Welcome to “THE ART OF TOURING.” It’s great to have you here, reading along about the ins and the outs of the not-always wonderful world of touring, discussed with those who live and breathe it, as we get into many aspects that may enlighten or tickle your touring desire as a musician or just one who appreciates this intriguing art. In this edition, we had the pleasure of speaking to the enigmatic heavy vocalist of global conquering Australian Metal maestros, Ne Obliviscaris, Xen Campbell
Melbourne is such an amazing breeding ground for bands to nurture and hone their craft, before they embark on conquering the universe. Many Melbourne acts have done so, and NeO are one such band that have done it at length and travel for long periods globally to get their music heard. Touring is vital and Xen completely agreed, “Touring means getting to share our music across the world in a more personal way, and giving back to those people that believe in what you do.” Could not agree more. Touring is no easy feat, but such an important aspect of cementing and nurturing growth globally.
So, we get into one of my personal battles of the road that is great to get a viewpoint from others, but the good news is that I’m getting better at minimising. What about you Xen? “I pack relatively light, and so the less I have to pack, the less I have to unpack and look after. Also, being a singer I don’t have to monitor my gear, so screw being a drummer, I don’t envy Dan. I like minimalism generally, I’m not one for too much clutter…cleanliness breathes space and hygiene, something that’s hard to come by on tour.” So besides toiletries, what are the essential items one must carry on tour, or what can Xen not go without on tour? “My camera to document memories, iPod, to drift away to, a phone in case of emergencies, a good book, and the space and solitude of my bunk because that’s the only real privacy you have on a tour bus,” he offers ever so calmly.
The conversation then leaned into one fascinating aspect of touring, not always discussed publicly, and that is the infamous art of the ‘sink shower’. Many have lived by this on the road, as believe it or not, showers can be an extreme rarity and one must apply a little bit of creativity, when deprived of this luxury, many cannot live without. Xen offers his own personal enlightenment, “I’ve mastered the art of taking a shower without actually having a shower. When you’re touring weeks on end, sinks and wet wipes are your saviour…but it does require getting creative/resourceful. I remember one US tour I had 5 showers in over a month of touring…it’s not overly ideal, especially when you sweat every night on stage and then greet fans afterwards.”
So far, packing and hygiene on the road are not as easy as one thinks, so what about diet? Many would be satisfied with any old piece of edible foods for sustenance, but I can assure you, that train of thought can often end in pain and suffering the following day. Especially, when one tours for long stretches, a somewhat healthy diet can be the differentiator in surviving with little to no illness, as Xen explains from a vegan view, “Most people think that being vegan is difficult, especially on tour…but to be honest it’s not. Food on tour is quite simple, and I believe eating simpler foods means less chance of getting sick. I tend to eat a lot of hummus, wraps and fruit, generally most things though that doesn’t require refrigeration.” Xen then adds that Hummus is his go-to meal of choice on tour, and what delicious treat too! We continued discussing dining, by getting into memorable dining experiences on tour, as every band always has at least one, and Xen certainly had a good one to offer, “Any backstage dining experience at festival is always generally memorable considering the bands you can end up sharing tables with. I guess the most memorable drinking experience was being slightly inebriated (from the strong reds there) in Rome with Lindsay from Cradle of Filth, we missed the last train back to our buses, and no taxi would pick us up…so we had a long 3.5 hour walk back, along highways and the through the dark, dodgy city outskirts. The tour manager was not impressed. It’s always nice to know an artist’s poison of choice on the road, and it was only too enticing to know what Xen’s flavour was, as he responds, “I don’t really drink at shows due to looking after my voice but if we have a day off the next day, then sometimes I will partake in absinthe if I can find it.” Ah, absinthe. Such a soul soothing potion of devilish delight. What’s that? You haven’t tried? Oh you should…at least once.
Staying occupied without succumbing to boredom on those long treks between shows can often be a challenge if one is not prepared and hibernation can sometimes be the only salvation, so it was nice to get Xen’s thoughts on this, “To be honest, I’m never bored on tour (or in general), as I can usually do artwork on my laptop, read, listen to music, watch movies, follow up on correspondence, exercise, find new places to explore, and take pictures. There is always something to do…it’s frustrating when people tell me they’re bored.” And he certainly knows how to capture some great images on camera, so one has to wonder if there’s a place that just stole his heart? “There are so many places which I could mention, but Romania had my heart from the first time we toured there. There’s just something wild about the place; everyone seems pleasant, enthusiastic about music in general, and more in touch with their culture and the scenery is also beautiful.” Inspired would be the word used when hearing about a place like Romania. Definitely a great aspect of touring, is seeing the great culture and sights of the world abroad.
