How To Travel With Mates And Not Kill Each Other: A Guide To Life On Tour With Melbourne’s Alpine
"We were in a twelve-seater and everyone smelled like shit. Yawning and bad breath and bodies everywhere."
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It’s the classic Australian travel story: you book the long-awaited big trip with a good mate, you spend way too much time in each other’s company, and you eventually come to despise each other with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Many a friendship has met an ignominious end in some dank boarding house in Belgium, and the bars of Amsterdam are littered with tales of matehood gone sour.
So how to avoid turning on your travel companions, like Mr Burns and Homer did that time they were stuck in the snow cabin with the ghosts of dead political figures? Aussie six-piece Alpine may be just two albums deep, but they already know a whole lot about life on the road. Touring with six band members sounds like a bunch of cramped spaces, waiting around and a tour van that smells like a bag of dead turtles, but they somehow manage to make it work.
We chatted to the two electric front ladies, Phoebe Baker and Lou James, about what life on tour really looks like and how they survive.
Junkee: You guys have really moved onto the next stage (literally) when it comes to crowd size. How does performing for small venues hold up next to the big stage?
Phoebe Baker: Great. Big crowds can be amazing but they can also be overwhelming, but then small crowds are awesome too; you get more of a chance to interact with people and have a laugh.
Lou James: When you play to really big crowds, it’s amazing. It’s such a different dynamic. That’s the challenge, to reach every single individual in the crowd.
Australian audiences have been copping a bad rap this year. Are we really that bad? How do we compare with the European or US audiences?
P: It’s the night, it’s the town, it’s the day of the week, it’s if you’re playing well.
L: Not really though.
P: Well, Brisbane, actually. Someone grabbed my boob and ran away.
L: And Newcastle. Maybe having two girls at the front of a band, I dunno.
P: They were so rude.
L: They were yelling really gross, horrible stuff. Usually after the show we go and chat to people and hang out with them, but the rest of the guys in the band were like, “you’re not going down there” because they could hear all the hideous things those only few particular people said. It’s only some people though.
You guys tour a lot. Any tricks you’ve learnt for life in a state of flux?
P: Take a piece of your home with you. I get really anxious, so I need a scent or something small to ground me. It’s too much time spent in a car so whenever you can, go out and go for a walk and get air.
L: What made us very much like a family on the road was everyone looking after each other. Just making sure everyone has food if we’re busy, shit like that. Taking care of each other.
Were you able to create new material while you were tooling around on tour?
P: Yeah, for sure. Little things come up on the go. Sometimes you don’t have enough time, but memos and seeds that you can come back and work on are there.
L: The majority of it, we were in this tiny tour car. We didn’t have a huge tour bus with a lounge room that we could chill in and bring out the guitar. We were in a twelve-seater and everyone smelled like shit. Yawning and bad breath and bodies everywhere.
P: The boys would get half-chubs in the back. The back seat was too bouncy. Back seat bandits.
L: We would try and sleep but it was too rough. Too tired all the time.
What’s your favourite city in Europe?
L: Barcelona. On the beach there was Mr Bambolino, man. He was this guy with a triangle selling donuts, and he was in little speedos banging his triangle and was like: “I’m Mr Bambolino, man”. I bought his donuts. Everyone has their siestas and keeps partying, that city is amazing.
P: London. I love London. Flapjacks. Sainsbury’s £2 sandwiches. So good.
How do you maintain a friendship with your band-buddies when you’re in each other’s faces so much?
P: You fight, but once you’ve had all the fights it doesn’t matter.
L: It’s like when you go travelling overseas and go on this massive adventure and you come home and try to explain it to people, but no one’s gonna understand it unless they were there with you. You’re all in it together.
Here’s where I brag that we’re actually friends in real life. I’ve always wondered what it’s like when you have local shows, is it weird to play in a venue full of friends?
L: When I play in a venue full of people I don’t know I have the freedom to be whoever. But when I play in a venue full of friends, I feel like a baboon. Because they all know me, do they think I’m being too cool for school or fake or something? I overthink everything, though.
P: It doesn’t really affect me too much. Even when my parents are there I’m still grindin’ away.
Alpine’s latest album Yuck is out now via Ivy League.
H.D. Thompson is a writer for Spook and Subterranean Death Cult. He can also be found at actuallyharry.com, but is probably more lively on Twitter at @actuallyharry.