TAS Tour Diary: Suckers
Brooklyn's own Suckers are usually CMJ Music Marathon stalwarts, but the band is missing the festivities this year; they're currently on tour with Yeasayer in the UK and Europe. Still, CMJ week feels slightly empty without the quartet's hometown presence so The Alternate Side asked drummer/keyboardist Brian "Nairb" Aiken if he wouldn't mind keeping a tour diary, with photos, at the tail end of the band's recent road trip with Menomena and Tu Fawning.
He did ... and frontman Quinn Walker even proposed to his girlfriend at their Webster Hall gig on October 1, which even surprised his bandmates.
Suckers, whose album Wild Smile was released in June, will be back in New York on December 4 to play Le Poisson Rouge. Thanks to Brian's detailed diary, we know a little more about him, Quinn and multi-instrumentalists Austin Fisher and Pan and why every band deserves warm pizza and venue-embossed cupcakes upon arrival at a club.
Day 1: Betrothal in NYC
After a one-month odyssey across the country, Suckers have returned to New York for a bizarrely memorable show at Webster Hall. The night hit full stride around 8:30 pm when Quinn [Walker] popped the question to his endlessly adored girlfriend of late: Amy Rose Spiegel; a proposition equally broadcast to a sea of baffled music lovers who stared on in mildly traumatic semi-silence. Breaking the suspense, Amy emerged out of the front rows with a beaming radiant stare, spurring whoops and howls from eager Suckers fans and drunken enthusiasts alike. While the audience was appeased, the situation for friends, relatives, and band mates still remains shrouded in mystery. One thing cannot be denied; we must come to love and accept the spontaneous ways of Quinn; it’s surprising nights like these that make being a Sucker extra special.
Following our show, we all headed to Arrow Bar for the after-party. Here, Quinn works part-time as a bartender. Most all members from Suckers, Menomena, and Tu Fawning came out for a night full of overcharged, Napoleon Dynamite-esque dance theatre. I was somewhere near the center of this movement and so were key members of Tu Fawning. The energetic throng was fueled on by a bottomless margarita mix and the DJ stylings of Brooke Baxter. It was good to be back with familiar friends after a month on the road.
Day 2: Hung over in Rhode Island
I learn again and again the painful realities of over-indulgence on tour. In Minneapolis, in the middle of a 2-week run without a break, I made the mistake of smoking something and trying to fall asleep in a Days Inn. You take one hit and feel a complete departure from day to day perception. After your brain goes for a wild joy ride, you come back with a slightly affected mental state, woozy and disconnected from what you have just experienced. For me, lying awake in a dreamlike netherland, it felt like my mind had spawned some sort of organism, seemingly reptilian and cannibal, that continually raced and hallucinated into oblivion. It’s mental exhaustion like this that really wears me down on tour.
Yet, how could I refuse an honest fan’s earnest plea? He was simply repaying me psychedelically for Wild Smile. Arriving in Providence, I take my space from the rest and explore around the city. The town seems fully committed to night life: students playfully carouse, streets are closed off by police, and a long line of club-goers seem to cast a shadow over Jerky’s Pub/Restaurant with intimidating confrontational glances. The show was far more intimate than last evening’s, and as usual, when I begin playing drums, the aerobic element is such that my hangover naturally rids itself. We left after the show, heading to Connecticut for some rest and recovery.
Day 3: Family Time
After one month of Motel 6, Quality Inn, and Best Western, it’s nice to wake up in my own bed. Here in Wallingford, Connecticut, Scott (my younger brother, check out his band, Etta Place) and I both grew up in the same room and haven’t changed a thing since we were 8 years old. The wall is lined with miniature Looney Tunes figures, a giant outlay of the solar system, and one breathtaking shot of Kirby Puckett; a slightly overweight cleanup hitter for the Minnesota Twins in the early 90s.
I slept until 2 p.m. and awoke to a disheartening domestic disturbance: Winky, our family cat, has been missing for 5 days. He was last seen with a gouged neck and threatening scratches, it is believed that he had a showdown with a coyote. As I go for a morning jog, my mother tells me to keep an eye out for him. (Trying to keep the tour diary as harrowing and exciting as possible, but some days are just more glorious than others). I try to run regularly on tour, but it usually amounts to no more than once a week. This is yet another technique to maintain balance and equilibrium given an often overly demanding schedule. Running on moist fall mornings through Connecticut back roads is a real treat, though the shock to my body is jarring. Until the show in Milford on Daniel Street, my mood is somewhat irksome and unsettled. We play to a modest crowd in Milford with most all of the Suckers parents in attendance. Heartwarming indeed....
Day 4: Redemption in Philadelphia
Today, we left for NYC and eventually Philadelphia at 9 in the morning. I picked up Pan at his house and as is usually the case when we’re alone, he slowly but surely starts to hit on me. It starts with casual Suckers talk: “Heey, did you hear about the upcoming show Ben wants to book in November?” or “Heeey, the label wants us to have the F-11 forms filled out by sound check, can you get those to me?” But eventually, as we’re caught in a deadlocked traffic jam and the afternoon sun requires that I peel off my handsome leather jacket, the conversation always comes round to, “It’s really sweet that you’re there for me when I have to lift up that big heavy bass amp, you’re so strong" or, “Hey Bri, you really are a testy little fireball on drums, when can we start lessons?” Nonchalantly pushing aside the gentle yet manly squeeze on my upper right leg, I reach for the radio tuner in a subtle effort to draw attention elsewhere.
