Welcome to “The Art of Touring”, a column I proudly bring to you, the avid reader, the curious, about the ins and outs of the touring artist and the not so glamorous world of touring, that has been painted for so long. Enjoy and share with friends, as this is a proudly presented regular piece and your support is highly appreciated in spreading the words presented here.
Now, I get the chance to speak to artists at all kinds of levels of the game, and this week, I got to speak to the one and only DW Norton of legendary Oz heavyweights, Superheist, and recently unveiled his solo project, Rifleman, as well as being an acclaimed producer and a great guy to chat with also.
We settled into a great chat and I needed to know right off the bat, what tour life meant to this guy. DW answers, “These days its small hit and run missions, weekends mainly. In Australia playing during the week is a futile exercise. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s we would be almost permanently on the road. We could play tons of regional areas and get good crowds. A lot of those venues are gone now and the state of radio play has changed dramatically, heavy bands certainly get the raw end of that deal, which unfortunately affects the amount of people out there wanting to check out Aussie metal and heavy rock, but we persevere!”
It’s quite daunting to get a perspective like this and it paints an interesting visual of a once thriving and prominent heavy music scene, of a population that couldn’t get enough music regularly, and radio and TV were right there supporting it. Where did we go wrong?
I wondered how touring has then changed in DW’s opinion, for a guy who has seen the nation and then some and been at the forefront; “Oh yeah, the whole industry has changed massively. And not in a good way. In the 90’s there were way more venues and regional touring was easy. Now it’s almost impossible to do a proper regional run. The venues just aren’t there and the support from the local towns seems to have dwindled somewhat,” he sighs with a response that’s all too common these days from musicians that have been there and given their blood, sweat and tears for music to the aspiring musicians who’ve grown up seeing this nation at its musical finest. One wonders, as I then proceed to ask about the importance of being sponsored. Oh, wait a second! Does that even exist here in Australia, especially for rock and heavy music artists? “I’ve never been sponsored so I’m not sure what that is. I mean I’ve gotten help from guitar and amp companies with gear, like ESP for example. Just that alone is a great help. There’s a lot that this country could and should do to support its artists. Not just the mainstream, but the subcultures and those pushing the boundaries need support too. We should take a leaf out of Sweden’s book. Ever wondered why there are so many cool Swedish bands? It’s no coincidence or something in the water, it’s from government support that properly recognises the importance and value of their music industry as an export product,” Norton answers with a wisdom that just makes sense, especially when you see the plethora of support worldwide. As for here? It is argumentive, but this isn’t the time or place for this discussion.
The conversation shifts from the political aspect of touring to a lighter topic of discussion, in the touring world of DW Norton, as I asked about what he considers the most gruelling part of touring to be. Quite simply, he answers, “Waiting. Waiting for band members to arrive, waiting to get to the airport, waiting to board, waiting to take off, waiting to disembark, waiting to check into the hotel, waiting for sound check, waiting for showtime, waiting to get paid, waiting to go back to the hotel, there’s a lot of waiting.” So true, so true. There is a shared nod of laughter at this for sure. So there you have it. An all too common truth folks.
As we get into the touring essentials one such as DW cannot tour without, and he lays it down like a well-trained soldier, “Other than my guitars, my backpack. It’s permanently attached to my back and has everything I need to survive inside. It has many secret compartments and can fit an extraordinary amount of clothing and select items required to keep me functioning well on tour. This is my backpack, there are many like it but this one is mine! Without me, my backpack is useless, without my backpack, I am useless!” So DW packs light, or is he guilty of over packing? “Pretty light, I have it down, it’s all in the backpack!” He laughs. And ads on personal items required amusing oneself on tour? “1 x iPhone, 1 x set of quality headphones, 1 x large packet of Sour Skittles.”
So, we veer into one of my favourite touring topics of discussion. Diet and eating on the road. As I’ve said before, it can be a challenge, and if not careful, can bite you on the proverbial ass. As DW offers his outlook like only a seasoned pro can, “Being Vegan it can be challenging, but I know all the usual haunts to get what I need. Mexican food rules of course! I always travel with a bottle of hot sauce too!” And the tour cuisine of choice? “Wherever possible it’s all about black bean burritos with Jalapeños and hot sauce!” He answers. Who doesn’t love a good hot sauce?
