The Show | After-Gig | Trip Home | Arrival
Before I begin, allow me to call your attention to the links above the title^. Because this write-up is really more of a thoughts-collection/journal, it's a tad lengthy (understatement). So, for your ease of reading, I have broken it down into a few sections. Use those links up there to rifle through them.
Now, on with the tale.
I somehow feel the need to throw in a little bit of history of myself and Todd Kerns. While I’ve only really known him for under a year, he has figured prominently in my entire musical development. Age of Electric was there when my turnaround into rock n’ roll began. I was just entering high school, and that was the summer of Remote Control and I Don’t Mind. I almost saw that band play at least a half a dozen times, but never quite made it. I either got to the venue late, or missed them on a different festival stage than I was at. It wasn’t until AOE had disbanded, and Todd’s new project, then still going by 00 Complex, began, that I finally watched him perform. I don’t remember exactly when that show was, but I do remember that it was at the Starfish Room (RIP), and I was selling merchandise for Noise Therapy that night. And I remember sneaking away from my booth for a moment to sheepishly greet Todd near the back of the room, where he engaged me in an oddly (so I thought at the time) personable conversation about his infrequency of going out to shows then. I even turned the all-important age of 19 in Todd’s presence, which is something I’m sure he’s not aware of (though I guess if he’s reading this, he is now. Hi, Todd!). I was in a room after a concert with a pile of Canrockers who I didn't know personally at the time, waiting for the night to end and indulging in my first legal drink as the clock snuck past midnight.
When the final revision to the new project turned it into Static In Stereo, I was coming into my own as a photographer, and found myself at least watching SIS play a number of times. I didn’t get a chance to photograph them until EDGEfest 2001 in Barrie, Ontario. I can chalk their set up as the only time I have ever gotten a film jammed in my camera as the batteries died, resulting in the loss of an entire roll. Earlier in the day, I found myself standing on the side of the stage with the SIS drummer, Scotty McCargar, yapping away while Todd stood close enough behind me that the fur from his enormous fluffy jacket brushed my back. You could literally feel the warmth from the thing, and he consequently came in handy as a human radiator on such a blustery summer day. Much later, I ended up as the camera segue shot after Todd did a MuchMusic interview as I waited around the media liaison area. And still, never a lengthy chat with the guy.
It took some intervention from a mutual contact, who arranged to have me go out and shoot a SIS show, before I actually met Todd properly. After that, it didn’t take long to realize that all I had heard was true; Todd Kerns is the nicest guy in the world. He has a way of bringing you into the fold and making you feel included immediately. In the coming months, I would follow along with his solo project, head into the studio for a couple days, shoot more shows… on and on it goes. When the spur-of-the-moment invite popped up to come along for the first leg of the tour, there was no way I could pass it up. It came at the most perfect time, just as I needed to get out of Vancouver for a while. It seemed like the perfect solution.
I realize now, looking through my notes from the trip, that I didn’t jot down an awful lot of stuff from the ride to Regina, but I’m sure there’s enough info here for you. Dubbed as the Todd Squad Tour, this trek would take the band as far as Thunder Bay and back in less than two weeks. I met up at Todd’s place late in the morning, only to discover that the van rental had been delayed. We headed downstairs to meet the other two band members at around 1pm. Playing bass is, of course, the mysterious Squid. Scotty would not be along on this tour, as he’s out on the road with Bif Naked, so I was curious to meet David Swart, the drummer for this trek. I plunked down in the car, and Todd made the quick introduction to Dave. **Holy-hell-it’s-a-small-world-alert** I was greeted with a familiar face as he turned around in his seat. This fellow played with Following Horus once upon a time, which was one of the very, very first bands I ever got involved with. That wasn’t the smoothest point in my history as a whole, but I remembered Dave as being a cool cat. Take a look at this vintage shot of Dave in the FH days.
