Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Aaron David Scott, Attica! Attica!, Marathon, De La Hoya

One of the smartest and genuine people that I have ever come across through punk rock is Aaron David Scott. From one of the first time's that I saw De La Hoya play and he talked about STD's and how he got tested before he left for the current tour he was on, just made me think and open myself up to a lot more than i was at that point in my life. Someone being able to share something like that is amazing to me. I am lucky enough to call Aaron a very dear friend and I was also lucky enough to be able to see many of his great musical endeavors play shows across the country. Do you have one of those friends that you want to stay up all night and talk to until your throat is dry and the sun comes up? Well this is one of those guys for me. In fact I was locked out of my house one evening because Aaron and I were on my porch talking about his next musical project (marathon), when he was out roadying for Nakatomi Plaza. The GF wasn't to happy that we were outside for awhile talking so she locked us out. Oh well. Current Attica! Attica!, ex member of Marathon and De La Hoya.

1- At what point on a tour have you felt like it was all an illusion or a dream? You wake up and you just feel like you're out of touch with everyone that isn't a part of your group of traveling hobos, can you explain that relationship/feeling at all?

Occasionally, one of my extended family will come to a show. Invariably, those are the shows where it seems least evident why I do this, why I build my life around traveling and playing music. I remember playing in Minneapolis in an artspace to a very, very small number of people. My aunt and two cousins had come to see us play. I was 27 at the time, compromising everything in my life for touring, and having a great time. But it was a mediocre show in the midst of a mediocre week on tour. I couldn't find the words to explain what the hell I was doing there, and why it was worth it. Doubt creeps in whenever tour gets a little sour financially or a little weak on shows. So I get somewhat self-conscious and feel like I have to justify it. This is compounded by the fact that most of my relatives think that all musicians are trying to become Coldplay, and they have suggestions for how we should go about making connections in the industry. I've found it nearly impossible to explain to anyone why playing a show in a disgusting basement with lousy sound and sweaty people is the most invigorating thing I've found in life; they just have to witness it. Unfortunately, I've never been in a band that played great DIY shows every day in every town...it's hit or miss, and the relatives seem to usually show up on the misses. That night in Minneapolis, a dude from the show let us crash at his house. We hung out for hours, talking and eating and sharing tour stories and chatting about living in Minnesota. How is it possible that I felt completely alienated from my relatives, who I really like and I've known for all my life, and in the same day feel automatically connected to and familiar with a complete stranger? I don't think it's something that can be articulated...you just have to live it. You have to eat the food that a stranger has cooked for you, wake up in a room you don't recognize, and then do the same thing the next night. As a result, I have a deep kinship with those who have lived it even before I've met them. I've given up trying to get everyone else to understand that I don't have a destination in mind. Traveling and playing music IS the destination. Every time you see me, I'm already where I'm going.

On an unrelated note, Rory, a certain ex-roommate of yours peed in his nalgene bottle that night in Minneapolis because he was too lazy to get out of the van to pee. In the morning, he groggily awoke, predictably thirsty, and...well, the inevitable happened. It's just one more thing about tour that my relatives can't quite understand, I guess.

2- How did it feel to accomplish a bike tour? You rode your bike from Boston, MA to Southern FL. if I'm not mistaken, that must have been truly a test of mind, body, and soul.

There's a Thomas Edison quote that has stuck with me for years and seems particularly relevant to bike tour: "If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves." A year ago, I did not believe it was possible for me to bike 2,400 miles, nor did I believe it possible to use a bicycle to get from show to show. It never even occurred to me to bike from Boston to New York City, let alone Boston to Key West. With the help of my old upstate NY friends, Blake and Job, we did exactly that. And it was truly astonishing. The first time I realized that we were doing something significant was at our show in Brooklyn, a week into the tour. The promoter handed me a big stack of money at the end of the show, and I double-checked to make sure the other touring bands were taken care of. He replied, "Dude, you rode your
bikes here." From that point on, every time we rode past a picturesque peanut farm or walked on the beach at night, I marveled at the fact that the human body is capable of so much. We talked to tons of strangers along the way, most of whom said, "Oh, I could never do that." I think what they meant was, "I don't want to do that." We spend so much effort creating reasons why we can't do certain things that it obscures the reality that we just don't want to find out how great we can be because the process is scary, challenging, or tedious. And I'm normally a humble dude, but the experience was so profound that I'm not afraid to say we did a great thing.

I really liked the elements that we combined with cycling, music, and fundraising. It was a benefit tour for World Bicycle Relief and we raised enough money for 19 new bikes to send to students and medical caregivers in Zambia. It also gave us a forum to promote bikes as a more advanced form of transportation in a developing nation, while simultaneously promoting it as a more environmentally sound (not to mention healthier) transportation alternative in the U.S. We were at one campsite where I witnessed someone drive 50 yards from their site to the bathroom. That's the kind of culture we encounter at
campgrounds, let alone on highways. Most people scoff at the idea that bicycles can be useful for anything other than a weekend ride. I like to think that we were ambassadors for the idea that much more is possible. Even some punk kids who bike everywhere in their cities were a bit surprised that we managed to haul a couple acoustic guitars along with all of camping gear.

There were plenty of times, though, when I just wanted it to be done. I discovered that I love biking 30 miles a day, but unfortunately, we were biking 50-60 a day. Beyond the first 30, it became work just to keep myself motivated to continue pedaling. Boredom sets in frequently on a van tour, and I found myself in Georgia wondering why we were still doing it. When we planned it, there was a certain level of choosing Key West "because it is there," and I was questioning whether that was the best way to plan my first bike trip.

