Sleepmakeswaves On Tour With Karnivool

9 July 2012 | 2:37 pm | Sleepmakeswaves

The ups and downs of beer slections that Sleepmakeswaves encounter while on tour with Karnivool.

Taking good tour advice from everywhere.

Taking good tour advice from everywhere.

Sleepmakes Tour Diary with Alex Wilson  – Week 1, SA/VIC

The week before tour starts

Hey there. This is Alex, I play bass in sleepmakeswaves. If you're reading this but you haven't heard of us before we're an instrumental rock band from Sydney. Our whole schtick is that we love gentle ambient stuff as much as we love distortion-slathered riffage. People call that 'post-rock' but I think we're better described as a bit rock, a bit prog, a bit indie and more than a touch electronic.

Anyway, we're just heading out to be the first support band for Karnivool's national tour run in July. This is a big deal for us, not just because they are an excellent band that we're honoured to be sharing stages with. They also have a sizeable and loyal fanbase who turn out to their shows in droves. Hopefully this means we'll end up playing to a fair few punters that won't have heard us but may like what we have to offer. And although we've done pretty extensive DIY-style tours in Australia, the US and Europe, this is our first time playing shows at large, sold-out venues where the headliner brings along a legit road-crew to make sure everything runs smoothly. We're definitely the small fish and it's exciting for us to see how a professional tour operation works from the inside.

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This is probably the most important tour in our career so far. Feeling the pressure a bit. A couple of us have seen Karnivool live before and we know that they play a very, very good live show. We've also heard that Redcoats, the tour's main support, are no slouches in that department either. So we hunkered down for about 12 hours of rehearsal in the week leading up to the tour's first show. Since coming back from Europe at the end of May, we've not played a show and concentrated mainly on writing new material, so it took a while to find our feet again. Also, stuff broke. Lots of stuff. We threw out old leads, bought new distortion pedals and spent quite a few hours obsessively going through our signal chains to make sure everything was in top working order. Even so, this is no guarantee against spontaneous gear catastrophes on stage.

By the end, we felt nervous but excited and as ready as we would ever be.

Tour prep.

Day 1 – Adelaide (HQ)

My morning starts around 9am with a taxi from Lewisham to Sydney International. I pretty quickly find Kid (guitars) and Tim (drums). We mill outside the terminal for a little while, smoking cigarettes and laughing at Otto (guitars, derps) who just texted us to say he'll be late because he set his alarm for the wrong time. He eventually makes it over and we head inside. If you've ever been stuck behind sleepmakeswaves at an airport check-in, then you already hate us, even if you don't know it. Our tour backline of four guitars, four effects roadcases, assorted drum stuff and merch bag always takes ages to check in, and the people stuck behind us at the oversize luggage drop-off throw dirty looks our way. No one's helped by the fact that there are huge lines at the Jetstar desks due to some kind of delay at the airport.

Flight's pretty uneventful. We meet our manager, Mike, at Adelaide airport's baggage-claim. It's a pretty quick drive in the hire car to the hotel, where we find out that our two rooms were booked for the wrong dates. Apparently we were meant to be there back in June. Hello, tour fail #1. We leave Kid to sort it out while the rest of us head to the venue, Adelaide's HQ bar, where Karnivool are soundchecking. Our guitar and drum tech, Tyson, arrives at HQ shortly after we do. Tys is a diamond geezer who looked after our guitars and backline during our US run earlier this year; it's good to know he'll be in our corner this whole tour. We check our gear and restring guitars until Kid arrives and lets us know that he sorted things out (plus a few complimentary drink vouchers). By now it's about lunchtime and we hang around for a few hours watching Karnivool finetune new material for this evening's show and gradually getting introduced to the guys that are making this tour happen: managers, techs, Redcoats and a couple of the Karnivool dudes. For some reason I haven't eaten all day and am going a bit crazy with hunger while we wait. Karnivool are legit rockstars with Subway catering and it takes a lot of self-control not to risk getting kicked off the tour on the first date for snarfing one of their sandwiches.