Finally, the van rental was sorted out, and we drove off to Dave’s place to unload the extra van seats and try to keep Dave’s dog, Patches (rad dog) out of the van, and then to Richmond to load up all the gear. Tight corners in that place, yeek. Concerned that poor little me wouldn’t be able to handle carting around more than a couple guitars and some drum equipment, they mostly kept me outside to look after the gear in the open van. This was where Todd noticed my studded rockchick belt and informed me that he used to have a similar one, but lost it some time ago along with the pants they were attached to at the time. I didn’t ask for details. A quick stop at Wendy’s for some lunch, and we were off. Granted, the conversation the entire way centred around either the Simpsons or rock. I definitely learned a lot on this trip from listening to the music conversation, but it never ceases to amaze me how some people have such an affinity for memorizing Simpsons quotes. I mean, I love the show and watch it frequently, but… these guys would pass the Simpsons final exam for sure. When KISS’ Hotter Than Hell hit the stereo, it prompted a nostalgic interlude of airbanding for neighbourhood kids years ago to KISS records on the player. Dave related that his brother went as far as to spit red Kool-Aid out during these performances, thoroughly freaking out said kids.
“I think I’ve got a couple hits of crack in my bag…” “I think I’ve got a couple hits of bag in my crack. I don’t know what that means…” Laughter ensues. After a stop off for the washroom and some semblance of nourishment, Todd re-entered the van, proclaiming, “I hate being the only one in the van who has to pee… make everyone stop just for you…” How true. Not to mention the huge gaps between anything that might house a washroom, and the massive consumption of caffeinated beverages to fuel ourselves. I found myself suffering in silence more than once on the journey. Sure, the forest is one giant bathroom, but gals have a bit of a harder time of that sort of thing. Boys don’t know how lucky they are.
The scenery the whole way is stunning in its own right, whether the mountains or the prairies. Squid drove the whole way through the treacherous mountain passes in the Rockies, and for that, he is indeed commended. But it’s not always the natural beauty that caught my attention along the highway. A junkyard across the highway from the Chilliwack airport that was littered with the shells of dead Cessnas; an antique car yard in the Shushwap region that was filled with the rusting bulks of gorgeous 50’s cars; a hotel called 3 Valleys that sits on a lake and glitters with light in the dark; scary funnels of hellfire that really just burn waste wood from lumber yards; the old rail tunnels that run well below the highway through the mountains. There’s so much to look at in this country.
At 6pm, we stopped off in Kamloops for gas and dinner at a truck stop attached to the station. All the tables had phones on the walls beside them. I could imagine a restaurant full of greasy truckers scarfing down burgers and talking to their kids between mouthfuls, but not a single phone to my knowledge was in use at the time. Most of the conversation around that table centred on the guitar magazine Todd had just bought in the station. I ordered a rilled ham and cheese sandwich (I love typos on things like menus) and enjoyed the exuberant young waitress who, I’m 99% sure, was very well aware of who was sitting at the table she was serving (judging by her less-enthusiastic sevice to other tables). The receipt at the end of the meal instructed us to “Keep on truckin’”. So we did. This is also about the time my ridiculous headache began to kick in. It didn’t leave me for hours, but I tried to avoid complaining, or buying any drugs to counteract it. I don’t usually get headaches like that, so I don’t know what happened. Cigarette smoke from Squid in front of me perhaps?
After the strangely-captivating dry and grassy hills outside of Kamloops, most of the drive was in the dark. Besides a lone loon on a lake during twilight and the occasional hawk, we saw no wildlife (at least not live wildlife, if you discount the woman with the gold braces at the Coquihalla toll booth). Todd and Dave dozed on and off for much of the rest of the trek, and the construction outside of Golden provided a lovely delay. Yay for delays. On the approach to Calgary, Dave pointed out the Northern Lights off to the... well... North. They were very faint and only visible for a few seconds, but I had never seen them before and was just elated by this brief glimpse. The van rolled into Calgary at 1:30 in the morning. It’s all flat from here on out.
