It was a couple of years ago when I first saw Indianapolis’ Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s perform, opening for Twilight Singers. I remember it well, they were wearing hideoussweaters and sounded fantastic. Some months later, I received a lovely letter from Margot guitarist Ron Kwasman. He’d read Backstagerider stuff and thought he and I had
similar tastes. He wanted me to hear his band, and I had already.
Their fourth album Rot Gut, Domestic was a rad, rollicking and somewhat anxious listen. Fantastic guitars, great lyrics, shoegazey rock and roll, easy melodies and twitchy words. We agreed to meet up for a beer the next time the band was in Vancouver, and that we did. We spent an hour laughing about how much we actually did have in common in terms of musictaste, although I still hate him because he spent time backstage once with Robert Smith. But because of that hour, and because of that beer, I now consider Ron Kwasman a friend.
Forward to March 2013 and Margot are back in the studio making their fifth album.
“This album is a big departure and its driving us all completely mad,” Ron wrote me during that time. He’d been excited and challenged. “I saw Tame Impala a few weeks ago and it made me rethink everything I’m doing….” When I pressed him, he said: “They have nailed THE SOUND many of us strive for, combining the best of new psych, olde psych, shoegazey, proggy, pop and making it look effortless. The perfect combination of all of our collective influences in a singular vision.”
That vision came into focus for Sling Shot to Heaven. “Hello San Francisco, baby…I don’t ever want to die…” the album opens. It’s an expansive album and wonderful turn from Rot Gut, and you can see what Kwasman meant about the dynamics that he found so compelling in the Tame Impala sound. The songs both big sky and up close and personal. The stories, the characters, still some of that anxiety, still wind their way through the lyrics. And and those stories needed an audience.
And with that, came the tour.
So what’s it like on the inside of a band’s tour? It’s about getting sweat in your eyes, and not wanting to be late for soundchecks, fans, friends and a few good cheesesteaks. It’s also about locking in and playing new songs that get better each time. But don’t let me tell you, let Ron tell you himself.
Here’s an exclusive diary, with photos from every day on the road, from Ron Kwasman of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. This is what it’s like on the road with a rock band.
Pontiac, MI – Pike Room at the Crofoot
After a week of practice in Indy, and some serious bus fixes, we hit the road. The tour started just slightly hesitantly, but we really got going after a very quick/rushed load in. I mean, we sold the first night out so that’s a nice way to start. Kate [Myers] opened the show, then Empires. Our new lighting/fog/projections still need some tweaking but looked pretty sweet. New amp and altered pedal board worked out great, as hoped. New songs went off without any big mistakes/ If this keeps up we will be killin’ it by NYC. Slept in my bunk, nice and cozy and cool.
Columbus, OH – Basement
Another sold out show, huge green room. On this tour, we brought our own projector showing our UFO loop from our film, Tell Me More About Evil, and we also have a fog machine and lights. While a pain in the ass to set up, it’s worth it. Show looks as cool as it sounds (hopefully). We are still tweaking it but it gets better with each show. We played “Los Angeles” (new song) for the first time and it went perfect as well as “I Don’t”, maybe my favorite to play. Had a few pedal mishaps right off the bat for the first 2 songs, then realized Richard had kicked out my patch cable – he’s done it before, but it was quickly remedied. Had late night Denny’s and slept like a baby. In fact, I actually konked in the bus prior to load out, so my bandmates packed my gear. This Is something that NEVER happens, as I am obsessive about organization (and everything else), giving me much anxiety. But hopefully it will all be sorted and all accounted for!
Cleveland Heights, OH – Grog Shop
Jeez, OK, I love playing here for some reason. Great sound guy, great food down the block, me and Tyler had larb and fish cakes at Pho & Rice and it was otherworldly. We tried a new thing with the projector, and it was rad. First time I had my own monitor, which is nice, and also first time a sound guy told me to actually turn up.Great gig, great crowd, saw some old friends… then quickly konked in the bunk of the black plague (our bus). Now a day off……
We usually never get a hotel room, we live on our bus. But since we had a very long drive, we decided to stop and relax and catch up. I ate at Cracker Barrel. Twice. With NY looming (there’s a bunch of stuff on the schedule, including NPR, Marvel Comics, Relix mag, a sold out Bowery Ballroom gig, interviews, etc, we needed to regroup.
Cambridge, MA – Middle East Downstairs
Well that was for me. and I think the rest of us, the best show of the tour so far. It was almost perfectly played, and super-high energy. We just killed it! Great projections, fog, lights, etc. I don’t know what else to say but if every night was like that, I’d be a happy man. One of those nights…great sound guys make a huge difference in the way we play, what we hear and the overall experience. Sound guys rarely get any credit, but it’s a huge part of the show. If it sounds good to us on stage, it’s gonna be a good show. Period. Great crowd and super-nice folks. We love Boston.
Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
Al I wanted was a cheesesteak. It’s one of my favorite sandwiches, particularly from Pat’s King of Steaks. I pleaded with fans to bring me one but no luck…It was super rainy/monsoon-like weather, with a sucky soppingowet load in. After drying off all our gear and Tyler’s boots, we set up…hurry up and wait.
The show was a scorcher, the humidity and heat was ridiculous at the First Unitarian Church as always. There was sweat literally dripping to where I couldn’t even see, but this just made your play harder and heavier, and it turned out to be an amazing show, all ages so lotsa kids. It turned out to be pretty amazing. Then something else amazing happened…just as we were about to roll out, a very sweet fan and his girl showed up with a bag of 4 – FOUR!!! – cheesesteaks from Pat’s! I was speechless, grateful, overwhelmed with joy. I almost cried. I fucking love our fans, almost as much as a cheesesteak from Pat’s. KING OF STEAKS. I love Philly.
