Music It has been been over two years, and we are honored (and, as always, glued to the page) to be able to publish another amazing, giant tour diary entry from Menomena's Danny Seim. You can read Menomena's past tour diaries (in chronological order, nonetheless) here. -Ed.
It's a nice day to be alive, which makes it a bad day to start a new journal. Positivity rarely serves as good fodder for anything, especially in this band. But here goes. I'm in a van that just pulled out of something called an "ausfahrt," which means I'm somewhere in Germany. The word "ausfahrt" isn't as funny as it was three years ago, which means I'm getting used to touring in Europe. The fact that I'm getting used to touring in Europe is a sensation I never could have predicted as a young kid growing up in Hawaii, when words like "okole" (butt) and "fut" (fart) were funny to me. Then again, if they had gas stations on Oahu called "okolefuts", I'd probably still laugh as an internationally traveled 33-year-old.
I am the age of Jesus Christ. All three of us are now, with Brent finally celebrating his Year Of Crucifixion two days ago. Our first tour was the Year Of Rock Suicide, when we were 27 years old and riding around America in a vehicle that was trying to give us the Cobain/Joplin/Hendrix/Morrison treatment with every blown tire and engine failure. We survived then (obviously; the Menomena Legacy hasn't yet been blessed with the tragic-death-as-brilliant-career-move strategy), and now we're old enough to die on a cross in front of a few angry Romans (who would later go on to have an entire gay-bashing chapter of the Bible written in their namesake).
...I was building towards a dramatic rant that ended with "www.rentboy.com", but I just looked out the window at the endless miles of green earth and cloudless blue skies only interrupted by the occasional massive wind-energy turbine and blue rectangular road signs with lots of funny words and syllables I still can't read to save my Christ-tastic life... and then I promptly lost my train of thought.
Lift my luggage, Lucien!
Oh wait, there's a sign that says "Dortmund." I think we played there once. I think it was a good show, and I'll bet if I fact-checked my old writings, I could come up with a wistfully nostalgic ode to the city, which is probably just as gorgeous as every other old German city, and definitely worth elaborating upon. But now the exit is several kilometers behind us and Kings Of Leon is pumping through the speakers and faithful Sascha is up there driving and singing along and I'm forgetting what I was just talking about again. The music is just loud enough for me to hear the froggy tonal quality of the singer's voice in the high notes, which reminds me of Steve Winwood for some reason. I've listened to both artists quite a bit in my day, and have never made this association before. Bring me a higher love. Your sex is on fire. Advantage: Winwood.
From my current vantage point, things haven't changed much. Besides Sascha behind the wheel, there's the exposed steel beam near the roof of the van where the TV used to be mounted (it was stolen three years ago while we were playing in Brussels at le Botanique, which is still my favorite European venue). There's the bench seat in front of me, which is occupied by a sleeping Brent (who, for the record, has not grown his hair to his shoulders or developed a habit of wearing sandals and walking on water). There's the loft above and behind me, where Justin is back in his mattress saddle (and also for the record, who HAS grown his hair to his shoulders and habitually wears sandals, loves the water, and has even cured the occasional leper).
But there's a few significant changes too. The rear bench seat in Sascha's trusty blue van is no longer occupied by just my formerly diarrhea-prone rear end (which reminds me: I think I've finally conquered my stage fright! Does that make me a more confident, seasoned performer, or does my recent lack of pre-show bathroom ritual just mean I've finally, completely lost my edge? I'd love to hear your thoughts, Cat Power). Instead of just a haggard backpack and a few European magazines with Beth Ditto on the cover next to me, I now share an upholstered bench with an actual human being. And his name is Joe. Also nüe to the crüe is sound gürü Fritz in the front passenger seat, but I'll get to him later.
Fritz (left) and Brent
31 Knots accompanied us on a short American tour right before our last album came out (roughly 73 years ago, har har). We had just signed with Barsuk Records, and one of the shows was an important showcase-type thing in our label's Seattle hometown. 31 Knots played first, and brutally destroyed the young audience's perception of a sensitive shy-boy indie rock show. We then played our sensitive shy-boy indie rock as the big recently-signed headliner, and I'll never forget Barsuk owner Josh Rosenfeld's wise words of advice after we finished our set, "next time, bring an opening band that doesn't blow you off the stage."
Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Or ask/bribe/beg them to join you. And fortunately, head 31 Knot Joe Haege wasn't as horrifically confrontational offstage when we asked him to climb aboard the USS Menomena (insert nautical speed joke here).
We played our first show with Joe four nights ago in Leipzig at a little club called Sweat! (!). If anything was going to test my newfound bowel tenacity, it was this performance. Menomena hadn't played a proper live show since 2009, and we'd just navigated our way through the darkest three years in our lives. I was thinking the other day how bizarre it is that I've been working on this last album almost as long as I was in high school. Time either moves faster when you're agin' Jesus-style, or my high school career was hellishly longer than normal, because I seem to remember those years taking an eternity. So... I went through puberty, adjusted to new life in Portland, grew 8 inches, threw down my first dunk in an organized basketball game, suffered through the death of my mom, rejoiced through the landing of my first kickflip shove-it nosegrab on a quarter pipe (yes, I used to speak fluently in abstract code), passed my first audition to sing in my first band, won my first talent show (with said first band), had my first AOL "cyber session" ("firstname.lastname@example.org", no, I never chatted with you please dear lord please I didn't), worked my first job (strikebreaking at a union grocery store), got my first pair of contacts, saw UHF for the first of innumerable times, bought my first CD (UB40, Labour of Love II), saw Jim Spagg on cable access for the first time (holla, Portland!), played my first game of mailbox baseball, wore my first pair of oversized saggy Dickies, wore a wallet with a big chain attaching it to my belt, learned to drive, totaled my first car, learned to speak Spanish (barely; all I remember is how to say, "I am very gay"), got my first detention, saw my first generational icon commit suicide (Kurt), got sweaty in my first mosh pit at a concert featuring my favorite Christian/white/male/funk band (Poor Old Lu), met my future first wife, snuck my future first wife out of her parents' house (she was 15) to attend my first "secular" concert (at The Roseland; Dandy Warhols opening for Oasis), started my first 'zine (Family Fun, banned in Christian high schools since 1994), smoked my first cigarette (unmanned vending machine, Dunkin' Donuts), first experienced Beavis and Butthead, wrote a 45-page term paper on Saving The Spotted Owl, learned how to snowboard, helped my dad install a swimming pool, joined Columbia House and BMG simultaneously, almost burned my parents' house down with a "gasoline experiment", wore baggy clothes by the brands Cross Colours and Fresh Jive, dyed my hair various shades of Manic Panic, bought fake weed with a friend along with FIVE MILLION MORE THINGS THAT I'M TOO ASHAMED TO MENTION IN THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME IT TOOK TO RECORD AND RELEASE THIS ALBUM?!!
Love see no color.
Just thinking about the Mines recording process makes me want to throw up all over again. I know I'm a moderately evolved White Male American, winning the lottery by being born and all that other overly-dramatic Vedder shit (that I jokingly dismiss now, but probably cried myself to sleep to, clutching my Fido Dido doll in the early '90s), and I probably shouldn't complain about a relatively lame (we didn't actually castrate each other with dull knives...we didn't even break up, shockingly) personality conflict between me and two other WMA's. But the wounds are still fresh, and whether I should ethically admit it or not, there's a lot of psychological weight riding on this new record. I want to slap my intended-for-someone-ten-years-younger Wayfarers on but my damn face is too big, and my tastes aren't modern enough. What happened to Oakley Razor Blades? You know you're getting old when your fashion tastes secretly align more closely with Kenny Powers than Vampire Weekend. I could try to pretend a total commercial failure wouldn't affect me. But of course it would. Of course I still read our own reviews, and of course I'm still an idiot for doing so.
So now I'm casually rambling on about: a) being old enough to die on a cross like a Mel "Sugartits" Gibson snuff film, b) questioning the thought of knowing every lyric off the first three Pearl Jam albums by heart, and, c) proudly acknowledging the fact that being onstage isn't as nerve/toilet-shatteringly terrifying as it used to be. And it makes me recall a quote I heard once that went something like, "you're not actually getting old until you stop worrying about getting old." Whatever. I'd rather believe that all those worries were just infinitely larger for me several short years ago (OK, more like 15 years ago.... And by the way, why no reunion invites? Ever? Not that I'd accept your lame invitation or anything.) because my fear threshold hadn't been properly expanded yet, like a pair of inhumanly tight jeans gradually accommodating the shape of your legs through months of frequent wear and infrequent washing. Well, now the skinny pants are painted on and starting to resemble some form of comfort, but they're looking more and more fashionably outdated by the nanosecond. I need to dust off those 46-hole Doc Martens. Cypress Hill had it right: "What goes around comes around, kid."
