A typical van-interior panorama…
Sylvie Simmons, Neal, JinJa and Grant (Utah Carol)
Live at the Golden Pudel.
More Golden Pudel action.
The Golden Pudel’s hipster clientele.
“We claim this cigarette machine for Utah Carol.”
At the Aloha interview in Amsterdam.
The radio session…
Knocking ’em dead at the Crossing Border festival.
Grant on stage at the Musician in Leicester.
Grant and JinJa at the Virgin Radio session.
Tearing up the stage at The Borderline.
JinJa deep in concentration.
All photos kindly provided by and © Hayley Murphy of Hayley Murphy Photography. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Utah Carol are JinJa Davis and Grant Birkenbeuel. Their two albums, Comfort for the Traveler and Wonderwheel, are longtime favorites ’round the Splendid office. Munich Records recently licensed the album for European release, and the band has just embarked on its first-ever European tour to support it.
JinJa and Grant will be playing at good clubs all around Europe and will also be visiting different radio stations and appearing on national television shows. They’ll be accompanied by Frits (tour manager), David Kemper (bassist) and Greg Wyser-Pratte (drummer). Hayley Murphy of Hayley Murphy Photography is documenting the tour, and has very kindly provided us with photos. Visit her web site at http://www.hayleymurphyphotography.com. The actual diary entries are written by JinJa.
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Editor’s Note: We normally attempt to date each entry — but as you’ll soon discover, JinJa lost track the date. We’ve identified the entries by where the band is, rather than when…
Hi! My name is Ingwer!
That’s German for ginger the spice. It’s the closest that the Germans can get to JinJa. Since my name is of Asian and African origin there is no translation or pronunciation in German or Dutch. In Spain, my name was pronounced Heen Haa! You can translate the pronunciation in Spanish. Grant was easy: Grant is Grant in any language.
The first town that we stopped in was Giessen, which is located in the former West Germany. It is a very modern town, a little bland, not at all what I was expecting. Perhaps Germany has been so rebuilt that nothing old remains. We had to drive around for a while to find a cheap hotel. Since we are doing so much driving, we have had to find some of our hotels on the fly. This town in particular was very expensive: $100 a night for a double. Yikes! We finally found a cheaper place with two triples. Grant, Hayley and I are sharing a room and then Greg, David and Frits are sharing a room to save money. In Europe, you can find triples easily and often; they are set up with the double (two mattresses stuck together) in one room and then a single bed in a separate area. It works out great for Grant and me, but the guys have to take off the mattress from the double and put one on the floor. Frits joked to someone that American men don’t share beds unless they are a couple — which is true. I guess in Europe it’s different. We walked around town for a bit after dinner to look for an Internet café. The café was in an alley in the center of town. Inside, it was pretty hip: lots of really cool techno electronica music playing — which I love, but Grant hates. I asked the guy at the desk where I could find a cool German dance club, and he said Frankfurt. We had already passed it, unfortunately.
The next day we got on the road again to Berlin. It was sunny and beautiful on the way. The scenery was fantastic. We stopped at the petro stations to pee. People say to pee here. In Europe, people hang out and party at the petro stations. The bathrooms are much better than in the States: they are clean, big and most of them have an attendant on duty who expects a tip. Hayley was crabby about that; she didn’t want to pay to pee. At one stop, Grant and Greg came out of the bathroom and realized that they had only 30 cents between them, so the German woman attendant got really pissed. It was a scary moment for them. Ha!
Frits said that our club was in the former East Germany. Along the way he gave us a history lesson about East and West Germany. He used to live in West Germany with his former girlfriend and their daughter when the Berlin Wall was up. He told us that he used to turn his radio from his window and blast it towards the East Germans to let them hear music. He said that the politicians and corporations had nothing to do with the wall coming down — it was the power of the common people that changed the world. I told him that if you lived in the United States, you would think that Ronald Reagan was the sole reason that the wall fell, the cold war ended and we had — albeit until now — total economic recovery. I had never heard Frits laugh so hard until then!
We made it into Berlin. It was frigidly cold — we still had Spain and France in our hearts and on our skin. Frits hadn’t been to Germany in years, so he was curious to see what had changed. As we were driving through the streets, he was pointing out all the WWII landmarks and giving us history lessons. How come the Europeans are so much more informed about stuff than we are? It’s embarrassing. Maybe I should speak for myself, though, because we discovered during our tour that David knew a lot about WWII and the Germans. Anyhow, Frits was amazed at all the big, new construction that had been built literally over what used to be the Berlin Wall. One simply wouldn’t have any idea at the history of the place, looking at the new coffee shops, restaurants and small boutiques. Nobody wants to remember any of it, I guess. Personally, I was getting chills all up and down my spine thinking about it.
The architecture in former East Berlin looks like the Chicago Housing Projects to me! Frits explained that the buildings were built for the “common people.” We also noticed more graffitti in Berlin than in some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago! Where are Mayor Daley’s Graffitti Busters team when you need them?
