like 50-70 pounds for a show? I forget the exact number but Luke and I were like, fuck that. We could hire another musician for that amount of money. So we said we’d get back to them and figure something out. But as it got closer to tour Dave and Matt both really got on my case about it. This wasn’t a problem for Luke because he was back in Australia, but I was in England rehearsing with the guys and had to hear their complaints in person. Dave especially is a hard person to say ‘no’ to.

I must explain Dave Gray from Akercocke. To me, the man is evidence that droit du seigneur is alive and well in England. You could surmise from his bearing that he is the love child of a royal tryst and Christopher Lee. The fella is proper and friendly and reliable, but you always have the feeling that one step wrong and you’ll be sent to the Tower of London to think shit through. I remember before our  first tour together we had worked out his performance per show fee, then totted that up into a total for the tour. A week or two out from tour a couple of shows were dropped, so I tried to adjust his total tour fee down accordingly. Dave laughed in contempt at my attempted negotiation and in a My-Will-Be-Done voice simply said “NO“. You know how in some novels, a minor character is revealed to be a descendant of the King, and he suddenly speaks with the righteousness of a major dynastical line that resonates with a thousand years of ruling? Yeah, that. Just a simple controlled “No” but it actually had me waking up in cold sweats for a few years.

“Sorry I’m a bit tired today…had that dream where Dave said ‘No’ to me ”

DAVID

“…and don’t make me say it again”

Other drummers, I would have told them to quit being rockstars and fucking well roadie their own shit especially if they were getting a show fee. But these guys were from a band on the same level as ours, from the same record label, with their shit sorted better than us, and we were on their home turf. And I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a “No” from the ancients again, so when WWR offered his half-hearted services I jumped at the chance of bringing him onboard. I didn’t care that he’d failed the biggest character test – reliability – the first time I’d met him. I could tell Matt and Dave that they had a roadie and performance fees, and know they’d be happy.

So the tour started in Brighton in the middle of a hurricane. I remember the bus and trailer were almost getting pushed uphill by the force of the wind. There was force-10 blasting going on inside the venue too. We smashed out our show. WWR arrived halfway through the gig and stood up the back of the crowd. He had been at a festival and was late. That was understandable, things are always a bit up in the air at the first show of tour. Hell, even bands are usually late to the first show of the tour, so I could forgive him that. He apologised and said he’d be on the ball from the next show. I said no problem. I advised him that he had to be side-stage or onstage ready to go each night, to plug leads in, pick microphones up, fetch water, and help in any way possible and he needed to be armed with gaffer tape, a knife, and a towel all of which we provided. I told him he also had to help with load-in, and packing up and loading out. I introduced him to our hopeless tour manager Nobby “I Owe Sam Bean 4000 pounds” Styles, then I sent him upstairs to get some food.

Luke was the first to ask. “Who’s your little ginger mate?”
“That” I said, “is our roadie WWR.”

I noticed the same expression creep across everyone’s face when I said that. Roadies are normally very grizzled matter-of-fact down-to-earth guys who are quick to introduce themselves and get on with making themselves useful. WWR just kind of crept around and didn’t introduce himself to anyone. You get what you pay for, I guess. He looked like we’d abducted a schoolkid and brought him on tour, and he didn’t talk. He had his dinner and found himself a berth on the Skyliner bus we were travelling on and went to sleep. All three bands on the tour were travelling on the bus and there wasn’t enough space for everyone, so a few of the guys from the support bands slept in the lounge up the back and downstairs.

*Note: I just had my usual call with Luke where I verify story details with him. All he had to offer was: “I do not remember this guy at all”

So the next day, we’re at the Nexus in Southampton for our gig. I had a blistering hangover from the night before. Load-in into the venue was happening. I went to help but the lovely dudes from Miksha and Nekkrosis stopped me: “Don’t worry about it, we’ve got this”. They loaded the entire backline up onto stage. I saw someone help Dave with his drums. I looked for WWR. He’d missed load-in. My girlfriend at the time and myself got the merch stand up. WWR sidled in. I had a go at him for missing load-in, and he made some excuse about not realising it was happening. I introduced him to Dave, and told Dave that WWR would help him roadie his kit. I explained to him that WWR was drumming for Corpsing in an attempt to lend this waif some credibility. I remember Dave looking directly at WWR and saying in a The-Fate-of-the-Kingdom-Is-In-Your-Hands voice “Corpsing, eh? Those are some big shoes to fill. Very big shoes”. I left them to it.

