My name is Jesse Jacob Miller-Gordon. I yell in a band, write, and make videos. I’m terrified of the ocean and lakes, but love the Beach Boys. You can write songs about surfing without getting wet. Due to a life primarily consisting of a van with no wi-fi, this was written in notes on a cell phone.
2/14/15: Montreal to Toronto
Technically, my day started at midnight in Montreal, after our show at Turbo Haus, a retrofitted practice space 5 stories up in a giant building near the Hockey Arena. The whole building is due to be torn down, which is a huge drag, but once you’re in there, you get it. We are dropping off stuff at the rock ’n’ roll bed and breakfast deal. It’s a weird zone: I get in a cab with (Alex) Ball, our tour homie, and (Alan) Yuch, our drummer. These are two of the best dudes I know. In a band that has a 10-year age gap (we are 25, 27, 37, and 38), it’s good to stretch out some nights. The thing about tour is that you don’t do what you would do if you were visiting a city as a normal person. It’s past midnight, in this sort of situation where no one has a working cell phone, and everyone’s too tired to figure out the right thing, and too tired to go to bed.
We go to the bar our host suggested over the one I’d been pointed to. It’s this three-level metalcore bar. What is with French Canada and metalcore? All the bands have names like A Day About Weather and Blood Dick Rising. The posters for this kind of thing are everywhere, and it’s a little bit of a lot. Another cab and five drinks later, we make it to Trash Bar. The closest analogy I have is it would have been the best party ever in San Francisco in 2004. There’s a bowl being skated, and the DJ has a white belt and a Vulcan haircut (I said ’04) and is toggling back and forth between whatever rap everyone knows and oldies as people get drunker. Getting a cab home at bar time is treacherous bullshit and reminds me that I should know better. This is the part where I start to feel achingly guilty for trying to have fun. It’s about 4 AM and time for bed.
9:30 AM: Woke up on this interesting piece of ’60s furniture. This rock and roll hotel (bed and breakfast, but everyone is too self conscious to call it that) has stag wallpaper; there’s some small taxidermy—a squirrel and the like. Sandy, our host, is terribly nice. She is graciously breaking out tea, coffee, eggs, cookies shaped like butts, and banana bread, but I’ve set up a rolling station at the table and I’m setting about putting myself in the cloud. If I’m going to sit still for the seven-hour drive to Toronto, I would prefer to be very stoned. Hate to say I kind of need it.
I shower and wrap my hair up in a turban using a tiger print towel, and for a moment I feel appropriately zesty. I hammer down the lovely meal, and dive into the briefly empty bedroom to call my girlfriend, whom I haven’t been able to get in touch with for one whole day, and I find myself caring. The call is a nice weird rush job—it’s a tough game to impart what you want to in this 5-15 minute window. I know her life is moving five speeds faster back in New York, and I wish we could cut through the flesh and fat all the way to the marrow but I also need to tell her what I like about her butt and eyes. I think there’s a balance, but I haven’t found it yet. We get a good eight minutes in before Alex comes flailing into the room and dives on me like a full-on St. Bernard. I can’t make out what happened at first, but it comes together a few minutes later: Last night, he wrote a note in the guestbook thinking no one would ever see it, and when I walk into the living room it’s sitting out with our host blushing. He hides under the covers for the next 10 minutes, and we all die. Either which way, it’s nice to hear her voice before diving back into the dude parade.
A Few Words On French Canada:
This is a fantastic deep penetrating cold – winter that fucks you – some approximation of General Winter. These are the weather conditions I imagine make Russians fucked up. People leave the house and go places, and that, to me, is completely insane. Montreal is a lovely city, but -5 Fahrenheit is a fucking state of emergency, it’s a problem – that’s not a livable condition. I want to tell its people that there’s a place called California, and it has room for everyone in this undercrowded, polite, long-faced country. Come to Modesto, or Concord, or something. Honestly, even Bakersfield. You could have a pool! Your pets would be happier. You want your pets to be happy! What about Grover? You can make these places better. Yes, all of you, even the quasi-Frenchies. A note on that: Stop telling us you don’t consider this Canada. We are in Canada on a Canadian tour. You aren’t a sleeper state, you’re descendants of fur trappers, and sort of the French version of an Australian.
A minor major victory! I find that I have the Phil Spector Ramones record synched on my phone. New old music! Do YOU remember rock and roll radio? I don’t give a fuck—the Wall of Sound is great, and he punched up a bunch of stupid keys and sax into this record. Bless him. I got a new phone three days before tour and haven’t been able to put music on it, so without Spotify offline stuff, it’s four days of silence. This Ramones record is a coup.
