THE BRAVEST MAN IN METAL: THE KEN MODE TOUR EDITION – PART II
Can I make one thing clear? The debut Bravest Man in Metal column wasn’t designed to be provocative. Nor was it designed to make fun or denigrate those of you who enjoy the mind, body, personality and sexual function altering properties of alcohol. That came more from the title that Ol’ Neilstein saddled said entry with. Granted, coming on to the internet to not rip on people for who they are, what they do, the choices they make and the music they listen to is like breathing to most people, but not something I like to spend my time engaging in. “Fuck, dumb ass, why even log on to the ‘net then? Dumb ass!” I hear a number of you ask. Good question! But my little corner here isn’t designed to point fingers or rip on anyone but myself and my like-minded friends so as to possibly display to the prejudicial part of the world that still believes metal is all about blood, guts, lawnmower decapitations and listening to records backwards that metal isn’t about blood, guts, lawnmower decapitations and listening to records backwards (well, not entirely, anyway) via my own nerdish and geeky proclivities. And those of KEN Mode, the Winnipeg noise rock/metal band I roadied and slung merch for on a recent North American tour.
If you read the first instalment, you’re already aware that the amount of drinking on this tour clocked in at a humiliating low. This should be an indicative hint that the amount of drug use was even less. Actually, it was nil. I don’t know about the circles you roll in, but I don’t really think any of my drug-addicted friends aren’t drinkers. One kind of goes with the other, like a doctor’s office and waiting or public figures getting caught in “sex scandals” and denial. But this pairing of myself and KEN Mode was a boring dude’s match made in heaven. In fact, one of the first questions I was asked by the band’s members upon hauling myself into their van the first morning of my tour tenure was if I wished to partake in a wolfing down ritual of a couple gummi vitamins and vitamin C tablets. Granted, getting sick on tour is a recipe for being sick for a long, long time and one should take whatever measures possible to avoid illness, but group morning vitamin chugging in the parking lot of a rainy suburban Buffalo, NY motel doesn’t exactly scream metal the last time I checked. Not only that, but even after having only first met me about 12 hours earlier, the band were genuinely expressing concern about my decision to scarf a day-old muffin and donut. Caring for your fellow man, having empathy and compassion? What the fuck?
So, yeah, about this van. Touring can only be done with reliable transportation. This may seem very, very obvious to you sitting wherever you’re sitting and reading this, but in all my years spent on the road I’ve witnessed far too many bands take to the highways and byways of our fair continent in vehicles that even the Earnhardt family would consider death traps. Thankfully, KEN Mode is aware of the basic logic behind the idea that if you can’t get to shows, you can’t play shows and therefore the idea of actually touring begins and ends in your driveway. To that end, the brothers Matthewson – guitarist/vocalist Jesse and drummer Shane – have been using a rather reliable van for their touring escapades the past few years, a van I was proud to call home for three weeks. That home happened to be a Toyota Sienna mini van (a.k.a. Mom’s Taxi) is of little consequence. This thing ran like a charm. Even Ron, the head mechanic at the Firestone in Akron, OH where we stopped to “give lifeblood to the van gods” (translation: an oil change) agreed and was surprised. We think he was more surprised that it was running as well as it was with almost 300,000 on the odometer. He did find it difficult to maintain that look of surprise but kept pushing the up-sell of what work he thought still needed to be done when we informed him that that 300,000 was kilometres and 1 km = .62 miles and… fuck it, you do the math.
My favourite how-un-metal-is-that van related story of the tour, however, occurred when we pulled up to the border to cross back into our home and native land near Vancouver, British Columbia. Facing the usually litany of border crossing questions, our cute French Canadian interrogator asked who the van belonged to, to which Jesse responded by explaining it actually his mother’s van. So, we actually did tour across the northern US and half of Canada in Mom’s Taxi! The geek in me is of the opinion that that fucking rules! And I can’t complain because it got us where we needed to go without fail, was comfortable and roomy enough for me to stretch out fully and use bassist Thérèse Lanz’s Hello Kitty blanket when I needed additional warmth, did a good job of keeping my stash of fruit, bagels and peanut butter fresh and cool and had a decent stereo system.
