Jucifer – Canadian Tour Diary #2

by Gazelle Amber Valentine

July 13, 2010

Call The Office is the only club in London we’ve ever played. When I tell that to people who live there they always say yeah, it’s pretty much the only club! It has awesome staff and long history. A good vibe. An easy load in. But it’s not an ideal setup. The stage is a little small and round, making our amp wall lumpy and disorganized looking, and making me trip over myself in the tight space. And the room acoustics make for a shocking lack of sustain which (since we don’t do soundchecks) I always forget about until the show starts. I’m usually set in the sustain department — I can hit a note and watch it linger for literally minutes. We have parts in some songs where we use and rely on that. So when room acoustics choke my guitar those parts of the show feel pretty lame.

It probably seems weird that we don’t do soundchecks, especially since we’re obvious sound freaks! But there are factors that make it logical. The first is time. Our load in and setup takes three hours… even six or eight in extremely fucked up situations (such as stairs + crazy stage + needing to run several hundred-foot extension cables into a basement or attic for power). Clubs rarely let us in super early, so what ends up happening is that after three hours of us setting up the opening bands are already there and waiting to get onstage. And doors for the show are about to open. So we just let the first band have a soundcheck instead of screwing them by doing one ourselves.

Which ends up working out the same or better for our sound, because the reality we’ve discovered after so many years touring is that you’re either gonna have good sound or not. And it doesn’t depend on a soundcheck. It might if we were a different band — more members, less stage volume. But as it is, being Jucifer, there’s either a good PA or there’s not. And the sound person is either gonna do a good job or they aren’t. If they’re a good sound person and not pissed off about our gear, they’ll do just as well without a soundcheck as with. Because they know their system and they know how to compensate for our volume in a way that compliments the overall mix. And if they’re not good at their job, or pissed because we’ve taken some control away from them by having so many amps (which happens more often than it should), they’re not going to do well for us and nothing on earth is gonna change it.

The other factor is neighbors. If they’re gonna get mad about the volume and call the cops to shut us down, we’d rather not give ’em a warning in the afternoon. This way we’ll at least get a few songs out for the people who came to see us!

So anyway not having done a soundcheck I also forgot that the power at Call The Office isn’t grounded properly for the way we have to plug in. Which means that my vocal mic shocks me in the lips and teeth whenever I touch it. Mmm, electricity sandwich…

David Hall and his partners and minions from London’s own Handshake, Inc film company are at the show. They’re working on a movie about Jucifer. Well, kinda about us. There’s a whole acted plot within the movie that takes place partly at our shows but goes way beyond having anything to do with us. But there’s also gonna be a lot of concert footage. So the crew is there to get more. They’re also shooting some character dialogue. I wake up from a quick desperate (drooling) nap in the RV hearing a conversation where a girl is confessing that she cheated on the guy she’s talking to during their former relationship. At first I think this is really happening outside… then I hear “cut”.

We play as good a show as we can considering the sound and stage issues. It’s less fun to play when you’re fighting stuff like that, but it’s still better than not playing that day! And everybody I talk to after the show seems to have really enjoyed it. We’ve gotten to know the Handshake, Inc peeps better since hanging with them at MDF, so after the show we end up talking with them and some fans for awhile. Then the club staff are ready to leave so a couple of them help us with a ridiculously fast load out… we’re just throwing it all outside as fast as we can without even casing stuff. One of the guys helping us is a bouncer and also an MMA fighter. Edgar has been talking to him about how we like to watch MMA and are interested in it and how for awhile back in the day we thought we might try to be stunt people and would coordinate fake fights and action sequences (usually after drinking some 40’s). He ends up giving us a pair of his boxing gloves — how cool is that?! Now we gotta go hit shit…

July 15, 2010

It’s Edgar’s birthday and we’re playing in St. Catharines for the first time ever. We must be a little ahead of our usual tour schedule, cause last couple years we’ve been in New York for his birthday.

Getting into St. Catharines I notice a lot of Catholic stuff. I wonder if this means anything at all about the scene of the town. By the end of the night I am none the wiser.

