Well you know your mind races on the open road as the time ticks by;
said, “You know I’ve got a girl back home, and I can picture her livin’ her life.”
It’s the simple things you think about on these late night drives…
This is a story, kind of. It’s a journal, kind of. It’s wonderings about life and music and touring and the last two months of my life with all involved. It’s a little bit of insight into the road, and thought on some beautiful bands that Facedown put on them from March 12th until April 22ne this 2010. Rock ‘N Roll, man.
Infinite white and yellow dotted and double-striped lines passed beneath our feet from border to border, state to state, spanning the length of the country for over a month this early 2010. Thirty-eight dates took four of Facedown Records’ Young Bloods from East Coast to West Coast to everywhere in-between.
Well, it’s Friday, March 12, 2010, and twenty-two band dudes just showed up to form a family…
Solace Venues (http://www.myspace.com/solacemusicvenues) kicked off the run in rainy Carthage, Missouri a few miles away from where I swear Never Shout Never parked his tour van next to his mom’s house down the road. It was a reunion between friends and a creation of acquaintances that would soon become more. This isn’t just a bunch of bands, this is the Facedown Family.
How is a person supposed to articulate an experience like this? The thing is, unless you’ve got the memories, you can’t quite feel the sun coming in through the windows of In The Midst Of Lions’ conversion van. You can’t quite feel the cool of the breeze sneaking through the cracks in the window of Hands’ fifteen passenger at the end of countless a Wal-Mart parking lot. You can’t quite picture Onward To Olympas’ vocalist doing the “jumpy-baby-cricket-naked-levi-baby-poet” from the back of the room. You can’t see A Hope For Home’s kindly, passionate demeanor shine from each member the way their set-lights shine on stage.
The funny thing is that, here at the end of the day, what I’m doing is making it all sound as majestic as it was in my mind when I was fifteen, at my first show, a kid beneath a hero on a stage, in fierce envy of that lifestyle.
Many a time, maybe all of us have longed for that innocent vision again. Ryan, the main writer/lead guitarist for In The Midst Of Lions, calls his longing a hope for “musical amnesia” – that he could forget what it meant to get accustomed to the life he used to long for as though all of the excitement is gone – to do it all again. To experience music and be excited about it, to look at a stage and see a hero, to hear a song and feel something more than a desire to be over-analytical.
Because we’ve swapped places or grown into the shoes that we used to look up to, and now we’re just the people on the box on top of the same concrete that all the other people are on. Sometimes, at night, I pretend that I’m the kid on the other side of the merch table, asking me questions and joking about trading positions as merch guy for their favorite bands. Sometimes I tell them I will and they laugh like I’m joking. I think about how they saved up money to pay for their admission, and how they’ve looked forward to the date since the show was announced a month ago, and about how their parents asked them what’s so appealing about listening to the music that they do as they head out the door, and about how they try to explain how flailing their arms is at all related to “dancing”, and about how both parties roll their eyes and agree to disagree.
And I reminisce and I think: sure, I’ll trade you to feel like that about shows again.
And as I realize the thought process… I’m jaded.
“I will find the brightest love, and I’ll think about it, and read about it, and write about it, and sing about it…”
But then we flash forward to today: Friday, April 16th, 2010, stuck in traffic in Los Angeles, California (because when are you ever not stuck in traffic in Los Angeles, California?), and I’m feeling the breeze circle through the windows again, and I’m ready to be out on this road forever. I’m watching Sam Penner (ITMOL – guitar) watching the line of Beamers beside us, thinking about Chattanooga, Tennessee – the show that Alex Livingston (ITMOL – drummer) and I decided that Hands has revitalized our faith in music again, and reminded us of what it meant to be at the very first show your mom finally broke down and let you go to. You stand there and listen to the music and you watch the foursome throw down to “Brightest” and “Hurricanes”. Vocalist Shane Ochsner tells the story of a journey and a man and a wife and a dream and a love and a life in “Hope”, and you start to memorize the lyrics over the course of the tour and it sinks in at some point and starts to mean something more.
And you stand there and you know that music is beautiful and – in my mind – there has got to be a God out there somewhere to inspire words that can penetrate a person’s heart like that. There’s got to be something out there worth the struggle in that song.
