Sleepmakeswaves On Tour With Karnivool - Part Three

23 July 2012 | 2:20 pm | Sleepmakeswaves

The cops show up on the Gold Coast and Prawn makes Otto his bitch in Byron Bay.

Sleepmakeswaves Tour Diary – WEEK 3 | NSW/QLD by Alex Wilson (bass)

Show 10 – Byron Bay (The Great Northern Hotel)

Today's early start is a little nasty. Brett and Tim meet at my place at 6am to load the 4WD up with drums and it's still dark out. I was hoping to take the edge off the morning with some caffeine, but the café isn't even open yet. Sleepmakeswaves roll too early for coffees, it seems. Once we're on the road, things aren't so bad. We watch the sumptuous dawn break over the Gladesville Bridge and then the Pacific Highway, swinging by to convoy alongside Kid and Otto and grab some much-needed flat whites just before taking the turnoff to the freeway.

We've been flying most of this tour, but we cut our teeth over the past four or five years racking up k's between Sydney and Brisbane, amongst other places, so we slide back into the roadtrip headspace pretty easily. It's nice; we spin good records, talk shit and take leisurely breaks for nutrition/caffeine/nicotine breaks at Buladelah and Grafton. Only downside is that Tim's got the manflu.

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First time playing in Byron Bay for sleepmakeswaves and we're pretty excited as we load into the Great Northern. We bump into some of our Tequila Gig Crew pals shortly after we get in there. We'd jokingly demanded a bottle of scotch from them via Facebook earlier in the week. To our immense surprise, they'd all done us a total solid by pitching in on a bottle of Glenlivet 12-year single malt. Fucking yes. Combined with the Ballantine's that Tim and I picked up earlier and the obligatory beer on the rider, we are pretty prepped for going large after our set.

The Karnivool crew have extended the stage at the Great Northern, but when we load on it becomes quickly apparent that we're going to be virtually unable to move like we normally do. Kid has to watch out he doesn't slam his guitar headstock into one of Karnivool's vertical light enclosures, and as I stand next to Kid, I have to be careful that I don't slam my bass headstock into his face (yes, this has happened before). It's also hard for us to get a loud monitor mix on stage, so we swing the guitar amps around sideways so they are aimed at Tim's head. A bit of a weird setup for us, but we resolve to do our best to make it happen.

It's pretty much just business as usual before the show. We do some ritualistic shots of the Glenlivet with Stevo, Trez and Stuart from the TGC before hitting the stage. Love your work, guys. The crowd that's come to see us in Byron is a bit slimmer that it has been in the capital cities, but this makes sense; it's our first time in their town. There's still a bunch of keen kids down at the front barrier to make us feel welcome. I wish we could have given them one of our best shows, but it feels like we're on struggle street tonight. For a pretty physical live band, we feel hemmed in on the tight stage and this makes it harder conjure up that raucous energy that drives our best performances. When we come up against a small stage in a club, we usually opt for a floor show (floor shows 4 lyfe) but being the opener for a bigger band we have to harden up and adapt to whatever is there for us. Things aren't helped by the fact that Tim's sickness (or possibly the sudafed he took just before hitting the stage) takes it out of him a bit. We still tried to dig deep and put on a good show and I'm sure we came across better than we thought, but it was probably the hardest show of the tour so far.

Thankfully, there's plenty of booze available backstage to blot out the pain. More pre-gig shots with Redcoats and then I'm watching them absolutely dominate the great Northern Stage; I see grins and closed eyes on the faces of many swaying, dreadlocked Byron earth-children with outstretched hands. My memory of that night gets a bit hazy after this, but I do remember a fair few antics that went down in the backstage room and carpark of the Great Northern. We locked Otto in the rider fridge, and then Prawn decided to take him under his wing as some kind of surrogate son that could eventually be moulded into a man (I believe Prawn's term was “bitch”). My face got closely accquainted with a drum skin. The last thing I recall was Jack, the Redcoats roadie, waxing lyrical Irish outside a 23-hour bakery across the road from the Great Northern (why 23 hours rather than 24? The best explanation we could think of is that the 24th hour is reefer/billy hour. It's definitely not enough time for any kind of real kip).

