Mark Mallman tour diary, Vol. 1
The demo recording of "Let it Be" starts with Paul McCartney talking to the sound engineer. He says "This is going to knock you out, boy," and then proceeds to perform one of rock's greatest ballads. Those few snide words before he starts always reminds me of what the road is like on the first couple days of tour.
We were backstage five minutes before showtime. It was my drummer, Aaron Lemay, myself, and Dick Valentine of Electric Six. We had poured three shots of Petron into paper catering cups and Dick said, "Sometimes it's hard....and sometimes it's hard." I'm assuming he was referring to the road, to the tour, but you never really know with enigmatics like Dick. Whatever he meant, he was right. Sometimes it's hard. A person might think that 10 years of touring America in vans and sleeping on floors is tough. It's not. It's fun. It's not the "paying of dues" that Dick was referring to. He meant the constant smiling in the face of diversity. Even during the funniest, happiest movie you'd ever want to see, you might find yourself leaving the theater with sore cheeks. But it was enough pontificating, we knocked back the tequila. I changed into a wild beast for 40 odd minutes on stage, and that was that.
We were at Turner Hall, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It's 30 minutes outside of where I grew up, and I chatted nothings with the cheerleader who shot me down in the seventh grade, but now comes to all my Milwaukee performances with her musician husband. My dad had brought two of his machinist buddies and they spent a good 10 minutes debating the virtues of R-134a, which is an air conditioning coolant. Then they did "cake shots." A woman came up to me at the merchandise table and said "You know, I played your second album on repeat while giving birth to my son." Last year after Marathon 3, I was told that a woman brought a photograph of me to the hospital as she gave birth. It's fulfilling to hear these things, but it's not what I really expect to hear. Most of the time I expect to be yelled at, or punched. Thankfully, this rarely happens. Rarely. The most important thing I've learned from the road is that life will never deliver what you expect. Expect it.
After the show I had the chance to discuss the merits of jumping off bass amplifiers with Ambrosia singer Joe Puerta, who had come out from his Milwaukee recording studio to catch the show. He'd recently performed on Jimmy Fallon for "Yacht Rock Week." I love to get war stories whenever I meet the pros. As with two Grammy nominations and five top20 hits, you'd think that would be enough. But after Ambrosia, Joe signed on as Bruce Hornsby's bassist, so he knows all the ins and outs of piano rock. I said, "I can't jump off speakers like that anymore, my knees are shot." But he was like, "When I was your age, sure as shit I could jump off a speaker." We laughed, but it was just what I needed, a kick in the pants. It's important to surround yourself with people who are better than you, so that you don't get soft. I read that in a book about tennis, but it applies more so to the creative arts. A lot of times people slow down at the peak of there careers because they got nobody saying "no" to them. This isn't a problem for us though, cause, the road is constantly kicking our skinny asses. And we laugh all the way. People say, "Mallman, why do they call you Mr. Serious?" and I tell 'em, "Because the ones who called me Mr. Silly didn't survive."
At 1 a.m. we drove to the house I grew up in, ate frozen pizza, and watched Adult Swim till 3 a.m. In some ways, not much has changed in my life since high school. #win. We had the next day off and drove back to the Twin Cities where I had just shy of 20 million short battles to wage before heading out to Ames, Iowa the next night. It was so busy, in fact, that I skipped "Transmission" '80s night. I figure, I spent the previous night hangin with Joe Puerta, so my '80s fix was satiated for the week. I released my new single, "Minneapolis," earlier in the week because we pushed the full-length album till spring 2012. So I was up late prepping for the recording sessions that would begin the day after we get back from tour.
It was a short three-hour drive to Ames, IA the following afternoon. Conrad from First Avenue called saying Electric Six found a duffel bag at the club the night before and wanted to know if it was mine. I said "If it's full of weed, then, yes." I guess it wasn't, cause he didn't call me back. Aaron and I were playing the Maximum Ames Music Festival at "The Maintenance Shop," which is the rock club at the University of Iowa. I tried out some material from my the new record, and played "Minneapolis" live for the first time ever. The opener, "Little Ruckus" is a one man show who jumps off risers and tables like some jungle creature with a microphone. He was totally nuts and super fun with his shirt unbuttoned to the short shorts. I signed up for a challenging road when I started this ultra showman crazy guy routine - cause promoters put performers like Ruckus on my shows and it keeps me on my toes. I like to give the full show, kick ass songs, kick ass band, kick ass show. Did I mention I do my best to make everything kick ass?
We loaded out and hit the Kum N Go. Next to the gas station was a broken-down, out of business ice cream shop. I took a funny picture. Iowa sells beer and wine until 2 a.m., nuff said. I kept laughing about the bumper sticker that Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt was selling at the merch table. It said, "The world is 1000 times better cause your mom and dad fucked each other." As far as I'm concerned, there cant be enough positivity in this game. I've been out with a lot of bands that complain, or hide behind insecure masks. It's just not fun for them, and eventually they quit. I've seen it a hundred times. The ones that stay positive are the ones that survive to play another day.
Case in point: the cheapest motel we could find was a death trap. It smelled like bleach and body parts, but the man at the front desk, Harry, gave me a five dollar discount. We laughed ourselves to sleep. Harry's five dollar discount, doesn't that sound like a sex thing? Oh, 10 years of touring and each day just gets... it gets... it goes. In the morning we were going to a zombie-themed burger restaurant. I finished my hard lemonade and shut out the light. Yeah, blueberry 16-proof hard lemonade isn't worth the 1.59 you pay for it, but a 16-ounce can drowns out the impossible rhythms of the headboard on adjacent wall. It's always good to have one handy if you pay less than 50 dollars at a motel.
Check back for more updates from Mallman's tour with Electric Six here on Gimme Noise.
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