Day 1: Introductions in De Centrale, Ghent, Belgium
As someone who’s no stranger to traveling, I found myself frankly at a loss on the morning of October 6th. Barely packed and scatterbrained, stressing over a multitude of factors. Was I adequately prepared? Would I get along with my new tour mates for the coming nineteen days? I’d met Josh of Storm the previous year when he played with his solo project IIVII at Ancienne Belgique, and I’d been working with Gregory, their drummer for this tour, at a bar in Ghent for nearly a year now. I’d also met briefly with Dan, our guitarist, and Domenic, our bassist, when the band had first flown in to Ghent from the US. But the rest? I had no idea. Mono had actually been one of the first bands I’d gotten into before I started listening to heavier music, as well as one of the first bands I’d seen live when I was still living back in LA.
I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of it all, if I’m being honest. Nonetheless, I swallowed my nerves and made one last attempt at getting my shit together: sleeping bag, pillows and blanket for my makeshift hobo camp in the van, camera and assorted lenses, bare-bones wardrobe, tour-germ-fighting arsenal (vitamin C enough for an army), and a good book to pass the time (Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, for those wondering). All set, I thought to myself. Or so I hoped.
With the help of a very dear friend (thanks Nico!) I hauled my pile of junk to De Centrale, the venue for the evening, after receiving the green light text from Josh. Taka of Mono sat smoking between the parked vans and backstage entrance – a common occurrence, as I was soon to find out. We nodded briefly to each other and I ducked inside in search of some familiar faces.
Nerves melted away a bit as I reunited with Josh, Greg, Domenic and Dan. They recanted a bit about their previous week in the UK, the portion of tour that I hadn’t been able to attend. Seems I hadn’t missed much; lots of curry eaten, gloomy weather endured, and moors admired. Dan had a bit of childlike excitement about him. This was his first trip to Europe, and his zeal showed even despite the general air of prolonged sleep deprivation. It was refreshing to see for sure.
After a brief snack consisting of avocado and hummus sandwiches, Josh took the time to introduce me to our entourage for the coming weeks. There was our hired out crew from Nomads of Prague: Amak, our sound tech, a man who was the perfect combination of hilarious, eclectic, and sweet; Big Tomas, Mono’s driver and tour manager for the first portion of tour and an unstoppable force when it came to loading in and out; Lena, our lighting tech who would become my drinking buddy on more than a few nights; and Small Tomas, our driver and fellow analog photographer with who I would get the opportunity to explore a few cities as the bands were busy sound checking over the coming weeks.
I met next with Jo Quail and Mono, which further helped ease my nerves. I recognized Jo as a kind of role model right away; she was caring, kind, and motherly. Tamaki, Taka and Yoda seemed friendly yet quiet, with the latter quality dissipating fairly quickly over the coming few days. Their drummer Dahm was not only quite personable and interesting, but also another fellow American, which was strangely comforting to me. An unexpected side effect of my living in Belgium for a year - I’d missed having a common language connecting me to the general public. As a result, I was definitely looking forward to the next three weeks.
I got to enjoy my first of 17 shows in good company among a few friends from here in Ghent, which was nice. It was a good primer for what was to come. I was completely unfamiliar with Jo’s work, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise; she crafted beautiful sonic landscapes through her mastery of the electric cello and loop pedals. Her melodies contrasted with Storm’s set quite a bit, which I had expected. Armed with an arsenal of new songs from their polarizing new album Anthroscene, they gave the audience little time to breathe between each pummeling song and undoubtedly left them with much to think about. As a result, Mono felt like both a digestif and a main course. Taka and Yoda’s dual guitars wove together seamlessly, like so many vines – and the audience stood silent and captive as Tamaki’s haunting vocals blanketed the room.
Needless to say, I was going to be in for a treat in the coming weeks.
