I’d never spent much time in Sydney, Nova Scotia and the others hadn’t either, so we looked forward to exploring every corner of town. We had an off-day (an off-day on the second day of the tour!) and ample time to do it right. It was hot and sunny. We skateboarded, hit up a record store, and even attracted a few groupies, who like us, with the exception of Sean, were a year or so too young for the bar and wouldn’t be checking out our next performance. We also found time to update our tour diary, which came in the form of a message board on our band’s website. We didn’t get any engagement on our posts, but we chalked that up to a shy fanbase.
We returned to the Maple Leaf for dinner, and they invited us to their open-mic that night. We’d packed a couple acoustic guitars and decided we’d do an unplugged set without drums. But there were a few hours to kill before then, so we grabbed our acoustics from the van and trekked down to the boardwalk to entertain the locals who were out enjoying the day. It wasn’t the last time we hit the streets during the tour to earn some food money, but it was the most memorable. We played for a couple hours as the sun set across the water, singing our band’s songs, and Neil and Sean each sang songs they’d written for past music projects. At one point, Sean, who has a gift for making people laugh, found himself surrounded by a jovial crowd that clapped along to an improvised tune and left a few bucks in our open guitar cases.
There was a larger audience at the open mic than what The Sounds of Silence drew out the night before. Disappointing though it was, we didn’t shy away from the stage and did our best to attract new fans and sell a few of our demo CDs. After much prodding from the guys (and several pints from the bar), I staggered up to the mic and performed my infamous cover of an old Adam Sandler tune. It received mixed reviews.
It wasn’t long before we were on the road again, heading southwest towards Halifax. We had a couple shows lined up in the city and hoped to book a couple more for our days off. The whole ride there, it rained like I’d never seen it rain before. We did as we were told, in terms of keeping the van’s rear differential well-oiled, but those 5 hours from Sydney to downtown Halifax were some of the most stressful of my life.
The subject of song ownership and writing credit came up. Who in the band owned the songs we wrote? Who would get credit for them on our forthcoming LP (to be produced, we still hoped, by Darrin Pfeiffer of Goldfinger), or would they simply belong to The Sounds of Silence? We weren’t in agreement on this subject, and in hindsight it wasn’t the only source of disagreement and tension between us. There were other unresolved issues among members of the band that, instead of addressing straight on, we suppressed in fear that any arguments before the tour might jeopardize it. As was common practice, we left the conversation alone, but it was never completely forgotten.
We played twice that night in two different venues, which excited us so much we forgot all about our dispute. We felt professional, in demand, unstoppable. The first show was before a fairly large crowd, albeit one that was not overly enthusiastic about our angsty, aggressive music. Our second show was at Hell’s Kitchen, in the basement of the Marquee. This was more our scene. Before the show, we met a sketchy guy out back who was tripping on LSD. We weren’t convinced he wasn’t going to rob our van when we took the stage, but he didn’t and we never saw him again.
We drove around until 4 am looking for a place to park and sleep. A Superstore parking lot was as good a place as any. I was the first to wake in the morning. I threw open the side door and stepped out onto the hot pavement wearing only my boxer shorts. I thought we’d have a few hours before the store opened, but much to my embarrassment as my eyes adjusted to the light (and to the horror of the morning shoppers), the lot was packed with people and cars. I awkwardly waved to a mother carrying an infant and hopped back into the van. I woke the others and suggested we get going.
We found a place to shower and spent the rest of the day busking outside a prominent Sobeys. At some point we got ourselves into a pre-listening party for a Tegan and Sara record. We schmoozed with industry folks, but it wasn’t an ideal time to self-promote. We didn’t make any lasting contacts.
It was our last day in Halifax and we were scheduled to meet a guy named Kyle that afternoon in Wolfville, NS. Kyle ran a small record label called GiverHard Records in Halifax, but he was originally from the Valley and booked a couple all-ages shows for us there. He was interested in growing his record label and was very interested in signing us. He also happened to be a rather sketchy guy, so we didn’t immediately jump on the opportunity to sign with him. We wanted to see how the shows went (he guaranteed large crowds at both of them, so whether he was full of shit or not was to be determined).
We met up with Kyle and he escorted us to the first venue. There was a decent turnout thanks to a couple popular local bands who shared the bill. During one of the other acts, a guy in the crowd took an elbow to the face and his nose spouted blood all over the floor. No fight ensued. Instead, they hugged it out and continued moshing. We sold a handful of t-shirts and demos that night. In fact, including the cash we got by way of busking in Sydney and Halifax, we were in the black.
One of the most memorable times I had on tour happened after the show. Kyle and some members of one of the local bands took us to a pond 15 minutes away from the venue. I had no idea exactly where it was and what it was called, but it was one of the most magical clearings I’d ever been to. The surrounding houses were far enough away that we could party loud and hard without complaints.