Prawn Junior (aka "bitch" ) and Prawn

Alex and the leather Prawn

Show 11 – Brisbane (The Tivoli)

I wake up nursing a brutal liquor and beer hangover. The angrily pulsating kind that sends rhythmic stabs of pain richocheting between your temples and saddles you with regrets. I'm definitely in far worse shape than anyone else in the band and I get no sympathy, only laughs. A flat white, two nurofen and one excellent bacon n' egg roll later and I'm beginning to feel a little bit more human. After breakfast we wander down to the beach to sit on the rocks and watch a guy draw huge spirals and ying/yang signs in an ornate pattern on the sand. With bloodshot eyes hid behind Wayfarers and decked out in hooded jackets with jeans and sneakers we feel a bit out of place among the tanned locals who saunter around cheerfully in their brightly-coloured beach gear.

Beach art

It's another chilled and non-eventful drive from Byron to Brisbane. Otto's pretty gutted when, at our hotel in Brisbane's CBD, he realises that he's misplaced his glasses somewhere along the way. Being somewhat visually-impaired (read: totally blind) this is gonna make the next few days a little painful for him but he assures everyone that he'll be able to play the set without any issues. We have some time to kill before going to the venue, so we wander down to Queen Street mall. The guys eat sushi while I do a phone interview, which goes really well. The questions are interesting and the interviewer Krissi is good value. Then we mosey on up to Billy Hyde's to look at lots of expensive music gear we can't afford. I spend a bit of time sussing out some Ampeg SVTs and 6x10s. I'm pretty in love with what I've been using on stage this tour and am thinking I need to invest. The sales dude that helps us out happens to be a big fan of Karnivool who has also heard of sleepmakeswaves but missed out on tickets to the show. We sort him out with a door spot for the Tivoli, gents that we are.

The Tivoli is the kind of venue that just smacks you in the face with awesomeness from the moment you step in there. The stage is huuuuuuge and it looks out into this expansive art-deco style multi-level room, barriered with wrought iron and illuminated with soft yellow light. Pure vibe. We have a guitar restringing session backstage (fresh strings on the bass makes me very happy) before it's time for our soundcheck. Everything is a massive contrast to last night at the Great Northern Hotel. The stage is the definition of spacious and our monitor mixes are loud and generous. Our sound guy for this leg, Brett Tollis, is doing a great job manning our desk and is really excited about the sound he's got coming out the PA. All in all, we're getting really psyched to play tonight. Outside the venue and just before the show, I go to have a chat with Trash McSweeney from The Red Paintings. I've been a fan since back in high school, but this is the first time we've met. We're now management/label mates, with our manager Mike having started working with them through The Bird's Robe Collective/Bird's Robe Records ahead of their upcoming album release (it's been a long time coming). Trash is a very cool guy and we talk about touring Europe and the US, how he managed to spend three years and a LOT of money making their album and the relative advanatges and disadvantages of making progressive music in Australia. He has an interesting theory about how it pays to be the underdog.

Roadside Assistance

And then we play the show. What a show it is. The Tivoli's gorgeous room is packed full of lovely people that make us feel immediately welcome and from the first note the band is firing on all cylinders. The mix on stage for us sounds huge and the volume drives us to play harder and dig deeper. Like the first Sydney show at the Hi-Fi, this gig at the Tivoli was one where everything simply worked and for some of the guys in the band it's up there with the best gigs we've ever played.

After the show, good times keep on rolling and we end up meeting a bunch of really awesome people. Glen, the bassist from The Butterfly Effect; Luke, the guitarist of Sunk Loto (Kid and I spun this stuff hard in high school) and Lochlan, the new presenter of triple j radio's The Racket. All awesome people, and we'll be seeing Lochlan's band Nuclear Summer at a date supporting the awesome American atmospheric hardcore band Rosetta in Perth, right before the last few Karnivool shows. Tyson, Kid, Brett and Otto walk down to the Valley to get us all some spicy Chinese takeaway while I kick back with Redcoats and Tim and get to work on our rider.  Watching Karnivool side of stage playing to a sold out Tivoli crowd is another one of those dream-like inspirational moments.