Ahh, the stereo system. In this day and age with everyone and their grandmothers (except me) owning iPods, the battle for what goes on the touring van stereo has gotten a lot less contentious. Steve Jobs and his underlings have probably unknowingly squeezed a few extra months of life out of any band that spends any appreciable amount of time on tour. Not having to argue over what music gets played during the ninth hour of a 12-hour drive results in one less thing for a band to argue about and act as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. KEN Mode falls somewhere in between wherein iPods are plugged into the system so everyone is subject to the vast Matthewson selection. Not that I had a problem with that. Considering their sound and style, we did indeed spend time spinning a variety of noisy bands; both the trio’s contemporaries and peers as well as some of their influences. A surprisingly huge amount of time, however, was spent cranking comedy albums by the likes of Neil Hamburger, Joe Rogan and a shit-ton of others. It got to where there were times I would crash out with some comedy album playing and wake up when we hit a crater-sized pothole to find myself laughing. My lucid state, however, wouldn’t know what I was laughing at while my subconscious was digging on whatever was playing and the laughs emerged from the same purgatory that allows you to hammer the snooze button, but not remember doing so as you tear into work an hour late. From the stash materialized what came to be my personal fave, the late Greg Giraldo’s Midlife Vices album. I didn’t really know a whole lot about Giraldo before my in-van exposure to Midlife Vices, but fuck man, we must have listened to that album at least twenty-five times in twenty-one days and his routine never got old, would have us giggling like cretins and aping lines from his act in and out of context at random points throughout any day. Who needs alcohol and/or drugs to act idiotic?
I believe it was on the day we were driving from Great Falls, MT to Boise, ID, someone started talking about hobbits and hobbit-related shit and next thing you know, the soundtrack to The Hobbit, a ‘70s animated TV movie is blasting through the speakers. Previously to this and despite being a child of the ‘70s, I had never even heard of this animated slice of 70s detritus, let alone have a copy of it or the freaking soundtrack. Not only that, but Jesse was imploring the rest of his band to sing along, which they did. In unison! They were all even doing little arm marching movements in their seats while singing along! It was quite possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen outside of, well anything, and a complete and utter surprise. Then again, my love for animated series’ like Sealab 2021 and Archer and the theme song for the former knows no bounds. But no one seemed to acknowledge any mentioning of non-hobbit related animation. By that point, they probably figured I was a lost cause and stopped listening to anything I had to say.
When we weren’t doing that, or usually when we were doing that, other activities would take place in Mrs. Matthewson’s ride because that’s where most of your time is spent. As some of you know, I write about metal for a living. I freelance for a number of magazines and webzines and am also working on a book. Needless to say, I spend way too much fucking time in front of a computer or with a laptop in my lap killing whatever miniscule amounts of sperm I have left and helping my cell phone shrink my testicles bit-by-bit. Apparently, there are photos of me all over a certain member of Ken Mode’s Facebook page staring into a computer screen, typing up metal related writings and flipping my laptop a big, juicy bird for being the medium responsible for delivering the entirely shitty albums I get assigned to review. I haven’t seen any of these and don’t think I want to bother; how exciting can it be to look at a picture of yourself looking at a computer screen? Reminds me of the time I saw Atomsmasher and James Plotkin’s stage presence consisted of him basically sitting at a table set up on stage and clicking a laptop. There is no truth to the rumor that future tours had him charging rooms full of people to watch him check his email.
My computer use, however, was unmatched by Thérèse’s playing of her Nintendo DS. I haven’t seen kids who clung to their DS with as much white knuckle fever as Thérèse. She would play that thing for hours on end; so much so that when I wasn’t wondering if she was tapping into the van’s battery power like a grow-op operators tap into local hydro to keep that thing juiced, I was wondering how she was able to play bass every night without her hand cramping up or why her hands hadn’t yet transformed themselves into claws. I remember having that problem years ago. I had to refrain from video games for about 24 hours before playing a show or my hands would cramp around my guitar neck like a python. I guess some of our opposable thumbs aren’t a burden. At one point she whipped out a little carrying case type thing and announced she had a few games that some of us might want to try our hands at at some point. I don’t remember anyone else ever getting the opportunity. From her cold dead hands, indeed.
I should also mention that the brothers Matthewson, when they’re not traipsing the globe in all their rocking glory, are both professional accountants. Having sprung from the loins of, and raised by a, career accountant, I’m well aware that the proportion of accountants who have nerdish proclivities is probably only surpassed by the proportion of gay male nurses. A number of random conversations and in-depth discussions about accountancy, accountant classifications, financial theory/jargon, the number crunching work they do when not on the road, the number crunching work they do on the road and, for some bizarre reason, when we stayed at Trevor from Pelican’s place in Chicago, knitting yarn. Being professional bean counters has made its way to the strict financial tabs they keep in terms of merch. Their tally sheets were categorized with break downs about what was sold, in what size or format, there was even a column for any deals or discounts that may have snuck through the cracks because there’s always that one dude who blew all but his last $10 but wants a $15 shirt at the end of the night. After each show, Jesse would then crack open his laptop to transfer and input all sales and inventory activity from each show, even calculating how much provincial and federal tax the band, as a registered Canadian business, had to shell out depending on where we were in Canada. Spreadsheets may not have been metal before this tour – scrap pieces of paper with tally marks were always the norm in my eyes – but I’ll never look at a merch table the same way ever again.