It’s never a good sign (literally) when you arrive at a club and there isn’t any kind of poster or marquis announcing your presence. Especially when you’re not only on tour, but on tour in ANOTHER COUNTRY. Um… the show ain’t gonna promote itself! Internet’s cool and all, but you kinda have to be watching bands’ pages diligently. Unlike a poster which you can’t avoid when walking into bar/record store/tattoo shop/crosswalk/whatever. And by the end of the night, we’d met a dude that worked across the street who had no idea we were playing in town, was a huge fan, and would’ve been at the show, maybe with a few friends. But because there was no promotion, he was just sitting around after work. At the bar ACROSS THE STREET.

To add more joy, the lot where they usually had bands park was completely inaccessible to anything bigger than a van. Although they tried to tell us we could fit, we would’ve had to take out the little building where the dude takes your money along with a concrete post to turn in. So we had to park a block away. Which ended up being two blocks walking because the loading door was around a corner. Loading in took forever.

The venue was okay, actually a nice sized room. But with a tiny stage. God, I’m ready for a stage where my rig actually fits!! And the opening bands… Well, one of them was on tour and had no draw. Of course, that wasn’t necessarily their fault, since there was no promotion. We ourselves had no draw because… no promotion. I guess the other band was local and brought a few people. Just a few. Not people who particularly appreciated our style of music. The touring band didn’t seem to appreciate us either — or maybe appreciated too much. Either way, they opted to stick approximately fifty of their band stickers on our merch case. WTF? I can’t imagine thinking that was a good idea, but people never cease to amaze. Needless to say the stickers came off before the case went into our trailer. Waste of stickers.

The club staff were nice, except the bartender in the venue side… who became super-beeyotch as soon as we were done playing. I guess she hates loud bands (strike one) hates smoke machines (strike two) and hates having to wait for anything, like a band with a long load out (strike three). I kinda wished I hadn’t given her earplugs earlier in the day — she didn’t seem to appreciate the consideration enough to return it.

We got our shit out as fast as we could (which of course wasn’t fast enough for loudly complaining bartender) and started the long process of turning the pile of gear outside the loading door into a pile of gear by our trailer two blocks away. Two of us and about sixty trips to be made… ah, the glamour. Added to that was a cheesy bar with outside tables we had to pass on every trip, from whence came far too many dumbass comments. My favorite was “looks like it’s gonna rain, you should get that into the trailer”. Really?? Really, you think???

It did indeed begin to rain. Jucifer’s nemesis! Because electronics + water = BAD. We had to scramble to cover stuff with tarps while still scrambling to just get it all near the trailer. The rest of the night is a blur of damp, sore, stressed, and irritated beyond belief. It was nice to find out there were people who would’ve been stoked to see us play, but not nice to know that we’re working our asses off for a sucky show because the venue couldn’t lift a finger to let those fans know. And I’m extra pissed because that’s not how my man’s birthday should be. Frowny-face. With tear.

At LONG last the trailer was finally loaded and we could drag ourselves off to a truck stop for a little sleep… next stop Kingston.

July 17, 2010

The venue is called Time To Laugh but after the first time we went there, we’ve called it Time To Cry. It’s another situation where we can’t park near the door — this time because the front parking is a cab stand — so we have to park about two blocks down the street. Added to that is a staircase to load up. And at the end of the night, the whole street is full of wasted people from the booty club next door. It’s a lot of eye candy, each girl trying to outdo the rest with the extent of her near-nakedness. As a shoe and clothes enthusiast I have to admit enjoying the fashion show. And watching said girls try to keep it strutting and sexy on their stilettos after, I’m betting, ten too many shots can be quite entertaining. Likewise the parade of horny dudes vying to take those drunk girls home. But loading through a herd of moronically intoxicated mating-dancers sucks. They’re oblivious to you so they get in your way. If a piece of equipment isn’t moving they sit or fall down on it. They’re hungry, cranky and often just got in a fight with somebody else, so they’re primed for drama. And their minds are in low gear so if they do notice you, they feel compelled to say something idiotic. It’s a human minefield.

Fortunately the promoter and the guy who owns the venue are really great people!! And it’s a cool venue once you get up there. So there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Today they have two loaders for us. Good loaders, careful with the gear and with a great attitude. And both share our sense of humor and musical taste, which makes it fun to hang out while we’re working. With good loaders the stairs aren’t torture. Many hands makes light work! Well, light-er, at least.

