With summer fast approaching, North American touring season is now in full swing. Thousands of bands are criss-crossing the continent, playing gigs from New York to LA and everywhere in between. Out there, anything can go wrong. A van accident, broken gear, or something as basic as a simple lack of attention to detail can derail a tour. Often times, there’s only one person holding it all together: the tour manager. They plan and execute the day to day of a tour, handle logistics, sell merchandise, coordinate press inquiries, and can do virtually anything else you can think of.
Need a bottle opener? Ask the tour manager. Need a replacement drum kit? Ask the tour manager. Need a new van? Ask the tour manager. Need bail money? You go it.
In a wide-ranging conversation, opbmusic’s Matt Drenik chatted with two Pacific Northwest-based tour managers, Chris Coyle and Rachel Demy, in an effort to shed some light on one of the most interesting and least understood jobs in rock n roll.
Coyle is unique among tour managers in that he only works for one band, Portland hard rock band Red Fang. Seattle-based Demy has worked with dozens of artists as a booker, photographer, and tour manager, including Richard Swift, St. Vincent, The National, and Jens Lekman.
Listen to the full interview above or read select excerpts below:
On juggling personalities, dealing with tight quarters, and getting on each other’s nerves:
Chris: I always say that tour, in general, is just this weird sociological experiment of like “Hey, let’s put five people in this metal fart box and drive ‘em around the country…”
Rachel and Chris in unison: And see what happens! [Laughter]
Matt: It really is a fart box, isn’t it? No one talks about that.
Rachel: A bus is just a larger fartbox.
Chris: It’s like a mobile studio apartment and you’re going to cram everybody in there… It’s the weirdest reality TV show crap ever. But it doesn’t matter if they’re your best friend. Go on a roadtrip with your best friend for six weeks, every single day driving for 8 to 12 hours, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with them. And after a while, you’re doing the whole— “If he rolls down the window one more time I’m going to punch him in the face.” … Everybody does it. You start getting mad at people. At one point it’s going to be your turn. People are going to mad at you at some point. Don’t take it personally, because it’s just your turn… It’s going to pass. It’s going to be fine.
On the feeling that time doesn’t exist on tour:
Rachel: I take photographs when I’m out on tour because it gives me some sense of time and place and some kind of chronology that I can look back on. I’ve joked many times that I wish there was a day-of-the-week watch. I don’t care what time it is. I just need to know what day of the week it is. You get in that bubble where, in my case, you’ll get into a venue sometimes in the wintertime before the sun comes up and you leave after the sun has gone down. You don’t even actually see daylight. It really messes with you. It’s not a very natural way of living.
On fighting boredom and how technology changed touring:
Chris: Once the smartphone showed up…
Rachel: Oh, yeah.
Matt: Oh yeah.
Chris: …everything got a whole lot quieter in the van. Everyone just goes into their little hidey holes. Sit on their phones and sit on their Kindles.
Rachel: I think van touring actually got boring after the smartphone came. On the Richard Swift tour [Demy’s first tour] nobody had a smartphone. A friend of Richard’s had written this amazing sci-fi novel that wasn’t very good. And so, we’d read it out loud to each other on night drives, doing all of the voices.
It was super fun. You don’t really do that anymore in a van.
Chris: The first tour we did, we had this brown van that we called the Brown Star. It was a total piece of garbage. It had no seats in it. We just had beanbag chairs in the back.
Rachel: That sounds safe.
Chris: We’re just rolling around in this thing. But a Waylon Jennings tape got stuck in the tape player, so you had to either listen to Waylon Jennings or nothing. That whole entire tour, no one had smartphones…
Matt: But no one wanted to get the tapedeck fixed either.
Chris: We couldn’t afford that! What are you talking about, man? We were losing hundreds of dollars to go on tour at this point.
On the worst thing that ever happened on tour:
Chris: For us, the worst thing we ever had happen was we rolled the van.
Rachel: Oh, man. Worst nightmare.
Chris: Worst nightmare.
Rachel: That’s terrifying.
Chris: We left after a show in Seattle, driving home and a deer jumped out. We swerved to miss the deer, overcorrected, came back and the front passenger wheel caught the median and we just kick flipped. We (flipped) three times. Ended up facing the wrong direction in traffic the other way, and somehow all of us walked away. The cops showed up and the first thing they said was “Who’s dead?” Every window was out. It was terrifying.
On planning tours and making tour books:
Rachel: We spend a lot of time on Google Maps.
Chris: A lot of time on Google Maps.
Rachel: When you’re laying out a production schedule of how you’re going to get through the day in every city. Yeah, you get on Google Maps and you’re like “How long does Google Maps say it’s going to take and how long is actually going to take when you factor in the needs of five people?” Always add an hour.
Chris: I make the tour book, too.
Matt: Explain to everybody what a tour book is because a lot of people don’t know.
Chris: A tour book is [a master schedule where] every single day is broken down page by page— this is what time we’re loading in, this is what time your soundcheck is, this is what time you’re on the stage, this is what time your interviews are. If we’ve got in-stores or press, if we’ve got whatever, it’s all laid out day to day so that I can hand it to them.
Matt: And everyone gets a copy.
Chris: Well, I do digital copies now.
On whether the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris, where 89 people where killed at an Eagles of Death Metal show, changed the way they run tours:
Chris: No. I would say, if anything, we’d probably be more open to going out and talking to fans and doing that sort of stuff that some people might get freaked out about.
Rachel: Also that’s one of a million things that could go wrong on tour. That’s the least of my worries, honestly.
Chris: There’s so much other stuff that could go wrong. That happening is such a one in a billion chance. You’re really worrying about something that A: You have no control over.
Rachel: I sometimes feel that if fans really knew everything that went into getting a band on tour, on the road, and showing up to shows on time, everyone would be celebrating like its a f**king miracle.