I finally got a chance to actually breathe on this tour, spend some much needed alone time, after a really cool interview/tour of the Marvel Comics HQ, me and the band walked from Radio City to 24th and the Water. Now, I am all for exercise but that was ridiculous. After a quick stop at the pier, I broke off and headed to the Village, my favorite place in NYC. I don’t know if it’s the Dylan fan or the Woody Allen fan in me, but it really feels like home in Greenwich Village/Lower East Side. Maybe it’s my love for NYC punk, I don’t know, but all the cool little record stores, slices, coffee shops, live jazz, sushi spots… I got a lot of favs, way too many to list. But one day I will end up here – it’s my mecca, and it’s always calling me.
Had a great alone-time sushi meal, drinks in a cool jazz club, and slow walks around the ‘hood, finally meeting up with Richard and Tom from Songs (our amazing publisher and great friend), who had some of the best stories. Tom’s just a great, kindred spirit. He is a true brother and a huge inspiration. Love him. After a late-night slice, I konked. A great day off. Much needed….
Hamden, CT – The Space
We had some prior engagements in NYC before heading out to Hamden, CT, making us extremely late, no soundcheck. We literally just made it.
I really don’t like not setting up the stage exactly how I like it. Taping down cables, setting up the lights, being comfortable, are some of the most important parts to playing our best, but this show defied that theory. After Empires (our touring opener) finished, we literally just set up and played. Another scorcher in terms of heat, sweat literally dripping and constantly running off me onto my guitar, my hands, even my feet were sweating – didn’t know that was even possible! Well, in spite of all the hurrying, no soundcheck, we completely conquered all odds and played a really good, punk rock house party of a show. One of those nights where I couldn’t hit a wrong note. Super proud of my brothers. Now we head back to NYC to play the Bowery – it’s been sold out for weeks. A big one.
New York – Bowery Ballroom
If there is one show in which our band is judged, let it be this one. It might have been the best show we have played, definitely on this tour, maybe ever. Perfectly played, giant projection, perfect sound, amazing crowd, completely sold out. We proved ourselves, and at that moment we were the best band around, hands down. After soundcheck, we hit Vanessa’s Dumplings, my FAVORITE, and got to see many friends, old and new. It was just amazing I can not thank the staff at Bowery Presents enough. Man…it was the best.
We had a day off after NYC, so we drove to Atlantic City. After a nice shower, I got dressed up and hit the casino, solo. I have won money before and I always stick to the same system. Let me just say this, the number 23 is a magik number. Look up “the 23 enigma” and you will see why it’s such an important number. It’s never let me down, and it sure did not let me down in AC. I won. Big. Pretty much an amazing situation, after going up and down at the blackjack table I saw out of the corner of my eye that the roulette table hit about 10 or 11 red numbers, so I knew I had to get over there, then and now. Put money on black and on 23, and guess what happened? It hit. I cashed out and took my brothers out for dinner. Just a perfect day off…
Washington, DC – Rock & Roll Hotel
After NYC – it’s gonna be hard to top that one – but we continued to hit the road and play great shows. Saw an old friend from high school, it’s always good catching up and seeing a familiar face on the road. Richard threw an old classic in the encore (“Talking in Code”), one that has been yelled for by many annoying drunk fans, but we gave it to ‘em on a night when there was more yelling for Chris Fry than songs…Oh well! On to Chapel Hill….
Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
Another extremely hot show, in temperature, that is. I have no idea what happened or how I got through the show. Great crowd, but kind of a blur…
Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
Weird venue. It’s of those places that has 3 giant rooms, all with shows going on, upstairs was the Dillinger Escape Plan, who were brutally loud, although super nice guys. We had a great crowd and played a really good set. We talked to some great fans and was really looking forward to a day off. While the boys went camping in the woods, me and rRchard got a hotel room, when I really needed it. I got all caught up on my shows, like Derek, Silicon Valley, Louie and Inside Amy Schumer. I watched “Gravity” and “I’m Still Here”. Joaquin Pheonix may be my favorite human. I think we would be best friends. “Can I get a refund, what!?”
On to Nashville…
Nashville, TN – Exit/IN
We got some extra spicy chicken in Nashville at Boltans, recommended by Tyler, who was pretty spot on this time, he usually is. When it comes to food and secret spots, Tyler is the go-to guy. One of the best parts of touring is hitting all my favorite places all over the country, and this is a new one for me. I still prefer Gus’ in Memphis but that’s a whole other kind of fried chicken. Oh yeah, we also played a show, Kenny Childers came out, he sang and played a bunch on the new record, and is a great friend, amazing songwriter, and all-around great guy. It was great to know he was there, since he had such a big part on this album.
Onto the last gig of the first leg!
Newport, KY – Southgate House Revival – The Sanctuary
Got stuck in major traffic so we got there a little late, traffic so slow that we all got out and Chris got up on top of the bus to survey the situation. We made it in plenty of time, always the case, hurry up and wait again. But we got a good soundcheck and although it’s a different building than the old Southgate House, it has a very similar feel, really cool venue, huge stage. Our last show was a good one but it was a tough one, knowing it was the last gig of this run and that home Is next is always tough.
It’s like getting cut off mid-sentence. Did we as a band say what we needed to say? \m/
Special thanks to Ronnie Kwasman and the fantastic chaps of Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos! Buy Sling Shot to Heaven now. Click on each of the photos to scroll through or embiggen.