So we played our Nexus gig. It went fairly seamlessly until the end of the set just before the encore. My bass strap broke during the last song, and I had to finish the song standing on one leg Masai-style with the bass balanced on the other leg while I did vocals. I peeped out of the corner of my eyes. Neither WWR nor tour manager Nobby, who were both standing right next to me, noticed or did anything.  At the end of the song, I kicked Nobby and screamed for gaffer tape. He went and grabbed some. I needed to cut old tape off my bass before reattaching the strap and I asked WWR if he had a knife. He said yes. I asked for it. He said it was on the bus. The bus of course was locked during gigs.

I was dumbstruck for a minute before saying “Well it’s not much good there, is it?”
I ended up just trying to tape the entire bass to myself to make it through the encore.

WWR disappeared for load-out, and again the opening bands did everything for us. One or two of them asked who that friend of mine was, the quiet ginger kid who stood around, ate our food, and slept on the bus? I explained he was our roadie, but I was starting to feel self-concious. Tours are lean machines and every single space on the bus is for people earning their place. My girlfriend was a small chick, and she was setting up our merch stand and looking after that every night and pulling her weight. The opening bands were roadying for us, and this was on top of looking after all their own shit, providing backline, and paying to be on tour. This grown boy WWR was loafing, had barely introduced himself to anyone on tour, and was simply not helping. He was becoming an embarrasment.

Next gig, Exeter at the Cavern Club. WWR went missing again for load-in and load-out. Didn’t help with the merch stand. I think I’d left him in charge of it, came back half an hour later and he’d wandered off. Just left it unmanned. I spotted him during the show right up the back where he could be of no possible use whatsoever. When I confronted him after the gig he said there wasn’t enough space on stage to wait. This was despite all the other bands having people just at the doorway at the side of stage, standing there ready to help. And we had seen sights on the road such as Skinless’ soundman onstage with a mixer held in his lap crouched between an amp and a wall while the rest of the venue tore itself apart, so we knew what was and wasn’t possible. Luke and I had already had a conversation between us earlier that night, angry that WWR was taking up bus space and offering nothing for it. Most of the guys on tour hadn’t spoken to him, and he definitely wasn’t making inroads with any promoters or club owners to further his own cause. We had taken dudes on tour who turned out to be legends who did us proud. This guy was not one of them. Even Matt was picking up on it, and he normally noticed nothing other than beer and his guitar for entire tour lengths.

“So who’s that little friend of yours, Sam?” snickered Matt. “Who’s your mate?”
He’s not my fucking friend!” I snapped.

Later that night, I spoke to WWR and told him he was on his last chance. He had to load-in and load-out. He had to be on stage when we were playing. He had to help Dave set up and  break down his drum kit. Tour was for working and getting shit done, not for standing around watching other people do things. WWR apologised, said he still didn’t have his head on straight, said he’d make more of an effort.

Although the tour went for another week and a half, the next show was in Derby. That was WWR’s last day on tour.

He missed load-in again. All set up happened without him. I was not happy. He stood in the middle of the floor during soundcheck and critiqued the mix. I reminded him we were already sorted for soundmen and he needed to be doing the job we were not-paying him for. I spoke to him again before the gig reminding him to be side-stage for the show. The dude just nodded and said OK, but I’m not sure if he understood. His eyes just had this vacant look you get from goldfish who have been fed a little too much fish-food. During our set we were in the middle of ‘Burnt‘ and my microphone fell off its stand halfway through my vocals. I looked sidestage. WWR was not there. Later during the same song there’s a techno break where I don’t have to play bass and I refastened the microphone. I looked out into the crowd. WWR was right in the middle of the crowd, talking to some blonde chick. That did it. When the song ended, I announced into the microphone:

WWR, YOU ARE OFF THE TOUR. GET YOUR SHIT AND FUCK OFF”

Despite being addressed over a PA cranked to death-metal volumes, he didn’t seem to notice he was being spoken to. It goes without saying that he wasn’t around to help break down or load out after the show. He had disappeared. I was packing things up and fuming.

“Sam”, Dave said to me in a Give-Unto-Each-Villager-An-Oxen-And-Three-Chickens voice “…I think it’s time to let WWR go”.

“No fucking kidding” I snarled. I was pissed.

We loaded out, packed up, and grabbed showers. Then Luke and I hunted for WWR so we could make sure he knew he was sacked. One of the opening bands told us he was already in the bus. We marched on. I found him asleep on one of the top-front chairs which doubled as a bed. I was momentarily stuck for what to do.

“Oh. He’s asleep” I told Luke.