So, does DW have a memorable dining experience? You bet, as he answers with a bold sense and wit, “One time in Adelaide I was so disappointed with my meal that I refused to pay. The Thai restaurant called the police, I stood my ground and announced to the entire restaurant’s patronage that should they be unhappy with the food or service the police would be called and they will be arrested as I am about to be. That prompted the manager to quickly usher me out the door, I left satisfied that I didn’t have to pay for the slop they had served up.”
As we got into the topic of tour experiences, to which I am certain Norton has a few, I asked him to reflect on a most memorable one, to which he laughed and reflected, “On the last day of recording Superheist’s ‘Ghosts Of The Social Dead’ we ended up in a bar playing in the International Cornhole Championships in North Hollywood. We were representing Australia of course. We were doing pretty well at first, however alcohol consumption eventually got the better of us and we ended up focusing more of elaborate scoring celebrations than actually keep tab of the score; we got thrashed by the U.S team. It was rather humiliating but damn we had a lot of fun!” And the most memorable city to play in was? “Hollywood is the Mecca of rock n roll so it’s pretty damn amazing playing there.” Norton answers.
Now, he’s certainly a musician that has had his share of touring with some mighty huge acts, as I had to know who some of the memorable ones were, “Superheist toured with Eminem and D12. That was pretty amazing. Eminem was probably the biggest and one of the most controversial artists in the world at the time. Being a part of that was great.” Meanwhile here in our own backyard , a tale about one of our most successful and beloved Oz stars, Norton shares, “Touring with Grinspoon in ’99 was awesome too… that tour put our band on the map. 40 odd shows pretty much every day of the week all over Australia. We had some crazy fun, on the last night Grinspoon played a practical joke on us by hijacking the smoke machines and completely filling the entire venue with smoke so no one could see us play. We couldn’t see 30cm in front of our own eyes. It was almost impossible to play. Outstanding effort from The ‘Spoon, fucked us up nicely!” He laughs.
How does one like Norton get inspired on the road, music of choice and band activities? He answers me with, “Personally I don’t listen to music on tour. I enjoy the silly banter with the guys. It’s always entertaining. Inspiration? I’m inspired by our fans buying tickets to see us play. I’ll never take that for granted. It’s all about them when we hit the stage.”
Another detail I love to share and compare on, is the excitement of walking into a venue for the first time. I asked DW if he gets that excitement from venues, and he responds, “If it’s a good venue, yes! Sometimes you can turn up to a venue and wonder how the hell you’re even gonna fit on the stage! That can be a big vibe killer, but those shows often turn out the best in the end. You’d think I’d learn that, but, no.”
Which led me into discussing the lows of touring? On hardships? “In the early days, being broke! Hoping to sell some merch so we could eat after the show. Then later on when we were touring nonstop some of the guys would get homesick. I never did. I loved touring.” And how does touring affect one’s personal life? DW offers, “I guess being in a band in general and choosing that career path can leave you a little behind the 8-ball compared to your mates that chose Uni or a Trade. They all have houses and secure finances whereas musicians generally don’t have that. We chose to rock! Those things can affect your personal life to a degree.” As I always say, this life is not for the faint hearted, and writing this column certainly gives hope that some wisdom from these artists can inspire and educate the aspiring artist.
So, while on topic, I had to know was there a point that DW realised this was the life he wanted to pursue? He responds, “I’m not sure I ever consciously made that decision. I’m a writer and performer. It’s part of my DNA. Even when you try to get out it just pulls you back in! Creating music and the want to perform it on a stage is just me, always has been. When I’ve tried to stay away and earn money and lead a normal life it just ate away at me until I had to get back into it. Music is my soul. It’s what makes me tick, and keep ticking.”
