Words and Images: Jay H. Gorania
I don’t find strange situations. They suck me in. While people were boarding my flight from Dallas, Texas, to London, England, to join Today Is The Day as their merch slinger, I was rudely interrupted while eating at the back of the plane. Don’t ever get between a man and his meal.
Some dude was aggressively trying to get people out of their assigned seats so he could sit privately with his transsexual mate. Typically, a large brown-skinned man raising his voice on an airplane wouldn’t be taken so well in a post-9/11 world, but my neighboring passengers seemed appreciative that I, as politely as I could, told the couple to sit their asses down and leave everyone alone.
After landing, I enjoyed my weekend in London and Windsor, and was treated quite hospitably by UK metal journalists James Minton and Jill Mikkelson.
Meanwhile, Today is the Day were handed a plate full of crap. Unfortunately, the late purchase of their tickets from New York to Iceland meant that they missed their initial show on April 1 at Litla-Hraun, translated as “Little Lava,” Iceland’s most notorious prison. They would have been the first American band to ever perform at Iceland’s only maximum security correctional facility.
It was the Johnny Cash-like moment that wasn’t, a humorless April Fool’s prank doled out by the heavens (or by an incompetent douche bag).
However when they did make it to Iceland, a first in their career, the next day’s show in Reykjavik, Iceland, was reportedly filled with lively, heavily inebriated Today is the Day fanatics.
April 3, Bristol, England
My meeting point with the band was at Heathrow Airport, prior to which I received an interesting email from frontman Steve Austin.
You just have to scratch the back of your neck and pause when you think about a gun-toting, Obama-hating guy–adorned with an Iron Cross tattooed on his right hand, a Confederate flag inked upon his left arm–sending you a request to obtain large white bed sheets. In reality, there wasn’t anything even remotely insidious at hand. I couldn’t get them in time for the first show in Bristol, but the sheets were needed as the backdrop upon which filmmaker David Hall’s supplementary movie was going to be projected behind the band as they played.
But the first show was actually nearly missed entirely. Prior to meeting Today is the Day, right in front of a Heathrow airport terminal, the van, the tour manager/driver and the opening band, California’s Retox, were stopped for questioning, some folks being detained for having small amounts of, you know, stuff.
But this is Heathrow we are talking about, one of the world’s busiest airports. The very real threat of terrorism kind of supersedes the impending doom posed by some goofball dope-smokers in rock bands. Yet our comrades were held for hours, presumably in order to “teach them a lesson.”
Nonsense aside, it was great to see my long time friends in Today is the Day, a band who is and always will be Steve Austin, though the current incarnation of the band includes the rhythm section of Brooklyn’s Wetnurse–Curran Reynolds on drums, Ryan Jones on bass. While waiting, I was catching up with TITD and getting to know people I would essentially be living with for a brief amount of time.
A prominent Californian accent rolled off Retox guitarist Michael Crain’s tongue as he vented about not wanting to miss the first show. He met bassist Thor Dickey at an LA-based pizza joint where the two have worked.
But our wait was finally over. Finally emerging from the cop box was our tour manager/driver Nathan, as well as Retox drummer Gabe Serbian, a man in black, from his shades and leather jacket down to his shoes. Many moons ago he was actually Cattle Decapitation’s guitarist, though of the many projects he’s been involved with, he’s most known for being The Locust’s drummer.
Sitting across from me in the van was Retox vocalist Justin Pearson, also the Locust’s bassist. I didn’t address the obvious in our initial meeting, waiting instead until he brought it up himself later in the tour, but JP bears an uncanny resemblance with Johnny Knoxville.
I also didn’t want to bring it up because he was difficult to read. Regularly sarcastic, his demeanor constantly appears, on the surface, to wrestle with indifference and coldness, and you’re left wondering when or if he’s always pissed off about something because of his steady stare and slightly crunched together eyebrows. I eventually discovered he’s a cool dude, but he is hard to read.
At any rate, we arrived in Bristol obviously much later than intended, and I did manage to catch some of Today is the Day’s set, the first time since seeing them last August in Minneapolis for the 25th Anniversary AmRep show. Because of Curran and Ryan’s shared time in Wetnurse, and because they just recorded the new Today is the Day album literally a few weeks prior to arriving in Europe, the band had tightened up immensely since last year.
After the show there wasn’t much going on, but several of us partied. New tour excitement. It made sense. While raging in one of our hotel rooms though, Gabe either couldn’t or didn’t want to wait for the occupied bathroom. Curran’s effort to stop him was in vain, as Gabe unzipped his pants and he began watering the corner of the party room. Responding to our moans of disgust while he was doing it, Gabe simply muttered, “It’s just piss.”
Yea, that’s what it smelled like. And that was the room I slept in. Thanks.