In Philadelphia, I am surprised to learn that we are playing on the altar of a Unitarian church. Previously we had played in the basement of the church with Mates of State, but playing in the church itself, with drums infinitely resounding and a hushed silence in between songs was far more appealing than downstairs. Tu Fawning sounded amazing and their record release was today; I am happy for them and am sure good things await. Menomena as usual was powerful and engaging; their songs incessantly play in my head and continue to grow on me.
Day 5: The Royal Treatment in D.C.
Today we have played at the 9:30 Club, a venue that has supposedly held the title “Best Venue in America” for several years now. As we arrive, a team of earnest unloaders help to carry our equipment and we are pleasantly surprised to find 2 warmed pizzas waiting at the bar for us. The green rooms were far removed from the clamor of stage set up and detailed itineraries provided not only set times and sound check times but point people to contact should we need anything. On the whole, the staff seemed helpful, cordial and, unlike much of the venue personnel we encounter on the road, on the same team as the band.
To top it all off, four cupcakes with delightful Oreo cream filling were set out for us in our private rooms; they had "9:30" written in frosting. During our set, my bass pedal snapped and Quinn broke a string within the same 10-second interval. Of all the songs for my bass pedal to malfunction, “Black Sheep” is probably the worst. The song has a constant thumping pulse, in the same vein as house or trance music; without a bass pedal the song degenerated into a driving tom-tom bonanza, recalling “Enter Sandman” with no low end. Coupled with Quinn’s broken string, “Black Sheep” as experienced by D.C. was rather obscure, but the remarkable sound at 9:30 and the energy of the crowd made up for everything. A good night indeed.
Day 6: The Nairb Lair
The drive from D.C. to Chapel Hill wasn’t so bad, a mere 4 ½ hours. Typically, Austin takes the morning shift and I finish the job, but today I was exceptionally tired after having a late night with some D.C. friends.
Most of our drives on tour range from 6-8 hours, especially when we make it westward of St. Louis; these are beautiful drives with views of the Rockies, winding colored canyons, and golden rolling hills, but the distances are much greater, usually 7 or 8 hours. The van for me is a place of refuge; I find solitude in the deepest chamber of our Ford F350, far removed from the tumultuous dramas that occur in the front seats. This territory, which I consider a vast and enchanting expanse, is known by Suckers and me as the “Nairb Lair.” It is here, away from the incessant iPhone blips and Facebook tagging, that one can really get in touch with one’s inner voice.
In the Nairb Lair, one can find a perpetually restocked ten-pack of Capri Sun, alongside scores and scores of Nature Valley Bars and an ever-fresh loaf of bread (should the hankering for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich arise). The lair is also the only fully reclining sofa in the entire van, boasting an extra 2 ½ feet of legroom with full A/C access. What does Panland have to say to that? We arrive to Chapel Hill around 4 p.m. with plenty of time before the show. On this tour, sandwiched in between Menomena and Tu Fawning, we rarely, if ever, get time for a sound check. Suckers have grown accustomed to this and we know well how everything should sound in our monitors, the quick line check before we start usually suffices.
In the late afternoon, the band breaks off into different directions and I find myself at a coffee shop reading Anna Karenina; I really enjoy this novel and I find the half hour of quiet time with it every day is crucial for my peace of mind. Here at the coffee shop, I meet an amazing girl, her name is Olivia. As is usually the case on tour with meeting women, I employ a strict set of fame-buttressed strategies to ensure imminent success. With baristas, I start with passionately responding to sweets on the menu, this usually leads to hand-outs that provide restock for the Nairb lair. Next, I casually peak her interest to the possibility of an open slot on the guest list. BOOM! Power play. How can you say no? She sees the concert and has a great time. What happens next?? Oh my God, he has a drink ticket!? That’s right; this ticket gets you any drink you like for free….. “I’m in the band”. Before long, the girl awakens to find herself in a pleasantly peaceful and remote mental space; taking a deep breath, she recognizes her immediate surroundings as none other than the Nairb lair.
Day 7: Post Tourmatic Stress?
In a last minute effort to redeem myself after yesterday’s entry, I would like to say, “Olivia, if you’re out there, please don’t take this seriously!” Olivia is from Denmark and has offered to help me make some contacts in Copenhagen.
After we tour with Yeasayer in Europe for two weeks, we will finish off in Berlin. I plan to stay an extra 20 days overseas and travel around the continent. Denmark, thanks to Olivia, seems more and more like an exciting travel possibility. We have only two days of tour left and I am a bit sad it is concluding. I am beginning to feel a real camaraderie with the folks from Menomena and Tu Fawning and look forward to hearing their music each night. In all of the bands, every member is singing and playing multiple instruments; it is an educational experience for all of us. I may find it difficult to return to New York without hearing “The Strongest Man in the World” as the night’s closer or the ceremonial trumpet calls and tambourines from Tu Fawning as the night begins.
As is usually the case, I will return back home with a mild case of “Post-Tourmatic Stress Syndrome” (coined by Scott Aiken). Shocked into a lull, I will exist in a semi-conscious stupor for several days until I resume my old stationary rhythm. As it stands now, we have one more show in Nashville tomorrow, 6 days of rest, and then a flight to Dublin to kick off our European tour. What else could a wandering 26-year-old ask for?
(photos courtesy of Suckers)