We’re gonna play in front of a horror movie tonight. We haven’t played while a movie screened in years. But we used to own a projector and play this Helen Keller documentary during our show. We’d accidentally loaded the film wrong so it played backwards, which made it better. Helen Keller fell down a lot when she was learning to get around. And played backwards, all the falls are weird Exorcist-looking leaps from the ground. Disturbing. Nice.

We had requested Satan’s Cheerleaders but they couldn’t find it so we played in front of Suspiria. It was cool and people I talked to said they enjoyed the total-experience-ness. (Yes I just made that a “word”) I still did a light show but kept it more minimal than usual to give the movie space.

We did a pretty long improv at the end of our set because the movie wasn’t finished. I always wonder if people realize it when we’re improvising. I know sometimes they think our actual songs are improvs or unstructured noise —- which is crazy to me, but I guess we have strange arrangements that take getting used to. And we definitely play with space. Edgar likes to make timing uncomfortable on purpose, hitting tamber a half-beat behind one measure and a half-beat ahead the next. It’s funny because we do some stuff that’s very technical but comes across sloppy, and vice versa. But that’s music for ya.

All in all a really fun show. Our good loaders were still around afterward, which helped a huge amount getting through the disco party outside. We all laughed our asses off at the constant flow of drunken commentary. “Is it a band?” “That’s a lot of stuff” “Are you loading this?” “It’s a Winnebago” “Was there a show?”

And our favorite of the night… spoken in tones of awe, just after we’d agreed that alcohol compels people to state the obvious: “It’s a bike… and it’s going into the trailer!”

Prochaine, Montreal

July 18, 2010

Going to Quebec is good brain exercise, ’cause you gotta read French road signs. Guache, droite, voie, sortie. Sounds like ice cream.

I’m never immersed long enough to get fluent. But I like the itchy feeling in my brain while trying to comprehend and the elation when I actually communicate using a foreign language. Even if I’m only speaking on the level of a four-year-old.

Our friend Stephane from Choking Hazard records is promoting the show tonight, and his doom band Ghast is playing with us. They’re awesome. It’s always a pleasure to play with good bands made up of nice people. But I guess this may be Ghast’s last show, which is too bad. Steph brings us this incredible beer from a local microbrewery, Dieu du Ciel. It’s all themed and beautifully packaged and (most importantly) delicious. I forget that French people don’t greet with hugs and try to hug Steph when I see him. Then mentally doh! as he ducks and converts the greeting into cheek kisses. It’s hard to remember these kinds of cultural differences when you’re moving so fast between cultures.

Bar St-Laurent has a nice divey feel. The stage is very deep but not so wide. My cabs are crunched again. The back of the stage is a four foot high riser, so most of my stuff has to be stacked onto that. It’s a more dangerous operation than usual because the riser isn’t deep and we’re lifting 810s three high while being on the verge of falling off the riser. Steph told me some guy from a punk band broke his arm falling off that riser, so I’m feeling extra paranoid. Breaking a bone falling off a stage is one of those Things You Don’t Want To Happen. But we get it stacked up and manage to stay intact.

Steph described the other band on the bill, Data Cave, as being like The Locust, which they pretty much were. It’s a good bill and a fun night. The only problem we have is that the sound guy won’t listen to what we want. I’m not supposed to have vocals in my monitors but they’re blasted at me, which means when I scream I hear nothing else. Which makes it hard to keep my place in the song. He wasn’t a bad or angry guy, just freaked out by our equipment and unable to grasp that we don’t want “normal” monitors. But the show was still fun.