From the first date in Joplin, we make our way east across Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Michigan, and into Pennsylvania. The GPS on the dash leads us into congested, busy Pittsburgh, to The Smiling Moose – a hole-in-the-wall bar small enough to fit inside a living room. We carry a million pounds of merch and equipment up the skinniest staircase in the world, seven bands play within a period of four hours because they’ve got techno/rave night starting at ten, and then we carry it all back down. I slide the thirty-pound large-shirts bin down the staircase and Matt Janssen (ITMOL – vocalist) stands at the bottom and it hits his shins and slams him into a wall. This city is alive at night. Cigarette smoke and barbecue and laughter let the wind carry them through the streets, alleys, and cracks beneath the doors into our noses and ears and flip that switch that makes your heart beat and causes your eyes to light up at the sight of movement in the city. You need movement in life, forward momentum and changes of time and place and ideals…
I swear God lives in the city!
He’s got a thousand blinking eyelids and he peaks out beneath the window panes from a thousand colored irises.
He’s got a thousand street signs and stoplights with names of his veins all interconnected in omnipresent hands that are shouting his praise.
The pavement is his calloused skin and I walk all over him but he loves me just the same!
I drove with In The Midst Of Lions for the majority of the tour. Their van has blown its transmission twice, so they drive fifty-five everywhere to keep the engine alive. Well, most of them do. Matt, the vocalist, he drives eighty or something like that, but he drives at night when everyone else is asleep, so it doesn’t count. I think if Matt drove all of the time, we’d be absurdly early instead of “cordially late” to every show, but usually the trips go like this:
Drive for twenty minutes.
Sam: “Hey dude! Pull over, I’m hungry!” Thirty-five minute gas station stop.
Drive for fifteen minutes, see the beginning of a forest fire. Twenty minute forest fire stomp out session. Drive for five minutes.
Alex: “Stop here, I need to get a four dollar Wal-Mart meal deal!” Forty-five minute four dollar Wal-Mart meal deal-ness. “Best deal you could ever get! Look at this! Corn! Chicken! Potatoes! I couldn’t even finish this…”
Matt: “Dude! What time is load-in?”
Jake: “Four thirty.”
Matt: “That was two hours ago, man!”
Ryan: “Don’t worry, as long as we get there in time to play the ‘Seventh Star’ cover and ‘Herod’s Demise’, no one will care anyway!”
There can be no doubt, however, that In The Midst Of Lions is good for their headlining position. They pull all over the country, and their lyrics pour out of kids’ mouths in every city. While songs like “Seventh Star” and “Herod’s Demise” might both be crowd fav’s, the whole set is something special, without a tired moment. Having followed and befriended ITMOL since before their Strikefirst announcement last year, it has been exciting to see my friends grow into their place amongst Facedown’s finest. Their following is ever-increasing, and their influence is ever-growing. I’ve been out on three runs with the St. Louis home-bodies since their beginnings, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen more growth in each of them – in all of us, individually and collectively – than on this tour. And, take it as you will, this was not without opposition. Life is life whether you’re living it in a house or in a van, and it’s all learning experiences, and it’s all conflict and resolve, and – in the case of this full-time band – it’s a marriage relationship between five men (spare the vulgarities). Light was shed on many a closeted sin, and I think that a lot of conviction led to a lot of refinement. Matt Janssen, who has always shared his testimony from stage and began this tour the same, switched it up mid-run, and spoke of love, and the challenge of living within the likeness of Christ. He vulnerably confessed his sins of judgment and slander against both unbelievers and brothers and sisters in Christ, and apologized on behalf of himself and other Christians who do the same, challenging us to live and love as Christ did and as Christ called us to live and love. “… if that judgment, if us Christians, are the thing that have caused some of you bitterness, and the want to have nothing to do with Jesus, then I apologize… that is not the way we are meant to live…” There is a thankful passion that has grown more noticeable in the midst of the members. I’m excited to see what awesome things the Lord can do with that attitude in a band of their current caliber within the scene…
As much as I love them, however, there comes a time, on tour, when you feel as though you’re going to shoot yourself in the face if you don’t get a little space to yourself, or, at least, from certain other “selves”. Hands’ van – beautiful, sweet, lovely, inviting, quiet van that it is – offered it’s sweet arms of embrace three or four weeks into the tour. (Alright, look, so I invited myself into the Hands’ van, but praise God Almighty for it!)
