Guest Columns



Shane Madden / Woods of Ypres

[Blackened doom metallers Woods of Ypres are currently touring North America on the so-called “Pain & Piss Tour.” Bassist Shane Madden will be taking us along with him on his journey of pain and piss, to be delivered in four parts throughout the tour. Part I was posted earlier this week, and Part II follows.]

Part II: The Spring of Our Discontent

I really hope that isn’t my appendix. Sudden, inexplicable pain on the road makes you realize it would be an especially inconvenient time to have an organ burst. Also, I think the drummer has gangrene. Poison ivy is devouring his right arm at an exponential rate every day and it just doesn’t look right. We’re two weeks into this weird trip and no one is falling apart on death’s door quite yet, but there have been enough figurative assaults on the organs of the tour machine already. The Midwest is an unforgiving place for what we’re doing.

I was wrong about greens, yellows, and sunshine. It’s brown and bleak, raining and cold. Several buses of what I can only believe to be a new cult were at Canadian immigration declaring that the world will end on May 21. “If nothing happens then we’ll leave by the 23rd,” the cult leader was overheard saying. Immigration denied them entry to the country but it held us up for over three hours anyway.

The winter thaw in Canada has left a lot of the prairies flooded, resulting in closed highways and detours. The little buildings, parts of farms or homes that we pass sporadically between tiny towns are done in post-apocalypse chic. Relatively modern structures sit directly next to crumbling, decaying, dust bowl-era relics. Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque gas stations.

So why do we travel through these places that seem so strange and forlorn? Allow me to answer my own question: DIY touring.

Imagine five cities called A, B, C, D and E. You have a good deal set up in city E but it’s very far away. You then acquire reasonable-to-good deals in cities B and D but they aren’t close to one another either. This is where cities A and C come into the picture. They are usually places you’ve never been before, where you don’t know anyone and they don’t know you, and it’s anyone’s guess how the show will turn out despite repeated communications with your “promoter.” This is simple stuff.

For example, City A’s “promoter” doesn’t even come to the show. This leaves you to deal with an owner who is only vaguely aware that there is supposed to be a show at all. The local bands want to haggle over money because they’re “about to get signed” or are “going to have a full page in Decibel magazine soon.” These are the type you can’t even feel comfortable around when you’re loading in and out. Ugly vibes. City C’s “promoter” clearly didn’t listen to your music before booking the show. The locals here have never even heard of the term “doom metal” before. One city might have no evidence of a flyer at all, despite what might have been done “online.” The other city has a flyer but the names are misspelled and it’s misdated.

I won’t blame these “promoters” entirely, despite some glaring deficiencies in logic. The fault is mutual only in that we remain restless and hungry as a band and that’s why we do these tours. We play cities B, D, and E and they’re awesome. A few listeners generally show up to the lesser shows as well and that is the lifeblood of connecting these geographical dots. There is always more that we can do. Our work is never done. Any band that gets everything handed to it will be a flash in the pan at best.

Similarly, you often come to find that the road is just saturated with anonymous touring bands. The methods you witness vary but they’re usually unsound and can only be resulting in a significant loss of money for somebody. There’s huge vans, weak merch, poor routing, way too much unnecessary gear, and a general lack of any business sense. Saturation hurts everyone because bands that aren’t ready for the road take up time and space for those that are. Do not mistake these facts for complaints. We have the opportunity to travel and perform our music every night and it is the right of any band to take on that challenge as well. But this is a simple breakdown of the hazards of DIY touring. Repeatedly, a lot of bands put the cart in front of the horse. You need to calculate your ratio of “shows that might suck” to “shows that will slay.” It’s day to day living sometimes.

Even then (and now I’m speaking in generalities here) there’s only so long that a band can continue to make DIY touring happen. It isn’t the “times” or the “industry” or the “business.” No, it’s that a band is three or four or five individuals with the common goal known as the “dream.” The “dream” is the sirens on the rocks luring the band into disaster, misfortune and death. The real pity is that the story has been told hundreds of times. Hundreds or thousands have already come to that conclusion; maybe vaguely remembered as a band someone used to listen to or that you might have remembered hearing about, once upon a time. The band gets in the van everyday and gets in front of a crowd (or some semblance thereof) each night, clinging onto it’s ever-thinning, bulimic creative darling that’s dangling on a string above an abyss known as DIY musical-aspirations that might soon break and send them into permanent obscurity. Even if a band can maintain a positive dynamic at the end of several long, long amounts of time spent together an X factor might deliver the coup de grace. This could be an accident, an economic hole of which no one has deep enough pockets to dig out of, or a simple breaking of the spirit. It’s negative, it’s bleak, and for the majority of bands out there, it’s true.

I’d have a hard time believing that bands would stop playing and that entire genres could vanish; dead as disco. Yet it isn’t impossible. First, there’s no meaning, rhyme or reason to any of it. It’s just music, after all, and it certainly doesn’t make the world go ’round. It’s a by-product of privileged cultures with room for comfort and leisure. That’s the big picture. Second, it’s a young man’s game. The window of opportunity is finite and closes rather rapidly. For us, the good shows feel great and the uncertain shows can always turn out well in the end. The capacity for surprise can keep you feeling okay about the whole experience. When done correctly the going rarely ever gets that rough.

The goal for us certainly is not to remain a DIY touring band. This is the sixth DIY tour the band has done in just under three years and that counts for something. Yet it isn’t sustainable forever and just like everything time will kill it eventually, if nothing else does first; and that’s even taking into consideration that in our case we really do know what we’re doing out here and we have a solid foundation from which to operate.

So, today we keep rolling west and it’s great. Maybe beyond great.

– Shane / Woods of Ypres

Woods of Ypres Pain & Piss Tour

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