At merch I end up talking with a couple guys for a long time about the difference between some of our recordings and our live show. Both guys are happy that our new record is like the show. I explain how we’ve always treated the studio as a place to experiment with stuff we knew we’d never play in our set. How it’s fun to play different instruments and write different types of songs. One of the guys is seeing us for the first time and wonders if we’ve changed our sound. I tell him no, we’ve always been this weird band that’s insane cathartic face-melting heavy live and then does totally different styles in the studio. And that record labels have always promoted these pop songs we love making but hate playing. We agree it’s too bad that some people who would love our shows were alienated by being introduced to us with those songs. But I say, and they understand, that we like to write all kinds of music and never want to feel locked into being predictable. The second guy mentions Dropdead having a similar disconnect between albums and live and how he’d get bummed that their records, and ours, weren’t like the show. I’m like yeah, but it’s cool for bands to be able to stretch their wings. But we all agree that it’s nice for fans to have albums that represent what they loved about seeing a band live. Then the guy who brought up Dropdead notices that Edgar’s wearing their shirt and we all laugh about the coincidence. I’m really glad we finally have an album I can point at and say “most of what we played tonight is on that”. We’ve always had a few songs on the records that’d end up in our set, but never the bulk of an album. After seventeen years I guess it’s about damned time…!

July 19, 2010

Found some street parking around the block from the club last night. Woke up realizing we were parked in front of a school. So now we’re that creepy RV, looking like child-abductors. Better get outta here!

Driving through rural Quebec on a red road we’ve never taken before. It really looks like France. I remember being in Canada before we’d been to Europe and not realizing how much of Europe came here. I know some European elements made it to the U.S. too, but I think the layout of cities and highways in Canada is much more European than what we ended up with in the states.

It’s almost a thousand miles from Montreal to our next show in Thunder Bay. That’s a shit ton of gas, and we’re not sure how much it’ll cost. Hoping to have enough cash.

July 20, 2010

Made it to North Bay last night and slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot. There were so many RVs it was like a damned campground. Some people even had their lawn chairs out, drinking wine and gabbing like it was their own front lawn. On the other end of the scale was the backpacking hobo with enormous dirty-white beard and hair who emerged from the woods and then disappeared towards the highway. I always wonder if my current homelessness, which so many people refer to as “living the dream”, is gonna lead me on a path that ends where that guy is. It seems horrible, yet if I weigh it against being in an asylum or nursing home, I’m pretty sure I’d prefer the street. Er, woods.

Gotta drive at least 400 miles today. On hills in our rig, probably ten hours. I try to wait a hundred miles between stops on days like this. Strategically plan the gas stop cities. Bang out the miles and try not to think about them. Our cd player is broken so that means once we’ve exhausted conversation, it’s time to search the radio. My favorite thing in Canada is the public radio — CBC I think? Stories keep me awake better than music anyway.

Curving through some mountains near Lake Superior I see this weird low slinky cute pitch-black shiny animal. Go through a mental checklist of known critters. Holy shit, I saw a mink! That’s a new one for me.

We pull into Wawa knowing we wanna sleep there and drive through town looking for an appropriate parking lot. Find a nice little touristy general store, buy a bumper sticker as a courtesy and ask if we can sleep in their lot. Teenaged girl behind counter could give a shit and says it’s okay. We rest semi-easy, since one of the dudes I talked to in Montreal had told me horror stories about his experiences getting stuck and then arrested in Wawa. But we don’t have any problems and are out with the sunrise.

July 21, 2010

Thunder Bay tonight. Driving from Wawa was long enough to be the only work we do today, but it ain’t like that. We got a lot more to go before resting.

The alley where our loading door is seems to be a prostitute and drug dealer meeting place. Edgar has a weird little old man circling him, just staring. Meanwhile a girl in dirty stripper clothes gets hit in the face by a big angry dude. Then both run away and a drug dealer is playing ball with his pit bull.

Thunder Bay is a weird place. It’s beautiful, but there’s a lot of desperation. People with no jobs and bad things happening in their lives. Yet families stroll along the quaint storefronts right across the street from where prostitutes are getting popped in the face.

At first things look really bad. There’s no parking close to the alley and the alley is full of sketchy ass people. Personally I never enjoy being in prostitution areas, because wrong assumptions get made. Gross. But just as we’re despairing of the situation, Ouner shows up. His name is pronounced “owner” and he’s one of the owners. After we get past the confusion of that, he’s very helpful in getting cars moved so we can park near the alley mouth. He also explains that the prostitute/drug exchange market ends at five, when a nearby methadone clinic opens. So we won’t have to deal with the sketchies.

