Here we go! Let’s get right into it; with one of my favourite tour brothers, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the road, stage and even a whisky with. Guitar god and all-round awesome guy, Ahrue Luster. He needs little introduction, but to many, he’s the lord of the riffs in Latino Metal act, Ill Nino, and was also the guitarist in Machine Head on ‘The Burning Red’ & ‘Supercharger’ & ‘Hellalive’ era’s.
As Ahrue is currently here in Australia for the Ill Nino tour, opportunity presented itself immediate to chat, as we got into his thoughts on tour life straight up. “It’s a totally different lifestyle than my own life. It’s almost like I live a double life. Both are great in their own ways but the hardest thing for me is adjusting back and forth. There’s always an adjustment period.” And for a musician whose schedule is more demanding than most, one had to ask what the most gruelling part of touring is? “The hardest part about touring is being away from my family. And sometimes the conditions can be gruelling, like I currently miss my connection flight and I’ve been on a 24 hour layover, I know Anthony Bourdain may have made that sound glamorous but after traveling for 12 hours or so, all you want to do is rest.” Nope, tour life is no easy task, nor a non-stop party. So the essential carry items one must NOT forget on the road by Ahrue standards would be? “Guitars, passport, clothes, and a month worth of TV shows downloaded to my phone,” he responds with wisdom all too admirable.
The conversation as I like to steer it, took a lean towards the dietary side of the equation and Ahrue offered, “Lots of times the venues provide food so I try to save money and eat free food. Lots of that food is horrible so whenever I do have to buy food I try to get something nutritious like a big salad.” And the cuisine of choice being, “Loads of healthy greens, with some chard animal flesh in a nice dressing.” All in all, sounding pretty responsible and smart, with his wealth of experience one had to wonder if there was a particular dining experience that stood out? Ahrue, in his all too calm demeanour responds, “Probably the Brazilian barbecue here in Australia during Soundwave.” Yes, that was memorable indeed. Having toured with these guys in the US, it’s no secret; a good barbeque is an essential in the Ill Nino dining experience.
So, in terms of packing for the road, it was nice to get Ahrue’s thoughts on light or heavy luggage, to which a simple response offered, “I like to travel light. I don’t bring a lot of shirts because I know I’ll usually get some new ones by trading with the other bands on tour.” When asked about memorable tour experiences, Ahrue claimed to many to recall (over 20 years’ worth to be exact) , but enough to write a book about, which I’m sure many hope will surface in due course. However, when asked about cities that stand out for playing, Ahrue was only too happy to mention, “Moscow Russia, Tokyo Japan, Sophia Bulgaria, Caracas Venezuela, São Paulo Brazil, Mexico City Mexico, all the major cities of Australia.” And of course, one had to wonder about some of the amazing bands also, to which he enthused, “Slayer, Judas Priest, Dimmu Borgir, Metallica, Linkin Park, korn, Avenged Sevenfold, Iron maiden, slipknot, testament, David Bowie, and the cure, oh yeah and Willie Nelson.” Now, that’s a list any aspiring musician could only dream of playing with half of, but Willie Nelson? Damn, that’s cool!
One interesting aspect, we got into with life on the road was the relationship with the band on the road. It varies with everyone, and for a band that’s been around as long as these guys, one couldn’t help but want to know. “I live in such close quarters with my bandmates and see them on stage and in the dressing room. I usually take a few hours a day and get away from everybody and do my own thing. I am an introvert and I need my alone time.” So, there’s no tension then? “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The band gives me tension, lol. Sometimes I just lay awake in my bunk imagining murdering them all. Well except Diego, I’d let him live. See, cleaning puke pays off.” Puke? Ahrue sadistically chuckles, “One time I got really, really drunk and projectile vomited across bunk alley directly into Christian’s bank. I was so wasted that I couldn’t even talk so Diego had to clean it. Oh yeah and before I shot puke, I said “Satan!!!!” One thing about Ahrue, is his macabre sense of humour, and I can vouch that it is pure quality. Needing to dig a little deeper and get a bit serious again, I asked about hard ship on the road, “Lots of times in South America and other poor countries you have to worry about getting paid for the show. Lots of times promoters will try to let you play the show and then tell you they don’t have any money. We’ve had to deal with some pretty sketchy things like that several times. One time in São Paulo we knew we weren’t getting paid but the fans we are so hungry for the show we played to them anyways.” And on a personal level? “Actually being on the road improves my relationship with my wife. We always have a fresh start when I get home and it’s like we’re teenagers again,” Ahrue responds with a romantic charm.
Of course, a tour is not complete, without its share of practical fun and humour to which Ahrue shares his wisdom, “One time we had a French crew member who wouldn’t shut up about how cool France was so he drank too much and passed out and we colored him entirely black with sharpies. Then we gave him a silver French mustache with a silver sharpie.” As we shared thoughts on toilets being first point of call in a new city or venue, going multiple days without a shower, fan boying over Slayer, and living for amazing shows that make playing music so awesome, there was curiosity on a dangerous experience, which Ahrue shares, “When we played in Caracas, Venezuela, there were armed military guards with machine guns on each side of the stage while we were playing.” Ahrue is also a producer, having produced the new Motograter album, which is boasting a Billboard chart climbing single, which was interesting to know of his interest outside of touring.
Being on the road is an expensive venture, and as a musician, especially in the US, there are greater opportunities for endorsements, and I wondered how vital this was. “Musicians don’t make a lot of money. Anything that can help cut down costs like free equipment, or cheap equipment is a definite help,” Ahrue responds, as I asked also about that step from playing club shows to arenas, he surprises with, “The hardest thing for me to get used to on those huge shows is sometimes the crowd is so far away from you. I prefer the crowd right in my face. It’s more intimate.” Wrapping this conversation up, the question is asked of Ahrue, how touring has shaped and changed him as a person. He passionately and wisely responds, “I don’t think there’s any education that matches actual travel. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to over 40 countries in my life, the main thing that it has done for me is made me realize everyone is the same. I still have a sense of pride that goes along with some of the things that come from my country, not our current president. But in no way do I feel superior to anyone else in any other country because of where I come from. I see that from a lot of Americans who have never travelled outside of America and it’s very embarrassing.”