Load out was a whirlwind – or rather the illusion of one caused by my lack of experience playing van-tetris. Luckily Big Tomas took the lead, and we were sorted fairly quickly. Josh, Dan, Lena and I went for a beer (just one!) at Cafe Gitane, one of my favorite spots in the city, while the rest turned in for some much needed sleep. And, after finishing my beer (okay I lied… beers) I shuffled home to do the same. One last night in my own bed… I’d be meeting back up with the group at the Consouling Store just a short walk from my house at 10:00 the next morning, per Josh’s orders.
Day 2 - De Helling, Utrecht, Netherlands
If 10 seemed early to me at the time, it was clear that I was completely oblivious to what was to come. I had yet to understand the look of exhaustion that seemed permanently plastered on everyone’s faces as they thumbed through Consouling’s selection of LPs, stopping every now and then to pluck one out.
Tomas arrived shortly with our van, and it was time to make our goodbyes. Greg, Josh, Dom, Dan and I took turns exchanging hugs and brief words of departure with Mike, who’d been kind enough to host those who didn’t live in Ghent for that night. And with that done, we filed out one by one into the van’s open belly; Dom in front with Tomas, Josh and Dan in the middle, and finally Greg and I in the back beneath the sleeping compartment (undoubtedly a blessing in disguise).
Initial excitement wore off fairly quickly. I alternated between reading, napping, and jammin’ out to Tomas’s playlist (which was, indeed, excellent). In turn, the short two hour drive flew by. One rest stop later, we arrived at our hostel with time to spare.
The hostel was a quaint one to say the least. Our cozy 6-bed room on the outskirts of Utrecht overlooked a grassy courtyard abundant with travelers and one particularly hyperactive dog.
We made quick work of checking in and headed straight to the venue, all of us eager to get some food in our stomachs. Hunger is an excellent motivator that made for a quick load-in.
The show, unfortunately, did not go as well as the previous night. Plagued by technical difficulties and minor human error, Storm left the stage more than slightly frustrated. It didn’t take long for the sour mood to dissipate, however. After loading out we managed to sneak a few beers into our bags, perfect for blowing off some steam upon our arrival at the now-deserted courtyard of the hostel.
Day 3 - Tower, Bremen, Germany
Despite gulping down a couple Chimays, I only managed to get a fitful three hours of sleep at best before our van call at 9:30 the next morning. It was a three hour drive to Bremen. Fortunately for me, seeing as I slept through all of it. My hobo gear seemed to be quite useful after all, transforming the sleeping compartment into a cozy cave.
We arrived in Bremen feeling reasonably more well rested than earlier that morning. The city was, to put it nicely… interesting. It would become a trend that the venues on this tour tended to be in more questionable parts of each town, far out of the city center. Between the abundance of seemingly abandoned industrial buildings and the fifty or so junkies getting their fix in the courtyard behind the venue, Bremen was a prime example of this.
Despite unsavory surroundings, the venue staff were some of the friendliest and most accommodating people I’ve ever met. I had a nice long talk with one of the coordinators, also named Josh, who I had originally thought was American but had actually just spent a lot of time on the Ramstein US Military Base, and as a result had adopted nearly perfect English. He told me a lot about life on the base (which was apparently like living in a mini-America smack dab in the middle of Germany), Bremen’s rich town history, and their current battle with the junkies out back. He was also kind enough to gift us an entire bottle of rum after I’d asked for “some rum” so needless to say, he was my savior for the night.
After sound check was done, we were treated to some of the best dinner I’ve personally ever had. This venue was scoring major brownie points. Stomach full and happy, I snapped a few shots of the show before helping with load out and retiring to our hostel down the street.
Day 4 - Beatpol, Dresden, Germany
The next morning was a brutal 7:30AM van call. Rubbing sleep out of our eyes, we shuffled into the van and straight to the nearest bakery for breakfast. Honestly, I couldn’t even remember what I ordered if I tried to; pretty sure I was still more than half asleep.
