With all the excitement of dozens of our best and brightest bands making their way to the coveted lineup of industry conference and massive music festival South By Southwest, some aspiring acts may be feeling a little bit left out and hanging to make the long, long trip to Austin, Texas.
Last year, Sydney’s Big White managed to do what all bands dream of and got themselves over to SXSW, with a massive 40-date international tour thrown in for good measure, and they came home with some brilliant stories – not to mention some vital advice for anybody hoping to follow in their footsteps.
So, if you’re dying to make it over to SXSW next time around, Big White’s singer/guitarist Jack Wotton has put together a very handy guide to help you get your band to South by, make the absolute most of it while you’re there, and manage to come back in one piece.
Playing 11 nights back to back in NYC
Our dear friend in Brooklyn, Jordan Corso, had this crazy idea to ‘book our own CMJ’ – ‘Ten big nights with Big White’ was the concept. New Yorkers thought we were mad, but it worked. We built a good following while we were there, and it seemed to snowball.
How the 11th show came about is a funny story. We were doing a three-show residency at this subterranean club called Berlin in Manhattan. On the second night torrential rain fell over the Big Apple. When we rocked up for our last show there, we discovered the band room had flooded, leaving our gear (and all the hot threads from Soho that we had purchased the day prior) saturated. Elmo had to borrow a Prophet 8 from Susan Sarandon’s son who happened to be playing that night.
On top of all of this, Green Day announced a secret show at the same venue, so we got booted off halfway through our set. Billie Joe ended up apologising in the green room after Bowen pulled him up on it. As compensation for the leaky gear and Green Day bum-rushing our show, they gave us another show the night after, which made it the 11th all up. Our friends Mere Women were in town, so they ended up jumping on – and it turned out to be one of the best.
Funding the tour
We funded it on our own – that’s how you’ve gotta do it if you want to go. Money from shows helped float us a lot of the time. Aside from that, working hard on the home front and eating and drinking for free wherever we could. We also threw a house party in Sydney to raise funds, which went down really well, and the support of the beautiful community of musicians, artists, punters and friends in Sydney who raised the roof at our last surgery party helped us so much.
Den, Solid Effort, Greenwave Beth, Hunch and Benefits all played in an act of philanthropy for us to tour, and everyone who came donated. Spike Vincent cooked a mean BBQ, and Burger Records got behind it. It was a massive night at our house, and all that money went into getting our RV and largely keeping us alive. We can’t thank these people enough.
Booking our shows
This was done with quite a few months of staying up ’til 4am staring at the square light of a laptop, bleary eyed, to get in touch in real time with our American pals. The States were done through friends we made from our trip last year. Sean and Lee at Burger Records got us on Burgermania 5 – their big showcase at SXSW – a guy called Richard booked us throughout the Southwest, and a friend helped is get on Treefort Festival.
All our shows in LA, all the way across to NY – including Denver, Chicago, Beloit and Springfield – were booked while we were on the road. The UK and European shows were all organised through our booking agency over their Tour Par Tout.
How early to start planning
The idea seeded a year back on our last trip to the U.S. when Burger Records said we should come back. The planning started the day we booked our flights back in October. When it comes to travelling, first thing first is booking your flights – from there you have no choice but to go.
The most challenging parts
Leaving parties after a gig for those overnight drives was hard. Sometimes we were pushing two day straight drives in a rotation of drive – sleep – eat – drive – etc. The drive from Springfield, Missouri to New Jersey was the most gruelling; all up we covered 9200 miles criss-crossing the country. But, you know, it was fun. We had beds in the RV, and behind the wheel there was always a co-pilot to DJ and muse to.
What would we do differently?
We’d play more shows, especially on the West Coast. We also haven’t been to the southeast like New Orleans or Miami, so we’d like to get down there. And Europe, we’d like to take that on more comprehensively and push further east. That’s about it!
I wouldn’t change us running late for our show in Salt Lake because of a stopover at the Grand Canyon, or driving for 20hrs straight to our show in LA because we had to see the redwoods. Seeing the country is important.
Tips for other bands
Humus and broccoli. Tortillas and salsa. That’s how you stay alive. Get an RV – you’ll impress your buddies with your cold beer and plush beds, and you’ll always have somewhere to crash out. You can also write songs on the road, and we set up a little studio in the back.
Whether you’re booking it yourself or someone else is taking care of it, make sure each show has good locals to support and provide quality control for the promotion of the event. If you’re driving all night for a show in Phoenix only to find a few school kids there, you’ll wish you had of done a bit more research and planning.
Having said that, make sure to party and hang out, that’s how shows come about. Our Springfield show was booked because I sat next to a future mate Johan at Christian Bland’s house at SXSW. We booked the show on the spot while laughing about how Bland had lost his mind. The night we played Springfield, our hero Jonathan Richmond happened to be playing across the road. I guess what I’m getting at is: do your research but, while you’re there, take it as it comes. Go with it.
We had a lot of fun and the friends we’ve made are priceless. It’s all kind of a big blur, which is why it’s important we go back – for fresher blur.