Unfortunately, the harsh reality of an imperfect world that doesn’t really consider our plans stuck its sticks between Hands’ spokes on this tour. Josh, their big-bearded, smiley drummer, went home early due to health concerns. Let’s see… first, he bruised his heel and bought crutches for fifty cents from a thrift store a week into the run. Then he caught the death-bug that went around to nearly everyone on the entire run (thank God for Nyquil, Robotussen, and other such sleep-inducing, anti-death-bug pharmaceuticals), except his death-bug stayed around, got death-ier, and turned into a stomach ulcer that sent him home two weeks early. Lance, the drummer for A Hope For Home, and Alex, the drummer for In The Midst Of Lions, each learned two of Hands songs and finished up the run with the remaining members.
Hands has revitalized my love for live music more than any band has in a long time, hands down (get it? I wrote that whole sentence just so I could write that). But really. There is a passion that flows out of each member during their live performance that is visibly noticeable – a calm and a gratefulness that pours out of each one of them – a joy. Like Shane said every night, “We’re here to have fun and play some rock ‘n roll.”
And they did. (P.S. – Be on the lookout for an exclusive interview with Hands coming up shortly…)
There’s been a substantial buzz around Onward To Olympas since their signing straight to Facedown Records last September. Young & Wreckless is the second of many a tour to come for these North Carolina-nian-nian-nian-nians, but their huge push has already gotten them a surprising amount of crowd appeal across the states.
Admittedly, Onward seemed like the strangest hodge-podge of folk that could’ve mixed themselves up into a metalcore band of any I’d previously seen. Justin Allman, their bass player, has the beard of a lumberjack and looks like he could probably kill you if he bumped into you, but then he ends up being the dude that hugs you and gives you kisses on the cheek. Justin Gage, lead guitar, he’s got lion-mane hair. Matt Burnside runs around mimicking South Park’s Cartman all over the place and making crazy noises. Andrew Higginbotham wears camouflage almost every day and a trades on and off between his OU hat and his camo hat. Plus, his last name is Higginbotham! And Kramer Lowe! Well… first of all, I didn’t know until I started writing this that his real name is Robert (so naturally I’m going to call him Bob from now on, as should all of you) – he’s got this skateboarder thing going on and he can do nollie double-kickflips, and he’s as hairy as Sean Connery.
Nollie double flips!!! That Kramer, he’s a doll.
But let me tell you, when “Sink Or Swim” kicks into OTO’s set, lanky Kramer gets into hardcore mode and throws down hard enough to shake the stage, and energy emanates from that guy and out into the room from the beginning of the set to final breakdown, begging for pile-ups and screaming, “This world is not my home! I’m only hear to spread the message! This world is not my home! I live behind the gates!”
Over the course of the run, and as we get to know each other more and more, I get more and more excited for them. I enjoy their company. I listen to The Higginbotham speak of recording and the grace of God to bless them with the opportunity they’ve been given, with humility. A humility I appreciate. A humility that might be an uncommon thing for a new band with such a relative success as they’ve experienced thus far, and although I didn’t get the chance to discuss the same with the rest of the members, I pray that Andrew’s humility would be a common denominator throughout as they propel forward with whatever is in store for their future.
Into “The Great Perhaps”. Into the world beyond this world, the world that is our home.
There are some places that shows happen in that, well, shows just shouldn’t happen in. Like this one… I’ll spare you the name, because I’m sure the promoter is an upstanding kind of guy, but when you send out tweets like: “My favorite thing ever is venues with urine soaked and feces speckled toilet paper clung to the seat” – well, sir, it’s time to consider whether anyone in the state knows how to aim, and perhaps you should charge an extra dollar at the door to purchase some bleach and a mop? But this show is a good show, and since Hands dropped off a little over a week ago, A Hope For Home is left to carry the weight of “artistic, good band” – performing all-new material from their recent full-length, Realis, with a wonderful, natural stage presence – one that’s, eh… well, it’s captivating.