We get to Schokoladen, the club, and our soundman had a Slipknot T-shirt, a shaved head and lots of body piercings and tattoos. It made me a little nervous. I was debating whether we were in the right club. The vibe there was literally 180 degrees from Spain. We stayed optimistic, though. We got our stuff, set up and of course, my equipment was making loud, funny noises during sound check. Ugh! Why me again and again? Oh well. Frits was there to save the day, as usual. After we finished the soundcheck, we got out of the club and went to our promoter Stephan’s house. He was giving us his flat for the night and making us a home-cooked meal. Along the way to his place, we saw Utah Carol posters that Stephan had put up all over the street poles and walls. It was really cool. When we arrived at Stephan’s place, we were welcomed to a warm and cozy pad filled with the smell of garlic and onions. He made us gnocchi with tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic and chili peppers, along with a fresh salad. Absolutely the best meal that we had all tour so far. Stephan is quite the cook! Grant and I gave him some nice Middle Eastern incense that I had bought in the States as a thank you for his hospitality. He was playing groovy music, too — something new from Munich Records, actually: John Gil. The singer reminds me of M. Ward or Nick Drake.
After dinner, Frits rushed us back to the club where there were already tons of people waiting. We started the show: my keyboard and amp were messing up, Grant’s guitar amp wouldn’t work, David decided to take off his shoes and socks during the performance, Hayley was crouched and hiding in a corner on stage taking pictures. It was a strange night. The crowd was a lot different than what we had experienced so far on the tour — a little distant and reserved — but I think that they liked it. Anyway, we finished the show, took some pictures and then went back to Stephan’s flat and crashed. Next morning, he had breakfast for us: cheese and salami. What a sweetie, that Stephan!
Before going back on the road, we stopped off to look at Checkpoint Charlie near the former Berlin Wall. (Checkpoint Charlie was the USA section of the border patrol. Bizarre, just bizarre.) We finally found the row of cobblestones lining the street that indicated where the wall used to be. At the end of one section was a mini outdoor museum, with images placed in chronological order, of some of the horrors and inhumanity that happened to the Jews in Germany. Very, very depressing and awful. I don’t even want to write about it here in our diary. It makes me feel really bad. We didn’t stay very long because none of us could get through the exhibit — it was sickening.
We headed out to go to Dortmund and slept the whole way. The van is now getting really uncomfortable. Greg said that the honeymoon is over. We gotta get out of this place!
We finally get to the club, Subrosa. The club was delightful! It was so so cool! Lots of stuff on the walls, lots of colors, objects, knick-knacks, pictures; they were playing good music as we walked and there was hot tea and cucumber and cheese sandwiches. Cornel, the manager, met us at the door. He had a long ponytail. Whenever I see men with long hair or a long ponytail, I know that they are going to be cool. We all immediately felt comfortable. He gave us an entire apartment for the group with a kitchen stocked with fruit, cheeses and of course an electric kettle for tea.
The club was intimate, our show was intense and quiet, everyone enjoyed our performance and we enjoyed playing it. It was probably our most relaxed performance since Brussels. We performed “Find a Way” for the first time. Hayley got the best photos from Subrosa, mostly because the decorating in the bar was unique and the lighting was warm and colorful. She had a ball. She’s fun, because whenever I look out from the stage, she’s out there grinning at us. Grant and I hung out after the show with a couple that had traveled a long way to see us. We talked for an hour about music, houses, living in the forest — they were really nice people. Everything is so far away, I am “certain” that this is a dream.
The next morning, Hayley wanted to wash her hair and use my dual voltage hair dryer. She was starting to freak out because she couldn’t blow dry her hair. Of course, when she plugged it into Frits’s converter, it not only didn’t work, but the machine started to smoke. Shit, shit, shit again! Frits would be mad, as this converter is my back-up backline for the keyboard. Frits tries so hard to keep a tight ship with our group, but it’s tough because we all have different personalities — and he’s traveling with two women!
Anyway, Grant, Hayley and I took a walk to find a laundromat to wash our dirty 15-day-old clothes. We had to walk for 20 minutes into the center of town because there was only one laundromat! It was crazy! Then, once again, we trekked to find Internet access — always a saga.
We had to be back by a certain time, otherwise Frits would have our asses on a sling, so Grant ran ahead of us to keep the “Iron Man” at bay. Hayley said she knew how to get back to the Subrosa. I had no clue. Of course, we got totally lost! The streets curve and twist around in Europe, so our sense of direction is slightly messed up. We walked in circles for a while, and then I finally got my bearings and figured out how to get back to the club. We started walking and then I realized that I left my big info binder at the Internet café. Shit! We would never get back in time and we knew that Frits would kick our asses. Hayley and I had to go back, around and around and around. Oy vey! People knew that we were tourists and lost. We took a taxi and asked the driver to drop us off a block away from the club because we were so embarrassed. Grant was standing there in front of the van with his arms folded, tapping his wristwatch, pissed at me that we were late again. Hayley was like, he ain’t my husband so he won’t be pissed at me! And then Frits was irritated too, and even more so when he found out that his converter was busted. Poor Frits! All he wants is for us to be on time to the gigs and not break anything. Oh well. Whatever. Shit happens, all the time.
We said goodbye to Cornel and hit the road again, this time to Munster. This was a short trip, thankfully. When we arrived in Munster, we noticed that the young people’s faces were fresh, bright and full of light — a college town no less! Gleis 22, the venue, put us up in a clean hotel with an elevator. Frits wanted his own room this time, and complained that it wasn’t fair that Hayley always gets her own room. I suppose he’s sick of sleeping with two other men. I don’t blame him at all — he needs peace and his beauty sleep so that he can be fresh for the next drive.