Above all, however the biggest concern on this tour, aside from the expected shit about getting to the shows and playing the shows, was where, when, how and for how long we could score wireless internet access. I noticed it the first night I joined. We were in some oddly laid out motel outside of Buffalo, NY. It was lord-knows-what-time-in-the-morning after some supremely shitty traffic and a supremely shitty show, but once it was discovered the place had Wi-Fi, the computer screen glow from all corners of the room was eerie in its ubiquity. That’s not to say I wasn’t right in on it, keeping in touch with friends and family, embarking upon whatever work was calling my name, checking out and sating my random interests (some of which actually didn’t include people in various states of undress, believe it or not!) via the internet. But at times, the quest for Wi-Fi got ridiculous. There was the venue in Akron, OH that claimed to have access. What they didn’t tell you was that when more than one person was on the network, no one had access. I was literally trying to send out a single email all night and didn’t actually get it done until we got back to the house of the dude we were crashing with. But in order to do that, I had to get him to leave his phone on so my computer could hop on to it and use it like a modem. Safe to say, I was mildly pissed that he had to leave to go to work in the morning.
The tour’s most heard questions were, in order, “Does this place have wireless?”, “Is there a password?”, and “What’s the password?” Whenever we would crash at someone’s place, our hosts would invariably finding themselves having to track down their network password and write it down for everyone to pass it around so we could all get our fix. At least our parental units would be happy to know we were engaged in an internet circle and not a smoking circle. Or a circle jerk. I distinctly remember us, laptops and various power cables taking over the waiting rooms of a couple different auto repair shops we had made our temporary homes while work was being done on the van as perturbed patrons wondered why their internet speed suddenly slowed to a crawl. Blame the polute Canadians. When we all – including the Fuck the Facts entourage – stayed at the drummer from the Dream is Dead’s place in Indianapolis (R.I.P. Jared Southwick, who set up the Indy show) and the password to his network was discovered, you should have seen how quickly the ginormous basement space we shacked up in was lit up. Same goes for Scott from the band Adolyne and his (much smaller) place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – what was more important? His classic two or three days of bbq-ing and “4AM” burgers or everyone getting online to take care of business and do stupid shit? What do you think? The funny thing about it all is that the race to get online didn’t involve something related to our respective occupations, it usually meant Shane and Jesse checking out MMA stuff, Thérèse checking out science news websites and me reading the New York Times, the Toronto Star and checking out cartoon strip websites. Seriously.
Things got a little on the testy side at one point. We were staying at a shitty Motel 6 somewhere in Portland, OR. As usual, I woke up a few hours before everyone else and popped open my computer to settle in and finish up the Decibel Hall of Fame article I was writing on Coroner’s No More Color. When I discovered that their connection was password protected, I went down to the front desk. The woman just finishing her night shift and watching the clock like a hawk handed me a print out with the password and some notification about the limitations of internet access; mainly that access was limited to a certain point in the day. I didn’t worry about it because we were going to be long gone to the next show in Seattle by that time. So, I go back up to the room, get online and back to work and everything’s hunky dory. Eventually, Shane wakes up and asks about online access. I give him the print out with the password and bury my head back into work. A little bit of time and a few muffled expletives from the across the room later, Shane’s informing me he can’t get online. I basically said, “I dunno, dude, I’m still on fine.”
More expletives. He eventually discovered that this particular place only allows the password to be used by one computer at a time, because you know in a room with two double beds, only one person is ever going to have a computer with him/her. So, in order to placate the situation, I log off and go back to my business.
More expletives from across the room. Apparently, this hotel has it set up so that once one computer uses the password, no other computer can use the same password. More expletives. It didn’t help that this was our second last day in the states and that KEN Mode had already been on the road for seven weeks at that point, but I thought I was soon going to be on the receiving end of some of whatever MMA stuff those dudes read about everyday.
And as an appropriate closing nod, check out the video at the top of this post. Marc Bourgon, Fuck the Facts’ bass player, compiled lyrical stanzas from everyone, built a “tour song” from them, and while traveling from show to show in the back of their van, wrote some very non-metal theme music and laid down the vocals as well. Enjoy one of the only excusable uses for Autotune ever.