All this is to say that this album taught me the real f-words: Fear, Failure, and Fragmented Friendships. And now oddly enough, all the other negative facets of everyday life seem much more tolerable. Hallelujah!
Somewhere back there, I was starting to talk about how much fun it is touring Europe with this band and its drama-prone new member. Now there's two (uh, or three) of us with an appreciation for the art of acting. Brent was a college drama major, and Joe just made his screen debut in the arty-farty Portland film Field Guide to November Days. I went to the premiere and it honestly wasn't my cup of tea (i.e. it was no Hot Tub Time Machine), but my heavily biased opinion of Joe's performance was that it was quite good. Really good, actually. Especially for a debut role that required him to kiss dudes, grope breasts, do shrooms and cry on cue. I left the theater feeling confident that Menomena had hired the right person to share a van with for a month.
Joe Haege in Field Guide to November Days
Speaking of hiring the right people, our new sound guy is named Friedrich "Fritz" Brückner, and he is awesome. When I think of my favorite German bands (Kraftwerk, Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia, Can, David Hasselhoff) operating in their 1970s prime, I think of dudes who look like Fritz. He's like a taller, more muscular version of Kurt Cobain. Handsomeness aside, he's also an ace sound engineer, and he's introduced me to many important things along this journey: Charlie The Unicorn, his band Plasma Police, and his girlfriend Doreen (who taught me how to say "I am a tall pussy" in German). Good times, all around.
Well, we just made it to Paris. We're at Le Fleche d'Or tonight. It's a cute place that we've already played a couple times. On another trip here a few years ago, a band I had never heard of called The Dirty Projectors opened for us. Their jaw-dropping performance made me recall Josh's words about us being blown off the stage by the opener. Since then, of course, I've become a huge Dirty Projectors groupie with the rest of the modern world. Tonight, we have Jose Gonzales' band Junip opening for us. Great.
Important note to self: not-so-successful bands always talk about the successful bands that once opened for them.
(File under: The National, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, Don Caballero, Gary Young's Hospital, etc.)
I'm such an annoying pessimist. Every time I write something like the end of that last paragraph (or by extension; this entire journal), I'm secretly hoping that I'll be proven wrong. That we really WON'T crash into the sea on a transatlantic flight; that we really WON'T die as young as Jim Morrison (or Jesus Christ, for that matter); that our über-negative recording process WON'T translate into an album flop; that a show headlining over a much more famous and successful folk star WON'T result in an onstage meltdown with the drummer throwing a tantrum and yelling profanities at the crowd and playing the worst show of his life in the most beautifully exotic foreign city in the world.
Guess what happened?
Paris is fading into the foggy distance behind us now in the wake of Sascha's diesel-fueled blue van. Justin and Joe are talking quietly in the loft while undoubtedly spooning. Fritz is up in the passenger seat, Brent is in the second row, and both of them have headphones on and are headbanging in uncanny unison. Only I am aware of this. Our sexy German booking agent Severin decided to make the ferry trip to London with us, and is also wearing headphones under a blue hoodie next to Brent. If I had to guess what they were all listening to right now it would go something like: Fritz - Aphex Twin; Brent - The Homosexuals; Severin - Health. The Healthy Homosexual Twins. Like a pre-"tiger incident" Siegfried & Roy.
Pathetic attempts at humor do nothing to improve my emo situation. I'm in the back seat, wishing I had the last 18 hours of my life back.
Paris was an amazingly vibrant mess of a city, as usual. We were promptly stuck in traffic five seconds after entering the downtown area. It was good to be reminded what brown people (both those born that way and those owning tanning beds) look like. And homeless people. And people pushing strollers. And people selling weird things on sidewalks. And people walking arm-in-arm with other people light years out of their league. And people on scooters, everywhere. And all of these people colliding in all sorts of unique ways on streets that seem to have been planned by a blind person on acid. At one point, we had a massive Turkish wedding spilling out onto the road on our left, and a small colony of tents full of dirty people waiting for their travel visas on the right, everyone yelling and crying and laughing at once in a million different languages that all sounded like gibberish to me.
