After six months of planning and many sleepless nights excited about the idea of living the rock n’ roll dream, we had organised close to 30 shows for Kitchen’s Floor in America. As the dates loomed closer, we still didn’t have our plane tickets booked. We had applied for three different government touring grants and assumed we would get approved for at least one of them, the plan being that one of these would fund the cost of our flights. With a month to go before the tour was due to begin we found out we had been rejected by all of them.
Kitchen’s Floor had a new album ready for release (Look Forward to Nothing), the shows were booked and we had made promises, so there was no way we were going to cancel this tour. We would just have to be frugal, or something. Liam (Kenny, then bassist) and I stocked up on duty free vodka and Xanax, and got a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. It was an enjoyable event that I can barely remember, although the passengers sitting near us would probably say the opposite. As we were preparing to land I was warned by a stewardess that unless I sobered up, then there would be a real chance I would be refused entry into the country.
The plane landed and as soon as I had stumbled out I was escorted into a customs interrogation room and spent the next couple of hours under a fluorescent light being cross examined by US customs agents. They were tough and asked me some deeply personal questions, all the while mocking my scruffy clothing and general poverty. I kind of understood the situation and co-operated to the best of my ability. Eventually they decided I was more of an idiot than a threat and they let me go, but we missed our connecting flight to New York and as a result spent a pleasant day at Santa Monica beach.
Arriving in New York the next day we travelled to Williamsburg where we met up with Joe (Alexander, then-drummer, who had caught a separate flight) and made ourselves at home in Craig Dermody’s small fifth floor apartment. Craig originally hails from Melbourne and fronts the bands Scott & Charlene’s Wedding and Divorced. He had been living in New York for most of the year and by this time was employed as a bouncer at an upmarket club frequented by celebrities such as The Strokes and Macaulay Caulkin. He had once refused Kirsten Dunst entry, having no idea who she was. He was reprimanded for this oversight. I bought a guitar, a white Fender Mexican strat which was a little nicer and more expensive than what I needed (all I wanted was a cheap Squier that I could knock around), but there aren’t many choices when you’re left-handed.
We played our first show of the tour that Friday night at a bar in Brooklyn called Bruar Falls. While we were playing I remember thinking “whoa, we actually did it.” After that, we were meant to play Sunday night in Philadelphia but were stranded in New York because of a hurricane the news was calling ‘Irene’. The city closed down the roads so we were trapped, but we had plenty of beer so we passed the time by drinking and hanging out with a cool retired flight stewardess turned cat lady.
The roads out of the city were re-opened after a few days so we drove down to Philadelphia where we met Siltbreeze chief Tom Lax. We also played a show with Watery Love but I got so wasted I can’t really remember it, which is a shame as Watery Love are one of the greatest bands I’ve ever heard. We spent a few days at Siltbreeze HQ hanging out with Tom, who was a great host. He cooked us fine cuisine and shared my passion for WWII documentaries and drinking. From Philadelphia we drove back to New York and then on to Boston where we met the band we would be spending the next 3 and a half weeks with – Fat History Month.
Fat History Month consisted of Shaun (guitar/vox) and Mark (drums). They were like a two-piece post rock outfit fresh outta 1997 or something. Coming along for the adventure was a nice homeless guy called Greg, who said he did not live in Boston. Greg would become an invaluable merch guy and generally good natured ‘roadie’ who always wanted to sleep in the van even if we had a house to stay the night. Around this time Liam was diagnosed with ‘strep throat’ and it cost something like $200 to cure it courtesy of the American health care system. Morale in the camp was high however, and we played the ill attended Boston show with a stoic pride. We played again that night at around 2am at a burnt out party where no one really gave a shit about us.
Using Boston as our home base, we spent the next few days playing the smaller college towns that surround it – Lowell, New Haven, Northampton and Binghamton. Lowell was a pretty grim introduction to small town America but the people who put on the show were those amazing kind of genuine punks who did a fine job organising it all.
