Red Jacket Mine is on the road this weekend. I’m sitting in a coffee shop called Nobrow in Salt Lake City, which means I’m at one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a beautiful morning, with nary a cloud in the sky and sunshine streaming through colored panes of glass over the door. The National is playing on the stereo, and everything is right with the world. I got a full eight hours last night in the comfort of The Holy Van, after I volunteered to guard our equipment with my life. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.)
Last night we pulled into SLC after a disastrous (and I do mean DISASTROUS) gig in Boise at The Bouquet—a place I hope never to set foot in again. The Bouquet, for those who have never had the pleasure, is a beautiful and somewhat cavernous bar in the heart of downtown Boise. It’s very old, having been around since the pioneer days, and at first glance it seems to be perfectly equipped for a rock show: huge stage, giant sound system, good sight lines and lots of space for patrons to enjoy the show. Red Jacket Mine was passing through Boise on our way to Utah, and our friends Thomas Paul and Matt Hopper were cool enough to set up a show for us. Now, the established center of Boise hipsterdom is one block away at the Neurolux, but I guess the ‘Lux was booked for the night…so we ended up at The Bouquet. No problem, right?
Wrong. Way wrong, as it turned out.
As we started carrying our gear into the bar we were greeted by the owner, who immediately began lecturing us about the perils of loud guitar amps on his stage. He urged us to “just run the guitars direct” as it would “just work a lot better for everyone.”
Now, a brief digression: I used to be a professional sound engineer. By “professional” I simply mean that I got paid to run sound for bands, usually in clubs very much like the one I’m describing presently. While I never scaled to the heights of this profession, I did this kind of work off and on for more than a decade, and in that time I worked hundreds of shows for many hundreds of bands. And while I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on all things sound reinforcement-related, I have learned a few things over the years. Here’s one of the things I absolutely, completely, 100% know to be true: direct guitar sounds like shit. Electric guitars are meant to be played through amps. This is why electric guitarists show up with amps instead of direct boxes.
One other generalization which I’m pretty comfortable throwing out there: if a sound guy is lecturing you about stage volume before you’ve even unpacked your van, he probably doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s doing. This has been proven out a few times in my life, although never quite so clearly as in the case of this particular clown at The Bouquet.
Anyway, we stated our intention to run our guitars through our amps, and this seemed to upset our host. But as we went on with the business of setting up on the stage, I figured it would just sort itself out and everything would be hunky-dory once we checked the levels and started playing our set.
After our first song, Mr. Sound Genius approached the stage and informed us that the guitars were “completely deafening” and “people were complaining.” This was kind of a mystery to us, as it seemed like the people in the bar were listening and having a good time—everyone except this guy, that is. But being the nice guys we are, we turned down a bit and played our next song, after which the exact same drama played out again. After our third song, Lincoln and I were literally inaudible, and I was playing air guitar with my own band. Normally I enjoy a healthy bit of air guitar, but this wasn’t cool. I asked dude to come back to the stage for a pow-wow, and I just put it to him simply: did he want us to play, or not? When he started whining about the guitar volume again, I did something I’ve never done before: I unplugged my trusty Starfire and walked off the stage.
Admittedly, this was a prima donna move, and I’m not really proud of it. But I really thought he wanted us to quit, and I couldn’t keep going through a whole set pretending to play guitar. Anyway, somehow he and Lincoln talked for a few more minutes, and we ended up getting back on stage and playing the rest of the set. We turned our amps in from the side of the stage, and turned them back up to a modest yet reasonable volume, and kept going. At this point it was unfettered aggression from our sound guy, as he proceeded to intentionally feed crap into our monitors for the rest of the set. Between each song the monitors would drone out long howls of feedback as our patron gleefully and intentionally fucked with us.
Never once in all my years playing music have I been treated so disrespectfully, and in such a bizarre fashion. It was like a cold war had broken out between the band and the sound engineer, never quite tipping into violence but rather just lingering hostility. So bizarre, and I felt so terrible for the people who came to see the show and got this nonsense instead. It’s one thing to have a hostile vibe going with a sound engineer, but it’s even weirder when the sound guy is also the owner of the bar.
After our set was through, we watched as the whole script repeated itself with Thomas Paul’s band. As Lincoln and I sat in the front of the room trying to enjoy the show, Thomas and his guys were repeatedly browbeaten into turning their guitars down, and down, and down yet again, until they were completely inaudible. They were better sports about it than we were, and subsequently were spared the barrage of feedback and incendiary soundbombing between songs that we had endured. But it sure would have been nice to hear some guitar during their set.
Anyway, one bad gig is just one bad gig, no matter how strange and shitty it was. Thomas very generously put us up at his place, and we slept it off and enjoyed s sunny morning in Boise before departing for Salt Lake City. When we got in last night we were all pretty roadweary, and our SLC host Brinton Jones helped us stretch our legs with a walk around the neighborhood. It was gallery stroll night in SLC, and we checked out some very cool art before landing at Eva’s for a late dinner. After copious amounts of food and wine, I retired to the warmth and comfort of The Holy Van for a good night’s sleep.
Tonight we head to Provo for a show with The Devil Whale at Velour. Velour is one of my all-time favorite venues, and it’s good to know I won’t have to get entangled in any passive-aggressive guitar wars with the sound engineer there. It should be a great show, and a nice capper to a long weekend on road tripping.
Next week Explone plays a big show at the High Dive, opening for Los Angeles buzz band Low Vs. Diamond. This show will be momentous for one very important reason: it marks the debut of Kyle Stevens on guitar. Kyle, as many of you know, is a longtime friend and an excellent singer and songwriter with many good bands to his credit. (Layman’s Terms, Collider, and most recently nerd-rock sensations Kirby Krackle.) When I mentioned the idea of possibly adding a second guitar player to the Explone lineup, Kyle threw his hat in the ring. This was convenient, because I couldn’t really think of anyone else who might fit the bill—Kyle was definitely the right guy in terms of personality and the respect I have for him as a musician. Fortunately, after a couple of practices it became evident that Kyle is also the right guy in terms of his ability to shred with a savage abandon on six strings.
Anyway, come to the High Dive and welcome Kyle into the fold. I’m not sure how much time he’ll have for Explone, given all his other commitments. But we are delighted to have him on Thursday, and we intend to let it rip. Just a warning: the guitars will be pretty loud, and we aren’t going to turn them down. So tough it out.
EXPLONE is a Seattle-based rock band that refuses to acknowledge the irrelevancy of electric guitar in modern music. We won't stop believing. We still love Cheap Trick, Queen, Hüsker Dü, Nada Surf and the Pixies. Conservative Christians can have our Judas Priest records when they pry them from our cold, dead fingers.