Skinny and mustache-i-oed Nathan Winchell took full advantage of the stage every night with a noticeable, domineering boldness, his first roar dashing any and all doubt that an initial impression might have given for what kind of voice could possibly come out of a person that small. They’ve got the choreographed lights and their silhouettes cast shadows into the crowd, shadows that carry the weight of Matt’s clean vocals, vocals that dare us not to take everything in this life at face value. I strongly, strongly believe in this band, and I hope that their opportunity is not squelched within the scene due to artistic creativity. What a horribly backwards kind of fate that would be! Let’s use this next space for a small rant and a couple of disclaimers:
(Rant: The fact that this marked Hands’ last tour because kids don’t like anything that isn’t sludge-drops, breakdowns, and wall-to-walls anymore, so they leave the room when they set up, and come back in when they tear down, is a tragedy. It’s also a tragedy when this happens to A Hope For Home. I don’t know if many of you knew this or not, but bands really like it when people watch them. Henceforth, how’s about a little support for the weirdoes, eh?)
(Disclaimer #1: If you repent, and God has mercy on you, and chooses to grant you with the opportunity to see Hands again, at a festival or otherwise, it’ll be one of the best AND heaviest shows you’ve ever seen. Sorry I ruined it for you.)
(Disclaimer #2: if you take my word at face value and give A Hope For Home the benefit of the doubt, you just might be able to keep them on the road. You just might completely bless their lives and rock their freakin’ worlds! AND you just might love their music! Sorry I warned you.)
One of my favorite nights seeing them was in Waco, TX. First of all, Waco has the best scene ever (mad props to Gabe and Art Ambush), so kids always come out. Second, Oh Sleeper was the headliner (which is practically a hometown show for them), so more kids came out. Third, all of the kids stay an listen to all of the bands (crazy, it’s like they actually want to get their money’s worth instead of paying ten dollars to smoke outside). AHFH killed it that night.
One of the most beautiful things about road life is the relationships you’re privileged to build with folk all over the country. By far, some of the best folk that you meet on the road, and definitely the best host homes, are those of The RYFO Network. (There are exceptions, of course – such as The Hardcore Hotel in Maryland, and The River Venue in Idaho, and, well, those of you that rock that aren’t a part of RYFO. Although, if you find yourself to be an exception to the rule, you might want to consider checking out The RYFO Network – one of the best resources for touring musicians and artists out there, and a great opportunity for those of you that want to bless and minister to bands that could use some good ‘ol hospitality. Check out http://www.ryfo.org and http://www.servingthevoices.org for more info, and consider becoming involved.) This run was no exception. Multiple times throughout the month, RYFO folk showed up with brownies, juices, waters, various foods and other care pack items, as well as homes to host us, meals, showers, laundry… you name it. Most importantly, prayer.
Here’s the thing about tour: it’s draining. I’ve heard it said multiple times recently that you can’t continue to pour water out of an empty bucket. Road life is strenuous, tiring, and congested, and a lot of times, you feel like you’re shaking the glass so hard to get that one last bead of water that barely drops from the rim. What RYFO does, and what other people that are willing to pour themselves into us do, is refill our cups. And it’s beautiful, and it’s necessary.
I’ve been reading about Jesus. I’ve been reading about how he took time away from the crowds to pray, to be silent, to be refilled. There’s not a lot of silence at a metal show. There’s not a whole lot of solitude in a van crammed with six people and all of their stuff. It gets difficult trying to find the time to refill your bucket when you’re pouring it out night after night. To those of you that offer us a home, a meal, a prayer, a conversation about life or love… you do this for us. You help refill our buckets, and we are inexpressibly thankful.
It’s Wednesday, April 21st, and two of the bands have retired from the run, and tour is nearly over, and it’s snowing on whatever mountain pass we’re going through… Infinite white and yellow dotted and double-striped lines passed beneath our feet from border to border, state to state, spanning the length of the country for over a month this early 2010. As we drive down this treacherous mountain road, I’m wondering how we’re making it out alive…
No, no, really. I’m not being poetic. We are currently driving on some crazy, treacherous mountain road and there’s a foot of snow on the ground and I think that Ryan is sweating blood because you can’t see more than a foot ahead of us and we’re supposed to have chains on our tires to be on this road (or that’s what the radio and the lady at the gas station and all of the signs said…)
But here’s the more pressing issue. Planning on touring? Want to know what you have to look forward to? Little Caesar’s Pepperoni Pizza. Now, I don’t know if you knew this about Little Caesar’s Pepperoni Pizza, but in case you didn’t, here you go: it ruins you.