Early evening comes around. The headliners are off the stage and it's time for us to load on. Our hired backline arrived earlier in the evening and we get it on stage and set up. I'm particularly stoked with my rig this tour. I'm playing an Ampeg SVT Classic through an Ashdown 8x10 cabinet, kindly loaned to me for each show by Jon, Karnivool's bassist. Tim's got a nice-sounding Pearl Kit. Kid and Otto play Fender combos; vintage Twin Reverbs or DeVilles. These are some of the only amps we know that handle our big distorted sections as well as our delicate clean guitar lines. They are small and lightweight without stinting on clarity or volume. If anyone from Fender is reading this, give us an endorsement already! It's an awesome feeling to have this gear on hand at a great venue and feels like a step up for us as a band. Our setup and soundcheck goes smoothly and the 'Vool crew take some time to help us out. Up at our dressing room, we're pleasantly surprised by a fridge full of beer for us and Redcoats. Good times keep rollin'.

We hit the stage at 8:30pm, as we will every night on this tour. We are definitely nervous but I usually take this as a sign that your band is doing cool new shit that you aren't yet used to. We walk on and are shocked to see a reasonably full room of people to see us. Kicking into the first song feels really good; we love playing our music and taking the stage after a couple of months off is definitely a release. I don't think we played our best show, but it was pretty good for the first gig of a tour. The punters seemed to enjoy our set and we had a good chat to some local Adelaide folk out the back of the venue.

Redcoats and Karnivool followed up with ridiculously good sets, just driving home the point about how good this tour is going to be. Touring with such awesome bands is pretty much the dream.

Later on, we're chilling backstage and laying into a fridge full of Cooper's Green with Redcoats. This was pretty much the rest of the night for us; drinking and talking shop about about gear and the upcoming tour. Shortly after Redcoats kicked on, the Karnivool guys popped their heads in to say they'd see us in Melbourne. I think we were the last guys out of the venue, excepting the true heroes of any gig, the crew.

Thanks Radelaide. It was heaps good.

Day 2 – Melbourne (Off Day)

I wake up at 5am for our budget 7am flight to Melbourne. Off the back of quite a bit of beer and just under three hours sleep, I feel a tad rough. As do the other guys. After a vaguely unsatisfying and overpriced airport breakfast we jump on the plane. The emergency row seats the check in clerk offered us are definitely welcome and the hour's decent kip we steal before touching down in Melbourne helps take the edge off a bit.

Alex Kips while Otto eats.

We're crashing at the house of Stevo, a guy we met in Adelaide, but he's not back from work until later in the afternoon. We drive around Melbourne doing a whole lot of not much. We check out Billy Hydes, where one of the salespeople yells at me for retuning an acoustic guitar. We buy a new power supply for our stage laptop at JB, where Otto is psyched to find the latest Sun Kil Moon CD. Then we answer emails and drink coffee near Stevo's place in Fairfield, waiting for him to arrive. Off days can be pretty boring; your time lacks the focus it has when you're working towards a good show that evening. When he does, we hang around and jam on his acoustic guitars while shooting the shit with him and his housemates Sarah and Ryan, who is also the guitarist with Gosling. Later on we're joined by a Josh and a Tress. Cool people and I manage to get into a debate with someone about exactly why Victorians call a sausage sandwich “sausage in bread”. It made sense at the time. Although they did introduce me to the concept of the “shower beer”, for which I am forever grateful.

After threatening to head out on the town, we decide to take Stevo up on his offer of a home-cooked meal, a tour rarity. Stevo cooks up military quantities of pasta, Otto and Ryan have a Youtube Battle of the Lulz™ and we all laugh and work through a case of White Rabbit dark ale. Dinner, when it comes, is hearty and immensely satisfying. The rest of the night we just keep drinking and watch the Tour de France and State of Origin. I love you Queensland, but fuck you also. Seven years.

Day 3 – Melbourne (Hi-Fi #1)

Waking up off the back of a solid nine hours, I'm feeling pretty good. The other guys are still asleep so I sneak out down the road for a couple of flat whites and a stint on the laptop. A couple of hours later and the other guys are awake; we smash some satisfying big breakfasts at a Fairfield café with Stevo.

Finding a place to park and to get the gear into the Hi-Fi on Swanston Street is a total bitch. The traffic is chockas, hook turns suck, trams are a pain in the arse and the pedestrians have this really annoying habit of spontaneously wandering onto the road at any time they please. After almost getting booked by a parking inspector, we finally manage to pull up in a sidestreet and get our gear in. After sussing out the venue for a bit, we loiter around watching Karnivool soundcheck and take some time to inspect our gear and check everything is taped down securely and ready to go. A few hours pass and then it's soundcheck time. Turns out we have plenty of room on stage and everything sounds great, not least because we have one of our favourite engineers, Nao Anzai, on the desk. He knows we like to play loud. It's a huge wall of sound he can pull and I'm especially stoked with my bowel-ratting bass tone thanks to the huge 8x10 cab.