So, to shake topic loose a little, most common dilemma NeO runs into on the road that’s laugh worthy? “I don’t know if there’s a common dilemmas, just random stories that happen along the way. It’s good to that nothing is common because it means we’ve learnt from the first instance,” Xen shares with a smooth response of a well-spoken gentleman. Okay, then every band has that one ‘clown’ that keep things interesting and entertaining, whilst at the expense of others not so fortunate, who fall victim. Does this level of humour exist amongst the ranks in a band like NeObliviscaris? Is there a ‘Joker’ amongst these metal brethren? “I don’t think we have a designated joker, I think it’s shared around, everyone picks their moments. Generally we’re all relatively sensible, bordering on what some would call boring. The guys don’t really prank me, I think because I’m fairly level headed and don’t react to things so they don’t get much out of it,” answers Xen with a pretty straight forward response sadly, as one would hope otherwise. So, whilst the band don’t boast a clown within the ranks, Xen was only too happy to share an amusing tour story, “The last show of our Europe tour with Cradle of Filth, they played a prank on us, where a couple of their members came on stage mid song, wearing tutus, and then when we toured the US with them and The Butcher Babies, both bands (NeO AND BB) invaded Cradle’s stage, mocking Dani, half the people standing in a row with big “E’s” on their chests…a sound he makes with a particular growl. Touring is filled with colourful characters, and generally even more colourful when a decent percentage are drunk…especially Norwegians.”
However whilst sharing memorable moments and laughter, Xen shared a tale that really drove home the reality of how intense touring can get, especially in European countries, “Probably memorable for partially the wrong reason; we played Bloodstock Festival in the UK and had to leave straight afterwards. We then flew to the Czech Republic to play Brutal Assault, however Tim had been held up at airport security as they were giving him grief about checking his violin case and so he missed the flight. Our set time had to be changed until about 2am, to close the festival. Tim arrived after having to get on another plane, we played (what we felt was a great show), packed up in less than 15mins, to be then driven straight to the airport to catch a 6am flight (still in our stage clothes) to Portugal, to play at Vagos Open Air. We played 3 festivals in 3 days, in three different countries…with very minimal sleep.”
Now, many would quit after experiences like that, but what doesn’t kill you, certainly does make you stronger. Xen then expresses his attraction to touring, “Being able to play shows for the people who support our music, and at the same time, visiting places I’ve never been before.” And whilst this part can be gruelling and taxing, I was curious how taxing touring is for these guys who have done more than their fair share of the hard yards, and it was refreshing to get such a brutally honest response, as Xen explains, “The main issue when touring is the financial struggle personally, and especially when touring internationally (especially Europe), we’re already over 14k in debt before we’ve left the country. Other issues that come up with touring, getting work between tours isn’t easy, band members end losing touch with friends, and they end up having relationship problems, they also miss out on special occasions like their children’s birthdays etc. There’s a big disconnect in your personal life.” So is there a glamorous side to touring? “I don’t think there’s anything glamourous about touring, apart from being able to play on some amazing stages with bands you look up to. Generally touring is a constant battle of working hard, trying to stay healthy, getting enough rest and finding some personal space,” he answers with a natural wisdom shared by many.
Some artists have already shared some harrowing experiences of close calls in this column, and I had to know if the guys had experienced any as yet? “Not really, I think the closest thing was a car swiped our tour bus while in Europe, however there was very little damage and no one was hurt,” Xen casually responds.
Changing topic again, I got to ask if Xen has experienced his own ‘Fan-Boy’ moment as yet, to which he answered with a very wise choice of words, “Not yet, I don’t like making other’s feel uncomfortable regardless who they are, and how much I love their music. Perhaps that moment has yet to come though…”
Another question I like to pursue in this column, is when that moment happened? The time when one decides that they want to pursue a life of music and travel. For an artist like Xen, this was a no brainer question to ask and he responded with, “When I was a teen; I decided that I wanted to be a musician, but it was only until we started touring that I knew I could do it all the time. There’s that sense of liberation when you fly out and not have to deal with the everyday stresses of normal day life, granted touring is hard and can be stressful…but it’s easier when you love what you do. I think the day we played to 12,000 people in India really was a mental turning point for me, the possibilities were and are immense.”
So, as Xen reminds the great misconception of touring, “is glamourous, and every night is ablaze with drugs, alcohol and women. It’s actually the complete opposite.” As we chuckle and know that some do live the wild ways, but often are the ones who crash and burn along with their career, so it is in essence a responsibility to one self to ask how badly you want to succeed and how strong is your resolve to achieve and perform at peak consistently. It was nice also to get his thoughts on how the rest of the world views Oz bands, “I think how the world views Australian bands is that we’ve very few but we’ve quality and hard-working bands, especially noted when we reach foreign shores.” Could not agree more, as I asked how we could improve the opportunities for Australian bands to tour overseas, and he offered this opinion, “Essentially supporting bands more financially ie paying for music rather than downloading, people going to more shows…I know it’s a changing industry but most bands are thousands and thousands in debt before they’ve even left the country.”
Sadly, our conversation has reached an end, but I feel this conversation will continue one day again soon, as I asked Xen for his final thoughts on touring, “It’s one of the best jobs in the world, but it’s hard, requires discipline, dedication and a level head.”