The club was a small cafeteria that had free Internet access! Yeah! I can send an email to Splendid! We unloaded all of our gear, which at this point is getting heavier and heavier. The headlining band, Botanica, was late, so we had to wait for them before we could soundcheck (we were going to share the backline). While we were waiting, we met a band called Belasco from England. This was our first gig playing with other bands. All of our other shows, we were the only act.
Botanica showed up and we got everything going. The soundcheck went okay. Greg unfortunately had to use Botanica’s kit, which he didn’t like at all, and David had to use their bass amp, which he didn’t like either. My shit was making funny noises again; earlier, Frits, my personal handyman, repaired my keyboard amp. It is a crappy amp, plus we found out that one of the connections in my Korg is bad and one of the inputs on my sampler is broken. Why me?
The venue prepared a wonderful meatless meal for us: fresh tomato, lama beans and cheese, cucumber, olive, pepper and nut salad, and then a bread pudding for dessert. Grant and I didn’t eat much before performing, but this food was really nice.
Munich Records was to be at this show; we haven’t met them up to this point. Grant and I were very nervous. We didn’t want to make any mistakes in front of Munich, so to be honest, we were a bit uptight. They showed up and took us out for a drink at Butts, a pub across the street. I felt like I was meeting with clients back in Chicago, I had to be on my As and As. They gave us a bunch of copies of all the great press we’ve gotten over the past few months, told us things were going well, talked about the new bands that they have picked up recently…it was fine. Grant and I were frigging nervous. Anyhow, we left to do our show. Belasco was still playing when we got inside — they sounded great! They told us that a label affiliated with EMI just signed them and that they were going on tour next spring in a giant tour bus. They just finished up a new album in the studio.
Our show was just okay. The sound was set up for a rock band, I think, not for subtle Utah Carol music. We worked through it. While we were performing, Botanica kept coming up on stage to get to the dressing room — it was very distracting to us! Oh well. We did get some new fans though at the show, which is why we are here: to introduce Europeans to Utah Carol.
Next morning, we took a walk into the main town. Greg said that it was worth going if only just to look at the gigantic churches. Hayley, Grant and I took a walk — I was starving as usual. The whole trip I was starving, pretty much. All I have to say is that I don’t eat much McDonalds, but when I saw those arches in the distance, I ran straight towards it at light speed to get a McMuffin with no bacon. (We have not been able to find an American-style breakfast here in Europe: no pancakes, omelets; We need Wishbone! We need Flo! We need International Pancake house!) After I ate it, I was totally grossed out. Grant was disgusted that I actually ate at a McDonald’s. Hayley was on a mission to find a hat. She didn’t bring her camera with her this time, so we were all just hanging loose. Everything is nuts, absolutely nuts.
We stopped at a teashop where I picked up some nice loose tea. We didn’t have much time again, so we started to head back. We got lost. Grant was blaming me… We were only a few minutes late this time, but still, we were late! Grant hates to be late, but I am always late so then he’s late. Whatever.
Leaving Munster for Hamburg
Boring van ride. Nothing interesting. Lots of sleeping and quiet time. I have been singing “Christian Life”, “Cheatin’ Heart”, “I’m So Lonesome” and then that Joan Baez tune that goes: “Don’t sing love songs, they’ll wake my mother, she’s sleeping here, right by my side, and in her right hand a silver dagger, she says that I can’t be your wife. All men are false, says my mother, they’ll give you wicked love and lies…” I love that song.
Arrived in Hamburg in the red light district. Frits told us that we were staying right in the middle of it. Our hotel was disgusting, but cheap. Ugh! The place was funky with cigarette smoke. No carpet anywhere on the floors…need I explain why? We couldn’t wait to get out of that place. This is the only place that we have stayed that we really really didn’t like.
Grant, Hayley and me decided to go out to get food before the gig. Our gig wasn’t going to be until midnight, and even though the venue was providing us with dinner, we didn’t want to perform on a full stomach. Our walk to the restaurant was very interesting; we have never seen so many sex shops all in one place, ever — blocks and blocks of it. The toys, the goods, the clothes, the pimps, the peep shows, the women. And then, everywhere you see the American corporations: McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Burger King and Pizza Hut. We finally found a nice Italian restaurant where no one spoke English, only Italian and German. It was so cool! Hayley and I shared a delicious combination pasta plate, Grant had a wonderful mixed fish grill. It was pretty peaceful.
Our show was at The Golden Pudel. It was a yellow brick shack that looked abandoned and run down. Next door was a garbage pile. Frits was walking around the place with a flashlight to see if anyone was home while we all huddled in the car trying to keep warm. Our promoter finally showed up, a nice big Santa Claus looking fellow with a big nice smile. He let us inside and made me some tea right away. The place is a dive, but it’s one of those dives that everyone goes to because it’s hip! Frits planned out how we would set up (damn is he good! He’s always so together for us!). The flimsy stage was only big enough to hold the drum kit, Greg, David and his bass amp. Grant and me were below on the floor. The whole time I kept thinking about what my mother warned me: “JinJa, now you watch out for those stages in Europe! I hear that people fall through the stages over there all the time!”