Black Pirates Pub is another nice room with a good vibe and a too-small-for-Jucifer stage. Which I know is an unfair stage gauge. Too small for us = fine for most bands. Anyway, we’re in no mood to complain. Totally relieved that the fucked up people have vamoosed and that the owner, sound guy, and promoter are all very very nice, we’re in it to win it.

The stage is a corner stage so I minimize beyond what I usually would for a small stage. I saw on the poster that there are like four other bands, and I’m trying to be nice. The funny thing is I’m sure some of them were still freaked out. They just don’t know how bad it could’ve been, back in the day when I’d set up 17-20 cabs no matter what. Opening bands are lucky that we finally decided we would like to hear drums and vocals!

By the time we’re done setting up and staging everything the first band is about to start. We haven’t been able to go to the grocery because we were afraid to spend any cash in case we wouldn’t have enough for gas. I eat the last of my peanut butter and jelly on a half bun and pass out sitting up for about fifteen minutes. Then get up and get ready to play.

It’s a really really fun show. Surprisingly fun. People are out on a Wednesday, up front, thrashing, singing along. We tear it up, have a blast. One of our fans helps load out, which is awesome and saves us some precious sleep time. Tomorrow’s drive to Winnipeg is over 400 miles through mountains. We’ve always had a drive day before and it still sucked, so not looking forward to doing it all in one shot.

July 22, 2010

Drove 11 hours to start a 12 hour day. The drive from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg is gorgeous but winding up and down mountains… very long and very slow. Left at 8 a.m., gained an hour crossing the time zone, and still didn’t get to the club till almost 6. Fortunately it’s a rare situation where things are chill and opening bands haven’t showed up yet. Somehow managed to load in (in the mother fucking rain) scarf some amazing vegan BBQ sandwiches, and get set up in time to leave the local band time for their setup. I don’t know why, by the way, but it always rains on us in Winnipeg.

Before I finished setting up the merch table a seriously enormous guy came in. By which I mean so tall, you can’t ask how tall he is, because you know he gets that constantly. He turned out to be a big fan (ouch, no pun intended) and had brought us a couple of cds for gifts. Cathedral, The Devil’s Blood, and Sigur Ros. In exchange I gave him a poster.

Small crowd but full of long flying hair. A good reward to see after such a hellish hard day. Sadly everybody told me afterward that they only found out about the show that afternoon. Don’t know why promo doesn’t reach people sometimes. It’s always really frustrating when we hear from people like “please come back to our town” and we were just there. The promoter here in Winnipeg loves us so it can’t be his fault. He made a great poster. And the local band that played was really good, too. ?

Finished loading the trailer around sunrise. Seriously, almost a 24 hour work day. Can’t wait for a day we can sleep in.

July 23, 2010

Long flat prairie drive to Regina. The canola and some other unknown crop (flowering a queer bluish lavender) against the few dark green trees and the bright blue and white sky makes for unbelievable color combination. Like being surrounded by a painting. Sometimes there’s even a bright red barn. Edgar sends a phone pic of this landscape to Facebook and somebody says it looks like a Windows screensaver.

The scenery’s beautiful but I. Am so. Fucking tired. Edgar’s usually good at staying awake with me but he’s passed out in the passenger seat. Our little dogs are passed out too. I have fantasies about sleeping. Ugh.

We’ve never played Regina before. As we’re pulling into town Edgar’s like, “oh please, let us have a big parking lot where we can plug in the electric” and I’m like “and no stairs” and he’s like “and other bands are nice”. For once we get everything we want. Well, almost everything — there’s a few stairs. But there is actually a big parking lot where we can hook up to power, and the local bands we’re playing with are amazingly nice. So nice (and good) we’re probably gonna do a tour together in the future.

The Exchange is an awesome venue. I’m surprised because I’ve only heard that Regina is sketchy and lame. But there’s this great room with a huge stage, great PA, great sound guy, great bar staff, great local bands. Our long dash across half a continent is rewarded with a KILLER show. Thank you, Regina. That shit was unbelievably fun. And my amps got to set up properly… 20 feet wide. Love. Love. Love this town.

Finally can sleep in a little tomorrow. Gotta drive about 250 miles, but we can start late. Goodnight!!!

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.