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Human Wrecking Balls & 2lbs Of Candy: A Touring Band's Life on The Road

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Keith Stein

Being on tour has its pleasures and its hardships, from the thrill of playing before adoring crowds and generally living the dream, to sitting knee-to-knee with your bandmates for much of the day and wondering, between stops, if you should have gone into banking. Staying sane is a matter of balance, so we sat down with four members of the incredibly convivial San Francisco orchestral indie rock band, The Family Crest, to find out what keeps their headlock count at zero. 

The not-so-open road

While film stars live the high life on the road in multi-level, million dollar motorhomes (we're looking at you Will Smith), most touring bands travel as closely as Anthony Davis' eyebrows, which can push things from The Family Crest to Family Feud. We asked the band how they make sardine-style conditions work with seven members to contend with:

Owen Sutter, violin & bodrahn : "We have a bus, but it’s still very important to get some space when you need it. If you have a van, you basically sit touching people all day, and that can make you go crazy."
Laura Bergmann, vocals, flute & percussion: "Sometimes you’re waking up early, you’re not getting any sleep… There’s kind of this understanding that all is forgiven, because touring is a very rigorous thing to do and you can’t take anything too seriously - -- the conditions that we’re working under are so crazy."
George Samaan, trombone: "It’s not smiles and sunshine all the time, and it's always little dumb things like someone might be late, like, two minutes. It’s never like an actual issue, more like you’re a bunch of brothers and sisters living in the same room in a house, arguing over 'his piece of chicken is bigger than mine.'"
Owen: "Take a couple of seats to yourself in a corner, get on your laptop and sorta get in a position where you can’t see anybody, and space out for two hours."

"Cute" quirks

Even with extensive experience playing a real life Oregon Trail (sans oxen), bugging the hell out of each other is still unavoidable, even with the extravagant space that comes with jamming a seven-person family into a bus as opposed to a van (or canvas-covered wagon). The band gave us the dirt on what drives them up the pretty short walls of the bus:

Liam McCormick, guitar & vocals: "What I do to annoy people the most? Oh man, there’s a whole list. I’m a coffee snob, so I’ll search out what I deem worthy coffee and force everyone else to go along with it, so I’ll… say, 'So hey we’re gonna stop at this coffee shop,' and it’s like oh my god we’re adding ten minutes to the trip so you can get a damn coffee!"

Owen: "I don’t even really notice when I hit things unless it’s with my head… so I’m sort of this destructive… Laura calls me the human wrecking ball."

Laura: I" have this book that I use to track our schedule, and everybody has access to it. It’s kind of crucial information, I work really hard on it, and I do it so everyone can refer to it. Of course, in a touring situation a lot of things are on the fly… sometimes if we’re all sitting on the bus, they’ll be like 'oh what time do I have to be there' and I’ll turn around and say TOUR BOOK instead of just telling them."

Playing live
<a href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">The Family Crest/Facebook</a>

Doing it live

Of course, for all the high pressure that comes with shuttling around the country like a bunch of indecisive pioneers, the pay off is huge, and in some cases, really, really flippin' loud:

 "In Chicago, it was crazy, people were yelling our songs so loud it was actually hard to hear and there was a sort of frenzy to it that was different, it was amazing."
Liam: "They were so loud I couldn’t hear my own voice. I started singing “Beneath the Brine” and to the very end of the show… they knew every word. I had to have the sound guy turn the monitor up so I could actually hear it."
Laura: "It’s the most euphoric feeling."
Owen: "I think the first time we ever played Salt Lake City, there were about eight people there, so we were kind of like, 'Let’s just have fun.' We were acting the fool, just jumping around having a good time… and it was one of my favorite shows." 

The drink that keeps things cool

Sometimes the best way to stay sane the road is to knock back a super refreshing ZICO premium coconut water. It helps keep the body hydrated with 5 electrolytes including potassium and fresh on the inside so you aren’t so fresh to the seven other people sharing a three-person space.

Friday Night Lights Gif
<a href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">via link</a>

Laura: "Liam and I love Friday Night Lights, so before we go on I say to him, 'Clear eyes, full hearts,' and then he says back to me, 'Can’t lose.'"
George: "When we’re done playing, we get to go meet fans at the merch table, and hang out after things have settled down after the show. You get a sense of who the regulars are, and it’s always special to see familiar faces the next time you’re in town."
Liam: "It’s always awesome to be able to come back to a city because it feels like a mini reunion."

Gummy worms
An Nguyen/Shutterstock

Small pleasures

Spending weeks on tour can often mean one long vacation... from comforts like "privacy" and "not spending hours on end in a bus." We found out that coping with the pressures of being the tour today has taken a detour away from the substances of the '70s and straight to: 

 "It’s weird, I don’t really like sweets, I don’t like soda, but for some reason I eat gummy worms; I can eat like two pounds of them. And I have no idea why."
Liam: "I mean it’s coffee; you have to have the few things on tour that make you feel grounded [HA]."
Laura: "John doesn’t really like beer, and I'm allergic to hops and can’t drink it, so we decided to drink white wine on this tour together. We adopted a term John had heard St Vincent use -- she calls it 'housewifin’ it.' So after sound check, I turn to him and go 'Should we housewife it?'"
George: "I write poetry."

<a href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Brook Ward/Flickr</a>

Nomadic life

Besides the shows, traveling around as often as The Family Crest does isn't all gobbling gummies and prodding the entire band to detour for artisanal oak coffee brewed by forest-dwelling elves:

Liam: "I love Pittsburgh -- it’s actually kind of like the east coast Portland."
Laura: "We get to see these people all over the country that we have become friends with, who started out coming to our shows. We get dinner, or them showing us around the city --- we’ve formed these real relationships."
George: "I’ve always been someone who likes traveling. I went to school to be a classical trombone player, so all the time was spent in like a practice room -- five hours a day just to keep up with your peers. I would find myself leaving the practice room just to talk to people in the hallway. This lifestyle is much more fitted for my thirst to adventure, playing music, and meeting the people who are listening to that music."