More often than not, my hotel double bed sidekick was Steve. Some people sleep walk, Steve sleep punches. Well, he sure as hell did that at this first hotel stop anyway…and again later in the tour. Thanks, Steve. That’s awesome.
But once we got going and I had a cup of coffee in addition to the punch to the collar bone to wake me up the next morning, Steve and I delved into a discussion of our mutual affinity for financial conservatism. More specifically, we spoke about our disdain toward those who have a sense of entitlement for money or things that they haven’t earned. Why should some people enjoy and receive that which others had earned through their own hard work? That’s stealing. It’s as simple as that, from our point of view, anyway.
But right before making our way out of the hotel, I remembered that we needed the white sheets for the projection of the visuals for TITD’s set. I nicked a couple of folded bed sets from a maid’s cart and took off! Score!
April 4 – Cardiff, Wales
There had been a lot going on in TITD’s world. Just weeks prior to this tour, the band finished recording its ninth studio album, Pain is a Warning, with producer Kurt Ballou in Salem, Massachusetts. And preparing for any tour isn’t a piece of cake due to the inevitable last minute nature of dealing with logistics. But things were simply absurd because of an incompetent, careless booking agent.
Yet aside from the setback of missing the Iceland prison show, things were locked and loaded for Steve and crew.
I was eager and extremely curious to hear their new album, so on route to Cardiff, Steve handed me his phone and I plugged in my headphones.
A disclaimer seems to be in order. When a journalist travels with a band, the waters of objectivity don’t just get murky, they get downright filthy. And I didn’t just know TITD from this tour, I’ve known Steve, Ryan and Curran for years. With that said, I heard a killer album, and I feel compelled to write about it. So with said, perceive this however you see fit…
Pain is a Warning is Today is the Day as you’ve never heard them before. It’s typical for Steve to adventurously morph TITD with each subsequent album, but this is the most unexpected leap one could imagine.
Steve makes use of his melodic voice much more than he has in years, but he still employs his unique banshee-like screams and hearty death metal bellow. Musically, it’s built upon a foundation of hard rock.
Steve said that after he saw Ministry, a band he’s admired for years, at Hellfest 2008, he was overwhelmingly inspired. He says he took his time to think about what the best parts of Today is the Day are, as well as what he likes best about music.
Though he likes stuff like Slayer and death metal, he said it’s harder to immediately connect with music that, as he verbally sounded out, comes across as “WIDDLY WIDDLY WIDDLY.” Then he began humming and whispering the choruses of AC/DC songs. “You feel that right away in your belly.”
Indeed, he went back to his roots.
While in high school, he was a fan of goth, and there are obvious nods and winks to Joy Division. But the first rock band Steve ever heard was from a fellow classmate and friend. That band was AC/DC. The Aussies’ characteristic inclination for less is more, a punchy kind of simplicity, is a running thread throughout Pain is a Warning, an underlying influence for most of the album that’s not so underlying on the album’s title track, the main riff so AC/DC that you might think Steve was peering through Angus Young’s window while he was writing new riffs. It’s blatant. It’s beautiful.
On “Death Curse,” there’s a blistering black metal surge and pummeling drums that break for an ultra heavy, violent pre-chorus; and that bottlenecks, then, into a slower, teasing riff that itself transitions into a colossal riff during the triumphant chorus.
Diverse the album certainly is. “Wheelin’” and “Samurai” are anthemic, bold and addictive, while the calming pastures of “Remember to Forget” reveals the most tender side of Steve that his music has ever allowed for.
In all, and while TITD’s inherent negativity and filth speaks at the album’s subtext, Pain is a Warning is the most positive, in terms of overall mood, release in their catalogue. Surely no one will cry “sell out,” but there’s no question that this is TITD’s most accessible effort.
My only criticism with Pain is a Warning is that a handful of songs seem longer than they need to be, overplaying some enjoyable riffs and structures with a little bit too much repetition.
But yes, the ride to Cardiff was obviously entertaining for me.
We were looking for some grub in town as soon as we arrived, and our tour manager led us to an affordable joint with great food and luxurious seating. We laughed at the menu because of our collective immaturity. It was the name of one dish in particular: Welsh Pantry Faggots.
Laughing the entire time, Ryan Jones couldn’t help but choose that item. It was basically a plate full of meatballs and a few sides. He liked it. Ryan Jones likes Welsh Pantry Faggots.
Their connotation for that one “F word” varies vastly from the American meaning, obviously, but there was a different word, a name, really, that irritated the locals, prompting a couple of them to spout, “Bloody Hell,” and “What the hell is this?”
Some new merch boxes were sent to the venue, and the people helping me bring them up the elevator took issue with the address. Immediately below the postal/zip code, the address indicated, “England.” The problem is, Cardiff is the capital of Wales, an independent nation.