It’s now 12:33.
“It’s the end the end of the ’70s / it’s the end the end of the century”
My impending backseat boogie was cut short. Don, our genius guitar player, and resident Andy Warhol day-walker 300 year old friendly vampire, is playing weird synths over the music of the van. He has a crazy electronic setup fully unpacked and spread out across an entire bench, which is where he’s been living the past couple days.
Staring out the window at the brittle snow spangled trees as “Danny Says” comes on. Don is adding these chipper notes on top, making it into weird power pop.
12:45: Visibility is LOW. It’s fucking white white white outside. Whiter than the whitest coke Pusha T ever wrote a really cool-sounding metaphor about. Whiter than a crew cut covered by a dirty white canvas hat. I wanna live. I wanna live. I wanna live. Danny Wood, our tall sex dad of a bass player, is holding it down with some top-shelf driving. We are about as safe as we can be, all things considered. I took a picture of him in front of the stag wallpaper at the spot this morning and looked him in the eyes while speaking on his virility. Love Danny. Love bothering Danny.
12:51: “Return of Jack & Judy” is on, so I’m zoning in on that. Sequel songs are cool, I wanna write one now; it’s going to be forced and terrible. Don cuts the music and I tell him to “take me back to Rock n Roll High School.” If I make it out of this tour without a close friend of mine punching me in the mouth, it will be a miraculous act of mercy on their parts. I ask for the “fancy smell stick” (Palasanto) and stare at my tranquility lighter (a month-old Bic with a picture of a daiquiri on a beach). I’m close to replacing it with a pink playboy bunny piece that makes me feel zesty, as well as a Sublime 40 Oz. to Freedom lighter just to throw a vibe out there and play some offense.
I forgot about the Ramones’ weird T. Rex cover! Also: This record cover is two dinosaurs in sombreros. Life is a gas, indeed. We should all aim to be a Tyrannosaurus rex in a sombrero at one point or another. If only to ride the ride and surf the zone. I tell the guys that we need to start making album art like this, and they dutifully ignore me, which I respect.
“Rockaway Beach” blasting through this frozen stupid tundra is a little too on the nose and seems to be pissing everyone off a little, but in that way where they’re laughing and are about to cry their deep weird feelings. Or nah. Prolly nah.
The Misfits aren’t doing the job the Ramones were. That might settle that if it was ever a question in my mind. Astro Zombies is a classic, though. Skulls is good too. Songs about fucking skulls and invading planets. Always keep a watchful eye on New Jersey.
I have the prime sleeping spot in the van (third-row window behind the driver) – in this corner I’ve made a weird nest of funky Patagonia fleece, merch, and a guitar case jutting out at just the perfect angle to rest my head. Maybe it’s time to put myself down?
Nope! 5 minutes later Don shakes me and tells me to put on my seat belt. I look out the forever foggy windshield and there’s nothing but white out there. Part of me wishes I was driving, but fuck it, I guess. I’m awake now. Ladies and gentleman: I think it’s time for Mr. Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover” (Yes, son, it’s me, sex dad). It’s only 1:28, and this long drive is going to be longer with this weather, but I’d rather go 30 miles an hour all the way across Canada and play the shows and not die. On the bright side, I found all sorts of music I forgot I synched late last night. Hello, Stephen Patrick.
1:36, Roxy Music, “More Than This”:
Stopped at some rest stop. I’ve been eating burning garbage the past 3 days, including two full McDonald’s experiences, bodega poutine, and about 12 candy bars. I have been drinking a lot and smoking too much. I’ve been shotgunning waters all morning as a final act of penance, and pass on the Tim Hortons, which isn’t hard, I don’t even like Dunkin Donuts (I do, kinda—relax, Northeastern shitty-coffee evangelists) – back in the van with a few frozen cherry tomatoes and hummus. Health daddy prevails. For now. I really don’t want to get sick, and I know I’m a frail moron who’s forever on the brink of the flu.
1:56: “Drinkin’ Perrier. Big dickin’ it.”
Selections from Modern Vampires of the City:
This hummus is pretty good, and the weird Titanic-style flutes near the end of “Unbelievers” are tight. “Step is a touching song in a way a lot of other songs aren’t. All the trees are white white white. I feel like if this turned dark and the mood went foul, this would feel like a mission to hunt and kill Santa Clause, but the surf riff in “Diane Young” makes me feel otherwise (for now). Ezra is a great lyricist, too. The geographic specificity is nice – reminds me of Rancid lyrics.