Calm before the storm.

When we take the stage, there are about 700 people in the Hi-fi. Holy shit. I think the excitement of playing to so many people pushes us a bit and the show feels really good. There's energy on the stage between us and the mix sounds big, deep and full. We walk off the stage to some solid applause and it's nice to know that we've delivered a great show early in the tour. But you can't please everyone: one guy comes up to me later in the night to let me know that we'll never be great unless we get vocals. Grouse yarn, mate. I suppose considering we're instrumental, we're lucky not to get this line more than we do.

Our old guitarist, Tom, is coincidentally down in Melbourne at the same time we are. He comes to watch the show and we catch up with him outside the venue before all heading out to get a greasy meal in Chinatown. Walking through the cold Melbourne evening, I happen to notice my instrumental music-hating friend getting shunted into a cop car. Total schadenfreude moment for me. That's what you get for guzzling the haterade.

With Otto and Tys already snug in a hotel, Mike, Kid and I pull up into our friend Roni's place in the south Melbourne suburbs. It's late, she's already asleep and soon we are too.

Day 4 – Melbourne (Hi-Fi #2)

I'm woken up by Roni's cat Leelou, awesomely named after Mila Jovovich's character from The Fifth Element. Mike, Kid and I head into town and kick around for a while, doing a whole lot of not much. Eating food. Smoking on the footpath. Drinking endless cups of coffee. Browsing places like second-hand bookstores where you know you're not actually going to buy anything. Although Kid does buy some sweet Converse kicks. I've heard it said that touring is 23 hours waiting around (or sleeping) for the 1 hour (0.5 in our case) where you actually do the thing you're there for. This is a routine that you get more and more familiar with the more you play, but it still never feels quite right.

After a pretty uneventful day, we wind up back at the Hi-Fi, waiting for soundcheck. It's the birthday of a couple of the Karnivool guys and the stage is festooned with multocoloured balloons. Drew, the guitarist in Karnivool, comes to have a chat with us about instrumental rock and we swap some bands. Great dude. As it turns out, Karnivool hit a technical snag during their warm-up set and so our time to load on to stage and get ready is much tighter than usual. We have to rush through our soundcheck to get it done before the venue doors open. On the plus side, we come backstage to find out that for our beer rider this evening the Hi-Fi has stumped up a case of Fat Yak ale for Redcoats and ourselves. This must be a mistake, but considering it was Melbourne Bitter the previous evening, we don't question it too deeply. As the opening band, you're all about the little things.

The show doesn't go so badly, but it's not a good as we would have liked. This is mainly because of technical difficulties; Kid's amp cuts out for an entire song and he and our tech Tys have to scramble around on stage for a few minutes while the rest of us play on. Then his in-ear monitors fail for the next song. Things like that are always a bit of a dampener.

Stevo, who put us up on our first night, is part of a group of Melbourne troublemakers, about 200 strong, who call themselves the Tequila Gig Crew. They'd threatened to get us some shots to do on stage that night and, sure enough, I look at my feet just before our last song and see four tequilas ready to go. The sheer volume of the roar that comes out of the crowd as we shout-out the TGC and down the shots is pleasantly surprising. The buzz of the crowd and the booze gives us a vibey end to what otherwise felt like a bit of a rough set.

To commiserate ourselves we start hoeing into the remaining beers. I picked up a bottle of Ballantine's the previous night and Tim, his girlfriend Shy and I hang around backstage doing shots and watching Karnivool, who are effortlessly tight and epic as always. We get a bit loose, and Kid and I end up back at Roni's place, clearing the scotch out in the wee hours.

Day 5 – Melbourne (Hi-Fi #3)

I wake up pretty early. I head out into the South Melbourne suburbs and set off for the train station. Got lunch with an old friend. As exciting as the tour has been, it's actually great to catch up with someone who is almost totally uninterested in guitar amps, effects pedals, tour logistics, life on the road or any other standard muso topics of conversation. A few hours spent like this and I'm feeling recharged, even after I discover that the Fat Yak has been swapped back for Melbourne Bitter. Easy come, easy go.

Last minute restring.

We have some pretty big expectations for this Saturday night. The Karnivool punters, who are usually pretty dedicated anyway, seem decidely amped for this evening's show. We must have been doing something good the past couple of nights, since we take the stage to a pretty big cheer. The show tonight is easily the best of the tour so far. No gear troubles, and there's a great energy on stage. We have a lot of people come up to us later that evening to say they were impressed. It's a good feeling.