Greg and I spent the four-and-a-half-hour drive alternating between watching episodes of House (season 3, best season) and sleeping (surprise, surprise) while the others either read or dozed.
Upon our arrival in Dresden we were surprised to be greeted by Hans, a huge, lovable 7-month-old Great Dane puppy. He was a distraction of the best kind.
Unlike the previous night, this venue was huge. Posters dating back to the 70s and 80s plastered the walls of the backstage and front of house. Scents of the evening’s coming meal floated out the kitchen doors, making my mouth water.
The bands played to a packed venue that night. Spirits were high during load out as Hans pranced around underfoot begging for pets. We happily obliged.
After load out we sadly parted ways with Big Tomas, who was being replaced that day by another driver from Nomads, Libor.
We were lucky enough to share a hotel with Mono for the evening, which meant comfortable beds and our own private showers at last. Josh had the (excellent) idea to start watching Hulu’s new series Future Man with the whole crew, so we managed to sneak in a couple episodes over some shared beers before bed.
Day 5 - Schlachthof, Wiesbaden, Germany
Things were starting to become more and more routine for me by this point. Waking up was less painful as we continued our zig-zag across Germany, Wiesbaden-bound.
Tomas picked a cool place to stop off for a quick bite to eat around lunchtime, and we dined on some good ol’ Subway sandwiches in the middle of nowhere off the German highway near some train tracks.
The venue for the evening was, coincidentally, also situated directly across the street from an altogether different set of train tracks. The converted warehouse exuded a much more relaxed and liberal vibe than that of the night before. Graffiti covered walls left and right, yet a quiet calmness blanketed the area. Warm sunlight shone brightly on skaters and families alike, spending their days lounging about in the open area in front of the venue’s cafe.
We headed back to the venue for soundcheck after a brief exploration of our surroundings and a mini-photoshoot in front of the graffiti out back.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mono soundcheck Halcyon with Jo. They’d performed the song together almost every night, but packed venues had kept me from checking it out from up close.
Soon after we all headed downstairs into the backstage for dinner. Things were starting to become pretty routine for me at this point; slowly but surely I was getting into the “tour rhythm.”
Show and load out both went smoothly; we were all relieved that we didn’t have to travel long to get to a hostel that night as we’d be staying in the venue accommodations.
Day 6 - KIFF, Aarau, Switzerland
It was around this point that things started to become more of a blur. I noticed it not just in myself, but in others too; there was a lot of “where are we again today?” type of questions being asked in rapidly increasing frequency. It was, after all, not easy to tell one day from the other at times. The routine was the routine - awake, breakfast, van, couple rest stops, van, venue, load in, dinner, play, load out, sleep… I was starting to realize what more experienced musicians meant when they referred to tour as “boring.” I didn’t necessarily have a problem with it, actually, quite the opposite.
But I won’t deny I was feeling the itch to get out of the venue-to-venue thing. So, when Tomas agreed to walk with me into the town center of Aarau I leapt at the chance pretty excitedly. I’d never been to Switzerland before, and the drive had been the most scenic yet. Winding roads through mountaintops shrouded in fog - a definite change of pace. We made plans to leave after lunch and load-in.
The walk to the center wasn’t a long one, maybe fifteen minutes at most. Tomas brought his camera along, a medium-format that was neat to play with. We walked and exchanged stories about our respective home towns, stopping every now and again to take a few snaps (him usually of classic cars – we stumbled upon a legion of parked Porsches that was undoubtedly the highlight of his day).
We went for a coffee and ended up stumbling upon a used camera goods store, which ate up a big chunk of our time. Luckily we managed to get back just before doors and scrounge up the last of what remained of dinner.
The show that night was more high-energy than any yet. A group front and center danced all throughout Storm’s set, and the band left the stage vibes high.
Day 7 - Hard Rock Café, Lyon, France
We heard sometime along the drive that the evening’s show had been moved to the Hard Rock Café, which was something a bit unexpected to us all. There was an uneasiness that hung in the air as we wound our way down the Swiss mountains. Still, I could sense that the band were trying to remain optimistic.
