Our first week of our seven in North America has been a frantic affair but we’ve many stories to tell. Now that South By South West is over and done with I felt the first blog was due.
We began at Heathrow on Sunday 7th March, where after mummifying our guitars and a few cases with baggage wrapping, we ate a fried breakfast whose price to size/quality graph featured a strong negative correlation. The waitress almost threw a tantrum at our request to split the bill, something we have yet to encounter over here, where the service is sublime and the tipping reflects this.
Taffel demonstrates the travelling stoner look, with mummified bag to the left.
Taffel unwrapped his birthday presents with an unusual ferocity.
The flights themselves were relatively painless, despite their length. The excitement felt by all kept us in high spirits, despite essentially travelling back in time. I had a mild seizure upon our arrival after discovering that the airline had put my bag on the flight after the one we actually flew on. Once I’d recovered we had soon arrived in our hotel in Nashville. After so long confined in tin cans 30,000 feet up in the air it was great to be able to spread all four limbs as far as possible on a master bed. Taffel and I then ordered a burger that instantly became the best we’d ever had (this has happened thrice since). I managed to have an accident with a freakishly high-pressured ketchup sachet that exploded into my face, hair and onto the mirror behind me. This gave me the appearance of a gunshot victim before I’d even had the chance to irritate any American into drawing a weapon.
Ketchup: Heinz, face: model’s own.
After a dab down we headed into town to a bar called Soulshine that upon entry smelled like a cheese factory. The music that had drawn us took the form of a blues jam night and the standard was ferociously high. Every fifth male in Nashville looked like ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill in a trucker hat and all were steeped in the blues. After a couple of hours we fell into bed and attempted to cheat the jet lag.
Picture drawn by me in the van.
The next day we picked up the mighty vessel we will call home until 1st May. With its plush leather seats and onboard wifi, this is a van like none we’ve driven before and we’re pretty pleased with it. The fact that we were still saying that after a 14 hour journey down to Austin is testament to its charms.
On Tuesday we ventured into town for our first taste of SXSW. After a remarkably smooth accreditation process we were in need of sustenance. Several of our party had heard that the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) was a decent eatery and a branch was was conveniently located just over the road. Unfortunately, IHOP was a major let down. Luckily the food since has been a blur of supreme medium rare beef and all things Mexican, which we’re now very well acquainted with after meeting some East LA Latino homeboys who gave us a detailed description of all their native food stuffs. They also promised us that they’d have our backs if we ever came to hang with them in their part of town. Having since discovered that their hood is about as safe Compton or Watts, we’ll be passing them up on their gracious offer.
American cuisine at its finest.
SXSW was a mass of humanity, with people trekking from far and wide to converge for the near-constant noises being emitted by the city. With the US music industry generally split between New York and LA (save the country hub of Nashville), Austin, Texas was a warm and welcoming middle ground where close to a thousand acts peddled their wares to any available ears. Brass bands, lone drummers and magicians lined the streets, and that was before you’d even got inside one of the myriad venues. We played a couple of sterling full shows as well as acoustic sessions, and almost featured in a Hip Hop video. No really. At an acoustic gig in a house just outside the heart of town we were peeping through the garden fence at an entire rap crew who were the absolute real deal, miming out a yard scene for their latest release. After enthusiastically inviting us to be involved they made their way over the road but unfortunately our packed schedule was against us and we just missed out on becoming the awkward-looking extras that the rest of the guests became. We did manage to complete another teen dream a few days later though, where at the same locale we played fully amped up in the front room of a house party, complete with the mythical red cups that we’ve all grown up seeing in the movies.
Our amps, on loan from Orange, back up the local phrase that ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’ (thanks Orange!).
Taxis were hard to come by at SXSW. One night a trio of our troupe were out raving hard till late and had no option but to hitch a lift. With everyone being so much friendlier in the USA than in London, this wasn’t a problem. Here’s a transcript of what followed:
Ben (sheepishly): Can we pay you chaps $30 for a lift back to our hotel please sir?
Cody the driver (straight-faced): No problem man, but if you pull a knife on me I will shoot you.
As it turned out, Cody and his buddy Emerson were two of the coolest guys we could have hoped to meet, both self-titled ‘roughnecks’ who made a killing working on the Texan oil fields, and as such didn’t accept our money. They were also armed to the teeth, their pick up truck like an NRA convention on wheels. They came to our gig the next day and took Taffel out for several whiskeys, which resulted in him acquiring a small tattoo of the state of Texas on his upper back, which was classy.
Ladies and gentleman, I present to you Josh ‘Texas’ Taffel.
Our first week here can’t be accounted for without our accommodation getting a Trip Advisor-style mention. Austin Suites was the kind of place you would never book if you had any sort of a budget. The rooms were generally fine, although their whites wash could’ve done with around 100% extra bleach. A more pressing concern was the clientele. One man we met was a hardcore nicotine addict, asking us all nightly for a hallowed cigarette. It wasn’t until we were about to leave that we found out his name was Kevin but went by the alias of Igadda Bigadda. He claimed he’d been abducted by aliens, tried to give us drugs (‘I wanna help y’all party but don’t drive on these’) and carried a spray bottle around with him filled with chemicals that he’d aim at the eyes of any potential assailant before they could land their sucker punch. This is the type of person who hung around the gloomy, bloodstained landings of the Austin Suites hotel. As much as we’d enjoyed Austin there was definitely a part of us all that couldn’t wait to leave.
Our friend Kevin, also drawn by me in the van, who looks a lot less like Bob Dylan in reality.
We’re now heading north and if you’re an American or Canadian who fancies watching us, here’s where you can still do it:
I’ll speak to y’all soon.