We arrived a few hours late to the New Haven show and I got the impression that the people there were kind of angry at us for that. I understand. All I really wanted was to see Estrogen Highs play that night and they did not disappoint. In Northampton we played at a small record store called Feeding Tube Records. We arrived to a fridge full of beer and some great record store guys who gave us free Creedence Clearwater and Simpson’s cassettes. That was an awesome highlight, as they provided some much needed quality tunes to play in the van during the infinite hours of driving ahead. In Binghamton we played in a sweaty warehouse with a bunch of local tech head post rock dude acts. I was told by some tech dudes after the show that all of the other bands had blown us away, which was fine by me. I remember going to an ATM across the road to find out I only had $50 left in my bank account which was really depressing considering the tour had barely begun.
We left Boston for the last time and started the drive to the West Coast. The first show was at a place in Columbus called Carabar where we were given unlimited free buffalo chicken tacos. Psychedelic Horseshit played and everything was pretty alright. There was an after party at Matt Horseshit’s apartment where I ended up being the last person awake which is always a lonely feeling. I left Columbus feeling good though, the city had a lot of charm.
Cleveland was next, a rough place I had heard. We played at Now That’s Class with Obnox and Puffy Areolas. Mind blowing. Only about twelve people actually came to see the show though which was a shame as it put us on bad terms with the bar owner and effectively killed the free beer we had been getting all night. I ran out of money around this time and I think I was heavily constipated as well. We played a town in Indiana called Bloomington next. It was a rural kind of area; the house we were playing seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and gave you the feeling of being in a horror movie. I met a guy who told me he had heard we were doing a show and had driven something crazy like 8 hours from another state to see Kitchen’s Floor play. He was down on his luck, lost his job and his girlfriend, was sleeping in his car, vaguely suicidal etc. I tried to make the show worthwhile for him although I’m not sure how he ended up.
Iowa City was next, the show was at a bar and restaurant place called The Mill. They gave us a big complimentary dinner and I drank a few beers at the bar as Metallica’s ‘Orion’, among other hits, blared over the jukebox. Quiet little relaxing moments like these had become very important to me, and kept me in a tolerable frame of mind. The show was fun and we ended up partying with a bunch of Iowa City punx in a big empty attic next to a house that doubled as a convent. I fell asleep on the couch to Jurassic Park playing on a TV, waking up at around 4am to find the house completely dark and silent, except for a wasted sleepwalker who was blindly urinating all over the kitchen. I still wonder if the residents of the house thought it was me who gone done that.
From Iowa City we drove to Chicago where we played an afternoon in-store show at Permanent Records. They had gone out of their way to accommodate our arrival; they even gave us t-shirts which was great because by now I did not have any clean clothes left. Later that night we played at a bar called Crown Liquors Tap Room. Someone put Pantera’s ‘Walk’ on the jukebox and Liam and I gladly drank a beer to that. Some guy called Mikey introduced himself and said he was getting a lift to LA with us and I was like ‘oh ok’. Mikey was alright. We spent the night at Matt from Heavy Times’ apartment. He was an excellent host who seemed to live to party. Very little sleep was had but I left Chicago feeling like I had made some new friends.
The next stop for our touring juggernaut was Minneapolis. It was a Sunday night and I was messed up from sleep deprivation, hunger, constipation and alcohol abuse so I wasn’t in a very good disposition as we arrived. My mood improved when we got to the venue, which was a warehouse near train tracks with a distant view of the city skyline which I thought looked oddly similar to Brisbane. I watched a band I had never heard of called Le Deux Magots. The guy played guitar exactly how I like it to be played – simple yet brutal and weird in that individualistic sense. They were a nice surprise that lifted my ailing spirits. Teenage Moods were another band playing that night and were also very enjoyable. They reminded me a lot of Straight Arrows (who co-incidentally had played Minneapolis the night before). We stayed at a house that Courtney Love had lived in during the 1980s.
