For local bands, getting out of the Coachella Valley and touring is pretty important. The exposure to new audiences is important to build up their experience and their fan base.
I talked to some local bands that have just been on tour or are going on tour this summer for some insight into their tour plans as well as to how their tour experiences have been.
The first one to mention leaving the desert this summer is DJ Alf Alpha, who will be joining Build a Machine for a tour of the east coast that will start on July 12 in Gilford, New Hampshire and end on July 29 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.
Alf Alpha said that as a DJ, he always feels like he’s on tour.
“It seems like it now. I did a couple of shows out in L.A. over the past couple of weeks,” Alf Alpha said. I played at the House of Blues; I did a show out in Hermosa Beach, and then the Viper Room. So yeah, it kind of feels like I’ve been out on tour. As a DJ, you’re always on tour, I guess.”
The current tour that Alf Alpha is about to do combines the project known as Los Pleyboyz that played Tachevah in 2013 and a Build a Machine.
“About 2 years ago, I first played live with a bunch of live musicians and did a set at the very first Tachevah. I had an hour set and people normally know me as a DJ and party rock. I knew for Tachevah that I wanted to get something different because there’s a whole different side of Alf Alpha that’s producing beats or instrumentals, and collaborating with live musicians, so I wanted to showcase that.”
He ended up collaborating with some of the best of the high desert.
“At Tachevah, I debuted this project and I had a 1 hour set. I played the first 30 minutes with my own set, and then finished the last 30 minutes with a live band. I had Gene Evaro Jr., Benjamin Kennedy, and Mitchell Arganda.”
They also ended up meeting Build a Machine by fate.
“Gene’s sister works at a restaurant in Joshua Tree and met these musicians who came in and she said, ‘My brother is rehearsing with this DJ.’ These guys were musicians from Boston and they were in town recording music and rented a house up in the high desert. The guys came over and Gene, Ben, Mitchell, and I were all jamming and these 3 random guys come in from Boston and interrupt our session. We took a little break met them, and started jamming with them. I ended up going up to the high desert a few more times and we ended up inviting them to jam with us again. Those 3 guys were Build a Machine: Mike Serra, Thomas McCarthy, and Tyler Saraca.”
The 2 groups performed together at Tachevah. People saw a different side of Alf Alpha and it was a hit with the audience.
“When we played on stage, half of the guys on stage with me were from Boston and the other half from the high desert. It was kind of random. We kind of hit it off and we got a really good response at Tachevah. People were amazed I had this whole other vibe besides just playing records.”
Tyler Saraca stayed behind in Joshua Tree to play in Gene Evaro’s band, leaving Build a Machine without a drummer, which is where Alf Alpha came in for this summer’s tour.
“They hit me up and said, ‘Our drummer took off. We’d like you to fill in for our drummer and provide drum backs, live scratches, and giving it another element.’ We ended up doing some shows in Southern California. When I’ve been playing with them lately, it’s been Build a Machine featuring Alf Alpha, but we a.k.a. it as Los PleyBoyz.”
What item is precious to Alf Alpha when he’s on tour? He said “deodorant,” but then added “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
Gutter Candy, formerly Shawn Mafia and the 10-Cent Thrills, a band from the high desert, plays regularly outside of the desert and is also embarking on a tour this summer and doing some of those dates with another local band, Mighty Jack. Shawn O’Connor, a.k.a. Jersey Dagger, frontman of Gutter Candy, discussed their tour experiences.
“We’re doing a series of small tours, like baby-steps. Our shrinks think it’s a good idea to take things slowly,” O’Connor said with a laugh. “We just did a couple of dates locally in the low-desert and into the Los Angeles area, next thing we’re planning is to head north, so we’re going to try and go to up to San Francisco and Sacramento. We’re also going to do a little deal where we go from Las Vegas to Provo to Salt Lake City to see who we can piss off in Utah.”
O’Connor said that while the band has played out of the desert, it’s never been anything as serious as a tour before. He also talked about Gutter Candy’s appearances at the Whisky a Go Go.
