Tour, Days Eight and Nine: A Wrap Up

We wrapped up the City Mouth Traveling Petting Zoo Tour over the weekend with two small but very cool house shows. On Saturday, we played our friend Tyler’s house in Aurora, which meant that we shared the bill with Mighty Ships. It was a nice respite from the parties and punk houses we spent most of this tour at, and the first act of the night dropping meant that my new band, also featuring Tyler, Dan, and Katie, could make our live debut. The first Pelafina show was short and a little sloppy, but we’re all excited about what we’ve written so far.

On Sunday, Mighty Ships joined us once again for the most rural show of the tour, in the tiny farm town of Elburn, Illinois. The house was hard to find, but the show was really cool. We surprised our tourmate, Pat Egan, by jumping in for a full band version of his last song. He’s been a really fun guy to have on the road with us, and I’ve watched him improve as a performer every day. In typical fashion for this tour, the City Mouth set was sweaty but a lot of fun, I have to admit that it was strange not doing it again last night.

Looking back on this tour, I’m filled up with pride for the rest of City Mouth. We’ve become a tighter, stronger band over the past week and a half than we ever were before, but it’s more than just musicianship. It’s seeing Reece put together something really special for Pat’s last show of the tour. It’s watching Dan connect with these songs and sing along every night behind the drum kit. It’s seeing Erik happier and more confident than ever on stage. It’s catching Matt’s eye in the middle of a song and smiling, knowing that everything he’s been building with this band for past three years is finally coming together.

There’s a part in one of our new songs where Matt repeats the line, “I don’t know if I’ll make it past twenty.” I remember when Matt sent me the first demo of that song. It was Christmas Eve, or maybe Boxing Day, or New Years, some holiday in December of 2013. Matt had decided not too long before that that he wasn’t coming back for his fourth semester at ISU, and the song made me tear up. I’ve never wanted anyone to succeed more than I want him to. The song scared me, but it also helped me see more clearly than ever that success means such different things for different people. The most cathartic moment of this tour for me came on the first night, when we closed our set with “Dropout.” An older, stronger Matt than I knew in 2013 added a line that he had never sung live before to the end of the song, and I can’t express how much it meant to hear him say it.

“I don’t know if I’ll make it past twenty, and I don’t know if I even want to.

But I fucking did.”

Tour, Days Five-Seven

I did daily updates here during the last tour, but this year I’ve slipped to an entry every two or three days. There’s a couple reasons for that. The first is that we don’t have Harry from Mighty Ships to do literally all of the driving on this tour, so I’ve been behind the wheel every day for the past week. I don’t mind it, but I have ended up with less time to read and write. And second, I’ve been fighting sickness and trying to rest as much as possible. My lingering cold felt like it was getting even worse last night, so I spent most of the show in Colton’s thankfully air-conditioned house in Dekalb laying the couch, listening to the bands through the walls. Fortunately, I was able to gather up enough energy to play with both City Mouth and Movies About Animals, and the sets were a lot of fun, even though it gave Normal a challenge for sweatiest show so far. Colton, Sergio, and the rest of the Dekalb kids that we’ve become friends with over the past year always show us a great time when we come through, and this was no different.

To backtrack a little bit, the preceding two days were spent primarily at my parents’ house in Bloomington, catching up on sleep, laundry, and real food. This tour would have been a lot harder on all of us if we didn’t have those couple days in the middle to relax in a house that gets cleaned more than once a year.

Bloomington is just a short drive from Peoria and Champaign, where we played for nights five and six of the tour. We caught up with some friends that we hadn’t seen in a while, like Alejandro and the rest of Arcade At Midnight, who put on a sweet show for us at a brick-oven pizza place called Mud Puddle Pizza in Peoria. We reminisced about the Modus Aurora days and then played frantic back to back sets since the show had to wrap up by nine. Another highlight of the Peoria show: Terribly Happy, whose bouncy tunes, Blink cover, and hilarious shirts brought smiles to all of our faces.

In Champaign, we reunited with The Phantom Broadcast and Ocean Glass, two bands that I thoroughly enjoy seeing every chance I get. Evan from the Phantom Broadcast is one of the most impressive guitarists and nicest guys I know, and he put together a really solid show for us at the Cowboy Monkey. But first we had to get there, a task that became non-trivial when Matt locked my keys in the trunk of my car. Fortunately, State Farm’s roadside assistance came through, and we made it to the show without too much delay. Still, I’m pretty sure he won’t live that one down for a while.

