I have to laugh as Andy and I head down the escalator to the immigration hall and I look up at the huge banner of Obama welcoming us the United States of America. Welcome would be a fine thing, the cops at the line leave you under no false impression that you are anything but privileged to be entering their country. Then again, imagine in a few months time that banner is sporting a picture of Donald Trump’s coupon? I guess they might change the text in that case. The queue at customs is surprisingly short anyway. Andy and I get split up and so I’m on my own. I scan the booths and weigh up which of the cops I don’t want, to be fair most of them seem happy enough. This one guy though, hispanic looking guy with a friendly tash, seems to be really laying on the charm. I hope I get him. As I get to the front of the line I clock him chatting away with this young Danish guy but I soon realise the game he playing. This asshole is doing the whole good cop/bad cop thing on his own. The thinnest of masks trying to veil interrogation with wishy wash banter. I hear him probing the guy about his job, asking him how he can afford a holiday in California on a waiter’s wage. The poor sap says, “Well, welcome to Denmark I guess”. Good cop/Bad Cop looks at him like the he’s just tickled his mum’s arse. It’s pretty painful viewing. Thankfully I get waived to another booth. This guy doesn’t even bother making the effort, he goes with the standard stonewall approach. I’m through in a matter of minutes though. I get to the baggage claim and Andy is waiting with the gear. We head out into the arrivals hall and purchase a cheese and jalapeno bagel and a large black coffee. Now that’s what I call an American welcome.
Our friend Nath picks us up and takes us back to his place in West Hollywood where we’ll be staying tonight. It’s good to see him again. He shares a house with a couple of film industry people on this quiet street lined with palm trees just off of Santa Monica Blvd. We’re welcomed by the house dog Bowser, who is the excitable old bulldog mix with a huge protruding jaw. She’s not the prettiest girl but she’s really friendly. We dump our bags in Nath’s room and then take turns in the shower whilst Nath makes us some fruit smoothies. It’s nice to be here a day before the first show, have the chance to relax in Los Angeles before the tour starts. Nath’s sofa is dangerously inviting though so we decide to head out over to Amoeba Records just to keep ourselves busy.
We meet Nath’s friend Scott there, who sings in the legendary death metal band Repulsion. I met once briefly before when he was in Stockholm doing stuff with Death Breath, the band he has together with Nicke Andersson. He’s a really friendly guy. My head is a bit mushed walking around the mammoth record store though and I have a hard time concentrating on the vinyls. Feel a little bit spaced out. We’re there for a while and then we head to a Mexican restaurant called El Cholo down by Koreatown on Scott’s tip. It’s about seven pm so by the time dinner is done we should be nearing the safe zone. We’re meeting Eric, our old friend from Black Breath who is driving us on tour in their van. He’s here with his girlfriend and they’re on their way over. Whilst we wait we order a couple of beers, pints on Pacifico with a wedge of lime, and some nachos with guacamole. The guacamole is the reason Scott insisted we come here. We take a sofa by the bar and wait for the grub. It doesn’t disappoint. They mash avocados right in front of you, giving you the options of chilis, onions and cilantro. We go for the lot. It is without any doubt the nicest guacamole I’ve ever tasted. I’m now into a second wind.
Eric and Jude turn up shortly afterwards and we take a table and order some dinner. I order a margarita, which comes in a pint glass, and some cheese enchiladas. The cheese bomb goes right to the attack on my second wind. It’s great to see Eric and meet Jude. He’s one of the nicest, easiest going people I’ve ever met and Jude seems much the same. After dinner we head back to Nath’s area. I’m feeling pretty fucking bloated from dinner and being that it’s ten pm I’m tempted to head to bed but I know if I push on for a little while longer it will be worth it. Andy is looking fucked though so he heads to bed, the rest of us head around the corner to this gay bar which is Nath’s local. Not his local in that sense, he points out to me, but the nearest bar to his place. It’s just what is required anyway. It’s chilled out, the music is on low enough to be able to hold a conversation and there is somewhere to sit. Eric sorts me out with a bottle of Corona and a shot of tequila to help with digesting the swamp of cheese in my stomach. He seems to worry that I don’t like the shot since I sip away at it but I assure him nothing could be further from the truth. I love tequila, but shooting booze is not my bag.