Needless to say, we were almost two hours late to the venue. Le Fleche d'Or had changed since the last time we were there. The interior was completely redesigned several months ago, and now resembled something closer to a big black box instead of the charming little old rail depot it was in a previous era. But looks aside, the sonic quality was definitely improved. We started an unmemorable sound check.
Our first time in Paris we did a Take Away Show for la Blogetheque. The street performance pushed us completely out of our comfort zone, but the end result was rather charming, thanks to a couple of cute little dancing kids who took the focus off our awkward dorkiness. This time, a different blog called HibOO wanted to recreate the same sort of thing with a couple of our new songs, acoustically. I was immediately against the idea (dudes, we barely know how to tune our instruments together, let alone rock our jams Jack Johnson-style!), but got outvoted 2:1. The camera crew took us several blocks away from the venue, to a quaint little walkway between two vine-covered apartment buildings. The sidewalk was only wide enough for single-file, so we stood in a conga line with Brent on xylophone, Justin on acoustic bass, Joe on acoustic guitar, and me with a little mic stuck to my shirt collar like a motivational speaker. We were going to attempt the song "Dirty Cartoons", one of my wannabe Rasta babies off the new record.
Before the cameraman was able to hit "record," an elderly couple burst out of one of the houses and started putting their hands on their heads and saying something to us in French (I think). The crew were apparently able to sweet talk them, and they stepped off to the side as we began our harmlessly pretentious walk-sing down the sidewalk. You know that one '90s Morrissey video where he's walking through a hallway, swinging overhead lights to the side while looking seductively into the camera, lip-synching something about being ignored yet still getting closer? That's what I kept imagining as I walked forward, singing off pitch and trying not to trip over my own stupidly large feet.
We made it about 3/4ths of the way through the song when another woman came running up behind us. The French diplomacy didn't work this time. She lunged past the fancy acoustic guitars we borrowed directly from Extreme's "More Than Words" video shoot, detuning them with her flailing limbs in the process, and grabbed for the video camera. We tried to keep singing and walking, feeling more ridiculously embarrassed by the second. Here I was, an alarmingly tall person loudly crooning a song in a foreign language in her backyard while a guy filmed me. She probably thought Steve-O was going to drive a shopping cart into my nuts at any second. I tried in vain to win her over with an achingly sincere "Jesus loves you!" but she wasn't having it. The cameras turned off, and we hightailed it back to the club. After a weird little international incident like that, the night would surely get better, right? Uh, wrong.
Stills from Extreme's "More Than Words" video
Junip was starting their set when we arrived back at Le Fleche d'Or. They are a good band. They are the Swedish equivalent to Heatmiser, if Heatmiser would have been more influenced by Neu! and Cluster (instead of Fugazi and the Beatles, right Tony?), and if Elliott Smith would have decided to return to his former band after achieving world renown, rather than deciding to die (or deciding to get himself killed, depending on your side of the conspiracy). In this case, the Elliott-ish figure is Jose Gonzales, and he and his band are talented and very nice.
I would have enjoyed Junip's set even more if the inside of the club wasn't hovering near 90 degrees. All I could think about the whole time was the fact that we were going to be playing in that same sweltering heat in less than 20 minutes, and I began to wonder if my dormant bowels would crack under pressure. Wow, that's disgusting.
Our set started out fine, considering we only practiced for a few weeks with Joe. Initially, the plan was that Justin and I would fly over here together to do interviews and play a few shows as a dynamic/ambiguous duo, because Brent was busy touring with his side project, Lackthereof. But then Joe entered the picture, and our uncomfortably handsome European label boss Christof got a wild German hair and decided to see if Brent would quit his tour early to return to the fold and rock out with us. Fortunately for everyone, Brent agreed and there we all were, covered in sweat onstage in Paris before the first laptop was switched on (yes, we now have two of them onstage...bands are so lame these days).