“Not for long”, Luke replied. He went back to his bunk, pulled out a five foot long red bag weighted down with bottles of Jack Daniels, dragged it back to us, and dropped it right on WWR’s head. He woke up.

“Sorry about that, didn’t see you there” said Luke, and left me to it.

I forget exactly what I said to WWR, but it was pretty rough. I told him he was an embarrassment, that I’d never seen anyone so slack in the industry, that I was ashamed to be known as the guy that brought him on tour. I took him through his transgressions one-by-one. It took me about five minutes of monologue and every time WWR tried to defend himself, I’d rip into him harder. He’d been given warnings, he’d been told what was expected of him. I was told by some eavesdroppers afterwards that I sounded scarier and more serious than when I was actually doing a gig. At the end of the talk I told him to get off the bus and make his own way back to London. Now. It was midnight and during winter so it was pretty cold out there. He packed his stuff and got off the bus. No trains were running at that time of night and he didn’t have any money. I didn’t care. I told the other bands there were now a few spare berths up the front then went to bed.

After I went to sleep, Nobby the tour-manager let WWR back on the bus to wait out the night in the downstairs lounge and then gave him twenty pounds for a train home. I ripped into Nobby when I found out. I felt that WWR was cheated of the valuable life experience of finding his way home from a distant location with no money. This may be why Nobby short-changed me around four-thousand pounds at the end of tour. When I chased him for the money he told me a story about his wife going to hospital. Then he took a job in Europe, stopped answering his phone, and just disappeared. I never heard from him again.

I bumped into WWR a year or so later in a pub in Bournemouth. He seemed happy to see me and wanted to tell me about his band who had just recorded in Poland. I didn’t want to speak to him. I’d had a conversation not long before with a known figure amongst London bands who had relayed the following to me:

“You know WWR, yeah? The kid you took on tour? He doesn’t like you guys. You kicked him off one of your tours, yeah? He’s been going around telling everyone all of Berzerker hated him because he was pulling girls every night and you weren’t. So you got jealous and kicked him off the tour.”

 

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Blue balls make you brutal

postscript:

I realise that I talk about ‘offenses’ committed by this guy on tour as if they were grievous. If you haven’t been on tour then you probably don’t realise that it’s a very different environment culturally, and the work-ethic is a very big part of the environment. If you’re in the headlining band then you’ve got a bit of leeway to be slack. If you’re anyone else, you work and if you don’t work then you better have one charming goddamn personality or you will stick out like dog’s balls. Therefore, here’s a list of the minimum of what’s expected of you if you go on tour with a band. I’m aware that shit changes totally with professional tours, and that roadies have contracts and that responsibilities are strictly delineated between crew…so this is for everyone else below that ‘pro’ level:

  • Load-in and load-out. At the very least, do that for your band. Most people do it for all bands on the tour
  • Help set up the merchandise stand and help man it sometimes (if there’s a dedicated merch guy, ask if he/she needs help)
  • Work out what the deal is for food (PD’s, or if it’s being served) and if possible relay it to the rest of the band. You should not have to be told this from the band itself. They are not there to help make things easier for you
  • Work out what the schedule for the show is. You should not have to be told this by the band either
  • If there’s nothing to do, find something to do. If there’s still nothing to do, ask someone if they need help. If there’s still nothing to do and you want to go away and do something, let people know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. You never just disappear
  • When the gig happens you are on the side of stage, behind the stage, or in a pinch, minding the merch table. If a cymbal stand falls, you are there to catch it. If a lead falls out, you plug it back in.
  • if you’re a legend on tour, it reflects well on you. But if you’re lazy, it reflects badly on your band
  • Be resourceful and helpful. Start of tour and all the merch boxes don’t fit into the trailer? Go buy garbage bags, load the merch into them, and squeeze them into the trailer. Promoter orders general food when all the opening bands have finished and the headliners are about to go on? Go and put some of the food aside for the headliners and stash it somewhere where it won’t get nabbed. Be helpful and resourceful

Lastly, the best dude we over took on the road? To my mind it was Pete Theobalds, the ex-Akercocke bassist. He came on tour out of the blue for no money, just to help out Dave and Matt on our third UK tour. He worked nonstop above and beyond the call of duty, and was a joy to be around during an exceptionally stressful tour. One of these days I will write an entire article about wonderful people and Pete will probably be a big part of that. But today, I just wanted to hate on people and it was WWR’s turn to shine.