“It’s never been anything concrete. We’ve always sporadically played out. We’re getting our feet a little bit more wet with the Gutter Candy project. We’ve done the Whisky a couple of times now. It’s been good, but it’s a rock venue, so when Gutter Candy plays, they like us out there and it’s been pretty receptive.”
As far as differences with the audiences go, O’Connor said there’s an advantage for them being the type of band that they are.
“When you’re a local band, you’re always playing locally. When you go to Hollywood, no one knows who you are, but sometimes that plays in your favor. We’ve played in Los Angeles and Pomona, and we used to play at the Hip Kitty in Claremont before it closed down. But I don’t want to say these crowds are better than the local area, but they kind of get our style a little bit more given we do a satirical, tongue in cheek, suspension of disbelief kind of thing.”
What are O’Connor’s tour survival items?
“Definitely a bottle of whiskey and some painkillers. Those are always a plus, especially for us older guys who are middle-aged. The funny part is I find that a lot of what you do isn’t playing but moving heavy equipment. If you’re really into moving heavy equipment, touring is about the pain and glory.”
Last year, Machin’ embarked in a tour of the west coast and will be doing it again this summer. David Macias, frontman and guitarist for Machin’, discussed their tour last year.
“The last tour was the second tour that we did for Machin’. It was in July 2014 and it was the second time we did the route up through the north,” Macias said. “It was very grueling and strenuous, but we had a lot of better responses the second time than we did the first time. The first we just got in the car with our instruments and said we were going to play on the streets and make money to get to the next town and get some food. The second tour was successful because of the connections we made on the first tour and the networking we did throughout the year, we were able to get a lot more actual shows.”
There was one thing that Macias helped for their tour last year.
“It was mainly the fact we played Coachella in 2014. That really helped with the fact people gave us a listen and came to our side.”
Macias said that Machin’ has endured some truly crazy things on tour, both good and bad.
“Fuck… One show in Seattle definitely sticks out. We played a show with this heavy surf band, and these guys were hardcore, they do things like light their drum kit on fire and we were opening up for them. I think outside of the valley, every show is an experience because you really don’t know what you’re getting into. There were nights we didn’t know where we were going to stay and we’re camped out in someone’s backyard with tents.”
As for Machin’s 2015 tour, Macias said they’re going to do the same thing again and maybe enjoy some extracurricular activities along the way.
“We’re going to do the same route. We’re playing Yosemite and we’re going to go white water rafting. This year we’re going to make sure on the days off that we have to do things like that. We’re going to go all the way up the coast to Arlington, Washington.
What are Macias’ tour survival items?
“Baby wipes, baby powder, and an apple… A day.”
Back in late May, Safety Net went on tour, also sticking to the west coast map. Safety Net drummer, Cliff Horn, said that their tour was brief, but insightful and exciting.
“It was a west coast tour for about a week and a half,” Horn said. “We went all the way up to Portland and back and finished with a couple of shows on the way back down.”
Safety Net’s tour was in some underground venues playing for small audiences, but Horn said that it did work in their favor.
“Portland for us was really good. We played a lot of DIY spaces and basement shows, or occasionally a little bar here and there. In Portland, we played in a basement and we had a really good response up there. We played in a coffee shop in Corvallis, Oregon and it was good there as well. The Pacific Northwest was really good to us.”
However, there were some issues on the tour.
“We were basically booking our own shows and having to go through our own efforts to put shows together, and sometimes shows would just fall out from nowhere. Suddenly you’re in San Francisco and you don’t have a show. You have to scramble to find a show within the next few days, and we did it a couple of times. It happens, especially since it was our first tour. You just have to be open for whatever little curve balls get thrown at you. It’s difficult and touring isn’t easy. It’s fun to travel and meet up with interesting people from all over the place, but you really see what kind of band you are.”
Right now, Safety Net is recording a new album, but they say they would definitely like to tour again.
“We plan to do another album pretty quickly and we already talked about touring again a little bit. We would do the west coast again and try to get a few more shows, maybe branch out east a little more. I wouldn’t say within the next 6 months, but probably within the next year.”
One thing that Horn suggests for every band as a survival tool makes a lot of sense.
“An air mattress… An air mattress will save your life, and I found that out the hard way. We had to sleep on a lot of floors and sometimes an air mattress would have been really nice.”