I've already belabored the topic of this show for way too long. We just stepped off the smelly ferry into England now, and thankfully, time does heal most wounds. But to tie up the loose bandages, here's an overall blanket statement:
I botched the drums on the second song of the set, which also happens to be the second song on our new album. Songs are hard to remember how to play when they have roughly 37 different parts, each of which features a slightly different pattern of beats, all of which are meant to be played like the drums are electric groundhog statues and you're the sticky-handed little kid holding one of those padded baseball bats at the arcade: hard and fast and without precision (I could have taken that analogy a number of different directions, but I stuck to the "G" rated version). When a song is botched so early in a performance, I have a hard time regaining composure. Here are three more things that happened during the remainder of the set to help my composure become even more shattered by the end of the night:
1. My bass drum pedal broke.
2. My new bass pedal (supplied by the nice stage manager) would have been perfect for the Cannibal Corpse drummer, who I assume plays in steel-toed boots. Unfortunately, the Menomena drummer plays barefoot, and therefore jagged metal French toe stops hurt sensitive American toes.
3. I assumed since we had just practiced "Dirty Cartoons" on a street in front of a crazy woman who was trying to kill us, that the song would work even better on a stage in front of people who paid to see us. Ha ha hahahaaa...barf. I stood up to exchange my drums with Justin's bass and slumped to the front of the stage like a neanderthal, trying desperately to evolve. Joe started the song with his rented DMB-approved guitar, and I tried to start singing. We made it through the first four words together and it became shockingly obvious that the heat and our sweat had completely detuned Dave's guitar. Joe stopped abruptly and I exploded something long and profane and unmentionable into the microphone and slunk back into a corner while Joe madly tuned.
I was so humiliated, so uncomfortably embarrassed. So frustrated for ever thinking swapping instruments onstage and becoming the front-and-center guy for a song was ever a remotely good idea. We're not Sebadoh, afterall. Or Cannibal Corpse. But most of all, I was furious at myself for not being more resilient in the face of such a relatively minor setback. In a few short years, I'm going to be old enough to be the father of some of the people watching me onstage. The last thing I need to be doing is throwing temper tantrums. Teen angst and teen spirit and youthful rebellion are inspiring. Mid-life meltdowns are just embarrassing. Just film me drunk, shirtless, and trying in vain to get a hamburger into my mouth and put me on YouTube already.
After the show, I collapsed backstage in a sweaty pile of sopping wet hair and clothing, wanting nothing more than to drink heavily and feel sorry for myself. As I lay there though, I started realizing what a huge asshole I was being. Here I was, in Paris. PARIS! Because of the music I had written! Because tens of thousands of people believe in me; not the least my family (who still cringe at every obscene thing appearing in these tour journals), my bandmates (who I would still be working at Kinko's without), my girlfriend (who is acutely aware of the agonizing distance between us), my ex-wife (who is still nice enough to house/pug-sit for me right now), my friends (who haven't blacklisted me yet for probably being the most flaky person they know), my label/agent folks (who booked this tour in the first place) and of course Sascha, our driver/tour manager and Fritz, our unflappable soundguy. As if on cue, Fritz walked in just as I was giving him mental props, handed me a hand-rolled cigarette and said in his deep German accent, "come on Danny, I'm buying you a whiskey."
A few drinks later, I was more or less back to my semi-rational old self. I began packing up my drums in the empty club, and I found a colorful oversized earring on the ground near the front of the stage (in the area that would be referred to as "The Pit" at a Slipknot concert). I put it in my pocket, thinking that I'd get my right ear lobe pierced as a sign of solidarity with my gay brethren and wear this flamboyant earring for the rest of my life to remind me that the old Danny was laid to rest in Paris with Jim Morrison.
Fritz and I finished packing up the gear and we headed outside to meet our more socially adept bandmates and finish our drinks.
We found Justin right away. To combat the venue's heat, he had stripped to a tiny pair of Daisy Duke shorts and a skintight striped tank top. Add that look to the shoulder-lengthed ponytail he's been rocking lately and you've got yourself quite a tantalizing mental image. As the three of us were talking, a hand grabbed my arm and a female voice said, "you are ze drum-errh, no?" I was opening my mouth to reply something typical like, "Usually, yes, but tonight I was the designated gunman in the Menomena career suicide pact," but then I remembered I was trying to Break On Through To The Other Side of self-deprecation. So I just turned to face her and answered, "yes (sigh), that was me."