Tour, Days Three and Four: A Tale of Two Bloomingtons

I’ve been playing shows for over eight years, and I’m still consistently amazed at the kindness, generosity, and enthusiasm that I see in the DIY music scene. This has never been more apparent than the third night of our tour, which we spent in Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington, Indiana has always been “The Other Bloomington” to me, but our experiences there have been consistently awesome. Like last year, we spent most of the day hanging around campus and eating Mother Bear’s Pizza, which I highly recommend if you’re in the area. The house we played at was called the Makeout Mansion, and it is home to a sweet band called Whale Bones, They’re the nicest guys, and they managed to make even a small show on a Monday night an incredibly fun experience. Then they impressed us even more with some awesome acoustic covers in the living after the show, one of which you can hear over at our Instagram.

Last night, we were back in Bloomington, Illinois, my hometown and the birthplace of City Mouth. Shows here are always a blast, although the scene hasn’t been quite the same since Firehouse stopped doing shows earlier this year. The lineup was packed with friends, including the always excellent Red Scarves, our emo buddies in Pine, and Marina City, a band so good that we hate playing after them because they make everyone else look bad. It was without a doubt the hottest, sweatiest show I’ve ever played. Somehow, people endured the sauna to watch us play literally every song we prepared for this tour.

The best part: Sleeping in my own bed.

Tour, Days One and Two

We’re wrapping up day two of City Mouth’s summer tour, and I’m already approaching the level of exhaustion that was my mid-tour low last summer. The ashes of a party are still smoldering around me, and the cold I’ve been running from for the past two weeks is about to catch up with me.

I have a hard time getting used to touring life. Long drives are no problem, but I’m not wired for late nights and dingy basements and fast-food diets. I get anxious about my bass and my backpack and sketchy electrical wiring in old buildings (The outlet exploding when Reece plugged in his amp in at Ashbary Coffee House is a story I’ll tell for a long time). I get antsy when shows run behind schedule. I even wondered after our week on the road with Mighty Ships last summer if I ever wanted to tour again.

This is a cliche among musicians, but I still find that it rings true for me: All of those things go away when step on stage. That part of the tour has been incredible. In two days, we’ve already played to more people and sold more merch than we did in an entire week last summer. Most of all, people are responding to the songs. They sing the lyrics to songs they know and dance to the ones they don’t. I’ve never been in a band that people cared about this much before, and it never gets old.

This was a short blog since I’m about to fall asleep on a couch in Muncie. We’re off to Bloomington, Indiana in the morning to play at a place called Makeout Mansion and do our first full-band interview.

Tour, Day Nine: A Recap

Tour’s over, and that’s a bummer.

After nine days on the road with City Mouth and Mighty Ships, I’m back at my parents’ house. I move to Chicago tomorrow, and I have a lot of packing to do today, but I want to take this morning while Matt is still sleeping in the basement and before my responsibilities for the move kick in to look back on one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Ten days ago, I had a friend named Tyler who played in Mighty Ships. I didn’t know him all that well, but I liked his music. I don’t think I had ever formally met his bandmates. Now, Tyler, Harry, and Charlie are among my best friends, and leaving them to drive back to Bloomington after our show at Rozz-Tox in Rock Island was a lot harder than I expected.

Together, we put 2485 miles on my parents’ minivan. We traveled through eight states and played shows in six of them. We got noticeably better as musicians and as bands. We learned each other’s lyrics and sang them back, filling in new lines as we picked them up. Even if we didn’t play for big crowds or make much money, it still seems like we really accomplished something. I’ll never forget how this feels.

Could I do it again? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few days. For years, my dream was to be in a band that toured full-time. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, but I learned that there are a lot of aspects of touring that I doubt I would ever really get used to. I struggle with the inherent disorganization of DIY touring, and the late nights and bad diets wear on my body easily. I can see so clearly how relationships and friendships at home suffer, especially on longer tours.

At the same time, I see exactly why people make those sacrifices. There is so much thrill and excitement in putting your art out there for the world to see, in exploring new cities, in pulling up to a venue you’ve never heard of and hoping the shows goes well (or hoping they know there’s a show that night), in watching how other local scenes function and meeting small bands from other areas. I could keep listing things for a while, but the point is that nothing else I’ve done or will do is quite like touring, so I’m glad I got to do at least one.

Also, some thanks are in order:

My parents, for letting us use their minivan. Tyler, for booking this tour. Harry, Charlie, Tyler, Matt, and of course Dan Bretz, for being the best tourmates. Sami and her family, Dan, Gabe from Cinci, Matt Kennedy, Josh from the Turncoats, Zach, the Sovereign States dudes, and Tyler’s for giving us places to stay and hang out. Josiah from Lions, for opening up his house for a sweet show in Knoxville even if City Mouth couldn’t play. Liesi, for being awesome. I’m sure there’s more. There’s always more.

If you read along this whole time, thanks. These little updates have been really fun to write. Now, I’m on to the big transition into “adulthood.” See you soon, Chicago.

#mightymouth2014 forever.

