Road rules

A glimpse at the oh-so-glamorous life of a touring rock band.

This spring, the Seattle rock four-piece Bell released its first CD, Perfect Math, then embarked on its first national tour. Leaving Seattle in early April, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Vanessa Veselka, bass player Susan Larsen, drummer Andy Miller, and guitarist Damon Romero traveled through 30 states and played 42 shows. Veselka provided Seattle Weekly with the following thoughts from the road.

Bell

Elysian, Saturday, June 27

Thursday, April 9

We're on I-90 now, heading to Missoula, and we'll be on it until it stops in Boston and we turn south. The feeling in the van is strange. Everybody's had so little sleep. Andy broke up with his girlfriend of five years, and Sue quit her job of nine years. Damon's eaten nothing but ramen for months, and I've borrowed more money than I could ever make at an honest job. Our future depends mostly on our van, Buttercup—a daunting prospect. Buttercup is several unplanned shades of yellow decorating a large delivery truck. From a distance, it looks like a partially melted loaf of Velveeta teetering down the highway. Oh, god . . . what are we doing?

Saturday, April 11

I don't know about North Dakota. Minot was wild: The kid who booked the show absconded with cash and few words a couple of weeks ago. The new booker was surrounded by a host of teens who lived only to do his bidding. The smell of freshly laundered cash pervaded. You just knew that music alone wasn't bringing the kind of money that their set-up required. It was a little Lord of the Flies for my tastes. After the show, the booker asked if we would consider hanging around and playing in Bismarck the next night. Apparently, they had sold 2,000 tickets for a big death-metal show with a staged crucifixion, in honor of Easter. He wanted to know if we would go on afterwards and try to "keep the energy peaceful." Yeah, right. Somehow following a mob of Midwest teens who had just strung someone up on a cross didn't seem like a bright idea.

Wednesday, April 15

Drove to Michigan after peeling out of a South Chicago gas station when the guy in the car next to us pulled out a custom chrome 9mm and started walking toward the attendant with a purpose. Sirens passed us within minutes. Slept in a rest area in Battle Creek and then drove to Flint. The band after us flawlessly played Pink Floyd's The Wall album in its entirety—which was almost as scary as the gun in Chicago.

The next night we played in Detroit at a vet bar—no, a vet shrine—in the Cass Corridor, which has all the charm of a recently declared DMZ. They loaded our gear into a compound surrounded by 12-foot walls topped with razor wire while the bartender, Baretta, stood outside and assured us that there were more guns than people in the bar on any given night. The stage, now quite plain, had once sported a backdrop of elephant grass, with sandbags all around it. Above the grass, a North Vietnamese flag flew, under a heaven of exploding bombs and a sign reading: "Ho Chi Minh: KISS MY ASS!" Obviously, the place had mellowed some in recent years, because the stage I saw was your average intrusion in a bar that had less to do with music than old wounds.

Saturday, April 25

Played New York City last night. We made MTV pay to get in! Other industry vermin milling around. We sucked up the compliments and left with no expectations that anything they said actually meant much.

Tuesday, April 28

Georgia feels like the inside of an old sponge. School has let out all over the Southeast, and the show crowds are lean. We met a woman in North Carolina who had never heard of Washington state and didn't recognize a map of the US! In her own words: "I ain't never been nowhere."

The night before last we stayed in the back of a record store in Athens, and I scored a great Miles Davis poster. Last night was Atlanta. Everybody at the show was pinned and into G.G. Allin. Afterward, the sound guy called me into the booth so that he could tell me how much we reminded him of another band while he shot up. We made $9.

Monday, May 4

Lafayette, Louisiana. It's hot, swampy, and I don't think they'd ever find the body. We pulled into the TraveLodge last night at about 4am, dazed from driving and annoyed with each other. The man in the office was a smiling Indian named Paul who asked if we were musicians. I told him we were.

"Really! I play violin!" he said. "Would you like to hear me?"

Before I could make excuses he had unlocked the door and led us into the back room. Indian porn graced the TV screen. Paul, puppy-eyed and eager, arranged himself in the chair so that his gentle rolls of fat settled evenly like soft serve narrowing to a head. The human ice-cream cone grinned and drew the violin in closer. Behind him, breasts surged up and down rhythmically.

He reached behind him and switched the channel to something less noisy before starting to saw his way through "The Star Spangled Banner." He played poorly but with zest, adding in ill-timed trills and staring at me as if he could seduce me with music and the vampiric will of his soft, doughy eyes. Behind him the shopping channel hawked cheap jewelry. I couldn't stop smiling. He took it as praise but it was really delight that years of teenage acid consumption had taught me to recognize moments like these as the grain that give life meaning. Paul offered to play more, but we begged out and headed back to the van.

Thursday, May 21

No show in San Francisco. The booker is whacked out on speed—so far gone that she doesn't know her club has been closed for months! She lives in the basement and tells touring bands that she's expecting a big turnout. "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille... " I hate everybody in the van right now.

Sunday, May 24

Just finished our last show, a live radio broadcast in Portland. It's raining, so I know we're near home. I can't believe it. Buttercup, the god of all tour vans, made it 12,000 miles without even a flat tire! And we're still a band, which is a definite plus. Right now I love them all. Locusts, frogs, and plagues aside, I've wanted to tour like this since I was a teenager pretending to be Angus Young in front of the mirror. I don't want to go home.

 
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