Select here to read Part 1.
Amherst, Nova Scotia is a charming little town 45 minutes southeast of Moncton, and a few minutes from the interprovincial border. It was the longest distance we’d traveled in our “new” van, and probably the most mileage it’d logged in a single trip in over a decade. There were many miles ahead of us, but any reservations we had about the old beast were fading with each additional tick on the odometer.
Our spirits were high. The stereo was set to 11 and we were cruising. Kerouac might be the only writer I’ve read who could so accurately describe the sense of freedom we felt on the road that day; the sense of ownership we had over our own lives; that feeling that the only thing that mattered in each passing moment was how good we felt in that moment. To share that with your best friends is a privilege.
Our rhythm section rode up front. Sean, our bassist and backup vocalist, sat behind the wheel shielding his eyes from the sun; Ricky, our drummer, rode shotgun and DJ’d; the 6-stringers sat in the middle row. Neil, our lead vocalist and guitarist was to my left, and I, who mostly handled rhythm guitar, watched in amusement as the passengers of each vehicle we passed did a double take at our rugged van.
At one point and without warning, Ricky undid his belt, pulled his shorts down to his knees, and stuck his ass out the window at an old trucker, who shook his head and grimaced. It brought back memories of when I saw Goldfinger for the first time at the Warped Tour in Montreal circa 2001. Halfway through their set, Pfeiffer took to the front of the stage, wedged a not-so-small vegetarian hot dog between his bare ass cheeks, and had someone from the audience hop up on stage and eat it out. I believe there was a point he was trying to make, but I never figured it out. Little did I know then that this same man would be interested in producing my band’s album a few years later.
As we approached the highway toll (30 minutes past Amherst), Sean started complaining that the brakes weren’t working properly. Yes, he could slow us to a stop, but it was taking way too much muscle to make it happen. We parked at the toll area and popped the hood. We discovered that the vacuum line had broken in half. The engine creates vacuum, and the vacuum line transfers that to various parts of a vehicle, most notably the power brakes. This explained the difficulty Sean was having getting the van to stop. We were able to reconnect the line with some hockey tape we’d packed with our gear. Certainly an ill-advised solution, but a solution (a very Canadian one) all the same.
We drove on.
30 minutes later we started smelling gas, and it wasn’t the brand from Ricky’s ass. We pulled over, and a quick check under the van exposed the root of the problem: our exhaust had fallen apart and was leaking fumes into the van. Dangerous fumes. The kind that kills people. It wasn’t something we could tape back together, so we rolled down our windows and drove to the nearest town in search of a garage.
The reservations we had about the van that had nearly faded into non-existence an hour earlier came rushing back. All that energy we had was billowing out the window with the poisonous fumes. The van was literally falling apart with us inside, and just how willing were we to ignore the reality of what that meant? Was the tour and impressing Pfeiffer important enough to risk our lives in that ticking time bomb?
We found an old garage on a quiet street somewhere in the small town of Truro. The two mechanics who were sitting in lawn chairs jumped up as soon as we came to a stop out front, and officially diagnosed the issues with the vacuum line and exhaust, and at the same time discovered we also had a leak in the rear differential cover. The differential allows each wheel to spin independently while transmitting power to them, and it needs to be well oiled to be effective. The leak had practically run it dry.
So there ya have it. We weren’t quite halfway to our first show on a 3 week tour and our piece of shit van was letting us down, to say the least. To summarize: our brakes were getting their power through a line now held together by hockey tape; our exhaust was leaking poisonous fumes into the van; and we were losing oil needed to keep our wheels spinning. How in the hell did that thing ever pass inspection?
The mechanics helped mickey mouse a solution for the exhaust so it’d stop leaking fumes, and gave us some oil to keep the rear differential topped up. They said we’d have to keep an eye on it. If it emptied completely, we’d have serious troubles driving. They also fixed us up with better support for the broken vacuum line.
“You guys are hardcore.”
We smiled and nodded in agreement. That sentiment was really all we needed to finalize our decision about whether to continue on or not. Well, that and their reassurance that our van would be fine. Should be fine.