The monitors for our vocals were nonexistent, but you know what? We didn’t really care. We knew that the show would be really cool. This was the funkiest and coolest place that we had played in so far. We soundchecked for a few minutes, then Viktor the sound guy took us to dinner at Kochsalon, a restaurant down the street. We weren’t hungry, but the boys (Greg, Frits and David) were, so we went with. The place was awesome — the food was eclectic, like some of the places that we eat at in Chicago: risotto with artichokes, beef stroganoff, baby green salad, and to top it off, they had a live DJ spinning records. Greg was in hog heaven; he eats like five or six times a day. Generally during the tour, his only concern is where is his next meal! He’s a butter freak too, because he kept talking about how good the butter is in Germany. Anyway, Viktor told us that the red light district was where all the musicians, artists and writers live and work because it is cheap.
We walked back to the Pudel. There weren’t that many people there yet, but at about 12:30 a.m. we got on stage. The place was starting to fill up. We started the set and discovered too late that Grant’s microphone didn’t work. Our sound guy was at the back drinking with the townies, so I was singing by myself for a while. The sound guy finally came to help; in the meantime, we did an instrumental… “Soda Fountain”. By then, the house was full. It was a lot of fun. I told people to come on up and dance and they did. They were having a really good time, which meant that we had a really good time too. The crowd was awesome again. We did one encore, and there was one guy in the audience that was screaming “Just one more! One more!” It was great, although I think that he was a friend of Frits’s. He told us later that he had more fun at our show than at Paul Weller’s show! Holy toledo!
After we got off the stage, the DJ came out to spin vintage American soul music and the crowd kept dancing. We hung out for a while with our promoters and publicists Christian (Volumne 11) and his wife and sweet Stephan from Berlin. David ran off, as usual, to chat with the Europeans about history, Greg was observing everything, checking out the scene trying to figure out what to do about his drum kit (he threw out his back so he couldn’t lift his equipment anymore), Frits was trying to sell our merchandise, Hayley was having her German beer, Grant was packing up his stuff, forever organizing and planning for the next gig already and I was in a daze as I usually am after performing.
After about a half an hour, it occurred to us that we had to get up at 8:00 to leave at 9:00 for Amsterdam. Here we go again.
One thing for sure is that I knew that we were going to work really hard over here, but I had no idea that it was going to be like this for us: Go! Go! Go! Run, sleep now, eat now, get up, wake up, find Internet! Stand up, pack the van, dammit, don’t just stand there, sing well and in key, don’t fuck up your guitar/bass/drum/organ part ’cause so and so is in the audience!, talk during the break, don’t say a word during the breaks!, get in the van, drive, hurry, take a picture…didja get it? Every single second, no rest, no break, ever. Holy shit. But we’d all do it all over again.
Sooooooo, we had to get our stuff out of the club — but the bad thing was that the place was jammed with people. It was going to be a bitch getting our stuff out. In fact, I was getting a little nervous because we could barely move and people were getting more drunk by the minute. A few fans held Grant and me captive for about 30 minutes. Frits told me to just get everything and push through the crowd. We did our best to get out, but unfortunately there was a guy at the club that was ripped, drunk and aggressive. He was elbowing people, and trying to start a fight. Reminded me of the Lincoln Parker’s at Wrigley Field after a game — you know, all that testosterone stuff.
Hayley, poor Hayley, got grabbed by this guy and he wouldn’t let her go. She cried out for help, and then that’s when all hell broke lose — the guy went ballistic, started fighting outside. I didn’t know what was happening with Hayley, but I saw the fight start so I got the hell out of there. Being from the US, my first thought was “He’s gonna have a gun and we’re all gonna get shot.” Then Greg was like “Hayley was just attacked.” So I ran to look for her and found her hiding in the van and I started screaming: “What happened?” Then I couldn’t find Grant, so I starting screaming again: “Where’s my husband?” I couldn’t find him and I was about to run back inside like a mother does when she’s rescuing her child from a burning building, but he was outside, thankfully. But then I hung out in the car with Hayley until things calmed down. Frits called the cops, but when we saw them coming, they sped past the venue. Clueless, they were. In the meantime, amidst all the confusion, as Hayley and I were huddled in the van, right outside the van window, two people were going at it slobbering all over the place big time like there was no tomorrow. It was actually pretty cool watching it as it added some European levity to the situation. The German police finally came back, but by then everything was calm.
Back at the nasty hotel, we crashed. Got up the next day at 8:00 and we were on the road to Amsterdam by 9:00. We are all pretty much sleeping in the van. The roads and countries are starting to blend together. The petro stops all look the same. I can’t remember anymore where we’ve been or where we are going. I don’t even know what day it is. All I know is that we are on the road again.
When we arrived in Holland, it was overcast and raining, but still, it felt like the sun came out to greet us with its golden rays. We were met with smiling Dutch faces in the petro station. This is the country where it all happens for us: Bart Ebisch, our biggest Dutch fan; Munich Records, our label; and our Dutch fans. Grant and me were so happy to be here. Everyone — and I mean everyone — speaks English here, which is totally bizarre.
We drive into Amsterdam, where immediately we were welcomed into stunning beauty. The city is filled with beautiful canals, old winding cobblestone streets, bicycle riders, electric trains and charming architecture…not to mention all the pretty Dutch people.
The Hotel Quentin near the venue said we didn’t have a reservation. This really sucked, because in Europe, there are stairs everywhere you go and all six of us had just lugged all of our suitcases up these narrow tall stairs to get to the hotel. Frits was pissed off about it, since he said that the hotel screwed up the reservation. The woman at the counter said: “It’s not my problem, then, is it?” It’s only because we’ve been on the road for so long that we are all tired and frustrated.
