Thursday, April 18, 2013

I'm sitting still in an oddly large hotel in St. Petersburg Russia trying to sort through my scattered mind an create some sort of order out of a jumble of memories and experiences and landscapes and people.  It's all mushed together, like some kind of a rubber band ball.  Each piece is difficult to discern and trace the path of, and all you can do without disassembling it entirely is hold the the thing in your hands, touch what you can touch and know what it feels like.  I'm trying to pick it apart and tell you all the things I left out over the weeks.  But I want to be true to what it felt like then--not some shiny, nostalgically recollected interpretation that distance has provided.  Sitting here, I am over whatever little internal tantrums and exhausted disconnects I've had.  Somehow I've finally managed to put myself fully in this moment right now (only knowing truly this exhaustion, these tired feet, this gladness, this readiness to come back to America).  So far inside myself today, how do I explain with any true accuracy that one of my favorite shows happened on one of my least favorite days?    


We said goodbye to our driver who'd become one of the bunch for the last month and flew from Warsaw, Poland, to Kiev, Ukraine.  I stayed true to this odd pattern I've set of falling asleep before the plane even takes off.  I woke up in the clouds.  I read a few pages and thought of writing, but soon enough we began our decent into the city.  Upon landing, we met our promoter and hopped in a van, driving through the city grayed by the clouds and marked in a language I couldn't begin to understand.  Miles and miles of tall white apartment buildings towered strong, one after another.  I thought of driving down a Texas highway and suddenly felt so very much in another world.

We walked into an old building that seems to have been wholly converted into a space for artists.  Upon first entering, it felt a bit deserted, but after walking through a dark hallway, and up a flight of stairs, double doors opened up to this huge theatre, frozen in time.  A large balcony looked out onto the stage.  Walls painted white were covered in what one Ukrainian friend identified as soviet era ornamental embellishments.  A round window sent beams of light across the room.  And I'll admit, it wasn't exactly at this moment that I was sold. It was more when the room looked like this that I came around:

Somehow, in this city I never thought I'd see, there were 420 people in the audience, excited to see us!  How in the world does this happen?!  After an enthusiastic encore, girls gave us bouquets of flowers.  People wanted photos.  People wanted us to sign every little thing.  One girl in the front row was my favorite.  Never have I seen anyone literally jump up and down at the start of every song.  So joyous!  I talked with her afterward, gave her a hug, and asked if I could take a photo with her.  I was dehydrated. I was exhausted.  I was hungry.  And I knew that after the show, I'd have to hurriedly pack my things, and get on a 12 hour overnight train...I wasn't excited about any of that.  But cliche as it sounds, that one girl, jumping up and down right in my line of sight turned my whole day around.  

Like I said, we rushed out of there and got on a train.  I felt like I was in Harry Potter, on the train to Hogwarts.  Four beds in bunks of two to a room--small, warm, and rockier than a boat in churning waters.  I felt claustrophobic and anxious at the thought of Russian border patrol knocking on my door to inspect my passport in the middle of the night.  I was still quite hungry from only eating one real meal that day, and thus angry to be so completely running on empty and sleeping in a situation that felt so unfamiliar.

I was shamefully frustrated and trying to keep it to myself.

But then I woke up, and I saw snow on the ground through the sunlit train car.

We were in Russia!  And the tale of the Moscow and St. Petersburg will require more energy than I've got tonight.  But can I just tell you that those two shows were completely great?  What a stellar way to end the tour.  We saw Travis' parents who flew all the way from Austin, Texas!  We made new friends with the band from St. Petersburg.  People in the crowd were so friendly and chatty after the shows.  Today, I walked around St. Petersburg for nearly four hours.  This place was an experience that I couldn't have predicted, and I'm happy to add it the bank of wonders I've somehow been so lucky to accrue.  Now the whole tour is over, and I leave for the airport in 5 hours, USA bound.  

I think I can safely say this was the best European tour yet.  We powered through a restless schedule, sold out a bunch of shows, made new friends and played so well together.  But, now I'm ready to go home.  I'm ready for some pause and reflection and relaxation and bikes and tacos and sunlight and warmth!   Thank you, Europe.  America, here I come.  

Soundcheck.  Kiev, Ukraine.

Soudcheck. Kiev, Ukraine.

Kiev, Ukraine.

Favorite Fan.  Kiev, Ukraine.

Overnight train bunk.  Russia.

Church of the Resurrection.  St. Petersburg, Russia.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Istanbul Continued

Greetings! I'm writing you now backstage in Moscow.  Trying to recap the rest of what we saw in Turkey feels like such a mountainous task.  Turkey is forever ago in my mind!

I've got many things to tell like what it feels like to sleep for 5 hours, then fly to the Ukraine and see it for the first time.  To run through a seemingly deserted, old, dusty building and then find a pretty remarkable performance space at the a darkened hallway's end.  About taking an overnight train for 12 hours from Kiev, Ukraine, to Moscow.  To drive around and realize you can't even pretend to know what anything says.  