Little Caesar’s Pepperoni Pizza ruins lives.
Every night that you eat another slice of Little Caesar’s Pepperoni Pizza, you die a little more inside. So at the beginning of the month, on Easter Sunday, our first day off in 21 days, when the whole tour package got together for Ryan’s Buffet and cleared the place out, not only do we give thanks for the gracious death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give thanks for something other than Little Caesar’s Pepperoni Pizza.
And we laugh when Jake Mitchell, ITMOL’s bassist/Y&W’s tour manager, sits down with a slice of Ryan’s Buffet’s pizza.
Things like this are beautiful on a tour. A lot of times, a band will do its own thing and you won’t see them except for the shows at night, but there was a sense of community within these members suitable for the description of Facedown Family. We saw one another. We interacted with one another.
Whether it be the multiple In ‘N Out sessions, the walks, the sword-fights with tree branches in Northern California’s Redwood Forest, the bar in congested Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Oceanwater fests at the Sonics or the parking-lot laughs at Waffle House, the volleyball games, the basketball games, the Red Robin Blue Ribbon Burger regrets, the Wal Mart madness or the shows themselves, it did… you know… it did feel like family.
Or close, anyway.
I even felt accepted as one of the siblings, adopted in for the time being as an add on to the package. There is much thanks and gratefulness in my heart to all of these amazing bands for the graciousness they showed in allowing me to perform on their run.
The atlas threatens, bold out on the open road, and dares us to count the cost.
it taunts, beckons, time ticks by seconds of a life that screams it’s lost.
Right now, we’re sitting in a ranch house in Twin Falls, Idaho together – myself, ITMOL, and OTO. Three of the ITMOL guys are writing music for their new record, one is playing Final Fantasy XIII, one is making fun of someone else. Someone from OTO is whining about nothing. Kramer is talking in his goofy Kramer voice, and the rest of his band is barging through the door with gas station goodies. I’m sitting here wondering where A Hope For Home is because I want to look at Nathan’s mustache-face, ask Dan how his beard-hair got so straight and go on a walk with Lance. I’m listening to Hands, thanking God that Shane got me into Hum, laughing about Chief’s tweets about video games and wondering what the heck Jerik’s bar band sounds like. It’s a good night.
Truth be told, this may not always be as majestic as it was at that first show, but it’s times like this, it’s better. When the run is at a close and you think beyond the homesickness and the lack of cash in your wallet and the stench of the van and…
… it’s times like this that make it worth it. It’s the memories and it’s the relationships you’ve built. It’s the miracle that a kid gets saved after Matt gives his testimony from stage. It’s the smile that grows on Onward’s faces when they watch the pit open up for their songs. It’s watching Lance get lost in his drums at night. It’s thinking about “what pitiful deities we create” that AHFH talk about in their songs. It’s finding Hands – the new favorite band that revitalized my love for music. It’s the girl that cuts that doesn’t want to cut anymore after she hears one of my poems. It’s all the kids in the venue that jump up on stage with Hands at a dingy venue in Kansas to sing “Returning” with them on their very last night of tour, ever.
It’s the fact that people listen to us at all.
Thanks for making the Young & Frickin Wreckless Tour for us. You may never know how valuable and appreciated you are.
Young & Wreckless Is:
In The Midst Of Lions – http://www.myspace.com/inthemidstoflions
Hands – http://www.myspace.com/wearehands
A Hope For Home – http://www.myspace.com/ahopeforhome
Onward To Olympas – http://www.myspace.com/onwardtoolympas
With special guest, me: Levi The Poet – http://www.myspace.com/levithepoet
More Random Photos:
Story by Levi Macallister
Photos by Eric Gerrard, Matthew Janssen and Levi Macallister
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