She was tall and attractive and very French. In a good way. My American ears understood about 25% of what she was telling me. In a bad way. For this reason, I didn't catch her name or the name of her brother, who was also tall and attractive and was excited to hear we were from Portland because he was a big Trail Blazers fan. He and I talked for a little while about the glory of Brandon Roy and the sorrow of an injury-plagued season, while the sister made the all appropriate eye-rolling gestures at the lameness of two tall dudes talkin' sports. The dudes finally high-fived and shifted our focus back to the girl, who was eager to tell me exactly what she thought of the performance she just witnessed.
She had never heard of us before, and had only attended the show because her brother told her Jose Gonzales was playing. Fair enough, I told her. She went on to give an incredibly long and incredibly nice speech about our music and our passion onstage. While it was a massive relief to hear, I must admit I started wondering if she was getting the Menomena show confused with a different show. I told her I felt like I just got finished throwing a dirty diaper at the audience, and she said she wouldn't have noticed because she was dancing so much. Fair enough, again.
I love how people speaking unfamiliar languages to each other have the most direct conversations. There's no way to soften the blow of honesty with flowery diplomacy. One of the last things the girl said to me was, "You are amazeeng drum-errh, but you should never sing!" OK, so she was at the right show after all. And as if to further prove her attendance, she then turned to look at her brother and I noticed she was only wearing one colorful, oversized earring. Homoerotic fantasies dashed, I handed my find over to her. She screamed in delight, her brother made a witty Cinderella joke, we hugged goodbye, and I left with Joe to down a pocketful of warm whiskey somewhere in the maze-like streets of Gay Paris.
A flamboyant earring (re-enactment)
We left Amsterdam about two hours ago. Since leaving Paris, we've crossed the English Channel twice, climbed the chalky Cliffs of Dover, played a show in London that restored my faith in my chosen profession, and spent a night in the most beautiful city I've ever seen (a.k.a. Bruges, Belgium). I'm clearly not disciplined enough to keep at this journal every day, and even if I was, it would be impossible to devote the deserving amount of attention to every lovely city we've blown through along the way. Good ol' rock touring.
Justin on the White Cliffs of Dover
Back to London for a second though. After my personal Paris pitfall, I needed a show that didn't make me want to dust off my Kinko's application afterwards. London has always been good to us. Although I'm getting comfortable with smiling and nodding my way through incomprehensible Mainland European conversations, it's always nice to soak in the charm of a post-cockney dialect. Especially when it's being spoken by thespian extraordinaire Joe Haege. But that's another story. I'm happy to report that our show at the Hoxton Bar went well. Sure, there were several little hiccups here and there, but looking across the stage at Justin's startlingly white/tight pants always puts me in a good mood.
Afterwards, Justin and Joe and I went out for some curry with our BFF's Kele (who happens to be in Bloc Party) and Mark (who happens to run a label called Wichita). Both are great dudes, and they treated us to Indian cuisine that dramatically parted ways with my digestive system an hour after leaving the restaurant. Thankfully though, I was able to keep the proverbial finger in the proverbial dike until we hugged our farewells with those two fine men and took a taxi back to the hotel. I begged Justin's (we've been sleeping together for the past two weeks) forgiveness in advance, locked the bathroom door, opened a window, sat down and held on for dear life.
So that was London. And then there was Amsterdam, where the highlight (extra emphasis on that first syllable) was definitely NOT playing a crappy techno club, but playing a crappy techno club with the band Love is All, who are definitely NOT a crappy band. They ARE however, rather impossible not to like. We shared our gear with them and they in return, rocked our pants off. After the show, Fritz and Justin and I did something involving walking about 200 miles to some Texaco station to get a bag of Doritos and a massive bottle of water. I'll let you fill in the details because I simply don't remember them. Yikes!
Love is All
Now we're heading up into The Alps. To Lucerne, Switzerland, to be exact. We will be playing a festival called "B-Sides" tonight. It's shockingly beautiful up here. Almost beautiful enough to make me not want to fly back to America tomorrow. But I've got to get home. My yard needs mowing. We have just over a month before our badly leaked album's actual release date. And then there will be more vans and more Ausfahrts and more depression, joy, love, resentment, hope, and all the other little things that go into making this band Menomena.