The one is enough, I manage to make it until eleven thirty but now it really is time for bed. I’ve been up just over twenty five hours and back home it’s seven am. Eric and Jude hop in an Uber back to their set up in Echo Park and Nath and I head home. We sit and chat for a few minutes on his sofa, he’s telling me about his fucked up visa situation, he’s Australian and living on a working visa, but after moving with his job here from New York he got laid off and now getting someone else to employ him involves an immigration lawyer and despite Nath’s best efforts to explain to everyone that the process if relatively hassle free it proving tough. He’s a sought after IT guy in the music branch so hopefully it will work out. The clock is ticking against him though. And it’s ticking against me, I bid him goodnight, thankful to him for the lend of his bed as he takes the sofa, and head into Andy. As I attempt to plug my phone into charge, probing around in the dark, I’m startled by Andy grunting at me. I hadn’t realised but I’d turned on the lamp on my phone and it was shining right in his eyes.
I manage to sleep through until six thirty, not sure if it’s jet lag or parent clock which has awoken me but I’m happy enough with six and a half hours sleep. I lie there a while before getting up and showering. It’s a glorious day out there, beyond the blinds. We’re meeting my old friend Joe Barresi for breakfast at nine thirty and being that we’ve got an hour to kill Nath drives us up to the hills via Mulholland Drive and we get out at the Hollywood Bowl observatory point and take in the sights. It is mind boggling to see the sprawl of Los Angeles from all the way up here, the city just doesn’t end, only the ocean putting any halt to it on the one side. We take some pics and enjoy the views for a while, we’re here early enough to be the tourists so it’s just the three of us. We head down to Sunset Blvd after a while to meet Joe at the Griddle Cafe. This is Jen’s favourite place in LA and I’d be doing her a disservice if we didn’t come by. I was here once with her before and I remember the gargantuan pancakes. That’s kind of what they’re known for.
Joe is waiting outside for us. It’s great to see him as always. We go back a good few years now, Despite the fact he’s an incredibly respected guy in the industry, having worked with some huge bands like Kyuss, Weezer, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Raging Speedhorn, he’s a wonderfully humble person. One of my all time favourites. We bump into Troy from Queens and his lady outside on the pavement whist we’re waiting for a table. The diner is packed inside. He chat away for a bit and then we’re called in. The place is rumbling with chatter so it’s a little hard to hear the conversation but when the food comes there is no time for natter anyway, we all go for eggs apart from Joe who orders Bailey’s and espresso pancakes. They’re huge and you get a stack of three. When we’re done with our eggs covered in cheese and tequila sauce Andy and I help Joe with his food. Between the three of us we just about manage half of the beast, Joe takes the other half with him. We get talking about life and music, Joe is always inquisitive of what’s going on at home, he knows Jen and her old band Misdemeanor from way back, since before we met. There’s some gossip about Black Sabbath and the rumours of AC/DC teaming up with Axl Rose. It seems like it’s well known news to everyone but me, but the reason Ozzy always pours a bucket of water over himself during gigs is because he pissed his pants a lot. Poor old fucker, if that’s not a sign that the gig is up I don’t know what is. It’s great catching up with Joe, it’s a shame we don’t have more time, but we’ve got a gig to get to and he’s got some rough mixes to get done. Hopefully he’ll make it to the LA show on Saturday.
We go get some supplies from Guitar Centre and Radio Shack and then head back to Nath’s. I follow Andy to the bedroom to collect the bags and as we enter the room Andy shouts, “Oh no!!!” Having discovered the remnants of his medical supplies spread about the floor. It seems Bowser has found her way into his bag and consumed his Samarin, some allergy tablets and a packet of Fisherman's Friend. I guess the old girl won’t have to worry about a sore throat for a while. Nath apologises for his roommate's dog and I have a good chuckle about it.
Eric arrives around twelve thirty. I assumed we’d be driving around in a regular Transit van or something similar but then I’d forgotten that Black Breath aren’t a regular band. The van is actually an old green and white bus, this huge block of metal that has to carefully squeeze it’s way down Nath’s street. Brilliant. It’s a heavy old thing but it’s full of charm. This will do nicely. We get out to the airport just after two and Jon and Johan are already out and waiting for us. Despite the heat Jon is of course wearing a his leather vest over a hoodie and a woollen Bolt Thrower hat on his bonce. They seem to be doing okay anyway. They had an earlier flight than us, they’d been up since three am, but Jon had supplied some heavy sedatives for the trip.