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How To Get Big, Part 1

I’ve heard this question from young bands a few times and I’m not sure why I’m asked it, to be honest. Berzerker never had a magazine cover, we never had roadies, never had a headline US tour of our own. We were rather notorious though and many people had heard of us even if they hadn’t actually heard us. In retrospect, I can say that if we remained full time as a band we would have been making a decent living from music by 2007 mostly from live performances. Problem being we hated touring, each other, metalheads, the industry, and ourselves so it wasn’t really an option. Anyway, if the ability to make a living from music and worldwide notoriety is ‘big’, then at that level we were big.

So I get asked the question from young bands, how do we get big? We’re just starting out, how do we get to Berzerker size? If you do a search on the net you get all sorts of advice from all sorts of industry figures, and they’ll all say different things depending on which part of the industry they’re in. I’m not going to give advice on making the best PR sheet or website, or how to get a facebook page with thousands of likes. Other people can give better advice on that than me. My advice however is untainted – I’m not a band manager writing a column telling you that surrounding yourself with great managers trustworthy people is the way forward. The advice I’ll give in this post covers two fundamental principles which, if adhered to, will immediately put you at the top of the pack of your music genre in your country. I will cover further actions and further principles in further posts, but for now here are the Big Two:

 

BE DIFFERENT

There are millions of bands out there. Why should I listen to yours? If you’re just making Slayer songs, or At The Gates songs, or Burzum songs, sorry, but why don’t I just listen to the original bands you’re copying instead of listening to you hmmm? Be different. The world doesn’t need another cover band.

When you’re a deathcore band, you are competing with the hundreds of thousands of other deathcore bands out there. You have to rise above all those thousands of other bands to get your piece of the pie. If you’re a band like Genghis Tron or Melt Banana, then you are plowing virgin territory and your only competition is yourselves.

Ask yourself, who are the biggest bands out there? The ones who pioneered new forms of music, or the ones who have copied them? It’s the pioneers who go down in history, my friend. There are bands who play established styles and don’t bring new forms to the table, but let’s face it – if you are copying the pioneers you have to be twice as good as them. Sepultura swung from Slayer’s nuts, but does your band honestly have a Max and Igor Cavalera? Evile are playing Metallica-style thrash, but you’d never see Metallica able to perform an Evile song because Evile are twice the musicians they are. It’s a fact. If you’re not an innovator then you better be world-class musicians with a lot of other things going your way.

So is it just the music that has to be different? Consider this statement: many people, to varying degrees, define their identity from the bands they listen to. That’s why people have these big retarded arguments about genres, and which band fits in what genre. This is why people like a band’s old stuff better – before they got popular, and the scene kids came in, and the person realised that the original identity they created by following the band had now changed. It’s easy to see with the ‘uniform’ or identity that people adopt when listening to their music in a live setting. Classical music enthusiasts will be suited or well-dressed, metalheads will have their distincitive hairstyles and black bloody band-shirts, the psytrance crowd will be dressed in furry bright colours with props, the country music crowd is in their moleskins, flannelette shirts, and boots. No, not everyone dresses as per their genre. Thank you Captain Obvious. And yes, it is totally possible for someone from one group to appreciate another genre of music. I’m not here to coddle your politically correct pedantic ass. I’m here to tell you that many people form their identity off the music they listen to. If we are talking about being different, then realise that this covers not just the music that you do but also the identity that your band provides. If you haven’t realised, this is why so many genres of metal have sprung up….power metal, battle metal, folk metal, blah blah blah blah blah. It’s a lazy way for bands to try to define both their music and identity. I don’t recommend doing this by the way, it has been done to death already.

Every band thinks they’re different, everyone thinks they’re special. Here’s a quick exercise for you:

Tell me in one sentence what makes your band different from everyone else

How’d that go? Did something just flow off the tongue? Did you have to think for a minute or two? Even worse, did you give the answer that I get from so many people: a shrug, followed by “we just are”?

Here’s an example. For my longtime band The Berzerker, this would be my answer:

“We are the heaviest and most extreme band in the world, we hate absolutely everyone, and write industrial death-metal with big speedcore kicks at the fastest speeds in music and the sickest samples”

Dissecting that, you get the following: I name the two elements we do that no-one else does, namely the industrial death-metal and the speedcore kick samples. When I name other factors that other bands may share (heavy, fast, samples) then out come the superlatives – we are the heaviEST, the fastEST, etc. Are we really the heaviest and fastest? Who knows? I’m not writing a thesis with footnotes to back my claims. This isn’t wikipedia. To hell with facts. By describing common factors as superlatives then we identify with the crowd who are in search of the absolute limit in extremity. We know people define their identity as being into the sickest music, or the most intense experiences. The superlatives help them identify with us in response. We put the cherry on the icing by saying what we’re about: “we hate absolutely everyone”.