After the show, it's pretty much just business as usual, although a little less interesting for me as I'm designated driver for the evening. We pretty much just hang out with a couple of friends: Nick from a band called Dumbsaint, who has been helping Tyson with our backline, and Tim, a violinist who played on one of our records and plays with a great Melbourne band called Ne Obliviscaris. Later that evening Kid, Otto and I watch the Karnivool set from the side of the stage. Four shows into the tour and they've completely hit their stride. They are absolutely killing. I decide to walk out the front and watch from the crowd at the moment they break into one of their old hits, Shutterspeed. This is the first time it's appeared at the Melbourne shows and the response from the crowd is electric. The pit bounces and you can hear hundreds of voices belting out every word. Watching these guys and the feelings they can rouse in people night after night is utterly inspiring. That they've got to where they are playing such a niche genre of music is even more astounding.

The night winds to a close. We say our goodbyes to some people and load our gear into Nao's van, as he's kindly offered to drive our gear up to Geelong. Between our hired backline and our guitars and pedals, there is simply to much to fit in our hire van. It's late, we say our goodbyes and agree to meet in Geelong the following night.

Day 6 – Geelong (The Bended Elbow)

Another tour morning means more pointless wandering around. I decide to make the most of it by buying some new threads. Otto sleeps in (again) and so we wait around until he manages to make it into town. We jump back in the hire van and head down to Geelong.

During the drive we discuss a pretty exciting and enticing international tour offer that has begun to firm up. If all goes to plan we'll be heading back overseas immediately after our own headlining tour of Australia in September. I get a real buzz out of this as between that and the Karnivool tour it feels like things are pretty golden in sleepmakeswavesland.

I've never been to Geelong before. After a quick check-in at the hotel, we head over to the venue and start loading in. The Bended Elbow's small stage looks pretty poky compared to the vast tracks of rockspace we had become used to at the Hi-Fi. Still, we've played on much, much smaller and we know we can make it work. We head down to the pub level, adorned with slightly creepy taxidermy, for dinner. What is cool is that the meals are free, as we are part of the evening's entertainment. Having toured Europe, you learn that Australia is pretty behind on this concept. In other countries it's pretty much par for the course that if you play you get fed as well, but it's quite the rarity in Australia. This makes us all the more grateful for the predictable but generous pub food we get stuck into. At some point it occurs to me that the venue's name is grammatically incorrect. I point it out, but I think the other guys aren't as worried about it as I am, and think I'm just that little bit special.

After heading back outside, we're invited by the Karnivool guys to hang out with them and their crew in their dressing room. Fucking awesome! They let us go at all their snacks, three brands of beer and various kinds of spirits. When you're used to a case of cheap piss as a rider, it all seems positively opulent. We're made to feel pretty welcome by the guys in the band; despite their big stage show, rabid fanbase and undeniable talent they are all very chill and unprententious guys.

We cram onto the Bended Elbow's tiny stage. Right as we kick into the intro for the first song, we immediately we run into a technical hitch. My instrument cable is not connecting properly with the bass jack. Although it gets solved, it's a crap start to the set for us; the first song is entirely bass-less for about half its length and the shaky beginning sours our rhythm for the rest. Thankfully, we manage to play through it and get our feel back pretty quickly into the second song. Having played a bunch of shows this year, we're all better at shaking that stuff off and just rolling on through. I actually feel like we pulled one of the biggest and most epic crescendos on the tour so far during our last song. The Geelong Crowd is not as big as the 500-odd people that would watch us in Melbourne, but they seem pretty appreciative.

Pedal-watch: SMW v Vool

Otto and I have to fly back to Sydney at 6am from Avalon airport for work on Monday morning. Kid and Tim got the day off and will follow us up later. Although it would be great to chill with some locals, we really need the sleep before our quarter to five start.  Also, I need to do stuff like write tour diary entries that I otherwise haven't had time to do. Goooood times. Right now I'm trying to tether my iPhone to send through the photos to go with this story (it's teeth-grindingly slow) while the other dudes are watching some really shitty movie on TV. There are no ads, so we haven't been able to figure out what it's called. But it has Sean Bean in it and seems to be about some giant killer sloth that is hunting people in the post-apocalyptic future. I can't help but feel it's weird that people actually got paid money to make this shit. If you know what the movie is, let us know.

See you in a week.