BUT before I forget, I must show you the pictures of the places we saw in Turkey.  A guy who was a family friend of Rob's was kind enough to give us a whirlwind tour of Istanbul's old city center.  We crowded ourselves into a train and slowly made our way into the thick of it.  This walk was a reminder of just how young America is.  We saw a monument decorated in hieroglyphs that the Byzantines moved from Egypt to Istanbul and erected once they took control of the city.

 Afterward, we walked to the Blue Mosque.  It was Prayer time so we couldn't go in, but the courtyard was pretty beautiful.  Just a 3 minute stroll from that was the Haggia Sofia.  It is a huge mosque and incredibly beautiful.  Each time I told someone I was going to Turkey they said I absolutely had to go in there.  But the lines were too long and the sky had darkened to the prelude of a storm.  So we decided to see the sights underground.

As it was told to me, around the 1950's a family was digging in the ground to begin construction on a well for their home when the stumbled about something quite unusual and remarkable.

Sitting below the city is a giant cavern that once functioned as a Byzantine well.  Rows and rows of columns fill the darkened space, and in the back corner there are two chunky, large Egyptian sculptures of Medusa's head.  The ceiling is high, the floor is wet.  People moved through slowly.  I think it takes a slow walk to process that you are walking through something so incredibly old.  

The sistern.

We took the train back to our part of the city, ate lunch in a traditional Turkish restaurant and headed to the show.  Very rarely to do we get to see more than 10 minutes for a city we're in.  Two hours felt like two days.  I'm sold.  I loved it.  Istanbul, hope to see you again some day.

The Blue Mosque.

Courtyard at the Blue Mosque.

The Haggia Sofia Mosque.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Istanbul, Turkey

Since I last wrote, we've been to Istanbul and back!  Turkey!  Never in my life did I think I'd end up walking the streets of that city, completely anonymous, to later have 400 people watching me and 5 of my dearest friends perform on stage. What an amazing contrast.  

Yet again, being there feels a bit like a dream that never happened.  We got off the plane and were met by a woman hired to be our assistant for the show.  She'd arranged a van to pick us up.  Cozy bucket seats, blue track lighting on the roof, and curtains. party.  Driving from the airport into the city took a good while.  The highway seemed to stretch on forever with the city right at its side.  Tons and tons of apartment buildings with uniform rectangle windows filled the spaces between commercial lots, which ran parallel and oddly close to the highway (really, if your Frogger skills were quite advanced and you had an insatiable lust for danger, you could hop yourself across 6 lanes of traffic, then cross one calm street and find yourself at the front steps of some giant clothing store.  strange!).

After 20 minutes or so we were near the heart of the city.  Our hotel lay smack in the middle of cobblestone, curvy streets of tall, colorful buildings.  The architecture was classic European city center in style.  Beautiful, seemingly old, multipurpose buildings that looked as though someone might work or live above a first floor retail space.  Many closed storefronts were shielded behind metal, rolling garage doors, like in New York.  But what was most striking to me that first night was the amount of bustling energy in the streets.  It was nearly 11:30p by the time we walked back from dinner, and people were all around!  Tables and tables of old men, even, having drinks and appetizers!  It reminded me of Spain, where the nights are long and the mornings start late.  

However, it's difficult to know what a city truly is.  Istanbul is the second most populous city in the world, with roughly 14 million people.  That's 2 million larger than New York City.  And of such a large city, we were definitely on a street filled with hotels, which was just behind a street filled with shops and restaurants.  ...Perhaps my perception was a bit crafted, probably by people in an office somewhere.

My night ended relaxing in the hotel room, drinking Raki with Travis and talking about life and such.  Raki (pronounced more like ra-kuh, I think), is the traditional liquor of Turkey.  It's crystal clear until you add just a dash of water, turning it into this cloudy, hazy white.  It's flavored with Anais, giving it a light licorice taste.  I sipped on a small glass of it while we wondered out loud about what in the world we'd be doing if we weren't in this band, the usefulness of our dusty college degrees, and the great paradox of touring--it is the joy of traveling and playing music every night for a "living," and truly feeling how special that is and the  occasional feeling which intrudes upon said notion and cries, "Uhhh, I'm in another dirty rock club and am hungry and constantly tired and haven't had more than 5 minutes to myself in weeks--remind me, whaaat exactly am I doing with my life?"  

I think it's impossible not to feel that after a weird show, or a reserved crowd, or after you've found yourself tip toeing through another bathroom where the floors are somehow perpetually covered in water, where the stall door may or may not lock, where you likely don't actually want any part of yourself to touch the facilities and the soap dispenser shows no traces of ever having lived up to its name.  Or your "lunch" stop (which is really probably your breakfast) is a gas station croissant, or a hamburger patty without a bun, or just some water and a dream.  

But then, some nights you get to stroll the streets of an old city so incredibly far from where you were born, where men in carts are selling freshly roasted chestnuts and creating the smell of winter.  And when you walk on a stage, 400 pairs of hands are clapping, and people in Istanbul are yelling out for songs you wrote in a living room in Austin, Texas.  And they all seem so excited.  And they all seem so happy.  And then you remember why you've taken on this strange, nomadic, transient way. 


