Indie power-pop outfit Hollerado, consisting of lead singer and guitarist Menno Versteeg, lead guitarist Nixon Boyd, bassist Dean Baxter and drummer Jake Boyd, have been hitting the road and traveling the world since they formed in 2007. One of the hardest-working bands in the business, they’ve toured everywhere from China to France and have opened for Jack White’s band The Dead Weather, Andrew W.K. and Sum 41. We caught them performing at Red Bull Tour Bus: Hometown Tour and spoke to them about a touring band’s secrets. 1. TOURING IS NOT ONE LONG ORGY
According to the boys of Hollerado, touring isn’t one long sexual escapade: “Quietly masturbating in the bathroom while the other band members in the hotel room are sleeping…that’s the wild sex,” says Baxter. Because of the grueling tour schedule, the lack of privacy and their girlfriends or wives back home, the band members aren’t bedding a new groupie every night. “Maybe it’s true in the case of Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones,” Versteeg adds, “but for bands on our level I don’t think there are that many girls willing to sleep with us.”2. IT’S NOT A MONTHLONG DRUG BENDER
“Rampant drug use on the road is another legend,” says Versteeg. “Yes, there’s always the college kid after the show who wants you to smoke pot with him and his friends. But that gets old after a while, sharing one joint with some random 19-year-olds behind the venue.” There’s a good chance that a band out of its mind on drugs 24/7 will crash and burn; working musicians need at least some self-control and professionalism to succeed.
Plus, even if they did want to be on drugs all the time, there’s the practical concern of transporting the goods through borders or scoring in strange cities. “We don’t know a guy in Tallahassee or Jersey City who can get you whatever,” says Versteeg. “A huge act may have a drug wrangler in every city, but we’re in town for 24 hours tops. How are we going to find some hookup? We don’t want to get stabbed trying to buy drugs in some dark alley.” 3. THERE’S NOT THAT MUCH ROCK AND ROLL
“When we tour it’s more driving than music; sometimes we’re in the van for eight to 12 hours a day,” Jake Boyd says. “Our actual set is 45 minutes to an hour, so that’s a very poor ratio of rocking out to driving.” There’s more actual rock and roll being played when the band is back home or recording, where they’ll spend hours a day jamming.
You don’t even get your rock and roll quota from the other bands you’re touring with. “Maybe you watch your touring mates two times, and even if you love it, by the third or fourth time you realize they’re doing what you’re doing: playing the same 12 songs,” explains Nixon Boyd. “So you catch their set a few times and after that you spend their stage time back in the van drinking beers and blasting Paul Simon and James Blunt.”4. EVERY AUDIENCE IS SPECIAL, BUT…
“You know how bands say stuff like ‘You guys are proof people still care about rock and roll music’? Well, maybe take that with a grain of salt,” says Baxter. “Because we hate to break it to you, but that’s every night in every city.” The shout-outs to the crowd and the praise of whatever town they’re in are duplicated on each stop. “Sure, the audience is special, but in the majority of cases they’re not remarkable compared to any other audience.”
Some shows will definitely have better, cooler and more enthusiastic crowds, but most of the showgoers at any stop will be much the same as at any other. “The concept of the audience is important as a universal thing that’s special,” says Versteeg. “But the specific audience in Wichita, Kansas or Beaver Lick, Kentucky is not going to make an impact on us or blow our minds.”5. WE’RE NOT TRASHING EVERY HOTEL
That whole trashing a hotel room or dressing room stunt you see in movies about rock stars? That behavior mostly doesn’t exist, and when it does bands have to pay every penny for the damages. “The hotel or venue manager will not just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Those guys are so cool, they’re in a band, it’s an honor to have such rock stars ruin my property,’” says Versteeg.
“You’re on the hook for the bill, and that’s an expense a working band can’t afford.” Plus, it’s likely that in a hotel the front desk will hear the destruction and call the police to haul the band away for a night in the slammer. And if it’s the backstage of a venue that gets demolished, the band is ruining their reputation with venues, booking agents, tour managers and other bands—it’s throwing away future gigs. 6. TOURING BRIEFLY RUINS US FOR SOCIETY
After doing a really long tour, there’s an adjustment back to day-to-day life. Bands go out and live a messed-up existence for an extended period and then have to come back to the “real world.” Baxter explains, “We develop a real lexicon of inside gags and real dirty dick and fart jokes, and we discover as soon as we get home and hang out with our friends and family that we instinctively keep making the same disgusting comments, turning off those around us.”