In the end, however, riding the last day into Key West was immensely satisfying. Blake and I watched the sunset on the docks, knowing we had gone as far as we could. The whole point of the bike tour, for me, was to find a new way to tour, and we had certainly done that. It made me really appreciate our privilege in having easy access to cars and our obligation to try much, much harder to find alternatives to oil consumption as quickly as possible. Bands are rarely reflective about how much gasoline we burn while touring because we feel that there is no other option. The Ditch The Van tour certainly disproved that theory, and anyone who says it can't be done isn't interested in really solving the problem of over-consumption. And in that respect, I think the underlying cause of the tour kept me going through the harder times.

3- What is the most re-affirming event that has taken place for you while on the road? Something that made you just sigh and realize this is why I'm still involved with all of this.

As you probably know, it becomes more and more important to identify why I'm still involved in touring as I get older. As my generation slowly recedes from the scene, it becomes more necessary to figure out why I do this since I don't have those affirmations coming automatically from my peers. Whenever I need that affirmation, I can think back to a show that Marathon played in Vancouver Island, Canada. We took a ferry out to the island, and the promoter led us to her parents' house where they served all eleven of us dinner. Two older guys came out of the woods (we later found out that they lived in a shack on the same property) and they hung out and we talked about Canadian-American politics. Then we went to the show at a small house in a pretty rural area. It was the quintessential awesome house show, with one notable detail: none of the kids had ever heard of us before. All of them still danced with an intensity that made the living room floor bend and bounce. It was at that moment that I understood, with absolute clarity, that touring had brought me to this experience that was so euphoric and so unique that I never would have found it had I not just gotten in the van one day. Sure, I might've seen that energy at a local show, but I would've been in my own town. You can't go to work and then play a show the same day in your hometown and then go to sleep in your own bed and get the same experience. You really have to strand yourself in a place so unfamiliar that your survival would be in question, and then witness the astonishing level of generosity and enthusiasm that the locals provide for you simply because you are a traveler. The network of people who embrace and support touring musicians truly take care of their own in a way the larger culture does not, and I think back to that show whenever I feel tempted to gravitate towards a more conventional lifestyle. There are good people everywhere, but rarely do they come in such high concentration as I've found when touring.

4- What's your biggest worry when being on tour?

I worry heavily about dying on the interstate in a van accident. Last year, I toured briefly with a band who traveled in a gutted cargo van. There was a bench seat against the side wall, perpendicular to the usual direction of a bench seat. The rest of the van, apart from the front bucket seats, was just pillows, blankets, and backpacks. I tend to make a play for the safer seats, so I made my way to the bench seat and started to buckle in. One of the van owners said, "you could buckle in, but the bench seat isn't attached to anything." You know it's sketchy when you're considering whether wearing a seat belt is actually the less safe choice.

Dying in the van is sometimes my biggest worry, but it comes and goes, depending on how safe a given vehicle seems. My most consistent worry, regardless of tour, is about my throat health. When playing in a band, my voice is the only instrumentation I provide. And when I play solo, my guitar playing isn't interesting enough to carry a show. If I can't sing well, performing is much less enjoyable to me. No matter how strong my voice seems at the beginning of tour, I usually come close to losing it after a week of shows. Then I get a throat cold, which hurts for a few days, then suddenly I can sing well for the rest of the tour. On one tour with Marathon, the throat cold didn't go away and it hurt to talk, cough, breathe, etc. We went to a Christian clinic in Memphis where I had to fill out a questionnaire that asked questions like "How old were you when you first had sex?" and "Do you know you're going to heaven?" Then the doctor talked to me about Madonna for no apparent reason and left me with this thought: "Well, sorry you're stuck in Memphis. It happened to Elvis, though, so you're in good company."

5- Besides your severe allergy to cats what else would make you want to sleep in the van instead of a someone's homestead? And how do you decline an offer?

I wouldn't call my allergy to cats "severe" as much as I would call it "extremely sucky." On one of my first tours, I slept on the floor of a seemingly clean cat house. I woke up once an hour on the verge of suffocation. I kept taking my inhaler, which is only meant to be taken every four hours or so. After that experience, I made sure to seek out pet-free households if possible, and sleep in the van whenever we could only find hosts with pets. It's my curse on tour. I'm allergic to cats, dogs, birds, dust, flowers, basically everything that kindly people like to keep in their houses. Oftentimes, I couldn't stay with my closest friends in town because they had pets. I eventually enjoyed sleeping in the van in all cases except for the coldest of nights, and I started sleeping in the van regularly even when there were no pets. With bad allergies, even a seemingly sterile environment can set me off if I spend the whole night with my face against the carpet. In fact, I got so used to it that I lived in the band van for 7 months including when we weren't on tour. It was great until it got cold enough to snow, at which point I got an apartment again.

Sometimes I sleep in the van if our hosts are partying loudly and I just want to sleep, and I always make sure at least two people sleep in the van if we're parked in a sketchy neighborhood. I also sleep in the van if we're staying in a parking lot in the event of no house to crash. I'll also admit that I've played the allergy card sometimes when I think my allergies will be fine. Sometimes I've walked into a house that hasn't been cleaned in a year, or that had used needles lying on the coffee table, or just smelled lousy, or my band mates were pissing me off, and I said, "looks like I'll be better off in the van."

The process of declining an offer to sleep in a pet house should be simple, but it's always a pain. Pet owners apologize profusely for my inconvenience, and they hate the idea that their pet is anything other than perfect, so they think that with a fresh pillowcase everything can be remedied. All I want to do in those cases is go to the van without a big fuss, but I invariably end up consoling the host and reassuring them that it's not really a big deal. It's especially frustrating when the host doesn't believe that I like sleeping in the van. Anyone who can't believe it just hasn't tried it yet.

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