At this moment in 2013, we may be seeing a golden age of rock bands in Charleston. Shovels and Rope have hit the big time and continue to climb, but they are not the only band with potential. I have a personal list of a dozen local bands that I think have strong chance of making a career playing their own tunes.
Two young bands with big time potential, A Fragile Tomorrow (who I've written about here about here) and Heyrocco, are getting ready to launch tours with better known bands this month. For a band to get on a tour means they have graduated beyond the realm of local clubs and into the first level of becoming a full-time professional band.
For A Fragile Tomorrow, this is their fourth tour in support of a bigger artist. They’ve been with Indigo Girls, The Bangles, and Matthew Sweet. Next month, it will be with K’s Choice on that band’s first tour of the U.S. in 12 years.
Because both bands are headed out on tour about the same time, they are about the same age, and, of course, are from Charleston, I asked each if we could meet up and talk about their plans for this tour, if they could share stories along the way, and then recap after the tour.
Both bands agreed. Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to catalog their experiences on tour and let you in on what these local bands are doing after they leave Charleston. Will they end up with huge record deals, thousands of new fans, and riches... or bad tattoos and fist fights? Does it even make sense for a band to go on tour? Whatever happens, I hope we can let you in on their stories along the way.
I had both bands meet me at the Blind Tiger for lunch this past Monday. Not everyone in each band could make it. But fortunately Nathan (vocals/guitar) and Christopher (Bass and Korg) from Heyrocco, and brothers Sean (vocals/guitar) and Brendan (guitar) Kelly of A Fragile Tomorrow were gainfully unemployed enough to meet me.
The Heyrocco guys got there first and Nathan soon mentioned how he hates it when people ask them how much they make at a show or on tour. Well there goes one of my questions. I think I’ll tuck that away.
The guys from A Fragile Tomorrow arrive and sit down. I think each looked over at my Guinness when the waitress asked if she could get anything for anyone. Everyone opted for water.
They weren’t just being polite. Sean Kelly was the only one over 21.
Most of these guys are not old enough to drink, yet headed out on a rock tour where the purpose of the bands is to ……….. get crowds of music lovers to buy beer. Scratch your head on that one a while.
The two bands were apparently on good terms with each other and we fell into an easy conversation.
Q: So how did you guys get signed up on these tours?
Sean (AFT): Our brother Dominic just called them a lot. K's Choice is one of his, or our, favorite bands. So when we heard they were coming to do a tour, we just wanted to be on it. He kept calling and apparently they just chose us.
Nathan (HR): We just signed with this management company. And like a month and a half ago, they were having a ‘welcome to the company’ party for us at their offices. Then our manager picked up the phone and made a call and that was about it. I’m not sure if he was trying to impress us or what. But he got us the shows.
Q: So who do you have going out on tour with you? Management, merchandise manager, how many roadies?
Brendan (AFT): My girlfriend handles our merchandise. But that’s it.
Christopher (HR): Yeah, it’s just us. We’re used to not having anyone along. It’s easier.
Nathan (HR): Like when you go to sleep, nobody has to have a steering wheel in their chest.
Q: Sleeping in the van? Is that what the plan is?
Christopher (HR): There really isn’t a plan. We’re just seeing what happens.
Sean (AFT): Yeah us too, we’re used to asking around, talking to people after shows.
Nathan (HR): People can be really nice. Give us a place to sleep. Offer to do our laundry.
Christopher (HR): Feed us meals.
Note: That’s really the summary of a band tour since the dawn of rock. Plan very little. Live by the seat of your pants. Rely on the kindness of strangers. And hope to avoid trouble.
We talked more and the bands shared some unique road stories: offers of drugs, five-minute companionship, and conversations with the borderline insane. Stories that I’ll keep to myself now, in hopes that better ones will come up during these tours.
But I wanted to get back to the topic of these impending tours....
Q: So how can you guys meet me on a random Monday afternoon and take time off to go on tour?
All: We don’t have jobs.
Heyrocco guys: Actually, we don’t even have girlfriends anymore. It’s pretty much just the band.
Brendan (AFT): I just got a job at a yogurt place.
Me: A couple of weeks before you go on tour?
Brendan (AFT): Have to make a few bucks before leaving.
This led to ask more about how important these tours were. Here I was, old guy about to ask the youngsters “Where do you think you’ll be in…..” like some creepy uncle at a family reunion.
Q: What do you guys hope to get out of these tours?
Nathan (HR): Just some people that become fans. And want to come back to another show and bring one or two people.
Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.
Sean (AFT): Yeah, that’s all you can really hope for.
Q: So, no hope that a record label will see you and offer you a huge contract on the spot?
Christopher (HR): I mean, that would be great. But what does a record deal even mean these days? I don’t even know. We just want to grow what we’re doing. If that’s a record deal, then great. But we just want to do this and do it more.
Q: So this is pretty much the plan? Tour. Record. Play.
Christopher (HR): Yeah. We’re all in.
Q: No plan B?
Q: So you all have friends you went to school with who are now in college or in their first jobs. They went that way, following a set plan. You guys are all on this rock n' roll plan with no real path to follow and on your own. Making it up as you go. Not sure about a payday. Do you ever think about what your time would be like if you did what they did? Do you think your friends in college or working are jealous?
Nathan (HR): Ha. Them jealous? Sometimes I think they have it better. Or easier.
Sean (AFT): This is just what we do. It’s kinda like we don’t have a choice.
Christopher (HR): Yeah, most of the time, it seems like going to college or work would be a lot easier.
Nathan (HR): But once you got it, you know. The thing that says you do this. You kind of can’t do anything else. You just have to do it. And now.
(Additional note here: the Kelly brothers are taking online courses for graphic design and music business degrees.)
At this point in the conversation, I stepped back a bit. Let the guys eat. Four young men from two different bands, all sharing the same “calling.” The conversation gave way to thoughts on what kind of lives they could end up having because they are in bands now. Sound engineer. Teacher. Book writer. It sounded like hollow goals when they spoke of them. None of them really wanted to talk about those Plan Bs. Playing in a band seemed like the only reality any of them could firmly grasp.
I expected at least one member to show some tendency to want riches and stardom. One member to be the guy I pick to act like the fool and mess things up for everyone else. I didn’t find that guy in this group.
We switched the conversation to funny things that happened at other gigs. Then I asked, “All right, at the end of the tour, which band member is going to show up with the most embarrassing tattoo?”
Sean (AFT): Probably me.
Brendan (AFT): No way. You’d think too much about it and never get one.
Sean (AFT): You’re right. Probably Dominic (Drummer for AFT who could not make the meeting). He’d probably get one, show the world like it was the coolest thing, and then totally regret it a week later.
What about Heyrocco? Both of them simply replied “Tanner,” their drummer who was not there.
Christopher (HR): But wait, Nathan. You’ve been talking about one.
Nathan (HR): Yeah, maybe me. But probably not.
Q: OK, if you guys get in trouble on tour. Arrest, etc. Who do you make your call to? Parent or manager?
I hope this introduces you a bit to these two bands. Within a few weeks, both bands will be on tours in support of larger acts. They are heading out without much of a plan, little to no support outside of their own wits, and the hope that the kindness of strangers and a lot of luck will keep them moving forward. Their goals for the tours are quite humble.
Personally, I’m hoping each comes back safe. And I don’t expect anyone to be making that jailhouse call to the managers.
When these two bands come back to the Lowcountry, I expect each will be a little better at their craft. Doing nothing but playing shows each night, while studying the tricks and tools more popular bands use, can’t hurt.
They may be a little smarter. A lot more experienced. And closer to the ability to make careers in music. I’m also hoping for some good stories.