The new hotel (also called Hotel Quentin) was remarkably small, but it was bright and clean. We all shared rooms again to save money. We didn’t have much time here, so we were once again busting our butts to get ready for the show. We had lots going on: interview with Aloha magazine, a live radio show, the Crossing Border gig and then another interview with a student newspaper. Grant and I are trying to savor these experiences, but everything is happening so fast that it’s hard to take time out. But at least we have a lot of it on tape and on camera.
The Crossing Border Festival is huge. It is held in multiple venues. Our gig was being held in the Melkweg Theater in Amsterdam. Someone met us at the door to help us unload everything and show us around. It was organized and everyone was helpful. We unloaded all of our gear and went up to the stage. The room our show was in was huge, a lot like the TV show that we taped in Spain. There were multiple bands, writers, poets playing at the festival — it was thrilling. We heard J. Mascis sound checking next door. The Mekons were performing somewhere near; we had seem Jon Langford and Sally Timms earlier. David Sedaris, the author, was giving a reading. We were wishing that we had more time to stay to see some of it, but we were under the gun with our schedule and we had a lot of responsibility on tour. Hayley went out and grabbed us all Burger King (Grant and I never ever eat this shit back home but what can you do?). Grant wouldn’t let me eat until after soundcheck. I was so pissed off about that. The sound check went well, my equipment worked just fine. Frits was happy to be home — he disappeared for a while…probably to catch up with his girlfriend Sylvie!
After the soundcheck, we had to unhook our equipment and take it over to the radio show to tape a performance. Hayley’s friends from Chicago showed up. They were on vacation. We got them a pass through the festival — she cried when she saw them. We met sweet Bart Ebisch in person finally after all these years of talking by phone and email. It was like we’d known him all our lives. We also met Rob and Hilde, our booking agents.
At the radio gig, we had some technical difficulties because we had headphones on the whole time and Grant and I couldn’t hear ourselves. Also, I thought that someone had stolen my Zip disk, so I was running around freaking out because I couldn’t find it. I eventually did, but I had to apologize to the Dutch for being so frantic. I don’t think that they have frantic people in Holland. We performed “Misfits”, “Boon”, “Cluttered Mind” and “Airplanes” on the radio show. We played well and the crowd was appreciative. It was a good warm up for the gig too. Grant, me and Hayley then ran to do the interview with Aloha magazine. Grant was mentally fried during the interview but I was able to step up. We were supposed to do an interview with the other Dutch publication, OOR, but the journalist wasn’t able to make it out to see us.
Amsterdam is a blur. It’s like your wedding day that you can’t remember because everything happens so quickly and you have to depend on your wedding album to remember it all. Than goodness Hayley Murphy Photography is here.
Before our main show, Grant and I ran back to the hotel to change. I was worried that my hair was getting fucked up because of the rain. All my life, my hair has been a saga! Valincia, my hairstylist from Ajés Salon back home in Chicago, thankfully gave me a humidity proof hairdo that worked really, really well for the rigors of being on the road. I had no bad hair days! I swear, when we get rich and famous, I will have Valincia on tour with us doing my make up and hair every single day!
Anyway, the rain in Amsterdam was amazing; we got totally drenched. I couldn’t decide what to wear, and Grant was putting the set list together again so he was offering no fashion assistance to me. For some reason, Grant kept losing the set lists all tour, so he had to write them up before every single show. The bad thing about that is we have been using the backs of the copies of our passports to write them out. I hope no one steals our identities. We ran back to the venue and then it was gig time — we hit the stage running. We were told that we only had 45 minutes to do our set. We cranked it up and had a ball. The house was pretty full and most of the crowd stayed through our whole set. Imagine that — J. Mascis was performing next door, and we had an almost packed house just for us! Bite me, J. Mascis!
After the show, we met a singer/songwriter who was performing an acoustic show after us. I can’t for the life of me remember her name, but she was beautiful: half Japanese, from LA, and had a gorgeous voice. She was recently signed to a Sony or Warner, I think. So, so many things to do, people to meet and places to go…
Our gig at the festival was probably our tightest performance so far. The audience cheered us on, and people were responding well to our songs. After the show, we sold some of CDs, signed a few albums and talked to some fans. We hung out for a while with a young Dutch snowboarder/surfer boy who through his career suffered four concussions! Our label was very pleased with our show. Afterwards, Hayley took the night off and got a break from Grant and me — after all, she’s been living with us out of her suitcase for almost 15 days so far. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend tons of time with Grant and me! David disappeared again after the show. Where does he go? What does he do? Who does he see? He disappears in more ways than one from us. Like when we are in the van, he can go for two maybe three days and not speak a single syllable. Hayley and I drove him to the brink of insanity with our chatter. I mean, I can talk my ass off and send anyone flying over the cliff, but with Hayley, I met my match!
Greg was the only one who went walking around to see some other bands. Grant and I hung out to do one last interview with a girl named Patti for her student newspaper. We then packed up our stuff and went to the red light district for a quick tour. Red light! Oh yeah!
Wow. I feel like we are in a dream, this is unbelievable. I can’t believe that Grant and I are here. This is lovely.
Leaving the Quentin Hotel
The next morning we packed our stuff and headed out to the town for a few minutes before leaving Amsterdam. Grant and I are both certain that we will be back to Amsterdam soon because we didn’t even have 24 hours in the city! Anyway, I had to have my tea, so Grant and I went out to look again for a nice spot. I was mad at Grant because I wanted to have breakfast, and I found a place that had pancakes, but we didn’t have time. Like it was his fault — but still, I had to blame someone!