Tour, Day Eight

I’m glad Lawrence, Kansas was at the end of the tour instead of the beginning. Yesterday will be a hard one to live up to.

We played at the Bottleneck, serving as the opening acts for Sovereign States’ farewell show. I hadn’t heard the emo quartet’s music before this tour, so the breakup doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to Tyler and Harry, but it didn’t take me long to realize that “Tired” is one of the genre’s best songs.

The crowd didn’t really show up until after City Mouth and Mighty Ships played, but for once, that hardly mattered. I spent the time between sets catching up with Rachel and Joan, and then we watched in awe as Baiowolf took the stage. Baiowolf happened to be the seven-hundredth band I’ve seen live, but even without the milestone I would have remembered their set for a long time. They invited the crowd on stage to share their crazy samples (background music from Big and “Our God Is An Awesome God,” for instance), live drums, and over the top, truly ridiculous lyrics, and it was more fun than I ever would have expected.

After Baiowolf, Sovereign States played their brief but incredible final set. Tyler and Harry sang on “Tired,” and the members’ old bands, My Brother, The Vulture and Coronado Left For Dead, even made appearances, but the best part of the night was yet to come.

In addition to playing in Sovereign States, the members moonlight as Taking Back Monday, a pop punk cover/karaoke band. They play the hits from Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, Saves the Day, and the like, inviting everyone up on stage to sing and dance. It’s a brilliant concept, and they were blast to see in action. I almost didn’t mind staying up until past 2:00 AM for that, and I’d really like to attempt a similar thing with Movies About Animals in the future.

I haven’t even hit on the rest of our day in Lawrence, which included one more record store stop, where I found a Jimmy Eat World single and some great dollar bin CDs, and a great ice cream cone, which was made even better because there was a Whopper at the bottom.

Today marks the final day of tour, and for as much fun as I’ve had over the last eight days, I’m glad. I miss home and I miss Liesi, and I can feel myself getting sick, plus I’m just ready to finally move and get settled in Chicago.

Tour, Day Seven

We’re a week into tour, and we’ve finally settled into a fairly smooth routine. We all have a spot we tend to claim in the van, and we know roughly how long it takes each of us to get ready to go. We figured out the best way to pack our gear around the pile of luggage and sleeping bags that we’ve affectionately named Stuff Mountain, and we’re getting pretty good at killing afternoons at record stores and parks.

So it’s strange to think that we’re on the home stretch. Last night, we played a small but surprisingly fun show at Lemmon’s in St. Louis, which, it’s safe to say, was our favorite venue so far. Between the free pizza and drinks for bands, a pre-show playlist that included multiple Weakerthans songs, and a bartender who talked to us about The Lawrence Arms, it just felt like a Firehouse show. Even though it wasn’t particularly well attended, everyone who was there seemed very excited about all of the bands and that anything was going on in their little scene. A couple of them even signed up for the City Mouth email list, so we’ll call it a success.

We’re getting an early start today so we can hang out with Harry’s friends in Lawrence, Kansas. Before we hit the road, I’ll add one more tour highlight: Yesterday, I had cookie dough soda, which was not something I had even imagined was possible. It was actually pretty good. If you’re ever at a Rocket Fizz, I recommend it.

Tour, Day Six: A Day Off and Some Thoughts On Jimmy Eat World

Yesterday was the most uneventful but also the most stressful day of tour so far. After a good talk about the post-Beatles discographies with Josh from the Turncoats, we hit Waffle House again (I actually had a waffle this time), parted ways with Dan, and started the drive to St. Louis.

In the meantime, we were encountering two small crises.

First, we realized we were double-booked for Friday. A show in Kansas City that we thought fell through suddenly had an active Facebook event, but we had already replaced it with a show in St. Louis. Second, we had nowhere to stay at the end of our off day. Eventually, we settled on playing the St. Louis show because the KC one had no locals on it and springing for a hotel, but the process was rough, and I’m glad it is only going to happen once on this tour.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, we had one of the best of moments of tour so far. During the drive, Harry put on Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. A quick survey showed that everyone in the van had had a different experience with the record. Harry latched onto it right when it was released and knew every word and guitar line better than I do. I love the album to death, but I discovered it primarily after Futures was released. Matt knew most of the songs but only through shuffling the band’s discography. Tyler had heard the singles. Charlie was asleep.

Even so, I realized there was something unifying about that album. It was a gateway to punk and emo for an entire generation. As we moved from the blistering opener to Davey Von Bohlen’s obscenely catchy guest spot to the megahit to the deep cuts, I was revisiting and remembering the emotions and moments I had so inextricably linked with these songs years ago, and I could tell everyone else was too. A truly great record can do that. It can sum up the separate experiences of four (or four million) people and preserve them forever in a melody or guitar solo.