“You realize we’re not in England. This is offensive to a proper Welshman,” a muscular, bearded loader said to me somewhat light-heartedly, somewhat seriously.
April 5 – Birmingham, England
It was a good day, simply because we headed toward heavy metal’s Mecca: Birmingham, the home of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Napalm Death. Appropriately, Ryan was jamming out to some old Napalm Death in the van ride. He was kind enough to hand me his blackberry while we were on the outskirts of town–a very bland, boring and gray looking city filled with simple, block-shaped architecture–sending some grind magic into my earbuds and through to my eardrums.
After the local openers wrapped up, a crappy Mr. Bungle rip-off (In all fairness, though, is it easy to be a good Bungle rip-off?), both Retox and TITD performed with an abundance of energy and passion.
Following the show, it took us about half an hour to find a bar that was open, one that had a DJ that was cool enough to play some Sabbath and Priest. We were sitting around, drinking and having a gay old time. At some point I thought I’d take the party up a notch by treating myself to an Irish Car Bomb, one of my favorite shots!
Thinking absolutely nothing of it, I walked across the brown, rustic bar toward the wooden bar-top and asked for one. Immediately taking issue with my request was a man I believed to be the bartender’s boyfriend.
“You’re a big guy, but that could get you into a lot of trouble.”
“What,” I asked, completely surprised by his reaction.
“You do realize that’s very offensive, right?”
It turns out the gentleman was of Irish decent, and, of course, Northern Ireland has had years of turmoil due to a convoluted struggle involving a press for independence, religious tension, et cetera. And it completely slipped my mind that a 25-year-old rookie cop was killed as his car exploded outside his home in Northern Ireland only three days earlier. And it completely slipped my mind that I was requesting an IRISH CAR BOMB.
Foot in mouth moment. My bad.
After successfully conveying that I meant no harm, the dude was cool with me. When I explained that the drink was a mix of half a pint of Guinness with half a shot of Baileys and and half a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey, he smiled, looked down at the bar top and started nodding his head. I probably should have bought him one since he seemed so intrigued, and to extend an olive branch for my faux pas.
Note to self: Don’t ask for Irish Car Bombs in the UK.
April 6 – Newcastle, England
In Newcastle, I picked up a shirt from the decent noise rock band that opened the show: Tide of Iron. The shirt prominently featured a sketch of the female anatomy within which the band’s logo was embedded. Nice.
Since we were in Newcastle, Curran, Ryan and I thought it would be appropriate to drink some Newcastle beer. Attempting to enter a posh, upscale bar, the meathead door man rudely looked me up and down and waved me off because I was wearing shorts. If you’re not going to let me in, cool. I can handle that. But save the attitude, buddy. He deserved every expletive word I expressed.
Anyway, we soon found ourselves a casual pub. But we were out of luck. No Newcastle in Newcastle? I didn’t think that Curran’s inquiry for the bartender was as potentially loaded as my request for a car bomb the previous evening, but perhaps we seemed like ignorant tourists or something. The bar tender rolled his eyes and discussed the ins-and-outs of good local brew in the condescending manner typical of an elitist. Misanthropic griping aside, we had a good time.
April 7 – Glasgow, Scotland
We actually drove passed Lockerbie, the site where 270 people were killed in 1988 due to the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, but the greater sight-seeing objective seemed to be stopping by a castle that was reduced to rubbles. And quickly reduced to rubbles was any interest I had in the odd opening band that evening, a metalcore/thrash/Every Time I Die band fronted by a charismatic fat guy wearing a Hugh Hefner robe.
April 8 – Belfast, Northern Ireland
By way of ferry, we arrived in Northern Ireland. What they say really is true. It’s beautifully green and lush, magnificent sights of simple, natural beauty. Like a tour guide from hell, our viking-like tour manager Nathan Perrier said, “Everything is green, people are riding bicycles everywhere, and there isn’t a black person in sight.”
With long hair and King Diamond-like facial hair, Nathan’s commentary was always witty, comedic and off color. “I wonder how many sex crimes there have been there,” he would regularly say as we’d pass by some sort of dreary looking shed or barn during our travels.
Considering that he’s a longtime drummer, who has played with bands like Labrat, Capricorns and Conflict, Nathan brings to life the stereotype of a “been there, done that” tour manager that you might picture in Spinal Tap.
But I digress…
Before the show, we had some time to swallow down some beer and to interact with the locals. A couple of girls started buying me drinks (always good for the ego), and I was able to convince one of them, a tall, beautiful redhead, to fold some piles of merch for me. She even made a sale!
But by the end of the evening, it was clear that she was more enamored with a guy on stage. 🙁
Part two of Jay H. Gorania’s 2011 European tour diary will be posted on Friday.