We got back to the van and were about to leave when Hayley, who has the back up keys for the van, realized that she left them with her friends last night. So, of course, Frits kinda went nuts with that whole thing.
Whatever… We decided to leave without the keys and have Hayley’s friends bring them to Frits’s partner Sylvie.
We start to drive again. My butt hurts already.
Leaving Amsterdam, we felt very sad. All of us wanted to stay for a while longer. Bye Bart!
Taking the ferry To England!
We drove through three countries today — Holland, Belgium and France — to get to the ferry to England. The Holland country-scape is very nice and peaceful. We even saw a traditional wooden windmill. Being on the road like this, you start to crave the mayonnaise sandwiches at the petro stations because you are so desperately hungry you just don’t care.
We didn’t have time for a good breakfast this morning, so I was hoping for McDonalds so that I could at least get a hash brown. Grant got mad at me for even bringing up McDonalds. Greg had grabbed a mincemeat apricot bar and he was eating it slowly like it was his last meal before going to the electric chair. That’s how it felt to Greg, I think, being back in the van again with his back all messed up. This is also about the time that Hayley started freaking out because she needed Mexican food from El Cid in Logan Square. She wouldn’t stop talking about Mexican food the rest of the damn trip. I was dying for Chicago food too and I was ready to choke her for reminding me about it. If you are vegetarian or don’t eat red meat, pork or fish and avoid dairy, you just may starve in Europe like I have. I have lost enough weight that I probably look like Skeletor!
Grant took over the van driving for a while because Frits was getting very tired. It was fine because Grant handles the van very well. We got to the ferryboat and drove onto it. The ferry ride was uneventful until we tried to change money. England is the last country in the Union that doesn’t use the Euro. What is up with that? Anyway, the French money change man (I guess on the ocean to England, it’s still considered France?) was having problems with his calculator and Hayley and I thought he was trying to be sneaky. Long story short, he closed up shop because of us.
I was freaking out the whole time thinking that one of us was going to get seasick. I took some Dramamine and so did Grant. It was fine. Greg was walking in circles trying to find food. The food on the boat was nasty, but we ate it anyway.
We saw some headlines in the newspaper about the UN Council vote on Iraq. Greg was wondering out loud how Bush was getting everything he wants. Hayley said that Michael Moore should be president. Grant and I are disgusted and worried. We can’t believe that George Bush is getting away with all this shit! It’s crazy. The council vote probably was never in doubt. What country wants to feel the economic retaliation of the USA? We hate George Bush. The world is coming to an end.
Anyway, back to some happiness…Frits read us a German review of our show at Subrosa in Dortmund. It was the first review we’ve ever gotten of our live show. It was a great review. We didn’t know that a journalist was there checking us out, which is probably for the best.
Off the ferry
We are off the ferry driving to Leicester. We only have two more shows to do at this point and a radio gig at Virgin.
Hey! We are in England! England still has strict border patrol. We were detained for a few minutes to do paperwork and stuff.
Five o’clock and already dark. There are fireworks everywhere. The cars, of course, are all on the “wrong” side of the road. Frits keeps shouting in his Darth Vader voice: Stay Left Avoid Death! In spite of the cramped conditions in the van, everyone is in good spirits and ready to do the next show. Our first one is at The Musician in Leicester. We were warned by many people to prepare ourselves for a hard, cold crowd in England. I hope not!
The minute we stepped out of our van at our B&B in Leicester, someone jacked one of our bags. Welcome to England! It happened to be the bag with tons of shit in it including all of our money, receipts and contracts — it sucked. The really weird thing is that out of the six of us, Hayley was the only one who saw the guys who robbed us. They were like phantoms…very spooky. Grant and Frits walked around for a while to see if the robbers threw the stuff in a garbage can, but no luck. Frits was bummed out for the whole night after this. As we were going to sleep in our room, I looked out the window and saw hookers and drug dealers. Cool! Just like home!
We were all beat and extremely cranky because this had been the longest driving day — ten hours. I myself got sick for the first time on tour: a fever, relentless head buzz, headache and body ache and even worse, a severely sore throat. I went straight to bed and slept for ten hours. The next day, we all took off in search of food. Everyone told us that Indian food is the food to eat in Leicester. I, Hayley and Grant went to this fantastic Indian restaurant down the street. It was pretty much the best Indian food that we’ve ever had. Greg had been talking about Pizza Hut for the last frigging week, so guess where he went for lunch? This is a guy who said that when he went to Montreal, he lived cheaply in hostels simply because he wanted to dine at the finest restaurants that money could buy. And so, when we get to Leicester, the place where everyone says you must eat Indian food, he goes to Pizza Hut! Ha! But he loved it. He says it’s the consistency that he likes: same taste, same crust. David made a beeline to the YMCA instead of eating lunch. I guess he needed to work his quads or something. A YMCA in Leicester, isn’t that something?
England thankfully has lots of stores and fast food restaurants. Hmmmm. Maybe that’s not a good thing. Anyway, we all were relieved to end the tour in England because there is no language barrier. It’s a bit more comfortable to get around because we don’t have to struggle to read signs and menus, communicate for directions, or simply order hot water for my tea. We talked about it and agreed that we all feel some paisan-ship with the British.
