The past five months of my life have been spent living in a tour bus, van and hotel rooms across the world. Touring is an essential part of the business model for today's indie artists. My last album, Lars Attacks! was released independently through my own label, so if I wanted people to hear it, I had to infiltrate every city, village, parking lot and town that I could. This year has been one of the busiest of my career, but it has paid off with great shows and a stronger fan network. We performed at colleges in America, toured the UK, played the entire Vans Warped Tour in the US and Canada and did eight weeks of US club dates.
In interviews people often ask if I have any advice for young bands. Knowing what to bring and what not to bring is essential. Here are some tips and tricks I've picked up on what to have with you on your journey:
Earplugs - Being surrounded by four people, even if they are your best friends, can lose its novelty. It's nice to have some space from them and zone out and ear plugs make a huge difference. I also recommend meditation .mp3s to help clear your mind, which make a huge difference if you have noise-cancelling headphones. My two favorites are Jon Kabat-Zinn's Guided Mindfulness and Brenda Stranger's Energy Body Revitalization. I've listened to each many, many times.
Multvitamins - Remember: when stopping at truck stops, your body will thank you if you give it peanuts and fruit instead of cheeseburgers and Snickers. Being on stage is incredibly physically demanding. It's important to be in your best shape and avoid drinking or eating late at night after you play if you want to avoid gaining those after-hours bounds. Multivitamins are essential, which is why I always take one every morning.
AAA Membership - If you're touring in a van instead of a bus, it's really important to have one of these cards. I learned this from Atom Goren of the Philadelphia one-man punk band Atom & His Package. There's nothing worse than having to miss a show or having to pay a local tow truck a huge amount of money to tow your van if you run into mechanical problems. Make sure you give your van a complete tune-up before you hit the road, money spent on vehicle maintenance early on will amount to lots of money being saved later. Check your oil regularly and always make sure your tire pressure is not too low. If you break down between cities, AAA will tow you to the nearest mechanic.
DVDs - A fun way of making the hours and hours of drive time seem less monotonous is to occupy your mind with videos. I watched every episode of the TV series LOST while touring, which is something I never would have done sitting at home. I'll be honest though, I still don't really understand what happened in the finale.
Note pad and pen - Writing songs on the road is a fun adventure because there is so much inspiration in the places you go and the people you meet. Because of the fast pace of touring, however, if you don't write down ideas when they come to you quickly, it is easy to lose or forget them. I like to have a physical note pad and pen on hand at all time because it helps me organize the notes in a chronological fashion. Having mp3s of your favorite instrumental hip-hop tracks available on an iPhone or iPod is always great too. Even if you don't end up using them, they will help you capture an initial flow when inspiration strikes and aid your writing.
Reusable water bottle - Drink water, lots of it. Avoid energy drinks, I was addicted to Red Bull in 2005 and it forced me to have to pass a very painful kidney stone while touring through Florida. A reusable water bottle filled with fresh drinking water can be your best friend.
Sleeping bag and pillow - Sometimes tour budgets will force you to save money in creative ways, which might include putting an entire band in one room together. As much as I love my bass player, my own sleeping bag and pillow give me a little more privacy when we are bunkmates.
A lightly packed suitcase - Have you ever noticed how when you go to a show, the bands touring together are often all wearing each other's shirts? This is because it's tough doing laundry on the road. You'll be surprised at how many band t-shirts you pick up while travelling, so be sure to leave ample room in your suitcase.
A positive mental attitude (PMA) - Living your dream is not easy, but trust me, it will pay off with time and persistence. DIY touring may not be glamorous, because at the end of the day, it's essentially camping. Whenever the going gets tough, I always remind myself that one day I will look back at these years with fondness. Having a positive mental attitude is contagious and can be the defining factor in what makes an experience a good or not so good one for you and your friends. Being a positive agent for your crew and a cheerleader for your art will lead to longevity and happiness.