SWM, Nick and Mike with triple j's Lochlan

I don't think a whole lot goes down after this. Moderately buzzed off the beer, we head back to the hotel shortly after midnight. Tyson, Tim and I stay up a bit watching TV and finding out what we can about the cinema shooting in Colorado. A bit of a sad ending to what was otherwise an amazing evening.

Show 12 – Gold Coast (The Coolangatta Hotel)

After a nice sleep-in we check out and head down to New Farm for breakfast; possibly the best food and coffee on tour so far. Well played, Ponycat (that's the café). You're not quite a horse and not quite a lion but you got our day off to a fine start indeed. From there we just hit the road and head down to Coolangatta and load our stuff into the venue.

Our manager has organised a community TV interview that afternoon in Sufer's Paradise, so we can't hang around the venue for too long. The interview takes place on the rooftop of place called the Beach House Tavern. A chill dude called Chris from AliveTV interviews us about our formation, writing style and tries to squeeze some good stories out of us about touring Australia. The problem is that all the really juicy, crazy shit happened to us in Europe and the US. We realise after leaving the interview that we should have just told those stories and swapped the nationalities around. You live and learn.

Interview with AliveTV

Back at the venue, we have a pretty run-of-the-mill kinda soundcheck. Afterwards, we're chilling in our green room, which is a pretty grim kinda elephant-grey janitor's closet kind of thing with far too few chairs and a sign indicating its for sleepmakeswaves and “Red Coates”. Also, there's no ice for our rider of VB tinnies. Thankfully, Prawn comes to the rescue with a bag of ice that he smashes up with the butt of a fire extinguisher. One suspects that he actually managed to puncture some of the cans in the process, which then leak out into a series of lager pools and waterfalls on the table and concrete floor. But thanks anyway Prawn. It's the thought that counts, right?


Sleepmakeswaves <3 Red Coates

The Gold Coast crowd are pretty appreciative of our set, which goes pretty well. I manage to kick over the hihat mic twice during the set, but it's OK, since Tim's volume on the drums combined with the Coolangatta's noise restrictions for opening bands means that some of the close mics are pretty negligible anyway. Despite Brett not being able to really crank the volume, we play hard and we get quite a few compliments on a set well done from the punters and some of the crew and musos backstage, which is pretty nice.

Redcoats have a bit of a rougher time of it. They're killing it as usual, but partway through their set, the cops turn up to make a fuss about the all the racket. What I didn't mention earlier is that the Coolangatta's live room literally opens out into a shopping centre from backstage and is wedged right underneath a few floors of apartments. This means that the residents are often making complaints about the noise. Where we come from in Sydney, it's par for the course for iconic venues to be driven out by noise complaints and it's interesting to see that the same stuff still goes down in different towns with different licenceing laws. Not as interesting for Redcoats though; probably just shitty. I suppose they were just a little bit too rockin'.

As usual, we just mill around backstage drinking the rider while watching Karnivool play. After the set I bump into a profoundly sloshed Trez and Stu from the Tequila Gig Crew, who have smuggled in a small hotel-sized sampler bottle of 12-year Talisker single malt. Seriously, these guys are like boozy angels or something. I get them backstage and the TGC and SMW people all get some of this stuff in us. Even Kenny from Karnivool takes an approving nip. This stuff is the firewater and puts an excellent buzz on the evening. Loading our shit out with the Redcoats guys, we play lift racing, which is exactly what it sounds. One band in the passenger lift, one band in the goods lift. Who will make it to the loading dock first? Maybe you had to be there, and maybe alcohol helps.

Stuck in a lift

Later that night we find ourselves downstairs in the bar, hanging out with the Drew, Hoss and Steve from Karnivool and watching a midnight covers band drunkenly bash out '80s hits from the Cure and Huey Lewis and the News. At about 2am the night looks like it's winding up. The crew begin to leave the venue and so do we. A short drunken stumble later and we're back in or hotel room drinking beer, eating Maltesers and watching late-night Rage. Thankfully, we oragnised a late check out for the following day.

