James Anthony Legion is lead vocalist of Motograter. Residing in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previous bands include Deadform, The Breathing Process, The Phantom Variant and Obsidian.
Welcome to The Art of Touring, a column where we explore the mystical world of tour life with guest artists from all levels of the industry. This episode, we spoke to a very good friend of mine, who I got to tour with in 2015. Legion, vocalist for the heavily painted, as they are heavy sounding, Motograter. This band has existed since early 2000, and while many who are familiar would recognise them as that band that featured Ivan [Moody] from Five Finger Death Punch in it once upon a time, the Motograter of today is a different and more powerful kind of beast than ever. Legion, with naturally pale vampire-like qualities and a warm heart, was more than happy to take time out to chat and offer his thoughts and experiences. Witnessing the gruelling world of a US tour firsthand with these guys all crammed into a van (nine people, packed to the roof of the van with all their merch and gear, often still covered in paint from the previous show), and busting their arses to get from one show to the next on minimal funds and sometimes crazy conditions, it’s amazing to see determination in loving what you do and often touring with many cracks in the psyche of this seven-piece outfit. The band are riding high, having just released a new album called Desolation that’s enjoying success on the Billboard Charts, above one of Legion’s all-time favourites, Nine Inch Nails.
Now, while it may seem initially that we’ve painted a picture of a bruised and battered lifestyle, Legion offers an interesting insight. “Tour life for me is basically being on the road for about six months out of the year. Missing my loved ones back home but also enjoying performing. Being on stage is just kind of what I am made for… not so much the getting from one stage to another.” That’s pretty hectic for a schedule. So, for being away so long at a time, one must know the essential survival items. James, if you’d be so kind to share. “Haha, well, an inflatable bed, my laptop and my phone. The bed because a lot of hotel rooms do not have carpet as I have come to learn… and oftentimes I end up sleeping on the floor so that blow up bed comes in handy. My laptop because I am kind of a nerd and it really helps me keep sane playing games and watching stuff. My phone because it keeps me in touch with my girlfriend, friends and family… also keeping me sane. And sanity is most definitely an essential to maintain, but then there’s the insanity of finding food on the road, often late in the night. Places that are open all night and are cheap as possible… or have cheap options… which are not always the healthiest,” Legion offers with an almost desperate realism of response that’s relatable to many. And the guilty pleasure of tour cuisine? “I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches… I use the little wheat flatbread and organic peanut butter, because the flatbread is not as easily smashed and is easy to keep up with. Also a lot of Denny’s 2,4,6,8 menu.” Cheap eating is not always recommended, be warned.
So, the road offers a lot of colourful and interesting characters and interactions, and especially in America. Legion pauses and reminisces to me, “Someplace out in the Midwest, early in the morning we stopped for some food. There was a middle aged woman sitting at a nearby table. She was asked us if we were a band. Naturally, Nuke the most talkative of us, answered her and began kind of chatting her up telling her what we did. I was eating some eggs and bacon just minding my own business when Nuke tells her I am the vocalist. She very loudly proceeds to ask me to sing. ‘Sing one for us boy!’ I ignore her. ‘Come on boy what are ya? SCARED?!’ She yells even louder. At this point I turn around and say calmly, ‘Ma’am, I am just trying to eat, this isn’t the place for that.’ And she scoffs at me, ‘Well I have never seen a singer like you before… no I sure haven’t… Not in these here parts.’ She went on to say a few other strange things I believe.” This sort of experience is often commonplace on the road, especially in the US, and for a ghastly painted up act like Motograter turning up at a late night diner, it’s almost always bound to attract equally as colourful and strange characters. Asking Legion about travelling light or not he offered, “I would not say I over pack but I damn sure don’t under pack. So I guess that is indicative of someone who does in fact over pack.” We then got into memorable experiences that make all the gruel of the road so worthwhile. “The last show we did with American Head Charge. That show was amazing; it was the last show of the tour and in their home town. Somewhere around 1,200 people in attendance and they were a loud and active 1,200. During our set it was just a sea of people jumping up and down and moshing. It was great but possibly even more fun was at the end of the show. We jumped on stage with Head Charge to do a song with them and totally trashed the stage. I have never felt more like a rock star, haha,” he joyously reflects. As we discuss amazing places, he mentions, “I really had a good time in Buffalo, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas just to name a few.” And there are quite a few in the good old US of A. What’s great in chatting, is how humble James remains in discussing tour life, reminding me how much he loves Darkcell among the many great bands he’s toured with in recent years.
Now, on the road, there’s a long stretch of time between shows, and one must maintain their sanity, mainly with music to warm the soul. “I tend to listen to a lot of Deftones on tour. Also a lot of podcasts.” And inspiration on the road comes from? “Just seeing all the fans that come out to see us is all the inspiration I need,” Legion humbly states. He’s a pretty humble kind of guy, which speaks volumes of his character and is very different from his macabre onstage persona, who he reveals in his excitement is maintained in a venue, till he walks on the stage. Now, the illusion that tour life is all party, holiday fun is far from the truth and when asked, Legion really set things straight on his own personal journey as a touring musician. “I guess like most people, I have faced a lot. Lots of death, lots of heartbreak, lots of adversity. I will just say this. Before I got a call to join Motograter I was beginning to take steps to have a steady job and no longer pursue music full-time. The band I was in at the time had me pretty convinced that I simply was not good enough to ever make anything of myself in the music business. Just getting older and being sick of being broke also played a role in my self-doubt. One phone call later and here I am. Don’t get me wrong… I am still broke but I am also on the Billboard mainstream rock chart. That has to count for SOMETHING!” he laughs with a demeanour filled with a real sense of depth and personality that many musicians could learn a thing or two from. Agreeing that tour life can weigh heavily on your personal life, Legion says, “Being gone for such long periods of time can do nothing but bad things for your personal life. It is very difficult.”
Shifting the chat, Legion, not one for practical jokes and with a preference for flying over driving, reflects with a glow on the time he knew this was the life he wanted. “I suppose I always knew this was what I wanted to do. There are pictures of me as a child on my grandmother’s bed with her cane singing into it like I am on a stage.” And the tour life is messy right? “Touring with Moto… every single day is messy.” And being crammed in a van with so many personalities can really test the patience. How do these guys handle it? “This was not always the case but these days we get along pretty well. We are pretty good at stepping aside and talking things out when there is a conflict of personality. Also performing gets a lot of that rage out every single night,” Legion enlightens before responding on the perils of the American road. “One time in a snowstorm, we did a 180 and ended up facing the wrong way about two feet from a ditch.”
So, for even an aspiring chart-rising band such as Motograter, one wonders if there’s been a ‘fan boy’ moment on the road. Legion answers with, “I am yet to really have one. Meeting Chris Jericho was really cool but I kept my calm. Also meeting Ivan was cool just because of the history.” Also, on the road, maintaining a healthy mind, does one like Legion try to maintain a healthy body also? “I guess I do find creative places to work out. I do yoga in parks and in the streets. I do pull-ups from wherever I can find. Usually I just do these things in my bedroom,” he chuckles. We both agree, touring and being your own roadie is no fun all. But when the tour ends, is there a separation anxiety for a guy like Legion? “I enjoy my time at home. I just miss being on stage. I miss the crowds and I miss the high one gets from performing.” Winding our chat to an end, I had to know how touring has changed and/or developed James Anthony Legion. “It has made me a better vocalist. Nothing like performing live every single night to make you improve your craft. Also, it has made me view the world as a smaller place.”