After that was a brutal 22 hour drive from Minneapolis to Missoula. We drove day and night across the vast dinosaur desert state of Montana. Everyone in the van was tired, filthy and depressed. I was stressed out and delirious from lack of sleep, but I couldn’t sleep due to anxiety and paranoia. I don’t mind dying but I don’t want to die in a car crash and this seemed like that kind of scenario. We had joked at length about the van crashing early on in the tour but by now it seemed like the most logical conclusion to the trip. The drive went on and on and my mind had long turned against me but we made it to Missoula without a single fatality or violent nervous breakdown.
I went for a walk but was so mentally fucked up I got lost and spent four hours walking repeatedly up and down the main street in a pathetic daze. The town was the birth place of David Lynch and it had somewhat of a ‘Lynchian’ vibe, I guess one would say. The show was in a house but they were still charging admission to help out the touring bands. A guy gave me a big bag of granola instead of paying and that was fine by me. Another guy told us his name was ’67’ and a lot of people appeared to be on hallucinogens. Missoula felt like the Nimbin of America or something. Mordecai played and it was the highlight for me. I slept that night in the corner of a room normally reserved for the cat.
The next destination was Seattle, Washington. We celebrated as we crossed state lines by blasting Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana over the van stereo like no one had ever done that before. We met Adam who had organised a show for us at the Comet Tavern and was letting us stay at his house. He drove Naked on the Vague around when they had toured America and he also plays in the band Little Claw. A very amicable guy. He bought us pizza and we ate it in a baseball field. The show was alright too.
As we were driving out of Seattle the next day our van was making weird death noises, so we stopped and had it checked by a mechanic, who told us it was fucked. We decided to take a risk and drive to Portland anyway, only just arriving in time for the show. We saw Rob and Hart from Eat Skull, who we had brought over for an Australian tour earlier in the year. They were as wasted as ever. One of the other bands playing that night was selling hash brownies and I ate a whole one while forgetting I can’t mentally handle weed, not even in delicious brownie form. I freaked out and spent most of the night hiding in a basement.
Most of the next day was spent waiting for the van to get repaired and it became obvious we weren’t going to make it in time for the show in Sacramento. We arrived just after 2am but were still able to do a live session for college radio station KDVS Davis (they didn’t seem to mind that it was so late). It was situated on a ‘dry’ campus, but what was surprising was that a bunch of students had waited up all night for us so there was a crowd of about 20 people packed into the small recording studio. It felt humbling as we played through our little rock n’ roll set to a polite sober applause.
The next day was busy. We were playing at an afternoon BBQ in Oakland and then also a show that night in San Francisco. The BBQ was put on by Ned and Oscar who had toured Australia with Eat Skull earlier that year as well. It was a sunny day and I was glad to not be in the van so I celebrated by drinking a lot of beer. I don’t really remember playing the show at the BBQ. We drove over the bay to San Francisco where we were playing at the Hemlock Tavern. It was really cold. Mikey Young was at the show and that was cool.
It was our highest attended show of the tour so far but it was a disaster. I could barely play the songs and soon enough people were throwing things at me and shouting ‘you’re drunk! Get off the stage! Fucking idiot!’. I passed out in the van and woke up the next day with everybody angry at me. The drive down to LA was quiet and a little tense. We were playing at the Los Angeles Permanent Records store and once again we were given t-shirts and even pizza. I will love Permanent Records forever.
From there we started heading back to the east coast, this time through the south of the country. We drove along Route 66 for a long time and made it to Flagstaff in Arizona where a show had been organised in a basement. The people were eccentric and very friendly, the night climaxing with a raging dance party. I almost had ‘Flagstaff’ tattooed on my arm and still kind of regret that I didn’t. We spent the next night in Midland, Texas. We weren’t playing there but a very nice Texan lady put us up for the night, made us macaroni n’ cheese and showed us some southern hospitality. Next was Austin where we did a radio session for KOOP then played the nicely named Beer Land venue.
