It was the summer of 2004 and my four-piece band The Sounds of Silence decided we were going to make a career out of playing music. We were ambitious and equally naive in that post-high school, grab the world by the balls kind of way. We weren’t cocky, but we knew exactly what we wanted. It was our youthfulness that kept us at a comfortable distance from the reality of the music industry (what little we knew about it back then).
We recorded a demo with Moncton-based recording engineer and musician Danny Bourgeois earlier that year, and we were getting excellent feedback on it and establishing a small but loyal fanbase. It was around the time that bands such as Thrice, Story of the Year, and Alexisonfire were peaking in popularity, and we thought we had developed a sound that drew inspiration from those bands but materialized in a way that couldn’t be attributed to any one group. Something original.
Darrin Pfeiffer, the drummer of Goldfinger, listened to the demo shortly after we released it and emailed us about exploring the option of recording an LP. We were dumbfounded. Pfeiffer’s bandmate John Feldmann was producing some of the biggest bands on the scene at the time (namely The Used and Story of the Year), and it looked like Pfeiffer was trying to achieve a similar success. Could this be our big break? We wanted to prove to him (and ourselves) that we were a hardworking band that meant business. So while we continued our correspondence, we got to work on planning our first east coast Canada tour. Turns out, booking dates for a tour with only a three song, not-so-radio-friendly demo in our catalogue was a lot harder than we thought.
I’m sure much has changed over the past decade when it comes to booking and promoting a tour (do venues still even accept hard copies of press kits?), and I’m sure there are countless musicians and promoters that could offer up better advice than I ever could about this kind of thing. What follows isn’t a how-to (or how-not-to) piece on booking your first DIY tour. Instead, what you’ll find is my first written account of the stressful and exciting days leading up to that short three week tour, and the hard days that followed.
While we continued to perform locally and generate as much buzz as possible, I started searching for small pubs and concert halls in Nova Scotia. We were going to do this tour on a painfully low budget, and decided a trip across the Atlantic into Port aux Basques, Newfoundland would break the bank before we played our first gig. I figured a better place to start would be Sydney, and then we’d work our way back through the province and into New Brunswick.
Piecing together a contact list of venues without the omniscient Google to aid us along proved challenging, but one soon started coming together, albeit slowly. Bar owners and event booking agents were mostly reluctant to book an underage band they’d never heard. Go figure. But after hearing our demo, some were confident enough to add us to a bill or give us a shot on our own.
After about two months of emails, phone calls, disappointment, and relief, we’d pieced together a 16 day, 10 gig tour that included stops across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (PEI is a lovely province, but relatively expensive to travel to when you’re not selling out bars every night.) We’d spend our days off trying to schedule additional shows and extend the tour as needed. We shot off an email to Pfeiffer to tell him what we were up to, and he sent us his enthusiastic well-wishes. We knew we were impressing him with our hard work ethic, and only hoped he’d be more inclined to work with us in the near future.
As shows were being booked and dates confirmed, we were scrambling to figure out how best to get around. I reached out to Don Levandier, who had touring experience and was becoming a fairly prominent figure on the music scene in Moncton at the time (he’s now fronting a great Canadian band called The Motorleague). Don offered up some great advice, and told me that if we could find a cheap van that we could rely on enough to get us across the east coast instead of renting a van or a trailer, we’d save a lot of money. Made sense.
We found a somewhat functional, piece of shit cargo van with four inflated tires and a kick ass stereo. We talked the owner down to $300 (not bad when the stereo alone was worth about $150). But our darling would need some major work before we could trust its sweet, well-traveled soul to safely transport us 1,500+ kms. Fortunately, we had two competent mechanics in the band who fixed her up enough to pass inspection, and transformed the interior to accommodate our gear and to sleep the four of us if the need arose (as we expected it would).
Finally, on a sunny day in June, ecstatic and anticipating an unforgettable journey, we loaded up the van and hit the road. It’d be a six hour haul to Syndey and we were given a 10 pm time slot that night. That gave us enough time to take it slow, and we put our faith in the tour van to get us there in one piece.
As luck would have it, just over an hour later after we passed through the border between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the cancer inside our ill-fated tour van reared its ugly head and left us at a crossroads: do we cancel the tour before it gets started, or continue on despite all rational safety concerns?
Select here to read Part 2.
About the Author
Troy Fullerton is the Co-Founder and CEO of DownToJam.com. Check out his DTJ profile here.