But here’s why it was special for me: There was no longing to go back to where I was when I first heard “The Middle” or the very specific moment that I link to the line, “I would write to you from Museum Mile,” or the time Derrick and I talked about “My Sundown” at the end of high school. I wanted to be right there in the van in that moment. We were all quiet during “Hear You Me,” not quite looking at each other because that song has too much something in it that is always on the brink of overflowing and every Jimmy Eat World fan knows it. I’ve been trying to figure out what the something is for years, and I think I got it. When Jim Adkins sang, “What would you think of me now, so lucky, so strong, so proud?” this time, it meant as much to me as any lyric ever has. I can finally look back at every person I’ve ever opened up to about my dreams and my passions and my pains and my setbacks, every person who has influenced me and pushed me and pulled me back and supported me, and I can say that I’m where I want to be. I’m happy with where I’m at and where I seem to be going. I’m not settled, but I’m not directionless.

Tour, Day Five

Nashville is a special city. There’s really no other way to put it. You can walk down the strip and hear spectacularly talented musicians playing in every bar. You can find relics of music history on every corner. You can put three dollars into a parking meter before an old guy on the street tells you they don’t get checked after 5:30.

Our Nashville exploration was based mostly on recommendations from Dan’s friend Chris from The Scurvies and our own past experiences. We splurged a little on food, eating at cool local places like Café Coco and Jack’s, and we made it to a couple more record stores. Jack White’s Third Man Records was as interesting as we had hoped, with tons of vintage music gear and White Stripes memorabilia on display. The record store portion only sells titles from the Third Man catalog, so I didn’t pick anything up there, but I really wish I could be back here in a couple weeks when Lazaretto is released. Our next stop was a huge record and book store called Grimey’s, where Harry and I nerded out about literature and I found EP’s by The Swellers and The Skies Revolt. My tour total is now up to seven.

For the show, we met up with some old acquaintances in The Turncoats. I had seen and played with them numerous times in Bloomington-Normal over the years, so it was cool to catch them again now that they’ve settled into Nashville. The show itself was sort of a bust, taking place at a dive bar in serious disrepair called Springwater Supper Club. The bartender/sound guy/(presumably) owner was nice, but the ceiling leaked, the regulars were wasted when we showed up and almost certainly hated us, and it’s somehow still legal to smoke inside.

In typical #mightymouth2014 fashion, however, we had fun anyway. We were mostly playing for each other, but City Mouth sounded our best yet on this tour, with Dan’s drum parts really coming together, Mighty Ships rocked like they always do, and The Turncoats showcased their sweet blues rock skills.

Today is our day off, so we’re making a leisurely drive to St. Louis. Unfortunately, it also means we’re saying goodbye to Dan, who has been a blast to hang out with and play with these last few days. On the upside, we’re over halfway through tour with no serious mishaps yet. Three shows and four days to go.

Tour, Day Four

One of the coolest things about playing outside of your own town and your own state is seeing how other local music scenes function, and I have seen very few as vibrant and passionate as Knoxville, Tennessee.

The show was at a house run by members of a local band called Lions, who just got back from a tour of their own, and despite some booking confusion that resulted in City Mouth not being able to play, it was the most fun night of tour so far. There was a fairly large crowd gathered before the bands even started – credit that to Josiah’s smart tactic of charging only two dollars before that show started and full price afterwards – and most, if not all of them, attentively watched all four bands that played.

Even Mighty Ships, a band with no prior foothold in the area, seemed to get a really positive response. The highlight of the night for me, however, was watching Little Big League, an emo/punk group that I had been wanting to see for a while. They sounded huge even in such a small room, and they were great to talk to afterwards about touring and the business side of things.

Speaking of seeing new bands, I’m edging towards a milestone of my own on this tour. For as long as I’ve been going to shows, I’ve kept track of every band I’ve seen, and I’m on track to hit seven hundred later this week.

I think today is the halfway point of the tour. So far, everything has gone pretty smoothly. We’ve had places to stay every night (huge thanks to Sami’s family, Gabe in Cinci, and Matt Kennedy), we’re close to breaking even on gas money (thanks to my parents for letting us use a reliable, efficient van), and we’re only on each others’ nerves a little bit. We’re in Nashville, Tennessee at Springwater Supper Club tonight, but before that, I’m looking forward to exploring the city and checking out some more record stores, especially Third Man.

It’s sort of strange to think of what I’m missing at home. Friends are moving in and out of new places, May Term is wrapping up at IWU later this week, and rad shows are happening at Firehouse. Out here, we’re so far removed from all of that. This is great as a vacation, and Facebook and phone calls with Liesi keep me connected, but I don’t know if I could spend weeks or months as, in the words our host’s former band, a “permanent tourist.” That has been quite a realization.