"Our best stories are way too incriminating," explains singer-guitarist John Dufilho.
"They're basically unprintable," adds bassist Jason Garner.
In five years, the beloved Dallas group has managed to play a staggering 499 shows (their 500th will be on Saturday, playing at the Gypsy Tea Room as part of The Hourly Radio's CD release). They've shared a bill with too many bands to list--Apples in Stereo, Jimmy Eat World, Pete Yorn, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to name a few--and been on the road enough to make Jack Kerouac cry for Mommy. After all that, they continue to be one of the most inspiring and inspired bands in the city, all of which is why I sat down with them to discuss their time on the road. These aren't necessarily their best stories. But hey, we gotta have something to talk about for show 1,000.
Rule 46: And the Band Plays On, Part 1 "We opened for the French Kicks and the Walkmen in Chicago," Dufilho remembers. "Normally we do pretty well in Chicago, but the crowd just wasn't interested." He demonstrates their detached stares, the sound of their clapping, like two wet noodles slapped together. Hey, it happens to every band--some shitty cocktail of city, vibe, music, expectations. So what do you do? Keep on playing.
"Peter Schmidt taught me something back when I was in LCC," Dufilho says. This was when the now-defunct art-rock band opened for the Toadies, and as Schmidt wrapped the set's most slow and deliberate song, a chant burbled up from the rear: Toad-ies! Toad-ies! Toad-ies!
"Peter was very fuck-you about it," Dufilho says, "very punk-rock. I don't know if I could have done that, but there's something to be said for just going out and doing what you do. If people like it, cool. If people don't, what can you do?"
Rule 217: This Round's on You. Literally. Every once in a while, Dufilho gets a little itch onstage. As a performer, he's prone to impulse and quirk, and it is his strength. Most of the time.
"I got this idea that I needed to pour an entire beer on Kevin's head," he says.
Kevin is Kevin Ingles, a longtime band member known for many things--his sundry noisemakers, a good sense of humor, a tasteful handlebar mustache--but timidity is not one of them.
"The next thing I know, Kevin picks me up while I'm singing and throws me down to the ground," says Dufilho.
"He pretty much body-slammed you," Garner says.
"It was an impressive move," Dufilho adds.
But the story doesn't end there. "I was pissed," Garner says. "I walked over to him and said, 'If you ever do that to my friend again, I'm gonna beat the shit out of you.' He's like, 'Oh, you're gonna beat the shit out of me, huh?'" Several crazy stares were exchanged and never acted upon.
"That's probably the only time there was tension in the band, which is a pretty good record," Dufilho says. "I don't regret it, though. I'd still pour that beer on his head."
At other times, Dufilho's compulsions have been less hostile--if just as messy. "The sign of a really good show for me is if I'm jumping into the drum set at the end of the night and destroying it," he says. "Thankfully I've never injured myself. I got a high-hat stand in the ribs once, but I was all right."
Rule 335: Other Ways to Sustain Personal Injury The day before a 22-show tour with Superdrag, Garner had a minor incident. "We were loading in our equipment," he remembers, "and I slammed the door right on my middle finger."
Garner thought for sure the tour would be scrapped--or, at the least, his part in the tour--but he soldiered on. The doctors stitched up the finger and bolstered it with a metal brace that stood taller than his others, like a constant robotic flip-off.
"He got a thumb pick to play with, too," Dufilho says, "and by the end of the tour he'd gotten so good with it that he'd hit low E's and that thing would go BAM! Like thunder. It was awesome. We worked it into the show."
Now that, boys and girls, is how to turn your weakness into your strength.
Rule 114: Just Imagine If Ray Davies Had Shown "One of my favorite shows was with the Old 97's," Dufilho says, "the first time we ever played at 40 Watt in Athens." A childhood R.E.M. fan, Dufilho was tripping all over himself to play the fabled club--until Garner bolted backstage with some big news.
"Michael Stipe is here, and he's front-and-center!"
That's when Dufilho's stomach plummeted somewhere around his tube socks. Despite his onstage antics, Dufilho is a shy guy--the kind of performer who stares down stage fright before every performance. It's bad enough to confront a house packed with faceless strangers, far worse the shiny shaved head of Michael-Freaking-Stipe.
Turns out the rumor wasn't true. It was bassist Mike Mills in the front row, although Stipe had been kicking around the bar that night. "I told you it was Mike Mills, not Michael Stipe," Garner corrects his friend.
"Well, maybe it wasn't you then," Dufilho says. "But someone came back there and told me--and it almost ruined the whole show for me."
Rule 353: Rock Isn't Rude
There's a lot of ego in the music industry. Beefy security guards, drug-addled club owners, money-grubbing label heads. And, of course, there is your garden-variety musician asshole.
"We were opening for this band, and the drummer set up his drums onstage and left us a tiny sliver of space for all our equipment," Dufilho says. "He was like, 'Do not touch these. You're the opening act. You have to set up in front of us. Deal with it.'"
What did they do? They promptly tossed the kit backstage, of course.
"I don't care how much money you make. I don't care how many people like your band," Dufilho says. "There's no room for that kind of ego."
Rule 46: And the Band Plays On, Part 2 They were playing a packed show in Reno, Nevada, when the power blew. (It's quite possible this had to do with the band's staggering collection of 500 rope lights.) So about five songs in, the whole place blinks into darkness, at which point--thank God--drummer Robert Anderson just keeps going. In fact, they all keep going, grabbing some maracas and shakers from Ingles and plowing on through blackness for about 15 minutes until the power kicks on, a climax you could hardly have planned better.
"I talked to the owner that night," Garner remembers, "and he thought we shut the lights down on purpose."
Dufilho smiles. "Now that was one of my favorite shows."
Rules 501-999: Love What You Do "There's so many bands out there, hundreds of thousands of bands, and I figured from the beginning the only way I could make sure we tour is if we do it ourselves," Dufilho says. "Some bands wait for the big labels to come to them, wait for the big audience to come to them, but I say make it happen for yourself, 'cause it might not happen otherwise."
But being a touring band is hard. It's often boring and dirty and terribly inconvenient to such institutions as marriage, friendships and jobs. Touring musicians grapple with loneliness. Touring musicians grapple with Birmingham, Alabama. So it helps to be intoxicated by the stage--and, of course, it helps to be pretty intoxicated.
I ask Dufilho and Garner what advice they would give to bands on the road. Dufilho thinks on this and answers, finally, "Love what you do."
"And," adds Garner, "take a designated driver."