Show 13 – Brisbane (The Hi-Fi)

As usual, I wake up a couple of hours ealier than anyone else, so I head down to the lobby and spend a bit of time writing this here tour diary. I meet Mike and his wife Sonia, who are on their way out. It's another typical tour morning: meet in the lobby, find some food and coffee and then hit the road to make it to the venue. Another city, another Hi-Fi! Brett and I get there before the other guys, so we load out our half of the gear and then hit up some coffee at a local café and talk about movies. Soon enough, we're all at the venue, relaxing in the green room. Or, attempting to relax. The room is almost directly behind the stage, so while Karnivool are soundchecking the drums, every bass drum hit comes reverberating loudly through our little windowless room, almost like Godzilla is stomping around up top. Oh well. We use the downtime to book flights to Perth for the last run of dates.

The soundcheck goes pretty well. The noise restriction situation here isn't dire at all. We get a generous monitors mix, there's enough room on stage and Brett seems pretty happy with the sound coming out of the FOH system. Cool. Yet, a few hours later, Nick pokes his head into the green room to say that my bass rig, which was working about an hour before has now decided it no longer wants to make any noise. Fuck. Our set is due to start in five minutes. These kind of moments are when tour sucks the most. You have a few people (in this case Tyson, Brett, Nick and myself) all frantically trying to fix a single unknown problem, each person some combination of fearful and snappish. We go to all the effort of borrowing Rhys from Redcoats' backup amp, thinking it's my SVT head that's given out, only to find out it's a dodgy patch lead between my delay pedal and my tuner. But by the time we've actually got some bass sound happening, it's time to play and Kid, Otto and Tim walk on around me. I hit the laptop to cue the backing tracks and we're in.

SWM at the Tivoli

As a musician, your reactions to these situations can be curious. I'm frustrated, nervous and angry about getting such a sour start to a show in front of a big and enthusiastic crowd. But my natural reaction is just to think “fuck it” and play harder to compensate for the problems. I feel like I struggle through the whole set because of the initial amp obstacles, but after the show we get some really kind words from a number of folks about how the set that night might have been one of the best all tour. If not that, then definitely one of the most energetic.

It's funny how what the band perceives as a really negative thing appears as non-existent or actually positive to the punters. I remember our first show in America. We found that our whole electronic laptop rig was unusable due to an unforseeable kink casued by the differences between the hertz that US and Australian power is supplied on. And then we get to the venue and find out that we're only going to get 20 minutes to play, even though we're supposedly headlining. Bottom line, our first overseas show was a mess in so many ways, but the performance itself turned out to be magical. We were all fucking furious and/or despairing, but looking back at some of the video a fan caught of the show, it was the need to play through that frustration that delivered a better show than we might have ever done up until that point.

Anyway, after our set I get out into the crowd to watch Redcoats from the front of the stage with their roadie, Jack. They play a hell of a set and get a big reaction from the crowd. This is followed by an absolutely dominant set from Karnivool, possibly the best of the tour so far. The mix is face-meltingly loud, the band is on fire and the set-list is the best it's been. Every subsequent song feels like a step up in intensity from the one previous. The crowd absolutely laps it up, pressed hard against the barricade, heads banging, hands in the air and singing along to every word. In between songs we grab beers and smoke cigarettes in a dim backstage mezzanine, but no matter where you are in the venue, the power of this Karnivool show is inescapable.

The night wraps up for us on a bit of a poignant note. We've made some good friends on the NSW and QLD legs of this jag who unfortunately won't be able to join us in Perth. Our buddy and drum tech Nick will be staying in Sydney, as will our excellent soundman and driver Brett. From the crew, Jack, Morgan and (the one, the only) Prawn will also be departing us to head back to their hometowns. It's a bit sad to see them go. Lots of handshakes, hugs, swapping of shirts and CDs. But it's also good, because it reminds you that, as Jack aptly put it, a good tour is just one big fucking bro-out.

Three weeks down. One to go. See you in Perth!

Bloodied set list