Squid and Dave changed up driving duties here. It was another stop at a gas station. Dave had just popped up from the back to complain about how uncomfortable the shrimpy bench seats were for “such tall drinks of water as ourselves.” Everyone got out, had bathroom breaks, bought food and drinks, and piled back into the van. I believe this is also where I gave into my headache and bought some Tylenol. Take that, throbbing skull! When I got out to the van, Todd was already making himself comfy across the bench seat I had previously occupied. He looked down at me sleepily and whined, “Andy, can we change spots?” Left with no choice, I climbed into the shotgun position. He was in a mushy, goofy mode in his half-awake state and muttered something about my sweater, which he was sleeping on, smelling like girl. “Smells pretty.” He snuggled down into his Ramones hoodie with a dreamy smile on his face, and then he was out again. Way in the back, already all I could see of Squid were his knees poking up above the seat, covered in Dave's fuzzy blanket.
So there I was, still wired and very awake, doing duty in the front seat as the official driver-keep-awaker and CD changer. Dave was going along fine for a while with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kid Rock (“My name is SQUIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID ROCK!” as Todd and Squid occasionally popped up from slumber to contribute to the songs), but began lightly wavering in his driving after a couple hours. The moon was spectacular, bright, big and yellow. We drove over some horribly disfigured road kill, and the bugs hitting the windshield were more like rocks or bullets than anything alive. And let it be known that Brooks stinks. A lot. Nostalgic though, Dave relayed past band experiences in the town. But it still stinks.
At 4:30, we hit Medicine Hat. Dave had had it with driving, much to my relief. I had been trying to keep him talking, but he still seemed like he was going to fall asleep any second, and was insistent on pulling his weight where driving was concerned. In Medicine Hat, Todd woke up and offered to drive, but Squid convinced everyone he was fine for another shift after his couple hours of rest. What a trooper. Todd fell back asleep, and Squid began his second shift driving, ribbing Dave the whole time about only driving for three hours.
Shortly, the sun began coloring the sky with drippy blues and pinks. Taking advantage of the flat land, Squid pushed the van up to 160 at times along the way. The prairies are beautiful. I wouldn’t want to live there, but they’re beautiful. The low rolling plains, broken here and there by grain elevators or silos on distant farms; the soft pastel colours of everything in sight. Just gorgeous. I had my camera in my lap for the pale morning light, waiting for some pretty landscape shots. I could see, ahead of us past a low rise in the highway, the sun would be making an appearance once and for all, and as we crested that rise, there it was. Neon pink-orange crisp circle drifting behind a lazy belt of stringy clouds. Squid commented that that’s something I should get a photo of. And I did.
SASKATCHY! We hit Swift Current about a quarter after six, where Squid declared that was absolutely it for him. It was Todd’s turn to take over the wheel. We spent a chunk of the time singing Verve songs back and forth to each other and just shooting the shit about the prairies, the bugs hitting the van, and music, of course. There was an area of weirdly unlevel, freshly paved road that was hell to change lanes over. We passed the salt flats, and a large lake that was teeming with terns. Off in a field, I spotted a lone pronghorn antelope. Todd noticed all the cows lying down in a field and was somewhat incredulous at my suggestion that cows get lazy and lie down in the heavy air before it rains. And shortly, rain clouds came into view on the horizon. After a few minutes of silence somewhere, Todd suddenly piped up and said, “I can’t believe you’re coming with us to Regina…” Believe it. Here I am. And I’m loving it. Understood, Todd’s made this journey a million times before throughout his career. But this was my second time taking a ground trip farther than Calgary, so for me, it was a bit of an adventure. Todd also proclaimed that this area of Saskatchewan was relatively hilly compared to the Lanigan area (near Saskatoon) where he’s from. Hard to believe. You can watch your dog run away for three days out here. It was so desolate too. No cars anywhere. Just us, the Verve and the open road.
Through the light morning haze, the small silhouette of Regina and its roughly 3 tall buildings began to appear. This leg of the journey was nearing its end. Just in time too, I was beginning to phase out a bit after three hours of sleep over the prior 48 hours. We rolled into the city at around nine in the morning, dragged our weary bodies into the hotel lobby, and discovered that, due to our exceptionally quick drive time and early arrival, only one of the three rooms was available. We took it, dragged the guitars upstairs, and all four of us crashed out on two beds for a few hours.
Continue to Part II : The Show