With The Senseless, it’s simple: “super-happy metal”. Any description of the band or music will include the word “happy” somewhere. Are all the songs happy? Hell no. There’s usually only about four or five cheerful tracks on each album, the rest of it is usually extremely mental or miserable. However, that distinguishes me from every other metal band and attracts a distinct crowd.

If you want your band to be big, make the effort to be original and different.

 

Tour Overseas

I can’t say this one enough: the fastest way to get big in your home territory is to immediately play outside it without delay.

DO NOT wait until you think your gig is ready.

DO NOT wait for someone to pick you up and book you for an overseas tour just because you’re rocking your local pub.

Playing overseas is daunting. It is easy to make excuses not to do it. It is very easy to put it off until next year, then the year after that. But here’s the fact: the sooner you tour overseas, the sooner your career starts. The world doesn’t care what you do in your hometown. They barely care what you do in your country. This goes double for Australian bands…you can play one thousand of the most amazing shows around Australia for five years and I guarantee you the rest of the world DOES NOT CARE. Most of the world barely knows Australia exists. We only pop up on the news whenever someone gets eaten by a crocodile or a shark.

I’ve known a few bands that paid their dues, worked their home territory, spent years getting their gig together, and then disbanded after their first overseas tour when they realised that their career was only starting with that tour. Simply put, original bands who tour globally have a greater profile and a greater income from music than original bands who stay put at home. To try and keep my rant sharp, here’s a few bullet points for why you want to tour overseas ASAP:

  • You make more contacts in one week of overseas gigging than in a year of domestic shows
  • International bands always get interest wherever they play by dint of being international. Think of when you heard that a band from Japan or Brazil was playing at your local pub. You were curious to see them, and you felt that you should know who they are. This is an assumption people will make about your band when you play overseas
  • You gain greater profile with your domestic scene if you play internationally
  • You give all news websites and magazines a reason to report on you if you’re playing international shows. Touring is still the most guaranteed way for a band to generate attention
  • International touring is an essential part of being a world-class professional band. It is also one of the more stressful parts. Want to know if you can all cut it on the road? Don’t waste time putting in years at home then having the drummer and vocalist quit after their first overseas tour. Do those overseas shows first and see if you all have what it takes
  • Having trouble getting on domestic festivals? Then apply for overseas festivals and get on those instead. Can’t get support slots for domestic tours? Then get on support slots for overseas tours instead. This is the quickest way to get your domestic industry to sit up and take notice of you, and start booking you for the good stuff. You may be thinking, how is it possible for us to get on overseas shows if we can’t get on good domestic ones? As mentioned above, bands always get greater interest in different territories by dint of being international. Your nationality becomes a selling point for potential promoters. Apart from the logistics, it is often easier for a little-known band to get overseas slots as opposed to decent domestic ones.

Here are rubbish reasons for not touring overseas:

  • No money. If you think of your band as a business startup, then you may need to do as businesses do and loan that money. Personal loans, government grants, loans off friends. Don’t wait for a record label or booking agent to offer you money to tour overseas. This does not happen anymore.
  • Losing one of the band members a week out from tour start. This is something almost all bands go through. We had to deal with losing a drummer with Berzerker ten days out from a European headline tour, and we were in a foreign country with no money. We found a guy. The tour went ahead. Nile lost bassist/vocalist Jon Vesano a few days out from tour, guitarist Dallas stepped up on vocals and they found a bassist with a day to spare. Both those bands have considerable global profiles. Legendary Australians Damaged lost a guitarist (they had two) a week or two out from their first US tour, and cancelled the tour. Their career success was miniscule compared to what it could have been.
  • Need more practice. Practice on the road, I say. OK, if you’re unable to complete one of your songs in its entirety then maybe you need to stay in the rehearsal room a little longer. But if you’ve done two or three shows locally and managed to make it through to the end of your set without utterly falling to pieces, then you’re ready. Don’t worry if you’re not polished, you’ll get polished doing five gigs in a row in some place you’ve never been, trying to win over a crowd that doesn’t know you.

 

So there’s my two bits of advice. Be different – more importantly KNOW what your difference is-  and tour overseas. You may have noticed I did not give any advice on HOW to tour overseas. That’s what the internet is for. The advice differs a little depending on your style of music, which country you’re in, and which area you wish to tour in. My mission with this article is to make bands realise that if they wish to get ‘big’, then these are essential components that cannot be shirked. The sooner they are faced, the sooner success comes.

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