So DW? Driving vs flying! Lay it down brother! “Driving fucking sucks. So does flying. Airports suck. Truck stops are worse. At least flying means less time driving. Getting from show to show is the shit part.” And then we get nasty and discuss the tour poison of choice, and I got DW to share a messy tale that certainly delivers, “Beer, Beer, and Beer, sometimes Single Malt Whisky. Messiest experience? Generally, when they get real messy they are not easily remembered. I remember one sad occasion playing Meredith Festival in 2002 (ish), I was so hungover I could hardly stand; we’d flown from Sydney on the 6am after opening for Fear Factory. Later in the night Dino Cazares from Fear Factory and I ended up very drunk and in a bar fight with some dickheads. Can’t remember who won. During our performance at Meredith I could hardly hold my pick from all the blood pissing out of my hands from all the broken glass from the previous night’s action. I remember passing out but not falling over. I was leaning against my amp but still somehow playing the riffs. I was so fucked nothing seemed real. Like it was all a very bad dream. Incredibly we got a great review from that show!”
Now, there can be tension in tour life at various points. How does DW or as a band overcome these moments? He shares, “Superheist broke up in 2004 from inner band tension. These days I make sure my band is full of good people who care about each other. Superheist and Rifleman in 2017 are full of the best dudes I know.”
Now, everyone I’ve spoken to so far, have shared a scary dangerous tale from the road, as it can be a truly dangerous place when you least expect it. “In England on a country road somewhere outside Bristol; late at night driving back from the show, looking over at our driver and watching him fully fall asleep at the wheel and veer off the road. I smashed him in the arm as hard as I could to wake him up and grabbed the wheel to avoid certain fucking death. Very scary. Safe to say our driver copped the spray of his life!” Note to those driving late through the night. Please be careful and plan ahead in advance. You might think you can power through the night, and yes there’s a high after a show and confidence and bravado to power to the next destination ensues, but weariness soon follows and often sooner than you think. I actually experienced this recently on tour, and grateful things didn’t go as unfortunate as they could have. Plan ahead, spend that extra dollar on a good night’s sleep or pull over for rest, and avoid disaster.
We lighten things back up a little and discuss the habits one develops on tour. It’s not really commonly discussed, but it’s there. Isn’t it DW? He answers, “I am the epitome or normal. At least that’s my opinion. I’m sure my band mates and my family have an entirely different view on this matter!” And the hardest part of being off tour? Is it addictive as some say? “Being off tour is sometimes good when you’re over been on the road all the time. That lasts about a week and then you get itchy feet and just wanna get going again. It’s not hard being off tour cos that’s when the other side of being in a band kicks in. Writing and recording, creating, experimenting, I love all that stuff,” DW responds.
One question that needed answering that I love getting from guys like DW, is the transition from playing small club shows, to large clubs, arenas and even festivals, and how a band handles that kind of change. He offers his wisdom here, “There’s an art to entertaining a large crowd on a bigger stage but we always thought we were destined for bigger stuff anyway so we already had the show locked down and when we finally got to play the bigger rooms. We were all over it! We’d played it in our minds a hundred times over, for us it was easy.” And on comparing the energy of a club show to playing a festival? “Festivals can be incredible. Sydney Big Day Out, Mainstage, 25 000 people chanting our name and bouncing all the way back to the mixing tower. Pretty crazy experience and one I’ll never forget. Club shows can be intense too. I love both for different reasons.” DW answers.
We then got into comparing notes on the good old backstage rider, to which DW has certainly seen, “Oh I’ve seen lots and I’ve always wondered who the poor schmuck is that has to run around all day trying to piece together absurd riders. It’s almost like the band just like fuckin’ with promoters and testing their resourcefulness in tracking down obscure rider items. Our rider is pretty stock standard. Beer, a vegan platter and Sour Skittles.”
Wrapping up, I asked how touring has changed or developed DW Norton as a person and as a musician. He answers, “I think as a songwriter, seeing how crowds react to your music is a vital resource in the development of your style and sound. It’s certainly made me realise that crowds love to get crazy on 130bpm!”
In closing, I felt compelled to ask what tour goals he had yet to conquer that he’s aspiring for. “A full world tour would be nice!” Wouldn’t it indeed?
The debut single from Superheist’s DW Norton and his band RIFLEMAN. From the debut RIFLEMAN album “Silver & Gold” Due Out October 27.
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