We all piled into the van again to go to The Musician. It was in an odd place, kind of like the Hideout in Chicago, down a dark alley-like deserted street. No one was there; we waited for an hour for someone to show up. The owner finally did, with her daughter. She immediately welcomed us inside and fed us beer, tea and booze. Actually, we had our own booze from the wonderful gig in Brussels –Sapphire gin and 7Up. Yippee! My brother told me to save the partying for the end of the tour, so I did. I am so glad that I took his advice but now I’m goin’ drankin’!
The Musician is cute, with images of all the rock and roll legends on the walls. Also, everyone who has played there has a picture on the wall with their autograph. We signed one after the gig. Utah Carol was the opening band for Robert McCreedy and Bellwether.
The two other bands arrived in a Sprinter van like the one that we were in — only it was a little bit bigger. It was funny because the first thing we did was look at how much more room they had than us! They had an extra row, but they had nine people in the car, not six. The band members seemed all really cool and friendly. It was a pleasure, because we’ve been performing alone pretty much the whole tour. Dana, the female singer with Robert, cracked me up because she was complaining about being in the van for two hours! Ha! She arrived with windswept hair and was decked out in a long coat with a fedora collar and a big glitter ring — she looked like a hipster from the ’60s. Phil the bass player seems to be the most talkative and informed. He’s like a polymath — ask him anything! Robert McCreedy was all mysterious with his cowboy hat and somber look, and Eric (Bellwether) was like the rock star with his shades and funky hair. Then there is Anton, the other Dutchman. He is their road manager. It was really cool — our bands being taken care of by the Dutch. I was happy. I love the Dutch! Anton and Frits started rapping right away. We were all very relaxed and excited about the show. We found out that we were staying at the same hotel and that we’d be playing another show together tomorrow at the Borderline. Yee haw!
People started showing up during our soundcheck. That was alright. Grant and I were on at 8:15 but surprisingly, the house was already pretty full — not packed, but good enough for us to jam a little. The first thing I said was “Good day mates!” What was I thinking? Duh, England, not Australia! Anyway, we started off the set with “Boon” from Wonderwheel and then rolled into “Airplanes” and then “Nellie”. (The rest: “Cluttered Mind”, “Misfits”, “Soda Fountain”, “When We’re Apart”, “9:09”, “See the Sun”, “Mr. Rogers”, “Walk the Walk”, “Stroll in the Park”, “Bluejay”, “Promised Land”, “Wandering Eyes”, “Miles”, “My Fear” and “Turn My Way”.)
The crowd was great, not at all like the other Europeans said they would be. We were asked for an encore, but we didn’t have time because Robert McCreedy and Bellwether were up next. Robert’s show was fantastic, smooth and mellow. He and Dana sounded wonderful singing together. Robert McCreedy and Bellwether were sharing the rhythm section for their European tour as well as all the backline and stuff, so the band was hot. Bellwether was amazing, too — such good songs, and Eric has a sublime voice and he’s cute. They played for at least an hour and a half. Not one single person left the club the whole night!
Afterwards, Grant and I signed autographs. There were people there who had driven a long way to see Utah Carol. Two fans had come all the way from Scotland. It made us feel very special to know that we are giving people a small pleasure of our music.
Frits seemed satisfied with the show. After Hayley finished working our show, she celebrated because in a day or so, she’d be getting home to be with her husband. Greg was his usual consistent optimistic self and David too seemed finally relaxed and happy. It will be good to get back home — although if someone told me that I had to stay for another week, I would happily oblige…well, as long as it was paid for.
Oh, England is really expensive, by the way. Everything is double what it would cost in the US.
It occurs to me that we have been really spoiled on this trip with Frits. Back home, Grant and I do everything: book the shows, call the venues, drive the car, unload the equipment, set everything up including backline stuff, take care of the money stuff, sell the merchandise. What the hell are we going to do without Frits?
After the show, we hung out at the club with the other bands. We get along well. They are a groovy funny bunch. Grant and I would play with them anytime.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped again for more Indian food, and this time Greg got some because he was sheepish that he ate Pizza Hut (although Grant and David did get pizza). Anyway, we crashed and then got up again in the morning to head to London. We think that we are well rested but you never know, sometimes it’s just adrenaline. The weather in England is absolutely beautiful –sunny blue skies, 60 degrees — not typical, according to Frits.
We have arrived in London! Where are the skyscrapers? London has always loomed larger than life to me, but in reality it’s pretty flat.
We get to the Columbia hotel to check in. Our hotel was right across the street from beautiful Hyde Park. Holy moley! Grant and I have an hour before we have to get out to go to Virgin to tape another radio show, eat, change and then get to the Borderline for our show. We have a huge fight (one of the many I might add) in the hotel room over the fact that he has been carrying my luggage all over Europe. Shit man, he’s the frigging husband, that’s his job!
So, Frits, Hayley, Grant and I ride the red double decker bus to Virgin. We go through the central shopping part of London. It’s huge — Grant and I have never seen so much rampant commercialism in our lives. It’s more pervasive than New York; the shopping goes on and on and on.