There’s a period of resocialization after a life of daily drinking, erratic hours and the exclusive company of your fellow bandmates. “It’s like being away in the army: you get really close to the guys on tour, you live a life unlike those back home and you lose touch with what is a normal, accepted way to conduct yourself in public,” Versteeg says. They often need a week, sometimes two, when they get home to become accustomed to being “civilians” again.
- WE HAVE TO TOUR
In this age of digital piracy, bands have to tour whether they like it or not to make money. “Since you can download everything except the live experience, touring is more essential than ever,” says Jake Boyd. “Plus it’s the only way to sell merch. No one is paying for CDs or shirts unless you bring it right to their doorstep. Really, we’re less of a musical act and more like a group of traveling salesmen.”
They explain that none of the residual money would come in unless they toured. Bands can’t get radio play or any sort of song publishing unless they’re an active group out there promoting themselves. “The new version of radio payola is ‘Let’s hang, man,’” Jake Boyd explains. “Part of touring is going to the local radio offices and meeting the DJs and taking them out for a beer and getting them to play your single.”8. PERSONALITY MATTERS
Separating art from the artist is hard when you spend so much time with said artist. “Sometimes you’ll tour with a band of pricks and it’s really tricky as you convince yourself you hate their music because you hate them as people,” Versteeg says. “On the flip side, you can start to like music you normally wouldn’t love because the people in the band are all sweethearts and you start to hear their music as a representation of these really great people.”
They’re quick to point out one prick in a band can ruin the reputation of the whole group. “You’ll be talking to fans or venue staff and they’ll be quick to inform you that such and such a band is a bunch of dicks,” Versteeg says, “but sometimes they just had a bad encounter with the one dong in the group. Our point is don’t judge the whole band on the actions of the one dong, and for all you musicians out there, just be awesome to your fans and to the venue staff.”9. TOURING IS BAD FOR OUR HEALTH
Due to tight schedules, budgets and availability, fast food is often the default for meals while on tour, and weeks of bad eating will take their toll on a musician’s health. “It takes a concerted, dedicated effort to eat well and it’s harder than you’d think to keep yourself in fruits, vegetables and lots of water,” Baxter says. “Also, we’re sitting in the van all day; hitting the hotel gym is hard as we usually have to get up and go.” And, of course, most venues supply the acts with free alcohol, which doesn’t lead to a healthy way of living.
Lack of sleep is a major issue. “We’re playing down the partying as we’re trying to avoid the touring clichés, but after every show there’s something happening; there’s always an after-party,” Versteeg says. “You can easily party every night if you choose to. It’s easier to go out and party than it is to get eight hours of sleep.” It takes willpower and determination to pull oneself away from debauchery’s call and head back for a night of solid Z’s. 10. THE BEST AND WORST SHOWS ARE UNEXPECTED
Hollerado tell us you can never expect what may turn out to be the best and worst tour dates. “One of the most fun shows we had in a long time was in front of seven people in Hamburg,” Versteeg says. “We had the best time ever and it became apparent to us, ‘This is why we’re doing this!’ It was in this tiny little punk bar below the train tracks that could fit 40 people tops and had the stage a few feet away from the entrance.” They love the bulk of their gigs but live for the one great, transcendent show that happens per year and keeps them going the other 364 and one quarter days.
They’ve performed arena shows for audiences in the tens of thousands, and while that may seem to be the rock star dream, there’s no guarantee those will be the best shows. “When you’re playing a huge show in front of 100,000 people, chances are we’re not the headliners and so there’s very little leeway if something goes wrong,” says Versteeg. “If you’re playing middle of a four-band bill at a stadium and you blow an amp, or say you spit water in the air and it lands on the headliner’s gear and they threaten to both kill you and cut your set short…no one’s got your back.”