The venue was nestled between two canals in the heart of Lyon. Jackets lay abandoned in the van as the sun shone bright. Greg, Tomas and I took a minute to walk around snapping photos while Tomas paid for parking. Two birds one stone.
We discovered shortly after load in that the Hard Rock didn’t have a screen appropriate for Storm’s projections, which was more than a bit of a let down. Still the bands was determined to put on a good show as we noticed the restaurant filling with fans eager for the evening.
There was no time for relaxing for Mono after the show however; they were set to drive straight to Barcelona that night, with us to follow in the morning. We stole their rooms in the hotel for that night and settled in for a comfortable (albeit short) few hours of sleep.
Day 8 - AMFest, Barcelona, Spain
This was one of those brutal 7AM van calls that made me wanna die, just a little bit. It made sense, though - this was to be our longest drive yet at just over six hours.
We did get to stop at a beach roughly midway through. Wind whipped at our hair and waves at our ankles, but there was no denying it was scenic.
Barcelona was a hot, humid maze of a city. We must’ve spent half an hour alone trying to navigate our way to the festival site. The warm rain was oppressive, and by the time we reunited with Mono we were drenched - half from sweat, half from rain, that is.
I hung around a bit for some food and Storm’s soundcheck before Libor, Tomas and I decided to wander for a bit. We stumbled upon a museum that seemed to have some kind of bondage exhibition going on, which was very interesting in my slightly buzzed state (had to chug my entire beer per security’s orders, no regrets).
We got a quick coffee and headed back to the venue just in time to see Storm play their last song to a completely packed venue. People everywhere were super into it – there wasn’t any room for me to squeeze my way to the front to snap a single shot.
I did stick around to watch Mono, who played to a similarly full house. Audience reception was unbelievable.
Despite being dead tired, it seemed everyone was riding the high from the festival. We congregated outside the hotel (horror apparent on the employees’ faces) passing between us cheap bottles of Ballantine’s whisky and white wine that we’d stowed away from the festival.
I think this night ended up being one of my favorites of the tour; you could feel a special kind of bond being formed as we all chatted, drank, and smoked the night away.
Day 9 - Le Rex, Toulouse, France
We awoke the following morning just a bit more groggy than usual. Fortunately the drive wasn’t set to be as long as the day previous. Nonetheless, I was still happy to have the chance to nap alongside Gregory in the bunk.
When I awoke, we’d stopped off at an incredibly scenic rest stop near the French city of Carcassonne. Feeling considerably less hungover, I joined the others for a brief exploration of the sunny hillside overlooking the citadel walls.
It didn’t take much longer to reach the venue from there. It was a snug one, yet cozy. The staff were some of the nicest people I’d met, and the home-cooked family-style meal that evening was delicious.
I did manage some time to walk around the surrounding streets a bit with Amak and Tomas. We stopped for a few coffees at the café across the street, but hurried back inside the venue as soon as it started to rain.
The place that night was pretty packed, but I did notice that French crowds had the tendency to be strangely silent. Nonetheless, morale remained pretty high, especially after we learned that there was to be a local (free!) craft beer tasting fest in the venue immediately following load-out.
Day 10 - Krakatoa, Bordeaux, France
Toulouse to Bordeaux was a ridiculously easy two-hour drive. The venue was situated quite far from the center, but there was no denying we were in France. Rich warm sun illuminated greenery left and right.
Krakatoa was a very quirky venue full to the brim with the same French hospitality we’d experienced the day before. Creative decorations, friendly staff, and delicious smells wafting from the kitchen made me never want to leave.
A member of the venue staff had a super cool vintage camera from the 1800s that he used to photograph the bands. I took some portraits of my own at the same time, and later got to watch him develop his shots in his makeshift darkroom. It was really interesting to watch the photos come to life on glass sheets treated with special chemicals.