We drop Jude off at another terminal on the way out, she’s flying back to Seattle and will meet up with us next weekend, and then we head down to Santa Ana. The first two shows on the tour are with Napalm Death and Melt Banana. Not a bad start. And our friend Greg who has booked the tour for us is tour managing Napalm. He’d been panicking that we’d be late in for the show, a bit worried about the fact it’s their first day of tour and all that, but turns out we’re first here. I remember this big venue from when Speedhorn played here with Nile and Hypocrisy in 2006. I’m hoping tonight’s show will be a little more successful than that one. I remember when I was here the first time going off for a walk on my own to have a look about and heading back twenty minutes later depressed. It’s nothing but strip malls around here, just huge long roads, heavily trafficked, that arrow straight to the horizon. I didn’t really know about strip malls then and just assumed Santa Ana was the most boring city on the planet.
We head inside the venue where we’re greeted by a very friendly crew. The backstage manager is this girl called Melody who runs us through the very generous hospitality we have on offer today, seems fucking ace. They have a great kitchen here and we’re free to order anything from the menu, the fridge is stocked with Lagunitas IPA and there is a very welcoming shower for after the show. I’m under zero illusion that this place will be the benchmark for the rest of the tour, after tomorrow we’re on our own and hitting the DIY side of the west coast, but this is the perfect start for our travel weary heads.
After watching the guys eat some quick slop from Del Taco across the road we inspect the gear that Eric has brought for us to hire. We set up in the sunshine of the enclosed parking lot whilst Napalm soundcheck inside. It all seems good to me, if it’s good enough for those professional Black Breath boys it’s sure as fuck good enough for me. Barney comes out after a while and once sorted I take a seat on the sofa beside him under a tent in the parking lot and catch up. We’ve known each other since he lived in Kettering and I was still in Corby. We have a bit of a moan about home, UKIP and all that cack, and he tells me he’s hoping to move to Tokyo where his girlfriend lives. Can’t say I blame him.
There is an opening band from Brooklyn on these first two shows who seem to have caused a bit of confusion. They’re lending most of our backline but this only really came to light a week or so ago. They’re called Netherlands. Eric had received a call at night from the guitar player, he’d been woken by some guy with a New York accent, “Hi this is Timo from Netherlands”. Eric was trying to work out who this New Yorker with the Finnish name saying he was from Holland wanted. They’re mulling around a bit and seem like nice people, well Timo and this girl Ava at least. Andy has reservations about the drummer. Apparently the kit is really up to his standard and he’s had a bit of a moan about it, warning Andy that he hits “really hard and will probably kill the kit”. Whatever duuuuude. He looks like a standard rich kid in a band and to cap things off he’s here with his girlfriend and his bronze dad who obviously rates himself as a bit of a character. Before long both girlfriend and Bronze Dad are wearing Netherlands t-shirts. To be fair, I chat to the girlfriend briefly later and she seems nice. Not sure about Bronze though…
With only a little time to kill I head upstairs and get stuck into the deli tray of nachos and salsa in the luxury dressing room. Nath has arrived and we sit there and have a chuckle at Netherlands as we watch their show via the huge tv on the wall. I’m trying to like Timo but he’s wearing a head mic and pulling off some pretty turd moves whilst he plays guitar. And the drums really aren’t being hit that hard.. I help myself to an IPA and get ready for the gig. Agata from Melt Banana is sat beside me and we get talking about our mutual friend Bloody Kev. When we played Tokyo with Speedhorn in 2008 the Melt Banana guys came down to the show to hang out then. It was nice to see them again.
We’re on at eight fifteen, it’s an early show tonight since there the hip hop guy Mobb Deep is playing a separate gig on the same stage right after Napalm. The large, three tiered semi circled room has probably around two hundred people in it by the time we get going and most who are in here seem to know who we are. The sound on stage seems reasonable enough, as good as can be expected with no soundcheck and it’s the first run with new gear, but Andy seems to having a little bit of a struggle hearing things. He’s sat behind the amps and hasn’t got much help in the monitors. With time pressing though we have to get on with things.
I’m completely taken off guard by a wave of jet lag during the second song. I put everything into Death Do Us Part and by the time get to Walls everything has gone, My neck feels completely fucked and my head is spinning, feels like I’m playing on a boat. It sucks when you’re only on song three and already you’re counting down the set list to the finish line. The show is okay, total first show vibe, but for me it’s a monumental struggle. Didn’t see this coming. The crowd seem like they’re having a good time at least. Jon is in good form too, having a bit of banter between songs. He introduces We’re Fucked with, “If that squirrel headed asshole becomes your next president then you’re gonna have to change your national anthem to this song”. Top notch Jonny, top notch.