Onward to Memphis for Goner Fest! We pulled up at the home of Bruce Saltmarsh, an ardent supporter of Australian music and chief of the Easter Bilby distribution label. He had held an ‘Aussie BBQ’ that afternoon which Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys had played but we arrived too late to see that. Straight Arrows, Royal Headache and Deaf Wish were also in town so it was definitely party time. The next few days and nights were spent watching band after band, drinking beer after beer. Memories are blurry. I had been looking forward to the Icky Boyfriends reunion show the whole trip and that was a hazy highlight. There were so many Australians around and some Americans were even calling it a music invasion. It felt like there was some hype floating around, and the pressure to live up to it was quite exciting.
I was a little nervous before playing our set but it turned out alright. Afterwards Shogun from Royal Headache told us we had been invited to someone’s house for dinner and he had the address. Liam and I followed him and soon we found ourselves walking through the dark streets of Memphis a little lost as Shogun recited the high local homicide rate for us. We found the address but it was inside a complex surrounded by a large fence. We couldn’t work out how to use the intercom so we climbed the fence and people immediately came running out screaming at us. If we hadn’t acted like clueless Australian tourists we probably would have been beaten up or something. The girl who had invited us laughed hysterically at our stupidity and the dinner was pleasant.
By the end of Goner Fest I was well and truly sick. Almost a month of solid drinking, sleepless nights on hard floors, constipation, infrequent showering, horrible roadside food and countless hours trapped inside the van had taken its toll on my mental and physical health. My right arm felt numb and sore. I assumed that I had damaged a nerve or two from having slept on floors for so long, as I would often wake with the arm crushed under me and with severe pins and needles. I felt pain everywhere and I had no money to buy medicine or food. I felt weak and nauseous, self aware that I did not have long to live.
We left Memphis and started the drive back to New York. We played a small town called Murfreesboro but by that point I had stopped caring about living the dream. It was a party hosted by very nice people and many wanted to meet ‘the Australian band’ but I just couldn’t play the role of the charismatic international touring artist. They had Super Mario World on a Super Nintendo and I spent the whole night playing that alone instead. I cut our set short after only 10 minutes, my sense of purpose broken.
I was in an even shittier mood at our last show in Staunton, Virginia. It was a Monday night and I was hoping it would be quiet and there would be a quiet place where I could lie down or something. It was the exact opposite, as everyone there seemed intrigued that a band all the way from Australia was playing in their town on a Monday night. They had no idea who we were but I got the impression they thought we would be like AC/DC. A couple of minutes would not go by without some loud drunk guy start yelling at me, asking me about what I thought of America and so forth. I went back to the van, locked myself in it and tried to nap. Unfortunately some guys followed and found me lying in there. They started bashing on the van door and were screaming “c’mon man what’s wrong wit you! You’re in Staunton buddy!! PARTY!!!”. There truly was no escape so I held back tears and went back inside the venue. We started playing and there was a big drunken mosh pit. I don’t think anybody was really listening to the music, it was just loud and we were weird Australians to them. I think we made a good impression. A really nice girl let us stay at her house that night and I had my first decent shower in weeks, which probably saved me from a violent nervous breakdown.
The last stretch to New York was anxious as everybody in the van just wanted to get away from each other and go home. The last thing we did was a radio session for WFMU in New Jersey and that was more than a worthwhile end to our American performing duties. We then arrived back at where we had started, Craig Dermody’s apartment in Williamsburg. We said goodbye to Fat History Month and Greg, then said goodbye to Joe who had an earlier flight than Liam and I. The next day I pawned my guitar for less than half of what I had paid for it, and then Liam and I caught the subway to JFK airport. We flew to Los Angeles and then fled the country. It was an agonizingly long trip back and then when we arrived in Sydney we started the Australian tour.