At one point, Kyle suggested I take a dip in the pond. It was mid-June and the water was warm and as still as a puddle. It wasn’t until after I waded out into the middle of the pond that Kyle announced it was infested with leeches. I felt like one of the kids in the film “Stand By Me” as I hustled out of the water and scraped my body clean of any critters that might have latched on. The rest of the guys, who were dying of laughter from a safe distance, assured me I was clear of them.
Despite the mosquitos, I laid down on the grass and decided I’d sleep there for the night. Ricky also spent the night outside the van. (This was partly on account of Sean’s snoring, which tortured us throughout the tour.) While I stared up at the stars, I suddenly became aware of my own insignificant presence in the universe. What was the point of it all? Why did I care so much when everything eventually fades into nothingness anyway? Why did we allow petty arguments to spoil such a defining time in our lives? Was our music, the tour, our uncertain career trajectory worth possible death every time we climbed into that van?
It was a difficult coming-to-terms for someone who hadn’t spent a lot of time pondering the purpose of life. Until that moment, I invested all my energy into believing that the band was the be-all and end-all for me. Dropping out of university after my first year was the right decision. Pursuing an opportunity with Darrin Pfeiffer was a no-brainer. The mounting tension in the band was merely growing pains that all bands experience. But for the first time, I wondered how far-fetched my dreams truly were and if I should even care so much about them. I wondered if it wasn’t a shy fanbase we had but an apathetic one. I thought about how unadult it was to feel accomplished for being in the black on a three week tour when none of us had any serious financial obligations back home.
Sprawled out on the grass that night, I felt as though one of the pond leeches had secretly clung to the back of my skull and sucked the life right out of me. I wondered if Ricky was asleep or if he too was lost in similar existential thoughts.
Ends and New Beginnings
We played another show in the Valley and then got booked for another, thanks to Kyle. We agreed that this Kyle guy was pretty reliable after all. Perhaps we’d follow up with him when we returned home after the tour. We played what turned out to be the last show of the tour and hit the road for home. We were past the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border and roughly an hour outside Moncton when my brain went foggy. I was in the back of the van where apparently most of the fumes from the dilapidated exhaust were leaking. We were being poisoned and didn’t even realize it. We got off the highway and went directly to the Canadian Tire in Amherst, and bought some materials to patch up the exhaust so we could get home safely.
We rolled into Moncton an hour later and silently off-loaded our gear into our rehearsal space, aka Ricky’s dad’s basement. I was wiped (I suppose the potentially near-death experience I had an hour before didn’t help). I felt like we’d been gone for half a year when actually it was less than three weeks. I knew something was broken in the band and it was beyond salvaging. We wouldn’t follow up with Kyle and sign with GiverHard Records. We’d leave Pfeiffer high and dry (perhaps he had already forgotten about The Sounds of Silence). We’d disappoint our fans, our families, ourselves.
A couple weeks later, Neil officially quit the band and told us he got accepted into college. It stung. While the revelations I had near the end of the tour should have prepared me for that, it still stung. We felt more determined than ever to make it work as a three-piece, but after a few jams we decided The Sounds of Silence couldn’t exist without Neil at the helm. Unfortunately, it was too late to re-apply to school and so we each got jobs and fell into a routine that barely incorporated music.
Neil and I eventually started writing music together again, and a couple years later played a reunion show but with a different drummer. Ricky was busy with his new band Curse of One (they disbanded not long after our reunion show). He became a successful transmission specialist and now lives with his wife and kids in Saint John, NB. Sean continued playing in bands, most notably A Widescreen Sunrise. In 2008, he made it to the top 100 on Canadian Idol. Neil pursued various solo projects and delved into the world of recording, mixing, and mastering. As for me, I went back to university after the year off, got my degree and in 2010 I moved to Toronto with the intention of forming a new band. My inability to do so led to the creation of a musician-matching platform called DownToJam, which I co-founded with Neil and another friend in 2013.
It has been over 13 years since The Sounds of Silence embarked on a 16 day tour of the east coast. In the end, we were a band for a mere 10 months, and yet we accomplished more than most independent bands do in that time. I cringe when I think about my 18 year old self laying by the pond and questioning the value of my dreams and aspirations, doubting the one thing that gave me a sense of worth. I came to realize that it’s OK to fear the unknown, to reject the sure bets in life, and to pursue passions, as far-fetched as they may be. It’s OK to make mistakes and have regrets. One thing I know for sure is that I regret nothing about what happened that summer in 2004.
For the first time in over a decade, you can stream the demo recordings by The Sounds of Silence on Soundcloud.
About the Author
Troy Fullerton is the Co-Founder and CEO of DownToJam.com. Check out his DTJ profile here.