Whilst packing up afterwards it really feels like I’m going to be sick. It’s a struggle just packing the leads away, not made easier by the fact the first gig has made my head feel like a bowling ball balancing on a matchstick. I head outside for some air and have to go take a seat and be on my own for five minutes. I sit there tentatively sipping water wondering if this is really what I want to do. I contemplate the fact that maybe I’m simply too old to carry on playing in the style that I do. Maybe I need to start restraining myself, start reeling it in a bit. Thankfully the wave of nausea passes after ten minutes or so and I can rejoin the gang. They’re stood out back with this guy Cookie we know from back in the UK that lives here now. He’s showing me pics of the gig and couple of video shots. Looked pretty good. As we’re talking Bronze Dad comes over and starts pissing about with Andy’s snare, big cheesy smile on the go. Fucking clueless. Just being a dad I guess.
I head back upstairs to shower off and afterwards I’m feeling well on the way to normality again. Another Lagunitas, I chill out on the sofa and watch some of the Melt Banana set. Todd from Nails is hanging out, he’s a friend of Eric and Nath. Melt Banana are fucking amazing. I have to go down to the side of the stage to watch the rest. Watching Agata play guitar is an absolute pleasure. The crowd are going crazy for them too. I own a few of their records and as much as I like them, watching them live is just a whole other thing.
When they’re done I head to the merch stall which is at the front of the building and kind of out in the beer garden area. Seems like we’re selling. I have a good time meeting people and chatting away. This one guy is wearing an Inepsy shirt that has the bottom half ripped off. He tells me that one of the security guards did it to him after him had stage dived to us. He asks if we can give him a free shirt. Well actually, he tells us we should give him a free shirt. I ask him if he thinks the flights from Sweden are cheap. End of conversation. In the end some random older guy, who Andy had been talking to and said was really cool, buys the young punk one of our shirts. Sweet old boy. I say old, he was probably ten years older than me, Like, Kev’s age or something.
We sit and have a couple more beers and catch up with Greg and Shane. Shane has his daughter with him for the first couple of shows. She’s super cute, can’t be much younger than Polly. Makes me miss my daughter. I can tell Andy is starting get sauced up now, his eyes are starting to go and the words on slurring a little. Jon is off somewhere stoned off his tits, some fan had give him some weed after the show. This rapper guy who just played comes into our dressing room looking for some booze and a chat. Andy is happy to oblige. He’s telling him about his favourite hip hop artists and the guy, Namek his name is, is plying us with cd promos and business cards, wanting a hook up in Sweden. Andy, who is a good foot taller than him, is babbling away in his ear.
We head back to the back stage area and I’m more than ready to get out of here. Johan had said the merch was packed up and he’d meet us up at the bus. Eric is with us and he’s wondering what the plan is. Seems like he wouldn’t mind staying around for Mob Deep. Andy is telling me that we have to stay, that this is brilliant. I’m not so sure. Eric heads off to find out what’s going on with the rest of the gang and when I go to follow shortly after i walk open the exit door and hit a mob of about seventy people, cramming like sardines, waiting to get in. Some guard guy is barking orders at them, telling them to back up. There is no way I’m getting out of here at the minute. Minutes later they open the door and crowd spills in and floods the backstage area and there I am, stuck in the middle of Mobb Deep’s possie, sticking out like sore thumb. Fucking surreal scene. When Mobb Deep starts up everyone moves beyond on the big curtain and the stage is completely full. Andy in there amongst them taking photos and bobbing up and down. “This is brilliant!” He slurs at me again when he sees me and heads over. I notice there are a couple of cops that have entered through the back door that are now checking out the scene. Nobody seems to give a fuck about them though, everyone is having too good a time. Very, very weird scene.
After about fifteen minutes I tell Andy the guys are waiting for us and I manage to get him out of there. Eric has booked us a cheap room at some Red Roof Inn a fre miles away. Will be nice with a motel bed tonight, and we did enough for in merch to afford a little luxury. I take a final beer with me, thinking I’ll drink it in the bus but then remember that you don’t really want to risk that in the States. It’s dark in the back and within minutes of departing Jon has passed out in the front seat and Andy’s head is swaying back and forth, fighting sleep. When we pull up to the car park of the motel, Eric pops in to reception to sort stuff. He’s gone for a while and Andy is saying he’s desperate for a piss. We’re parked next to this electricity box or something, surrounded by a squared edge. Andy takes one look at it and says, “Look here!” and steps out of the bus. He doesn’t see the little fence guarding the flowers though and stands right on, crushing it and falling into the hedge. Me and Johan piss ourselves laughing. We take photos of the tall buggers head popping up above the hedge as he pisses, amusing ourselves thoroughly.