2:18, “Age of Consent”: Better than any Joy Division song. Ian Curtis’s baritone doesn’t do it for me and this does. “I’m not the kind who needs to tell you just want I want you to do”
I hear bands with brass arrangements and get bad ideas. “Alone Again Or” is a tightrope walk of fingerpicking, horns, and sentiment. Only Arthur Lee and a few people land that with style. One day, people will know me as the man with the brass kazoo tho. Being in a band on tour is by and large boring. Adults who nap, ya know?
5: We are driving west, straight into the sun, coming off McDonald’s again. Luxuriate in my curves. My stomach is back to its old games – that is, it flips around and leaks a lil blood. There’s wi-fi in a lot of fast food spots, so 17 texts come at once. Some are from editors and the like. Nothing like waking up to that in the late afternoon and self-righteously thinking, “Don’t they know I’m busy?” I always think about making an “out of office” auto-reply for tour to dress up the lie a bit, but then I fool myself into thinking I can do real work on the road. I have brought out my laptop zero times since Wednesday. I’m showing signs of being a serious dickhead (when you get mad and everyone laughs and repeats you is a good clue). Drives like this give you too much time in your head. Interaction is healthy. Don put on Windowlicker and everyone feels quietly locked in…or totally zoned out. The way the sun breaks into the windows on the left side of the van when it gets out from behind the trees makes me truly happy.
6:25: I wake up (for the 3rd time today) and we are in Toronto traffic finally, almost to the venue. I can’t figure out how to synch my music in this fuckin country. I’m trying to listen to new Drake in Toronto and they won’t let me. I kind of figured it would be dropped on to my phone U2 style by the Canadian government, or the Toronto Raptors.
9:36: Load-in is brutal because we have a comical amount of valuable gear, and this venue only has stairs. It’s on the 3rd floor. All good, plenty of hands on deck: Obliterations rolled in and helped us. What a bunch of gnarly lifers those dudes are. Their singer, Sam Velde, introduced Don and me, and the band formed in front of his face. He tour-managed us on our West Coast leg, and now Obliterations are taking us out again. Needless to say, we fuck with them in a deep way. They have a song called “Sick Feeling” that they dedicate to us, and one night I’ll muster the energy to smack some strangers during it, out of respect.
There’s a “No Nazis” sign here, which means they prolly need it. I’m with Austin, Obliterations’ bass player, staring at the couple sitting in the back of the empty club. Doors just opened. “What a dick, man!” We both hope he did nice things for her before coming to this empty, stupid thing. “At least some hand stuff, mouth stuff…” Austin says.
A quick note on Austin: Night one, he was milking (that’s the proper word for it, I’m sorry) a big spider bite–turned-abscess on his shin. He couldn’t walk after the show and has been to two hospitals. As a chronic whiner, watching him do the deed was crazy (and a huge mistake—ever watch zit-popping videos on YouTube? Me neither) – the guy DOES NOT complain. He’s totally fine, but holy shit.
The set-up of the club is unnerving because there’s plenty of seating. Even if there were people here, it would be a gamble because they could sit comfortably, instead of standing up front and investing (no judgment, I get it). Within a song of the set starting, the room fills out, though. I think we played well. The rest of the band is so locked in with one another and the music, but I am definitely always watching the crowd. I see you texting; I notice that you swapped out your normal shoelaces for those pink ones; I see that you came and left. I’m a deeply annoying person, so it’s easier to bug people this way. After our set, two young ones walk up and give us flowers, which is both weird and totally lovely. Instead of draping them across our merch booth, I hold them up in front of Velde and go “Your move,” because I’m the worst.
During the Obliterations set Sam smashes the ceiling tiles that I had managed to dislodge during our set. I watch the promoters face fall, but think, “Shit, that was a good idea.” There’s a pentagram in the front man zone at this venue, which is goofy. I always get nervous and walk around in the crowd, so tonight I tried to stay in the pentagram, and pull the idiocy back down to just yelling, “Respect my curves!” again and again between songs.
1 AM: My day isn’t over, and every day is the same. About 5 people more than usual pile into our van after load out. Everyone is drunk. This couple thought 3 people were sleeping on their floor and they were wrong. Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, us?
At the house, we pay cocaine prices for after-hours beer, partially with band money. I find the host’s electric kettle/ginger tea and set up shop in the kitchen, trying to be a responsible baby in a way that doesn’t harsh everyone’s party – we have a matinee in London Ontario tomorrow. I don’t remember what time I pass out.