A lot of the time, tour looks like this.  Greenroom. Berlin.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chickens at the market (!)  Antwerp, Belgium.

er...all the surprise fruit found hiding in the bottom of my backpack!  Zuttengem, Switerland.

Travis. Dunk Festival. Zuttengem, Switzerland.

Balmorhea, as sketched by a fan during the show. London.

breakfast. Brighton, England.

Drums, taller than me (!) Brighton, England

Week 3 recap

It's been quite a while since i've written.  It's funny how the days past come like a fog of memories that feel as though they may or may not have truly happened.  I think I left off in Paris.  My, the ground we have covered since then.   

The Paris show was sold out before doors opened.  We contorted ourselves onto the teeny stage at Espace B.  Such a little venue.  Somehow 200 people are allowed in there.  David Bazan has taken that stage.  Phosphorescent is soon to come.  So strange that artists I've listened to over and over again have stood on the same stage as me.  Anyhow, yet again I've been been to Paris and have seen absolutely nothing that made it feel like I was truly there.  Just another anonymous street.  But, I suppose I did have authentic French bread.  …Does that count?

The next day we played in Antwerp, Belgium and that show sold out, too.  Pretty crazy.  Ran into some old friends from Gent and had a nice time stretching our limbs on a spacious stage.  One of the theatre employees took Travis and Kendall out to gather up some Belgian beer.  And after our show, we stayed up into the wee hours talking in the hotel having a little informal tasting.  So delicious. The next morning, we took a little stroll through a market looking for food but mostly finding something like a pop up pet shop.  Chickens!  Bunnies!  Hamsters!  All for sale in a temporary open air market!  So completely bizarre to us and I suppose our tourist flags were undulating broadly above our heads as we took out our cameras.  Easter Sunday, and I spent it walking around a semi deserted town looking for a place to eat.  

It's at this point in the story where there's a giant grey area in my memory.

Perhaps this is where we played the Dunk post rock festival in Zottegem, Switzerland?  That was a super fun show.  Big stage.  Thoughtful, artful lighting.  Enthusiastic crowd.  Good hospitality.

  All in all, a good night. Eventually we drove through the tunnel to England and ate at this little cafe that was nothing if not a one woman show.  Coffee, tea, pastries, a full menu of entrees, and she cooks it all her self!  The kitchen space is directly behind the bar.  There are just a few tables inside, and she's the cashier, cook, and server.  Pretty cool.  We'd just gotten out of the car and stepped into her adorable shop, to her very British accent, and the Beatles on the radio.  Welcome to London.

The show sold out.  We hung out with a dear friend who hosted us in Edinburough, Scotland, and then drove an hour and a half to our hotel in Brighton.  And then…a day off, at last!  First break in over 15 days.  And I spent it doing mundane things.  Sleeping in.  Late Brunch at a one man show organic cafe. Laundry. Walk around town. Fish and Chips at a local spot. Watching TV with Rob until it was time for sleep.  

Ah okay. I could recount about a hundred other details but they're not so important.  Played a couple more shows in England and then hightailed it back to mainland Europe.  There's nuthin quite like Western European hospitality, I've found, and we were quite ready to get back to it.

We're almost done with this thing.  Just a week and 5 days to go.  I'm writing you from Hamburg, Germany from a venue called Hafenklang, looking out at the harbor.  The ship lights are illuminating little strips of the water.  It's cold as heck outside.  And this is all lovely.  …Buuut I must admit, this is the point in the tour when I'm missing shorts, the warmth of sunshine and breakfast tacos. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

On the Heels of our 11th show


Hello again.  I am writing you from Paris!  This message is long overdue, but the days have been filled with driving (well, sleeping in the van while our driver does the real work), unloading, sound checking, virtually pulling our hair out because once 8 people try to get on the internet at once the network seems to waive a white flag just before imploding, playing a show, drinking wine, and then packing everything up again.  Afterward, we stay up too late, sipping and talking (and some of us playing poker) until an early wake up call after which we do the whole thing over again.  This, cyclical, ever-moving way is how we spend our days.

The last few shows were great.  Rome was so incredibly packed.  The people eagerly cheering before songs were even though.  Camera flashes to my left.  A blur of dancing bodies to my right.  The room was alive.  People were pumped about the show and that always makes all the difference.  Drenched in sweat, we finished our set and returned for an encore.  Good spirits all around.  And so the clouds began to part on my grey emotional haze.  

 We had one more show in Ravenna, Italy before we said goodbye to our Italian promoter (he'd been traveling with us in the van for the past few days) and pushed on through the snowy heights of the Italian Alps, through Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in all of Europe) and into Switzerland

Two shows in that country.  First one, well, we'd hardly slept and drove 6 hours so..I'll let that speak for itself.  But last night was awesome, I thought.  We are prowling through Western Europe.  Just a few more days on the mainland before we take the Chunnel to England!

I feel like I am everywhere, and its begun to sink in a little more.  What a peculiar and specific and dizzying way to see the world.

Ravenna, Italy.

Italian Alps.