We arrive at Virgin. It’s in a little building on a small side street. We meet Lali, our host, and Mark, our engineer. We were expecting something formal but thankfully, it was small, intimate and casual. Ryan Adams had been there to tape his own performance earlier that morning. Grant and I performed “Misfits” and “My Fear”. Grant was nervous enough that he messed up a guitar part that he never ever messes up on, so we had to start over. We also performed “When We’re Apart” as a back-up, but Frits said it sounded flat, so we blew that one off. We were exhausted, I think. Hayley tried to take pictures, but Grant asked her not to, fearing that the little camera shutter sound would end up on the recording. Whatever. Finally, someone else at the other end of Grant’s control-freakism.
On the way back to the hotel, we found an organic food store and restaurant. I was so happy — authentic meatless/dairyless vegetarian food! I could tell Frits didn’t really want to eat there, but at this point he didn’t have any Dutch spunk left in him so he let us eat there. Europeans eat a lot of meat and cheese, so I was having a really hard time with the food. Grant was loving the food, mostly because he eats fish everywhere. Oh well. I’ll just starve.
We made our way back to the hotel and then onward to The Borderline for our final European show. This was our big show, not only because Sylvie from Mojo magazine was supposed to be there, but also because this was our grand finale…so we were a bit nervous. We were the opening band again for Robert McCreedy and Bellwether, but unfortunately, we were on at 8:00 and only allowed to play for 30 minutes, so the club was mostly empty. Too early for Londoners and their pints, I suppose! But even so, the crowd that was there was receptive to our music. Sylvie was there, too, with her archeologist friend Neal who looks like a young Brad Pitt. I thought that Sylvie told me that Neal studied lion butt fossils, but I think that I misunderstood. Grant and I were so happy to finally meet the woman who put our name and album on the map. What a pleasure to see Sylvie! It was freaking me out because who would have thought that we would actually meet her in person in London? Boggles my mind. Our UK publicist Chris was also in attendance, with Nick from Uncut and some other press people. Our friend Gearoid was there. We dedicated our last song, “Misfits”, to Sylvie. All of the press people were nice to us and as happy to meet us as we were them.
Sylvie and Neal took us out after the show to a private club down the way. Frits, Hayley, David, Gearoid, Grant and I went along with Chris and Nick. Chris spoke Swahili to me — he was born in Kenya. He looks to me like a Native American, as his hair is bone straight all the way down to his butt and he has a funky good luck charm necklace made of leather around his neck that his girlfriend made for him. We got Sylvie to autograph for us her new biography of Neil Young. We talked to her for a while about music and new projects that she was working on, and we really didn’t have enough time to ask her more questions. She’s so lucky because she gets to meet and talk with all the music greats! Anyway, David, our session bassist, was passing out his own indie record to everyone that would take one. Greg didn’t come along with us, he went to a jazz club…I think the same club that Jimi performed at the night before he died. Can’t remember the name. Hayley was happy/sad that it was the last night — she was lonely for Dan her husband. Grant and I barely got to talk with Gearoid. Anyhow, the English were all so welcoming to us, we will never forget their kindness.
In the morning, Gearoid took us in a taxi to Notting Hill for a bit. It was pouring down raining. At the restaurant, it was the first time we had something close to an American breakfast: pancakes, french toast, hash browns (hold the bacon please) scrambled egg over toast, sausage biscuit (for Gearoid) and a huge pot of English tea. Our breakfast was $75 US. Can you believe that? We stopped off at Rough Trade records and saw albums that sell for $25. Comfort for the Traveler was not in the bin, unfortunately. I don’t know how the English can afford to live in England.
The whole tour went by so fast it can hardly be believed. Grant and I were 20 days in a van across Europe with four people that we barely knew who had completely distinct and diametric personalities. We introduced Utah Carol to as many Europeans as possible, learned a lot, experienced new cultures and made new friends. The fact that we did as much as we possibly could in a short amount of time, and for the most part kept our sanity, is pretty damn amazing.
It seemed like everything fell into place too. George invited us to do the tour diary right before we left and coincidentally, Hayley jumped at the chance to come with us on tour with her digital camera and computer — making it really easy to upload her photos to Splendid and input my thoughts on the computer (her dream is to travel all over the world and take photos). We traveled to England — the first place that we ever got press overseas, back in 1999, with our debut album Wonderwheel. We got to meet Sylvie from Mojo and Bart after all these years. David got to swim in the Mediterranean and take a break from his brain eating corporate day job. Jazzman Greg can now say that he’s done a tour as a “pop” musician in Europe. Grant and I visited countries that we never thought we’d ever have the chance to see in our lifetime together as a couple. Grant and I, for the first time, did a real tour: almost back to back singing and playing our songs from our records for people who came specifically to see us! Man oh man. Even amidst the stress of working hard, it was all pretty perfect. Thank you Munich Records for the opportunity!
Maybe this is the beginning of a new chapter for Grant and me. Frits said we need to get back to Europe in the spring, maybe to perform in France, Italy and Portugal, or simply to focus on Germany, Holland and England. Sara is pushing to get us a big gig at a festival in Spain in August. We have a song placed in All The Real Girls, a major independent film by David Gordon Green, out in February of 2003 (Sparklehorse, Will Oldham and Hope Sandoval are supposedly on the soundtrack). We are starting to work on our next album. Maybe we’ll start looking for a US manager or booking agent if they will have us. Hmmmmmm. My brother-in-law said that our minds would be blown after the tour. I think he’s right. The tour has given us a much broader outlook for Utah Carol.
Thanks for going with us on our first European musical journey. We’re flying back home now. Hasta luego!
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