03 April 2012

French Wives - SXSW Tour Diary (Part One)

 If there's one thing that I have to do before I die, it's to get myself out to Austin for SXSW just once. I have been promising myself that I will manage it one day, but what with arrival of 'Peenko Jnr', I think that it might be a while of yet. In my quest to continue to torture msyelf by hearing other folk tell me just how amazing it is, I asked Scott from the French Wives to write a wee tour diary on what they got up to in Austin and on the rest of their jaunt around the US of A...

Ad to Regardless of your experience/level preparing to go on tour for any length of time is a difficult task. Prior to this month our longest single jaunt away had been ten days. This time around, give or take a couple of days it was basically a month. A month! In order for this to go off without a hitch a significant degree of work has to go on behind the scenes before you hit the road, especially if you don’t have an agent/TM/manager/driver etc. This administrative experience is intensified massively as soon as you decide to go to the United States, which is where we’ve headed for SXSW. However, rather than boring you with all the preparatory nonsense that went on, I thought I’d try to provide an insight of sorts into our American experience.

Day 1: Travellin’ Tales 

We’re up early (myself even earlier thanks to me living in Irvine) to get to Glasgow airport for a morning flight that will see us hit Amsterdam, Memphis and finally Austin; a refreshing total of nearly 18 hours’ travel. We get to Amsterdam with little fuss, but difficulties begin to show when we board the plane heading for Memphis. No wee TVs on the seat backs. Yeah, you read that right. I mean what is this, the 90s? I thought they were a given now, and we were all genuinely looking forward to 10 hours of personally selected entertainment from the 1000 hours that the airline boasted that it had. This, apparently, was not the case. Already the tour is a nightmare and frankly we all want to go home (not really... well, a wee bit). As such, we’re required to watch the airline’s choice of films for the flight. Out of the four sterling pictures shown, there is one film I’d quite like to draw your attention to. The Big Year. Heard of it? Basically, it’s got really famous actors (Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin) cutting about making an absolutely ridiculous film about bird watching. It’s so bad it is utterly compelling! I’d definitely recommend it as you can find out the true price Owen Wilson’s character has to pay to become the best birder (their word not mine) in the world. Anyway, after some walking in Memphis we’re on the plane to Austin where we get to witness a crazy lightning storm in the distance but arrive safely at our destination. We’ve had to travel really light thanks to crazy baggage fees, but with 6 people and a selection of instruments there is always going to be a big pile of stuff. Due to said pile of stuff, the wait at the car hire point where they bring our car round is genuinely like when the screen moves back in Blind Date. Will the boot be big enough? Should we have gone for number 2 instead?! When it comes round it looks promising, and after some tentative moving and some teasing all our stuff is in- result!

After a short drive we arrive at our host Robin’s house. She’s great, and also has a cracking dog (I like dogs a lot) called Beau. He’s a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle, a cock-a-poo if you will. The sleeping arrangements are made, and I’m sharing a blow-up mattress with Jonny “The Dream Riddler” Smith for the week. He’s called this because he sleeps in the shape of a question mark. Honestly. 

Day 2: Scoping out Austin 

 Everyone who hasn’t been to SXSW has heard the stories of how crazy busy it is and seen the pictures of a packed 6th st. However, because we arrived early we saw a slightly more tame 6th st than we had initially expected. Here we also learned a valuable life lesson- don’t go into the first bar that offers cheap drinks, and definitely don’t go into a bar where the barmaid is given a microphone, especially when the bar is empty. If you do both of these things at once- which we did- you’re in for an uncomfortable bottle of Bud Light. We also did an acoustic show in a Mexican restaurant tonight which was great because we were plied with nachos, tacos and margaritas. Chris later claims that this will be his favourite show of the tour as he didn’t do any work, but instead just sat and ate nachos. At the party outside the restaurant we encounter a DJ who I imagine will never be topped at SXSW or anywhere else- DJ TexasDude. He’ll DJ AND according to his business card he’ll also do your tax returns- what more do you need? Later we go to a bar (still haven’t really seen any bands) and get fleeced on drinks until we encounter a very drunk junior doctor who enjoys a lot of public affection with his girlfriend, but on the flipside spends a fortune on drinks. We beat them at beer pong for their trouble! Following this Siobhan has literally the best game of Jenga I’ve ever seen outside the bar. There were about 40 people watching and they were all cheering and filming it on their phones. A better reception than any of our shows will get, we imagine! 

Day 3: Austintatious 

 Firstly sorry about the pun title- couldn’t resist. Austin is lovely as well, and not ostentatious in the slightest! We started today slightly off 6th at an excellently named breakfast venue called Bacon where we’re playing the earliest show of our lives with a stage time of 10.15am. You’d be correct in thinking that in naming your business Bacon the pressure is on to rustle up a decent breakfast. Thankfully it doesn’t disappoint, providing me with a positive first experience of the breakfast taco- the first of many, many tacos with varying degrees of variety and quality. Pitchfork will later write that the Doritos Locos Taco, which was given out for free at another venue, was one of the worst things about SXSW. I respectfully disagree. Our show is outdoors in the glorious morning sunshine and we try to enhance everyone’s breakfast experience as best we can.

One of the main things we’ve noticed so far is that a lot of American bands cut about looking like the Doors but not necessarily sounding like them. Lots of tattoos and sunglasses and hair. We were meant to have another unofficial gig in the evening but unfortunately there are some crossed wires and it doesn’t happen. However, during this time we almost accidentally become the backing band for a bunch of rappers at a “vibe session” (their term, not mine). I wish it had happened as it probably would have been hilarious but alas it never takes off.  

Day 4: Showcase Day 

It’s the day of the Scottish Showcase, the biggest gig we’ll do in Austin and we’re really excited about it. The showcase itself is taking place at a venue called Easy Tiger on its patio, which sits by the river (was it a river?) on 6th st and is an excellent setting. First though we check out The Twilight Sad during the day, who were great. During this gig Chris does something you really wouldn’t expect during a Twilight Sad set and gets a massage, in the venue, during the gig. Literally in a massage chair just off the stage. Very strange. He claims it was excellent, though. In the afternoon Stuart, Siobhan and I go to an unfinished shop front to record a session. We have to leave pretty much as soon as we’ve recorded our track which is rubbish as they had some nice cider on the go. This is one of my favourite characteristics of SXSW- all the FREE stuff. Stick some Scottish people in about some free stuff and they’ll go wild for it. We spent quite a long time at the Introducing Oklahoma showcase the other day because we got wind of free booze and nice free food. Couldn’t tell you who was playing, though. Similarly, we spend a lot of time at the Hype Hotel due to their free tacos and free drink tokens policy. After the tokens run out you tip the bar staff. Even this is great value since there are no pesky restrictions on measures over here. Every drink seems like half a bottle of vodka in a glass. Another thing to get stereotypical Scots excited then. True to form, it does.

On to the Showcase then and it must be said, the chaps at the SMIA have done a stellar job getting it all organised. On the bill is Woodenbox, Tango in the Attic, ourselves, Three Blind Wolves, Django Django and We Were Promised Jetpacks. It’s busy throughout the night and everyone plays really well too, which is good. It was particularly rammed for Django Django as I believe was the case for all their shows and they did a great job. Tonight is also the drunkest we’ve all been so far. I think it was the pressure release of finishing the showcase that triggered it. I also wish I could print everything that happened, but I would be in a lot of trouble if I did. Sorry!

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