They charged us nothing for the parts and service and told us to a break a leg. If this generous deed doesn’t help you form a positive opinion of the people on the east coast, what more do ya need? We waved goodbye and hit the road. Our spirits were already on the up and up. It was non-stop to Sydney, where we collectively envisioned a packed house and an energetic crowd awaiting our arrival.
The First Show
We rolled in to Sydney shortly after 9 pm. It was a weekday, but the owner of the Maple Leaf bar had assured us the place would be full. And why wouldn’t it be full? Not because people were excited to see us per se, but when there’s so few things to do in a small east coast town on a summer night, people drink at their local watering hole and check out live music. We’d take whatever we could get.
We stepped out of the van and suppressed our smiles so as to appear cool. Just another day at the office. We walked in to check out the space, and much to our dismay, the packed house and energetic crowd we’d anticipated consisted of a bartender and the front of house, who was smothering a yawn by his soundboard.
It could’ve been worse, right? We could’ve been in a ditch somewhere off one of the winding roads in Cape Breton. And besides, it was still early. We were the only band on the bill, so we’d push our 10 pm time slot till we had a sizable crowd to perform for. Problem solved.
The young bartender welcomed us with a warm grin. She handed out drink tickets without carding us, though her suspicious looks suggested she knew we weren’t all 19, which is the legal drinking age in Nova Scotia. Only Sean was of age, but she couldn’t jeopardize an evening’s worth of tips by kicking out the performers who were the supposed draw that night. The owner had promised a portion of the door, but she offered us free meals instead.
“A cover charge might stop people from coming inside,” she said, “and you guys look hungry, anyway.”
We touched base with the front of house, then started to unload our gear. By the time we got set up and did our sound check, it was 10 pm. Still no one in the bar. We sat at a table in the back, scarcely speaking as we each took turns glancing at the front door. We cashed in some drink tickets and placed our food orders. At 11 pm, the bartender asked if we’d mind taking the stage. She apologized for the poor turnout, blaming it on a bigger show going on down the street. Only one person had stumbled into the bar in the past hour, an older man, a regular at the Maple Leaf who’d never heard of The Sounds of Silence. If we couldn’t impress the town drunk, we were in for a disappointing ride.
Well, we killed it. We absolutely killed it. And as we strummed the last chords of our single “Victory” to close out the set, the drunk’s applause resonated over our amplifiers. He demanded an encore. We’d never done an encore before, and we literally just played all of our songs, but what the hell? We played a couple of them again. And he bopped and cheered and spilled beer all over the stained tiles.
We weren’t a foot off the stage when he approached us with an offer. He claimed to be a reputable scout for a major record label in Canada. We hadn’t heard of the label, but we took the bait. If you can’t trust a drunk Nova Scotian, who can ya trust? He wanted to sign us on the spot, but said he’d have to share our demo with his boss. A formality thing. We gave him one free of charge and told him to contact us by email. He left 20 minutes later and forgot the demo on a bar stool.
After the bar closed, we walked out to an empty and eerily quiet street, each sporting ear-to-ear smiles. This time we did nothing to suppress them. We were really doing this! We climbed back into the van, drove in behind the bar, and got into sleeping position; though, it’d be hours before I slept. Desperate thoughts had scrubbed the smile off my face. Was this my life now? Was this what I wanted? We’d already decided to quit school and direct our time and energy into the band. Did we make a mistake?
I reflected on the evening. In a strange way, it was exactly what we needed from our first show on tour. It was a reality check. This wasn’t going to be an easy ride for us. Financially, we wouldn’t last long if we had many more nights like that one, as strangely fun as they were. I forgot that we’d have to treat our band like a business. This was our job now. But that didn’t mean we had to dismiss everything else music is and what it does to people. That’s the side of it I wanted to embrace, but I couldn’t pay my bills with free dinners and liquor tickets either.
I wondered if the others were thinking any of the same things, and eventually I dozed off.
Select here to read Part 3.
About the Author
Troy Fullerton is the Co-Founder and CEO of DownToJam.com. Check out his DTJ profile here.